November 10, 2015

Pretending to Believe in Service to the Greater Good

Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am going to refer to Bernie Sanders in this post, but it really isn't about him or his chances of winning the Democratic Party's nomination. I am using him here to present an ethical question. If you are not a supporter of Sanders, please feel free to substitute whatever candidate you like in place of Sanders (e.g., Donald Trump). It will not change the question I am trying to set up.

Suppose that after surveying the field of available presidential candidates, I decide that Sanders is the one I believe would make the best president. This is hypothetical, as I have not made up my mind yet. But for the sake of the question I'm setting up, suppose I have decided that Sanders is the candidate for me. Also suppose that I evaluate Sanders' chances of actually receiving the Democratic Party's nomination as extremely small. This is not hypothetical, as I think Sanders winning the nomination is a long shot. Now suppose that I conclude that one of the most important obstacles to Sanders winning the nomination is the public perception that he is unelectable and that his primary opponent is the inevitable nominee. This is also not entirely hypothetical, as I do see this as an obstacle (though not necessarily the most important one).

To recap, we are assuming the following to be true:
  1. I want Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic Party's nomination for president.
  2. I believe Bernie Sanders has virtually no chance of actually winning the Democratic Party's nomination for president.
  3. I believe that public perception of Sanders' unelectability and his primary opponents inevitability is an important obstacle to his receiving the Democratic Party's nomination.
Now here's my question for you:
Assuming the above to be true, would I be justified in using every means at my disposal (e.g., writing countless blog and social media posts) to express certainty that he can and will win the nomination? That is, would I be justified in lying by insisting that I was confident that Sanders would win the nomination - even though I do not believe this for a second - in an effort to change the public perception I thought was an obstacle to his chances?
I am not posing this question because I want to do this. As I said above, I haven't decided with any certainty whether Sanders is the best candidate for me (although I am leaning in that direction). I am also not posing this question to accuse anyone else of doing this. I have no idea whether some of those I have seen insisting that Sanders will win the nomination truly believe it or are merely attempting to influence public perception.

The essence of the question is quite simple. Am I justified in lying if I believe it is in service to the greater good? If I really believe that Sanders is the best candidate (i.e., him receiving the nomination would serve the greater good), am I justified in pretending that I think he will win when I do not actually believe this? Would such a blatant attempt to manipulate public perception by claiming that I believe something I do not actually believe (i.e., that Sanders will win the nomination) be justified here?

I find this an interesting question, especially for those of us who are atheists, skeptics, humanists, freethinkers, and the like. It has a moral aspect, but it also has some relevance to religion and faith. That is, we could just as easily ask whether someone without religious faith might justifiably claim religious faith in order to achieve various goals. Could such a thing be justified, and if so, under what circumstances?

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