Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics

By Thomas Kingsmill Abbott; Immanuel Kant | Go to book overview

APPENDIX.

I. -- ON A SUPPOSED RIGHT TO TELL LIES FROM BENEVOLENT MOTIVES.1

IN the work called France, for the year 1797, Part VI. No. 1, on Political Reactions, by Benjamin Constant, the following passage occurs, p. 123: --

"The moral principle that it is one's duty to speak the truth, if it were taken singly and unconditionally, would make all society impossible. We have the proof of this in the very direct consequences which have been drawn from this principle by a German philosopher, who goes so far as to affirm that to tell a falsehood to a murderer who asked us whether our friend, of whom he was in pursuit, had not taken refuge in our house, would be a crime."2

The French philosopher opposes this principle in the following manner, p. 124: -- "It is a duty to tell the truth. The notion of duty is inseparable from the notion of right. A duty is what in one being corresponds to the right of another. Where there are no rights there are no duties. To tell the truth then is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth. But no man has a right to a truth that injures others." The πρω + ̑του Ψευ + ̑δος here lies in the statement that "To tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth."

It is to be remarked, first, that the expression "to have a right to the truth" is unmeaning. We should rather say, a man has a right

____________________
*
I hereby admit that I have really said this in some place which I cannot now recollect. -- I. KANT.
1
[ Rozenkranz, vol. vii. p. 295. This Essay was published in a Berlin periodical in 1797.]
2
" J. D. Michaelis, in Göttingen, propounded the same strange opinion even before Kant. That Kant is the philosopher here referred to, I have been informed by the author of this work himself." -- K. F. CRAMER. *

-361-

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