“Thou shalt not lie” is the most misquoted of all the commandments. It actually reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”. This is precise. Does it mean even the more absolutist and religious among us permit lying in certain situations?
A consequentialist would say it’s right to lie for a good outcome. Governments lie to protect their citizens. People lie to protect their loved ones. Yes, Santa will visit Christmas night. Your baby is gorgeous. I’ll support anything you do if it makes you happy.
Many of the big name western philosophers had stricter views. Augustine, Aquinas and Kant all held lying to be unethical, no matter their intent. Augustine even charted different types of fibs on a scale of severity, distinguishing those told with malicious intent to benefit the liar, and those told to protect that cause no harm. He still thought the latter unconscionable. Kant argued you shouldn’t even lie to save lives. These guys are not friends to have your back.
Behavioural psychologists say we lie more than we realise, even to ourselves. They found we morally justify bad behaviour when we’ve done something good.
The ethics of lying: it’s not black and white.