Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis



First Advisor

Christopher Tollefsen


Beginning with Augustine of Hippo, an unbroken lineage of philosophical arguments has been in place supporting an absolutist prohibition against all lies, a lineage that has often been referred to as the absolutist `tradition' against lying. This paper explores this so-called tradition by first examining Augustine's view. Augustine argued that lying is always wrong because it is an act that is always intrinsically duplicitous. The paper then explicates the positions of three subsequent philosophical figures, figures that shared Augustine's view and together with him span 15 centuries of the history of philosophy. These three individuals - Thomas Aquinas, Baruch Spinoza, and Immanuel Kant - were not only major philosophical figures who shared the same absolutist view against lying, but they were also figures who undertook dramatically different approaches to philosophy. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to uncover why lying is always wrong. In this regard, my intent is not to construct a set of arguments from scratch, but rather to enlist the arguments of what I take to be the four most important philosophers of the absolutist tradition. As such, my approach is historical and exegetical rather than analytical or phenomenological. I shall argue that the rule prohibiting all lying first established by Augustine has been advanced, and perhaps in many ways further developed, by Aquinas, Spinoza, and Kant. This paper will conclude by suggesting that Augustine's main arguments have been consistently maintained by three philosophically dissimilar philosophers who followed him. Augustine's central arguments, I argue, are as follows: (1) the duplicity of a lie is against the order of reason; (2) lies always do incommensurable harm to the self; (3) a lie always constitutes a breach of faith; and (4) lies undermine trust, which is basic to society.


© 2012, John William Bauer