Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1999

Abstract

Popular and professional moralists have a tendency to over-condemn lying. This Article is a critique of that tendency and the more general outlook it exemplifies, which I call Quasi-Categorical Moralism. I begin with an illustration from my own experience of morally appropriate lying that is condemned by the legal profession's ethics norms. I proceed to a critical examination of the arguments against lying in what is perhaps the best known contemporary work on professional ethics - Sissela Bok's Lying.1 I then explore the more sympathetic treatment of lying in a broad range of literary and philosophical works typically ignored among popular, professional, and even philosophical moralists.

Although this not an Article primarily about any aspect of the Starr-Clinton scandal, it briefly considers the lying charges in the spectacular recent outburst of Quasi-Categorical Moralism directed at President Clinton. I conclude by suggesting that, at least in the context of the legal profession, the impulse to moral self-restraint that animates Quasi-Categorical Moralism is a more dangerous force than the impulse to moral self-assertion that it deprecates.

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