LosingStreak06's picture
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Recently my friend was going through a rough time. Her boyfriend had decided that things between them just weren't working out and that he didn't really love her. He decided this about two days after they had sex for the first time (they had been dating for about a month prior). It also happened to coincide with the fourth anniversary of her mother's death. She was understandably upset, and the task of calming her down and comforting her fell to me. Not exactly my idea of a good Saturday night, but when a friend is really in need, I can't just look the other way.

So she was pretty hysterical (in fact she was crying so hard that she was vomiting), and she kept talking about how the same thing keeps happening to her, and she feels so stupid because she keeps falling into these traps, and how she's just like her mother in that way, and she turns to me and asks me "How could she let this happen to me? She's supposed to be watching out for me. I know it sounds stupid, but I always thought she would be my guardian angel. How could she just stand by and let all this crap happen?"

Well, I was a bit dumbfounded. First of all, I don't believe in an afterlife. Second of all, that has the problem of evil written all over it. However, I doubted very much that telling her those things would help calm her down, or console her. So I lied.

"Look, your mom lets all these things happen because she knows that deep down, you're strong enough to handle them. She believes in you all the time."

Something to that extent. A pretty big cop-out, but it seemed to work. Eventually, she calmed down and we talked for a while.  But I'll never forget the lie I told to bring her back from the edge of hysteria.

My question is this: is what I did ethical? 

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Personally, I wouldn't have

Personally, I wouldn't have said that, I would have let that subject pass and tried something else. 

People who think there is something they refer to as god don't ask enough questions.

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I don't see a problem

I don't see a problem really. Irregardless of your or our beliefs, a person who is hysterical is generally in absolutely no condition to listen to logical reasoning. In my experience it's best to go with the flow until a stable conversation can be had. Otherwise you merely risk alienating the friend you're trying to help.
Your path is not the path I would have taken exactly, but one generally goes with what's most comfortable at the moment.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

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LosingStreak06 wrote: My

LosingStreak06 wrote:
My question is this: is what I did ethical?

I am of the belief that there is no action/principle/set of principles is by its very nature either good or is all context relative.  I think this is just common sense.  Is rape always bad?  Well, it usually is.  However, what if it was a choice between a million people dieing or allowing a rape?  If a rape saved a million people, would it not than be moral?  I think so.

Now, unless you're Kant, lieing is not always bad.  The lie serves a greater end.  if giving her false hope is what she needs to continue living through the day, I really don't see the harm, nor do I see how it is immoral in any way.  I, like Dan Dennett, do not think that a proposition's being true is enough justification expressing it.  We have all seen fat people, and we have all seen mentally handicapt people.  We could tell a fat woman that she was fat, and prove it!  But we don't.  Why?  Because the negative net effects outweigh net positive effects of telling the truth.

Now, let us extrapolate this to your case.  You know with a high degree of probability that your lie helped her.  Remember, false hope is not of an inferior quality to real hope.  False hope is still hope.  Unless this false hope leads to violence or opression, such as with many forms of religious beliefs, I don't see anything wrong with it.

Just imagine what might have happened if you shattered the core of this woman's web of belief in an emotional state of mind.  Might she have killed herself?  Or, killed her ex?  Who knows.  However, it is hard to imagine how doing this could have an overall positive affect.


Hope that helps Smiling 

"In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out" ~ Rush, from Subdivisions

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What I'm about to say is

What I'm about to say is along the same lines as everyone else, just using Wittgenstienian language, partly because lots of philosophers respect his work and would be able to relate to it, and partly because I'm a bit of a fan of the crazy Austrian!

An important question is "why do you want to know the truth?"
When we answer it, we realise that we find out knowledge and truth for a purpose. What's more, it's clear that there are activities where truth is irrelevent. e.g. a faery tale or a joke.

One of Wittgenstein's main ideas was that the meaning of language depended on what we used it for. When we are telling a joke, the purpose it to entertain. When we are trying to solve a problem involving a structure of wood, we require true facts about structures of wood. When someone needs comfort, being literal and truthful might be missing the point.
Even if it had been right to be literal and tell her the truth, it would've been because that way of thinking appeals to her and would've entertained/comforted her, rather than for the sake of it being the truth.

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I agree with what has been

I agree with what has been said. And I believe in this instance the end justified the means.

 But look at it a different way. Just because you don't believe in an afterlife and this counsuling (spelling?) wouldn't have necessarilly worked with you, you did tell her something that she believed in. She believed her mother was her guardian angel. You just followed her beliefs and gave her advice relevant to her. 

This may be a bad analogy, but it kind of fits. We do the same thing argueing against christianity. If they don't listen to logic, you argue with the bible. Because thats what they believe in. In this instance we weren't trying to reduce hope or belief, you were trying to help, but it's the same idea basically (unless I'm waaaay off on this).

 I think the only ethical problem you might have is with yourself. But if you can be okay with having lied and told somebody something you don't believe, then there's no problem. If that is a problem for you, then it may well have been inethical