A welfarist perspective on lies

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Should a Muslim employee who, in order to avoid discrimination, falsely stated in his job interview that he is Christian be fired for his dishonesty? Should a buyer of a tract of land who, before contracting, conducted an expensive investigation that revealed a high likelihood of mineral deposits be subject to liability for fraud because he told the seller he knew nothing about the land's mineral potential before purchase? Is a doctor violating her legal duties toward her patient if she convinces him to get vaccinated on the pretext that it is in his best interest when it is instead in the public interest? In all of these cases, and in many others, parties are allowed not to disclose material information to an interested party but not to lie about the same information. This Article makes the argument that in many contexts, where nondisclosure is permitted, lies should also be tolerated, for otherwise the social goals sought by allowing nondisclosure are frustrated. With this as its starting point, this Article develops a theory of valuable lies, discussing the conditions under which lies should be permitted. It analyzes the main impediments to allowing lies, the most important of which being the risk that permitting lies would impair truth tellers' ability to reliably convey truthful information. This Article applies the theory to various fields, including contract law, tort law, medical malpractice, criminal law and procedure, and constitutional law. It concludes by proposing changes to the law that will allow telling lies in well-defined categories of cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-663
Number of pages47
JournalIndiana Law Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016


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