Even before reading this, I was wondering, “Isn’t the Great Lying Debate just the Great Torture Debate Redux?”
Heh, your instincts were bang on the mark. The cafeteria is open 24/7/365.
Yup. Days after the last post and comment thread on this topic, I still have people responding to me to tell me that a lie stops being a sin if the reason for it or the outcome is really good. We just can’t seem to shake the Consequentialist mentality, can we?
No, not really. The torture debate was from a completely different angle if you think about it. First, most who were advocating for waterboarding, and even other forms of torture in the war against terrorism, would have, only a few years earlier, have opposed torture on the grounds that it was what the bad guys do. That was the shocking thing there, how many who would condemn it as a matter of fact were suddenly defending it.
The lying debate has, on the other hand, caught many off guard who didn’t realize that all lying is always wrong, always evil, all the time. And despite what Kevin writes, we’ve learned that no lying ever is right: not in war, police work, sports, nowhere is it acceptable. Many of the folks arguing for lying simply never thought that way before. They typically said lying is wrong in the sense of ‘trust me Mrs. Smith, sign here and you’ll not lose a penny’, or ‘really Dad, we were just talking.’ They hadn’t followed it through to its final end, that all lying is always evil, and never to be condoned. So there really are differences in the debate.
despite what Kevin writes, we’ve learned that no lying ever is right:
not in war, police work, sports, nowhere is it acceptable.
Why is it “despite” what Kevin writes? He’s been one of the vociferously anti-lying people out there. In this article, he’s making the distinction between lying and fluffing in sports, or legitimate acting on stage or film.
“Perhaps this applies to warfare and espionage”
Interesting this. I like the “perhaps”, acknowledging that, while a fruitful hypothesis, it still remains to be affirmed.
I still am looking forward to a Magisterial development of a “Just Lie Theory.” To demarcate where the line is between KOB’s willing and temporary suspension of truth and intrinsically wrong falsehoods.
Kevin places the evil of lying in the harm caused to the one lied to. This is tricky for two reasons.
First, it implies a “no harm, no foul” corollary; why can’t I lie to someone if I am morally certain I won’t be believed?
Second, it leaves unresolved the question of whether it is wrong to lie if lying minimizes the harm. The harm of an incorrect relation to the truth of some contingent fact is often negligible; if it weren’t, broad mental reservation would be condemned outright.
These difficulties are avoided (though, of course, others arise) if the evil of lying lies in the intrinsic disorder of using language to communicate falsehood, as St. Thomas taught.
I have been supremely disappointed in John Zmirak in this whole topic. I normally love his stuff, but he’s just so blastedly wrong about this.
Live with a chronic liar for a few years. It makes this issue very clear.
Perhaps because of the mention of “spanking” in that piece, patheos just presented me with a rather bizarre advert showing a swimsuit-clad woman’s derriere with the instruction “spank me” – I suspect some amusing follow-up would result from clicking on the “spank me”, but didn’t trouble to find out. Or indeed to take a screenshot. I’ve tried refreshing the page to find it again, but now it’s just showing a series of home insurance ads.