The Right to Lie: Kantian Ethics and the Inquiring Murderer

American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (4):331-344 (2012)
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Few challenges facing Kantian ethics are more famous and formidable than the so-called "case of the inquiring murderer." It appears in some form today in most introductory ethics texts, but it is not a new objection. Even Kant himself was compelled to respond to it, though by most accounts his response was embarrassingly unpersuasive. A more satisfactory reply can be offered to this old objection, however. It will be shown here that Kantian ethics permits lying to inquirers asking wrong questions, and that, therefore, it can be right to lie to a murderer inquiring whether his intended victim is hiding in your house. We begin by reviewing a now popular and plausible-sounding defense of the right to lie. Finding it unsuccessful, we turn next to scrutinize the type of question asked. The case of the inquiring murderer cannot be presented without supposing that the murderer's inquiry is unevadable. As we shall then see, in Kantian ethics it is usually wrong to ask such questions.



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Richard McCarty
East Carolina University

Citations of this work

Kant's Moral Philosophy.Robert N. Johnson - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Noble Lie.Robert Ferrell - 2020 - Open Journal of Philosophy 10 (3):368-373.

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