I have just read the question How do I get someone to call me by the name I prefer?, where one answer involves explicit lying.

I personally think that lying should be avoided if possible. This makes me wonder what this stacks general stance is on answers that involve lying. Because for me, a good answer to an interpersonal-skills question should avoid lying.

Please note that I'm not asking for your personal positions about lies. I would just like to know if we have some kind of unwritten rule (or even a written one), about when it is okay to provide an answer involving lying.
(and if not, should we maybe consider one?)

Edit: This question was only inspired by the mentioned answer. It is not my intention to ban that answer (or any answer that involves lying). I simply asked myself if there is some kind of rule about these kind of things.

6 Answers 6


As with most things context matters.

In some cases, as in this one, a lie isn't really an earth shattering thing and could just be a a way to subvert someone's deliberately crossing a boundary... It's perhaps not the best, or most ethically sound way to do it, but it works.

I would prefer to handle these with voting, rather than some blanket, black and white rule. In some cases a lie isn't only ethically questionable, it's plainly the wrong thing to do, but in others it can be practical and practically harmless.

Creating a blanket rule would end up causing problems with the corner cases.

Just to use an example... You're not always obligated to tell people the truth, or even talk to them at all when they're crossing boundaries and being openly rude. Say someone was asking overtly personal questions in an attempt to undermine or to embarrass, would you expect the victim to answer all questions and accusations honestly? Probably not... Or at least hopefully not.

  • 2
    Agreed that if something goes against a moral compass it's better to downvote than to tell people it's not an option... It's always an option, even if it's distasteful.
    – Jess K.
    Feb 21, 2018 at 21:58

I think lying isn't inherently a bad answer. But the answer should consider what the possible consequences are when the lie is discovered.

I think that in the context of having someone call you by a certain name, the implications of lying are quite limited, but if it was some really emotionally heavy subject, the answer should at least adress what would happen if the lie was found out and how to deal with that fallout.


I would just like to know if we have some kind of unwritten rule (or even a written one), about when it is okay to provide an answer involving lying. (and if not, should we maybe consider one?)
Emphasis mine


This would lead to too much micro-management of answers and so not only increase the workload (without increased benefit), but also lead to more controversies.

So far, we are judging answers on a somewhat meta-level:

  • Does it actually answer the question?
  • Is it backed up (experience, explanation, research etc.)?
  • Does it provide an IPS solution?
  • Is it not rude or abusive, i. e. does it follow the Be nice policy?

All these rules have in common, that they are more objective and not trying to judge the relevant content of an answer. They are not based on agreement or disagreement with the suggested solution. Still, controversies can arise but there is a better chance to solve them.

A rule stating that lying was not to be part of a permissible answer violates that principle. This rule would merely judge an answer by its content and demand a higher-level reaction by the community (editing, deleting), even if the answer didn't violate any of the other rules (since lying is an IPS solution).

Others have already written about lying as a solution, so I skip that. But I want to note that we would open a can of worms by allowing such a rule:

  • Where to draw the line? Just when someone proposes you say the untruth, but you know the truth? Or already when you know the truth but don't say it? Or half-truths etc.? Anything someone considers to be "manipulative" (according to whose standards?)? And then you can argue back and forth.
  • We would set a precedent and then other such problematic rules (i. e. judging the on topic content of an answer) could be proposed, always citing the lying rule. Again, where do we draw the line?

None of that is necessary as there already is a mechanism to judge an answer's on topic content:

  • Downvoting
  • Upvoting

In the end, just like any other SE site, the goal of IPS is to build a repository of questions and answers. The more useful an answer, the higher its score. Only if the post is not really an answer or violates the other fundamental SE rules is further action needed.

  • +1 for "where to draw the line". The margin between lying and politeness can be very narrow. Also, not everyone here subscribes to Kantian ethics so it would be weird to prescribe a moral stance... Mar 4, 2018 at 12:01

I think it depends very much on the question at hand. Generally I'd advise against it, and most questions I've seen specifically address how to be honest without being rude, or something alike. However, there are cases where lying would be convenient to the OP for a myriad of reasons, all very relative and varying with each question - and, naturally, varying in the "size" of the lie.

If OP stated they do not wish to lie, or would rather not give an answer they're not comfortable with, I think it's out of the question to suggest a lie. It would not be helpful, would likely cause OP to face issues they were trying to avoid in the first place, it's considered highly unethical for a lot of people, etc. I personally believe there is always a good honest answer to a question, even if a lie would fit just nicely.

