In my last post, I discussed accidental deception and showed that it was wrong if reasonable precautions were not taken to avoid it. Intentional deception has two forms. In one, the message understood by the sender is deceptive and in the other, the message understood by the recipient is deceptive. The moral acceptability of one form of intentional deception does not imply the moral acceptability of the other form. There are situations under which the second form of intentional deception is morally permissible.
If someone understands a message differently from the sender and the sender knows this, there are several reasons for this difference. One of those reasons is information that the sender knows, but that the recipient does not know. If this information is private and the recipient does not have the right to share it, then he cannot correct the understanding of the sender. If he needs the sender to do something that requires referencing that fact, then he cannot correct the persons understanding. Since he intentionally does all of this, he is intentionally deceiving the person. Suppose that the sender is a counselor named Bob. The recipient is a mailman named Steve. Steve is delivering mail that is about one of Bob’s patients. Bob cannot speak about his patients to Steve. Bob is helping a patient who has a phobia about bills, and has those bills delivered to Bob. Steve falsely believes that he is delivering Bob’s bills. Bob encourages this belief by treating the bills as if they were his. There is nothing wrong with this activity because Steve has no right to know anything about Bob’s clients.
This is an example of the second form of deception because there is nothing in the activity of handling bills that means it is one’s own bills. For Bob, and for any client that knew of this, his handling of these bills says nothing about whether or not the bills are his. On the other hand, Steve sees these activities and believes that the bills belong to Bob because he lacks the knowledge that Bob has. Since correcting Steve’s misconceptions requires breaking confidences, it would not be moral to do so. By knowing all of this, Bob is intentionally deceiving Steve. The choice is between intentional deception and breaking confidences. In this case, intentional deception is the better choice.