Imagine for a moment if you live in a world where lying had not yet been invented, a world where you could say and do whatever you like. Would you? What is stopping you from doing as you please, from lying to improve your life stance and enjoyment in life? Well, for many, the ideals and beliefs, which they hold, may prevent them from doing so, or at least make them think about their choices. Consider the same scenario from the perspective of a person who does not have a moral conscious. In order to do so, you must first have an understanding of the concept of morals and ethics.
For the majority of people, these terms, morals and ethics are interchangeable; however there are in fact slight variances in the definitions of each. Ethics is defined by categorising it into three main headings; metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. In the film, The Invention of Lying, (2009), the two forms of ethics which are most relevant are metaethics and applied ethics. Metaethics is concerned with the moral principles one has and how they are used to inform moral judgements, specifically looking into what is deemed “right” versus “wrong”, (Gensler, 2011). Whereas applied ethics ‘studies specific moral issues like abortion or lying’, (Gensler, 2011, p. 3).
From comparing the two, there is a continual theme, that of considering a dystopian society where no-one contemplates the ethical perspective. Society, and how society interacts together regarding others perspectives, is why the social contract theory put forward by Rowlands is a key point to explore. Rowlands states that the ‘social contract theory of morality is an implicit contract made by members of society that works to govern the actions of the rational egoists’, (2005, p. 162). In dissecting this statement, the term egoist refers to persons who think only of themselves, (Stanford Encyclopaedia, 2010). In this dystopian society, all persons would be egoists, and therefore allow all members of society act as ‘each to his own’ as the saying goes.
The Invention of Lying, a comedy directed by Matthew Robinson and Ricky Gervias, who also stars in the film, focuses very clearly on this philosophical theme. Unhappy in what life has given him, the main character discovers that he alone has the ability to lie. In this film, all people tell the truth 100 percent of the time. He continues to use this unique ability to better his life in all aspects. Yet it ultimately leads him to weave a web of lies, which crumble as the film progresses. This plot line brings to light questions such as, in a society where no one knows how to lie, should you exploit them? Does it depend on what you lie about? If the lying, allows you to lead the life of your dreams, is it right? Often what we believe is morally right does not coincide with what we want, and so does not coincide with our prudential reasons for acting at all, (Rowlands, 2005). This accurately states the main reasons why people lie, and why some will continue to lie in order to get what they wish out of life.
Gensler. H.J. (2011). Ethics – A Contemporary Introduction. (2nd Ed). New York: Routledge.
Rowlands. M. (2005). The Philosopher at the end of the Universe – Philosophy explained through Science Fictions Films. London: Elbury Press.
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. (2010). Egoist. Retrieved May 25, 2011, from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egoism/