login about faq

Why, according to Objectivism, shouldn't I be dishonest in order to gain a large reward? Obviously there are cases where dishonesty would clearly not be to my interests, but aren't there cases where the lie is small, unlikely to be detected, and the reward could allow me to achieve all sorts of values I care about?

asked Sep 25 '10 at 17:45

Publius's gravatar image

Publius ♦

edited Sep 27 '10 at 11:17

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Humans have free will to live and behave ethically in all ways. I cannot envision a situation in which lying for gain would not be unethical, i.e., stealing through use of deceit. I have always considered objectivism to require me to live an ethical life. Stealing to obtain what you value is a denigration of the very thing you value. Is it not valuable enough to deserve your very best productive actions?

(Sep 25 '10 at 19:17) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

I think the basic issue is that this kind of question treats "reward" as a stolen concept. To call something a reward is to say that it represents a net gain to the actor. But how do you establish that something is a net gain? You can't look at it in isolation. Is eating a slice of cake a net gain to someone? It depends: Is he on a diet? Is he diabetic? Is it his birthday? Did he steal it? Etc.

To establish something as a reward requires seeing it in its full context, and its full context is your entire life. And that has a specific meaning. Rand's morality is not about collecting a bunch of goodies. It's about living a certain kind of life--a life that is all integrated around a certain conception of what your life is about. Think of Dagny. Her life is about running a railroad, loving Galt, being enthralled by Richard Halley's music--and these major values are also integrated. It would never even occur to her that something could be a value that didn't contribute to that sum. Money? It has value to her only insofar as it comes from and contributes to those central values.

To put it a bit differently, Objectivism's entire view of the nature of evil is that it is about inconsistency--the evil person is the one who does not pursue an integrated spectrum of values. He seeks "values" out of context, but that's like seeking knowledge out of context. What you gain is not knowledge, even if it looks like knowledge on the surface. Same with values. A person who "gains" ten or a million dollars at the price of inconsistency loses, because he gives up that which gives money (and any other value) its meaning.

Another way to put this point is: values are objective. Part of what that means is that for something to be a genuine value, it has to flow from a rational mental process. The person who discards virtue to gain an alleged value is saying, "To hell with that process." That is destructive. As Dr. Peikoff explains in OPAR, virtue is one. And by the same token, value is one. To make your values one requires integration. The "if I can get away with it" mentality throws all that out. That's why in reality "successful" criminals are miserable people who waste away their "winnings" within a very short period. The loo they get has no value to them because nothing has any value to them because they've rejected the precondition of valuing: rationality.

answered Sep 26 '10 at 11:33

Publius's gravatar image

Publius ♦

edited Sep 28 '10 at 19:02

Very good answer! This is the only way to answer the question that does not beg the question. The only way to defend the proposition that an egoist should not lie in order to gain a million dollars, or whatever, is to show that the million dollars in fact is not a value when it is gained dishonestly. This is central to egoism, because it's the only way to show that egoism is compatible with morality. To put it another way, this is the only way to show that "you should do what's in your self-interest" is different from "do whatever you want."

(Nov 02 '10 at 09:06) Robert Garmong ♦ Robert%20Garmong's gravatar image

Dishonesty of any kind creates a rift between your thinking and reality. This happens regardless of the magnitude of the lie, and regardless of whether anyone else knows or not. Thus, lying-even within the confines of your own mind--is mentally disintegrating, and therefore immoral.

The only time it is appropriate to lie is if physical force is being initiated against you, and you are lying to the perpetrator in order to protect yourself and your values. The initiator of force, in violating your rights, throws away his own; and it is perfectly moral to lie to him for the same reasons it is moral to defend yourself with force.

answered Sep 25 '10 at 19:56

kelleyn's gravatar image

kelleyn ♦

edited Sep 25 '10 at 20:05

"aren't there cases where the lie is small, unlikely to be detected, and the reward could allow me to achieve all sorts of values I care about?"

My first thought when someone offers-up such a hypothetical situation is to ask the question-asker for an example of how a small lie could lead to a 'huge reward'. I would then proceed to explain that the huge reward in question was obtained, at least in part, by deception. At the risk of answering a question with a question, I would ask the original question-asker how they could have or live with such a reward, at the expense of having the lie at the root of it, hanging over their conscience, every time they think about the the reward in question.

Our conscience is an unwritten record of our own moral evaluation of our actions and thoughts. The bigger the lie and the bigger the reward that resulted from it, the more damage you do to your own evaluation of yourself. In other words, the more you damage your self-esteem.

Regards, -Sev

answered Sep 26 '10 at 02:29

Sev's gravatar image

Sev ♦


There's no better way to insult yourself than thinking, "Only I will know."

(Sep 26 '10 at 03:54) Radical_for_Capitalism ♦ Radical_for_Capitalism's gravatar image

The problem is that this answer begs the question. The question amounts to: in a case where lying would be in my self-interest, shouldn't an egoist do it? It's no good to say "your conscience would object," since conscience depends upon the moral values of the individual. If you're an egoist, and X is in your self-interest, then your conscience shouldn't give you any trouble about it at all. You might as well argue that Oskar Schindler shouldn't lie to the Nazis because his conscience wouldn't permit it.

(Nov 02 '10 at 09:02) Robert Garmong ♦ Robert%20Garmong's gravatar image

To "have" a value is to own it, not just to be in charge of it. You can have someone else's money in your pocket, or their successes credited to you in your Boss's mind, but you don't own either, and anything you spend that money on, and anything that that credit gets you is not yours. The usual example is that one would donate stolen money to ARI, in which case, one has done a terrible disservice to ARI, exposing them to being implicated in what is anathema. Owning and earning things is just one expression of owning and being responsible for yourself. Cheating and stealing are the most fundamental forms of self-insult; they confess self-conscious inadequacy and inferiority.

answered Nov 07 '10 at 16:26

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Sep 25 '10 at 17:45

Seen: 4,165 times

Last updated: Nov 07 '10 at 16:26