Your grandma has Alzheimer’s disease. This morning she woke up and could not find her husband. He died 5 years ago. If you tell her, she will be sad and upset… at least until she wakes up again tomorrow. Should you lie?
Your grandma has Alzheimer’s disease. This morning she woke up and could not find her husband. He died last night. If you tell her, she will be sad and upset… at least until she wakes up again tomorrow. Should you lie?
Your grandma is sharp as a whip. This morning she woke up and could not find her husband. He died last night. If you tell her, she will be sad and upset… at least until she dies in 10 years. Should you lie?
If you did not give the same answer for questions #1-#3, then how are the questions different?
UPDATE 8/13/2018 – So much for the Socratic method!
Of course my gut response to #1 is also to lie. That is not the question. I want to understand the principal about why it is OK to lie here but not other places. I want to know the answer to #4!
Most people quickly reply with something akin to “Lying to grandma #1 is different because she has diminished capacity”. So your principal is “It is OK to lie to someone with diminished capacity”?
Well, we *all* have diminished capacity. We all have imperfect memories to different degrees. So is it OK to lie to everyone based the “It is OK to lie to someone with diminished capacity” principal?
Ok, so now you likely say something like “No! There is some threshold level of diminished capacity below which it is OK to lie to the other person.”
Is it an objective or subjective standard?
If objective, is that threshold a fixed level of capacity? Or maybe based on a relative curve? If it is fixed, how do you objectively measure it? Who picks what the threshold is? Do you have a principal here? If it is relative, then what happens when the corpus changes? Should people have lied less 100 years ago when median IQ was lower? Unexpected consequence: If you and grandma lived 100 years ago maybe your test would require you to tell her the truth even though she had the same capacity as she does living in the present. Does that make sense?
If the standard is subjective, then who makes the determination? Clearly not grandma, right? How can someone without capacity determine if they have capacity? So you? What if your interests and biases are opposed to grandma’s? Do you want other people to lie to you because they unilaterally determine that you have insufficient capacity to accept the truth? Is this test subject matter specific, or does each person have a global capacity that applies to all their interactions? How often is your capacity rating updated? Is it right for your wife lie to you about cheating because in this narrow case she thinks you do not have the capacity to deal with the truth? Should I set my alarm to 5am so I can lie to you first thing in the morning before you had your coffee? Is there a duty to unlie to someone if they later regain capacity?
Can people opt out of being the target of capacity enabled lying? What if grandma handed you a letter while she still had capacity saying “I always want you to tell me the trust even if I have reduced capacity.” Would you still lie to her? What if she did not have capacity (based on your test) when she wrote the letter? Assuming you have capacity now, would you go ahead and write that letter to preempt people being able to lie to you in cases where you think you have capacity and they do not? Should the default be “assume everyone has a tell-me-the-trust letter unless they have specifically given you a dont-tell-me-the-truth letter”? Why not? Is that different than what we have today? If no, then does this change your answer grandma question #1?
Now you say (yell?) “These are unrealistic extreme edge cases!”. You are right, but I’d argue that if you do not know how to apply a principal in the hardest edge cases then you do not really have a principal.
And to be clear, I am only using grandma here because this case it so stark. The typical real-life cases when this comes up are far more subtle- but I think all depend on the same principal… and I do not know what that principal is. I want to. Any thoughtful guidance greatly appreciated – but please don’t tell me that I should lie to #1 grandma because that’s the right/kind/expedient thing to do! :)