Is Deception Ever Justifiable?
May 4, 1801

Question.

Is Deception Ever Justifiable?

Senior Composition, Dartmouth College, May 4, I80I

That the end sanctifies the means, is a doctrine, too pernicious, in its consequences, to be generally admitted. But there are cases, in which the good to be obtained is far greater than the evil resulting from the use of means, otherwise wrong. So deception, though commonly not justifiable, sometimes produces so much good, that we are warranted in the use of it.

No one supposes, for example, that it is wrong to deceive a mad man, in order to disarm him; or to deceive a highway-man, for the sake of saving life; or to use stratagem in a just war. The reason I apprehend to be this; the highway-man, when he sets out on his business of plunder, expects that every man, whom he assaults, will deceive him if possible: the author of an unjust war, too, looks out for stratagem from the enemy. In these cases, deception has the nature of a covenant between the parties, and is, therefore, every way justifiable.

Daniel Webster.


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