Sissela Bok: Lying

Topics: Official, Office, Lie Pages: 3 (2211 words) Published: October 29, 2014

The Reticent Politician
The word “reticence” is not a common word to hear in everyday life. The word “politician” while more commonly used, has received a bad reputation, at least in the United States, because it has been associated with power-hungry, manipulative public officials who value the progress of their agenda over their own integrity. Public officials, from Presidents to mayors, have been caught lying to the public within the U.S. liberal democracy, have tainted their own reputations, and have lost trust from the people they were elected to serve. By entering into a position of service to over 300 million people in the United States, political officials, especially those who serve at the federal level, should be held to a higher standard of accountability—one that recognizes the weight of the role and the consequences of every decision they make as an elected official. “Reticent,” when used as an adjective, according to the dictionary definition, means, “reserved” or, “not saying all that one knows.” This definition differentiates lying and refusing to give information. In this essay, the aim will be to reconcile these two words and show how politicians in a liberal democracy can regain trust with the public by first committing to both honesty and reticence. First, I will outline the main arguments within Sissela Bok’s book, “Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life” and briefly explain how they are persuasive. Then, I will discuss how this book provides a useful framework for assessing the case studies involving President John F. Kennedy and Mayor John Lindsay, and justify how these cases lend support for the view that it is always impermissible for elected officials in a liberal democracy to lie to the public. Bok frames her book around two central questions: …”whether to lie or to speak honestly, and about what to say and what to hold back” (Bok, 4). She then defines these to guide our daily interactions in the public and private spheres...

Cited: Allison, Graham T., and Lance M. Liebman. "Lying in Office." Ethics and Politics:
Cases and Comments. By Amy Gutmann and Dennis F. Thompson. Chicago:
Nelson-Hall, 1984. 40-42. Print.
Bok, Sissela. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York: Pantheon,
1978. Print.
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