We tell lies to one another every day. But when we commit other acts that are generally believed to be immoral, like cruelty and theft, we do not seek to justify them. We either deny that the acts we committed are appropriately described by these terms, or we feel guilt or remorse. But many of us are prepared to defend our lies: indeed, to advocate their general use. Of course the Nazi at the door inquiring about Jews within ought to be lied to.
The words of Jael to Sisera are simply "turn in, my lord; fear not." As with so many of the alleged instances of justifiable lying, we need to ask, where is the lie? Telling a quivering, cowardly, self-pitying enemy of God to "fear not" can only be construed as a "promise to protect him from death" if that reprobate's own shaky mental condition is to be taken as the standard for judging the soundness of inferences. By any normal standard, however, where is the lie?
In practice, most people would regard this as a very legalistic and 'small print' sort of argument and not think it much of a justification for telling lies, except in certain extreme cases that can probably be justified on other grounds.
Police placebos are lies commonly told by police officers for the benefit of the person being lied to. Examples of placebos can be as simple as telling a homeowner who was burglarized that the burglary was probably committed by a small-time crook who picked the house at random when the officer can clearly see that the crime was effected by a professional housebreaker who likely scouted it out ahead of time or telling the family of a car accident fatality that their relative died instantly and painlessly when his experience as a highway patrolmen indicates otherwise. Others may be more elaborate–Klockars presents a case where a police sergeant tells two brothers, who are likely schizophrenic that he has called Washington, D.C. and requested a team of highly trained invisible agents who deal exclusively with the sorts of invisible attackers that are bothering them (Klockars, p.231). These placebos are told for the purpose of easing a person’s fears and work only so long as the credibility of the deceiver is intact. To be morally justifiable the placebo must be given partly for the benefit of the person being lied to. It sponsors the impression of a meaningful response to the problem as it is understood by the victim–though in most cases the perception of the deceived is wrong–whether it be caused by mental illness or someone who believes that police have the resources to investigate every radio theft or bicycle-snatching. Before employing a placebo the officer must determine or at least assume the person will not be better served by some other non-deceptive treatment (p. 231).
Like me, Peter reads Buddhist philosophy and applies it to business. One of its lessons is to remain in the present, a more peaceful, creative and productive place from which to operate. Every time I tell a lie, I know that I am no longer present. I feel a tightening in my chest and sweat on my palms — just a small amount because I only tell little lies. But lies they are. They place me in a false future, increase my level of stress and prevent me from being as creative as I can be when I’m fully present. Stress saps our energy and causes nasty consequences for our bodies. We know that lying creates stress; polygraph tests measuring blood pressure, perspiration, pulse and skin conductivity can pinpoint a lie with tremendous accuracy.