Live Action and Telling Falsehoods

That is the title of  my latest column at The Catholic Thing. Here’s how it begins:

Over at the website Public Discourse, two outstanding Catholic philosophers, Christopher Tollefsen and Christopher Kaczor, have published essays about the morality of the tactics of the prolife group, Live Action.  Two other Catholic philosophers, Robert P. George and Joseph Bottum have weighed in as well.

Live Action recently released a video that included two of its members posing as a pimp and prostitute during a visit to a local Planned Parenthood clinic. Very much like in a police sting operation, Live Action taped the encounters without the permission of its target. In the video, Live Action’s “pimp” and “prostitute” make several inquiries that provide opportunities for the PP worker to commit or not report several crimes.

According to Tollefsen, this tactic, even though it exposed corruption, is itself immoral because it depends on a lie and lying is always wrong.  Kaczor disagrees, arguing that not all intentional falsehoods are immoral, and thus not all intentional falsehoods are technically lies.  Setting aside the question of whether Live Action did the right thing, I think Tollefsen and Kaczor are both correct if we make sharper distinctions: lying is the intentional telling of a falsehood that is always wrong, though not every intentional telling of a falsehood is a lie, just as every murder is a case of unjustified intentional killing, though not every case of intentional killing is murder (e.g., capital punishment, killing in a just war).

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    To Tollefsen: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)


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