Il dovere di dire il vero e l'etica del potere. Osservazioni a margine di Sulla menzogna politica di A. Koyré

Anno XLIX, n. 211, settembre-dicembre 2014
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text
211_online_Premoli De Marchi.pdf


This paper is concerned with the relationship between those who are in power and the duty to tell the truth. People in power base their actions on convictions, cognitions they hold to be true. They can decide how to use those cognitions, and especially if they want to be veracious, or to lie, to be silent, to distort or manipulate the truths they personally believe. This paper aims to investigate whether those in power have a moral duty to communicate what they know (or believe) to be true, or whether there is some justification for them to lie, to say what is false, with the purpose of misleading others and gaining a relative advantage in power. In the first part, I report some interesting insights by Alexandre Koyré, who in his essay on The Political Function of the Modern Lie (1943) explains why lying is a temptation for man, and examines some traditional arguments for and against the use of lies. Koyré offers a reasoned defense of the claim that totalitarianism is the best demonstration of the corruption caused by a system based upon lying: if you choose to lie, the consequence is the most dreadful kind of power, based on the contempt of both truth and mankind. In the second part of the paper, Koyré’s insight is developed in the light of a personalist view. If we consider human beings as endowed with the dignity of rational beings, we can see that the duty to tell the truth derives from this dignity, because knowledge is necessary to man in order to make informed decisions, and therefore to act freely. Those in power, then, have a special obligation to tell the truth because of their position of superiority over other people. Consequently, this perspective helps to explain why the moral obligation to tell the truth as well as the right to know it have limits: the duty may depend, for instance, upon the kind of power you have, the characteristics of the recipient of the communication, some common good at stake, and the interest of other people involved in the situation. Therefore, if the respect due to the human person imposes a general obligation to give every human being the chance of knowing the truth concerning him/her, prudence determines how and to what extent a specific communication is due to someone, therefore whether it is morally right to tell him/her the truth.