Paternalistic Lies


Reference to Thomas Hobbes:

            People become subjected to others by conquest, by birth, and by voluntary offer:


                        Inability to make one’s own decisions

                        Express and implied consent


Paternalism defined:  “To guide and even coerce people in order to protect them nd serve their best interests, as a father might his children.”

            “Protection” can suffocate and exploit

                        Degrading work, wars to “free” people


Paternalists can coerce in two ways (note that this is identical to Hobbes’s claims regarding “force” and “fraud”:

1.      Violence

2.      Deception

a.       Bok’s focus is deception among family members and friends

                                                                           i.      Lies to children, confusing truth and truthfulness – lose respect for children

                                                                         ii.      Grotius – held that children have no right to the truth in the first place.  They have no capacity for judgment, so they cannot be wronged by lies.  Doesn’t this also mean that they cannot be assisted by truth, or that they cannot be treated properly by being told the truth?

1.      Bok’s rebuttal

a.       Children can be wronged by lies as much as others

b.      Liars are injured by lying to children

c.       Lies to a child can affect the entire family


The dangers of paternalistic deception from the point of view of the deceived person:

1.      Problems may go unexplored

2.      False hopes may be maintained

3.      Unnecessary resentments may linger


Some less-than-benevolent reasons for paternalistic lies:

1.      Fear of confrontation with the person to whom a lie is told.

2.      Urge to maintain power


Justification for Paternalistic Lies:

1.      Justified in a crisis

a.       But the closer people are to each other, the less justifiable lies might be

                                                                           i.      Trivial lies mount up in families, between co-workers, friends

                                                                         ii.      The status of consent – “it is rare that children, friends, or spouses will have consented in advance to being deceived.”

2.      Rightful paternalistic lies:

a.       Would the person to be deceived, if he were completely able to judge, consent to be deceived?

3.      Even Mill is guilty of paternalism:

a.       Note his claim that governments are rightfully despoitic when they deal with barbarians just so long as the improvement of their condition is the end in view.