Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Christopher Tollefsen


The U.S. military regards truthfulness as a virtue, a quality captured in the terms ‘honor’ and ‘integrity.’ At the same time, military doctrine does little to hide the fact that military operations should endeavor to deceive the enemy. How can these two ideas, seemingly in conflict with each other, be reconciled? This dissertation examines the viability of the absolutist claim implicit in the term ‘truthfulness’ – namely, that to be truth-full, one must never lie, even to one’s enemies. In order for this absolute prohibition to be consistent with certain instances of allowable deception, lying and truthfulness, I argue, must remain conceptually distinct from deceptive acts and the intent to deceive. Taking this as a starting point, this dissertation sketches out guidelines for the virtue of truthfulness in the military profession. Taking as a given the U.S. military’s absolute rule against lying, which I conclude also includes the prohibition of perfidy, equivocation, and strict mental reservation, I explore the Just War Tradition and the absolutist tradition against lying. While the absolute rule against lying has been for the Just War Tradition a point of contention, both traditions have consistently condemned perfidy, or acts of bad faith. Likewise, perfidy is currently prohibited in the international law of war conventions. Yet perfidy – that is, acts of bad faith – I argue, are equivalent to lies, since every perfidious act extends an invitation to mutual trust insincerely or falsely. Each lie does essentially the same. In a lie, the speaker extends an invitation to mutual trust by communicating in the assertive context. The liar, however, is duplicitous and his invitation insincere, since the liar is making an assertion contrary to what he believes to be true. When used instrumentally to deceive, lying and perfidy cause a given deceptive act to be illicit, always and without exception. In contrast, deceptive acts that do not extend a false invitation to trust leave open the possibility that they may be properly justified, such as in war. Armed with this fundamental understanding of what constitutes a lie, this dissertation attempts to take a first step toward identifying truthfulness as a virtue and proposes, in the practice of military deception, that one should never lie.


© 2016, John W. Bauer

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