Dishonesty is not necessarily immoral. Lying for gain or purposefully deceiving people can be seen as usually being immoral, but there are many cases short of the dire circumstances presented in this question wherein lying is more or less fine.
The truth of a statement is not the measure of that statements morality. For instance, if there is a snake sneaking up on someone standing near you it's probably best not to say "there's a snake right behind you" and better to say "come here I want to give you a hug" to get the person to move without startling the snake. Or, if you are in an extremely dangerous situation with death as a certain outcome, it's ok to tell anyone with you "it'll be ok".
When the aim of deception is to soothe, to save, or to avoid conflict then it is probably "more moral" to lie than to tell the truth.
John Proctor was living a lie in front of all those who knew him, or thought him, to be a good man; however, signing his name to a document which was a lie was more than he could do. It may have turned others from a faith which caused a good man to lie in order to save his life. It would have blackened his name in a town which condemned all sin--witchcraft as well as lying. It would have been a hell-on-earth existence for Proctor to live with this lie.
He didn't lie, of course, and what were the consequences of that decision? He lost his life, of course--the highest price to pay, no doubt. Because he and the others died with the reputation of righteousness, despite his lechery, the court was overthrown and the witch hunt was ended soon after. This appears, then, to have been the righteous--though perhaps not right--decision for him.
If I were presented with such a situation, I believe I would lie in order to save others if I could do so, and I almost certainly would lie to protect my own skin. To tell the truth knowing full well that it would unjustly (emphasis on unjustly) lead to the death of others would seem to me, a crime in and of itself. What good is absolute adherence to truth as a principle if you have to sacrifice a more sacred principle in order to adhere to it?
The Puritans of course took the principles of truth and confession much more seriously than I do, seeing as how I don't belong to their church.
I feel that you must make decisions based on your own personal principles. While I think that honesty is very important and one principle of my life I also feel that I would make the decision to lie if it would save the life of someone else or myself. However, I think beck to one of the school shootings and the story of the young lady who was asked if she was a Christian by the shooter, how many of us would have the faith to answer that question in that situation honestly?
As the first answer says, this is somewhat difficult philosophically. She comes to the conclusion that lies are acceptable when they are consistent with the public interest. Of course, letting each person decide what is in the public interest and when it is acceptable to lie could lead to chaos as people ignore the laws whenever they wish.
However, I think that saving one's own life is so important that it is almost impossible that lying to save your life could be immoral. The only circumstance I can think of is one where your lie does tremendous harm to another (like making them die in your place).
If everyone lied to save their lives, you could say chaos would ensue. But if you have a society where people have to lie to save their lives, chaos has already set in and your society is already in bad shape.
This is one of the most philosophically profound elements of the play. Miller's work forces the reader to critically assess not only under what conditions might it be permissible to question one's values, but how to act when the ruling body is, in its own function, immoral. The premise of "always telling the truth" is placed under severe stress in Miller's work as the governing body in Salem perverts the notion of truth for its own benefit. The same elements can be seen in McCarthyist HUAC, Nazi Germany, or any particular realm where common morality is twisted and manipulated for personal gain. In these settings, one might have to question the value of telling the truth if one knows that doing so would have repercussions that are actually against the public's interest.
I agree that you should lie if it is meant to protect your life and the lives of those around you. If someone came up to me and said that they wanted to find someone to kill them, I would lie and say that I didn't know where they are. I care too much about my friends to have them harmed by a person whose heart is not in the right place.
Any other time I don't think it is right to lie. Most of the time it just ends up coming back and biting you in the tushie. People don't like liars and feel betrayed when people abuse their trust.
The only time I do lie is when I am trying to hide presents from my hubby. He tends to be like a little kid at Christmas and want to open his presents before Christmas.