This post is part of the series Morality of Communication
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In my last post, I gave the conditions for deception in general. Accidental deception is that kind of deception in which someone is deceived, but there was no intent to deceive. It is morally wrong only if not enough care was taken to avoid deceiving the person addressed.
There are several ways that someone could fail to give sufficient care to what he is saying. They could fail to reasonably consider the content, addressee or the circumstances. Failing to consider the content includes such things as failing to properly edit speeches, check for logical errors and missed words, etc. Failing to consider the addressee means considering how that person would understand the content and if any allowances need to be made for that person. The circumstances will change how much time needs to be spent on making sure that the person understands what is being said. Failing to take account of this is a problem.
Each factor contributes to how much time and effort are needed to carefully consider what we are saying. For most things, very little time is required. We can simply answer a simple question of a friend without much thought. But answering the question of a diplomat during peace talks requires much more preparation!
There is no mathematical way to quantify how much time is necessary to spend. The virtue of wisdom consists (partly) in knowing such things. So we know that we need to spend a bit more time explaining what we mean when someone is offended. We need to speak carefully in debates – especially when the issue will provoke emotions. In these sorts of cases, circumstances are such that much more care ought to be taken.
If we are in a kind of situation that may arise frequently, we should learn from the experts how to handle that situation. This is why diplomats require schooling. It is also the reason for the existence of debate courses and marriage counselors. In each of these circumstances, a type of situation has problems that are well known. Experts in theory and in practice know how to avoid deceiving others and can train others to speak well in these situations.
Assuming that enough care has been taken to avoid deception, no further fault can be made if someone is still deceived. Of course, all care should be taken to remove any deceptions that an individual has, but such things are not always possible. As long as we are willing to correct our mistakes, then any deceptions are not the result of our problems. This assumes that we have the virtue of wisdom perfectly though. Since this is unlikely, any deceptions we have caused are likely at least partially the result of our moral failures. As such, it is best to consider us as responsible in some measure for any deceptions that we have caused – even if we did not intend them.
Next, I will discuss whether or not intentional deception is ever permissible.
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