The New York Times Book Review
Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Lifeby Sissela Bok
Lying is a penetrating and thoughtful examination of one of the most pervasive yet little discussed aspects of our public and private lives. Beginning with the/i>
Is it ever all right to lie? A philosopher looks at lying and deception in public and private life—in government, medicine, law, academia, journalism, in the family and between friends.
Lying is a penetrating and thoughtful examination of one of the most pervasive yet little discussed aspects of our public and private lives. Beginning with the moral questions raised about lying since antiquity, Sissela Bok takes up the justifications offered for all kinds of lies—white lies, lies to the sick and dying, lies of parents to children, lies to enemies, lies to protect clients and peers. The consequences of such lies are then explored through a number of concrete situations in which people are involved, either as liars or as the victims of a lie.
The New York Times Book Review
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Meet the Author
Sissela Bok is a senior visiting fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Previously, she was a professor of philosophy at Brandeis Univeristy. She is the author of Lying: Moral Choice in Private and Public Life; Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation; A Strategy for Peace: Human Values and the Threat of War; Alva Myrdal: A Daughter’s Memoir; Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment; Common Values; and Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science. A former member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, Bok is a fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
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Sissela Bok has taken on an incredible task: to analyze lying and what place it has in our society. She carefully dissects the reasons and justifications for lying and offers suggestions of non-deceptive alternatives. Most of all, I think Bok emphasises the fact that we should never lie (no matter the degree of lie) when there is a 'truthful' alternative available. If you think you're an honest person who never tells a lie, think again. If you think you live in an 'honest' society, think again. Bok will open your mind to a world of lies that exists in our society, and often times exists even within ourselves. You will be a better person and a better contributor to society by reading this text.
This book is the rare chance to see a true intellectual work. Bok sets the context for a broad historical and philosophical examination of the questions, 'What is lying' and 'Is lying ever justified'. In an age that celebrates compromise she boldly follows the logical structure of her quest to the cnclusion that lying is wrong, immoral, and impractical. Thanks to her insights I was able to deal with Dr.s that lied to me regarding my fathers Alzheimers and get him told the truth so he could prepare himself and his family for the future. Bok's intellectual and moral honesty stands out as a beaccn of courage in a age dimmming with pragmatism.
I agree with Bok's thesis that lying is always bad. One can extend it to nations. There is a rough correlation between societies' willingness to value and accept truth even when it hurts, and their success and stability. We could get uncomfortable and parallel the astounding rise of ethical and moral failings in the U.S. in the past 30 years with the onset of growing crises. There are many ways to lie. Putting off dealing with obviously critical national issues on the part of U.S. presidents and the Congress because the issues are potentially damaging to personal or partisan political interests is a form of prevarication. It operates by denying the reality or priority of problems, and obfuscating elected officials' responsibilities to deal with them. Did Bok use her celebrity status and connections to commit herself to real-world reforms in her adopted country? Not to my knowledge. She took the comfortable route, travelling in top intellectual and academic circles while basking in praise for penetrating analysis, critical insights and "courage" for her role as a reformer (presumably for gently biting the the hands of the intellectual elites who "fed" her). Say what you will about her controversial father, Gunnar Myrdal. He plunged into the U.S. race issue where others feared to tread - and made a difference. In the narrower issues of personal morality Bok would have had exceptional opportunity to seize attention, proclaim truths, and show their practical relevance to ordinary Americans as well as leaders in society. She could have barnstormed at labor meetings, harangued duplicitous,self-serving politicians and corporate moguls, and read the riot act to Hollywood and media personalities, narrowly focused single-interest groups, and purveyors of rabble-rousing political crudities who had the intellect to know better. In the Revolutionary War era the small population of the fledgling nation produced an extraordinary number of leaders who combined thought, statesmanship, and personal commitment. That was possible because of the prevailing ethic that persons with advantages of intellect and education (and money) owed service to their society. Sissela Bok's parents offered models at least partly along these lines. Whether for lack of insight, guts, or corruption by the American intellectual elite, Sissela did not pass the "Alexander Solzhenitsyn test". Telemann