As I wrote in the introduction to Lying, Ronald A. Howard was one of my favorite professors in college, and his courses on ethics, social systems, and decision making did much to shape my views on these topics. Last week, he was kind enough to speak with me at length about the ethics of lying. The following post is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Ronald A. Howard directs teaching and research in the Decision Analysis Program of the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University.  He is also the Director of the Department’s Decisions and Ethics Center, which examines the efficacy and ethics of social arrangements.  He defined the profession of decision analysis in 1964 and has since supervised several doctoral theses in decision analysis every year.  His experience includes dozens of decision analysis projects that range over virtually all fields of application, from investment planning to research strategy, and from hurricane seeding to nuclear waste isolation.  He was a founding Director and Chairman of Strategic Decisions Group and is President of the Decision Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing decision skills to youth.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of INFORMS and IEEE, and the 1986 Ramsey medalist of the Decision Analysis Society.  He is the author, with Clint Korver, of Ethics for the Real World: Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisi....

 

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Harris: First, let me say that I greatly appreciate your taking the time to do this interview. As you may or may not know, your courses on ethics at Stanford were pivotal in my moral and intellectual development—as they have surely been for many others. So it’s an honor to be able to bring your voice to my readers.

Howard: My pleasure.

Harris: Let’s talk about lying. I think we might as well start with the hardest case for the truth-teller: The Nazis are at the door, and you’ve got Anne Frank hiding in the attic. How do you think about situations in which honesty seems to open the door—in this case literally—to moral catastrophe?

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