There are the odd cases where lying is fitting, but again, depends heavily on what OP requests. For instance, if OP requested a quick way to get out of a uncomfortable situation, and they were not going to face that situation ever again or not very often, and if they were not bothered about their relationship with whom they're lying to, then a lie wouldn't be necessarily bad. It would also be fit for when OP doesn't want to disclosure personal information but finds that being closed about it is not helping, or that persisting on an honest/neutral approach is proving no results.

Allow me to give a personal example: after coming out to my mom, she didn't take it very well - didn't argue, but didn't seem accepting either, by going on and on about how I wouldn't/couldn't be sure of it, etc. After that, she'd sometimes make remarks about me "fancying" a girl friend or if any "cute girl" had hit on me in a party. I decided it's best to act upon it with a white lie to avoid going on a sexuality tangent on what would be an otherwise small talk - which wouldn't be a problem if it didn't happen so often. So it usually goes as follows:

Mom: Looking good, any girl you're seeing?
Me: Nah, just going out with friends.


Mom: Did any girl hit on you?
Me: Not really.

Of course, in these examples it's not as much lying as it is avoiding the subject. But there were cases where I did straight up lie just to get over with it:

Mom: Why don't you get a girlfriend?
Me: Meh, not thinking about it right now. Got this project/job/course in mind, [goes on about that instead].

My general rule of thumb though is to always try to be honest, and expect people to understand/respect your decision/request. If OP can't/won't be open about the subject matter, and if avoiding the subject is difficult, and if they've explicitly stated they don't mind what answers they give, then sure. After all, at the end of the day, it's OP's choice as to whether they'll lie or not. We're merely suggesting it. We also shouldn't vote based on whether the answer suggests a lie or not, but whether it addresses the question properly, gives a solid/valid solution to OP's problem, and acknowledges OP's requests as to how the answers should be managed.


On general rules I would almost never advise someone to lie. But lying is still one way to manage an interpersonal situation so I think we should count with it. It's one more tool in your toolbox, but one you want to use very rarely, on really specific situations. We all lie, hide facts, mislead sometimes, it's all a matter of context.

But this kind of answers must be allowed because there can be certain scenarios where maybe the best possible outcome can be achieve by lying. Although most of the time they won't be and will get downvotes since they would be more harm than good, which I think is fine.

Just to exemplify I've had some situations where just smiling and pretending you are fine with someone is by far more helpful than telling them you can't stand in front of them or tell them what you really think of them(I'm talking about highly narcissist people who can go really far for anything and don't tolerate any criticism). In those situations I think lying or mislead your true feelings or emotions can be helpful, but against anyone else who is reasonable or you truly care of I would totally not advise to lie against them since this scenario I described is really specific and doesn't happen often,luckily.

Also I think if you let people to advise this kind of solutions and compare how people vote those answers you can get pretty interesting stats over people moral perceptions.


Although the stack's stance is no, I notice many comments here that have a kneejerk reaction opposing any lie or deception.

I consider that misguided. In my view, the higher principle is not doing unnecessary harm.

In the answer of HugoBDesigner above, minor deceptions with his mother about his sexuality, which she refuses to accept, are beneficial to her. There is no advantage for either of them in continuing to harp on his sexuality, only negative emotions on both sides will ensue. It is a fact of life that the older people get (and I am of retirement age) the less likely people are to change the lifelong belief systems that shape their lives and actons. Particularly about politics, religion, sexuality (and non-hetero sexuality), sexual practice, and gender equality.

I consider lies and deceptions for selfish gain to be morally wrong, but if used primarily to prevent negative emotions in others (resentment, despair, anger, grief), with little or no gain to the deceiver (other than avoiding a pointless confrontation that probably won't change anything), then I think it can be the morally correct thing to do.

Nevertheless, if scoring points on IPS StackExchange is more important to a respondent than helping the questioner, they should avoid recommending a deception in their answer. I think there is a kneejerk bias against it.

  • Interestingly, what I noticed in the Fred vs. Frederick case was that when someone is bothered by the proposed white lie, s/he is very bothered; but it seems to have been a rather small but vocal minority; the net vote was not particularly damaged. The current vote being 10 positive, one negative. Feb 23, 2018 at 2:05

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