PubPol 474.002

PubPol 474.002: Values & Ethics: Lying and Public Policy

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Winter 2022
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Lying has been getting a lot of attention lately and for good reason.  Democracies demand the truthful exchange of information between rulers and the ruled, as well as a healthy media to inform the public on matters related to government and policy.  Lying therefore poses a legitimate threat to the political stability of our nation.  And yet despite the current ubiquity of terms like "post-truth" and "alternative facts", lying is not a twenty-first century cultural or political aberration, lying permeates the social fabric, playing a significant role in our daily conversations with others and with ourselves.  As research has shown, we lie (frequently) to avoid social embarrassment or hurting the feelings of others, or to manipulate situations for our own gain.  Political philosophers like Plato and, most notoriously, Machiavelli, have argued that lying is an essential tactic in the ruler's toolkit, used to preserve social cohesion or persuade the public to agree with a policy that, in the ruler's opinion, may be for the social good.  Lying can also be necessary to protect the minorities from exploitation or oppression.  In this values and ethics course, we will read broadly in literature, philosophy, history, and politics, and we'll watch a few films and TV shows as well in order to determine when, if ever, lying is justified, and we will apply these lessons learned to examine important policy topics of our own era.  Possible topics include: the creation and cultivation of national myths, passing, propaganda, diplomacy, fake news, advertising, and the extent to which lying compromises government services such as entitlement programs, voting, and the police.