Augustine of Hippo’s taxonomy of lies, deduced from his book On Lying (De Mendacio) (395) in order of descending severity:

  • Lies in religious teaching.
  • Lies that harm others and help no one.
  • Lies that harm others and help someone.
  • Lies told for the pleasure of lying.
  • Lies told to “please others in smooth discourse.”
  • Lies that harm no one and that help someone.
  • Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s life.
  • Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s “purity.”

Svenn Lindskold and Pamela Walters reduce those by 2—though Augustine’s previous work is uncited— in “Categories for the Acceptability of Lies” (1983). Listed from least permissible to most.

  1. Telling a lie that hurts someone else so that you can gain. In social motivational terms these categories can be said to range from
  2. Telling a lie that, if successful, could cause others to do something that benefits you while, at the same time, harming themselves or causing themselves a loss.
  3. Telling a lie to make yourself appear better than you really are or to protect some gain, acquired some time ago, to which you were not really entitled.
  4. Telling a lie that will influence others in an official position in such a way that you will gain by their response to you, but they will not be harmed.
  5. Telling a lie to protect yourself or another from punishment or disapproval for a minor failing or blunder which hurts no one.
  6. Telling a lie to save others from minor hurt, shame, or embarrassment.