“I Must Not Tell Lies”

Over at Strange Notions, I joined Deacon Jim Russell (a Catholic radio speaker)and James Croft (who blogs in the Patheos Atheist channel) for a symposium on the ethics of lying.  Deacon Jim kicked off the conversation with “Lying and Truth-Telling: A Question for Catholics and Atheists.”  He explained that Catholics disagreed about whether a lie is only sinful if the target has a right to the truth.  Then, in James Croft’s “The Ethics of Lying: One Humanist’s View,” he took a pragmatic approach to lying (which is ethical if you’re a consequentialist).

And then I turned up with “Interfering with the Eschaton: Why Lying Is Wrong.” Here’s an excerpt:

Lying to save a life is a bit like concussing the Gestapo officer at the door. It’s a solution, and it may be the best of a set of bad options, but there’s a wound involved. A sin is a sin, even if the outcome was, on net, good from a consequentialist perspective. You still breached a duty or ruptured the relationship you ought to have with the officer at the door. The fact that you’re lying is a cue that something has gone wrong, whether upstream of your present moment in time or in this instant…

I like to think of lying (actively or passively) as a special case of a general problem. In herYoung Wizards series, Diane Duane would call it being pro-entropy. I might call it interfering with the eschaton. The telos of humanity is to be healed of all divisions. The wounds we have inflicted on ourselves or on others will be closed up, and it will be possible to be wholly united with each other and with God. Lying to someone is creating distance between my target and the world-as-it-is. And I’m deepening the distance between myself and the person I am instrumentalizing.

Read more at Strange Notions

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • stanz2reason

    I touched on this over there.

    Lying to someone is creating distance between my target and the world-as-it-is.

    While I agree with and enjoy that definition of lying, I don’t agree that this is always a bad thing. Not in a ‘net-good’ or ‘lesser of two evils’ sort of way, but as a morally acceptable act without need for qualification or justification.

    Would you permit a small child to watch a documentary about the horrors of war? Would you allow a 6 year old to have a pornography collection? or a Snuff Video? Through parental censorship of things that are ‘the world as it is’, you are deceiving the child with a lie by omission. You’re doing so to allow their minds to develop so that they might better understand and put these things in context. Where exactly is the wrongness here? What duty do you have to the child to expose them to such things at a young age? What duty do you have to the SS officer at the door, who has already breached their duty to and ruptured the relationship with you? By their very presence and self-evident hostility, aren’t they absolving you from owing them anything?

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

    “A sin is a sin, even if the outcome was, on net, good from a consequentialist perspective.”
    What do you understand sin to be? I think this question is the point where I’m understanding your position the least, and I suspect that it is the point at which a lot of people (maybe mainly atheists or maybe mainly non-Catholics of any kind) will struggle to understand. I’ve heard some talk here and there about how lots of people (including Protestants, including less-educated Catholics, maybe especially evangelicals) don’t fully understand what the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings about sin actually are, but since that talk didn’t include an explanation of the differences, I can’t assess whether I understand or not.

    EDITED so I don’t have to make a new comment:
    Huston Smith described Buddhism’s prohibition against lying in similar terms to what you’re saying: in Buddhism, lying is an ontological folly, where one is denying the fact of the universe itself. It’s not the harm you might do that’s the problem; it’s persisting in an inauthentic vision of the world that is the problem.

    • Mariana Baca

      A sin in this context is an action/omission that creates a defect in the world as it should be. (if we are considering sin as the “evil act”, you can also consider sin as “the evil act with culpability”) Catholic encyclopedia has this pithy way of describing evil as “Thus evil, from the point of view of human welfare, is what ought not to exist.” and more specifically “By moral evil are understood the deviation of human volition from the prescriptions of the moral order and the action which results from that deviation. [which are not the result of ignorance]”

      In many ways, similar to the Buddhist conception — that there is a way the universe *ought* to be, and that evil is anything that we do to veer the universe off the ideal path.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    One thing that I ask is if there is a relationship to be damaged. A lie to the Gestapo about the Jews you are hiding doesn’t damage the relationship between you and the Gestapo, because it’s likely so random that you had no relationship to begin with.

    Lying to a friend that their behavior is not sinful when it is, is damaging to the relationship, but might actually save the relationship at the expense of truth.

    Lying to your spouse about your adultery, OTOH, will cost you in the long run.

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

    Glad to see the good work of Strange Notions mentioned positively here.
    Unfortunately, just today I am being implicated elsewhere on Patheos as somehow condoning denying Christ Himself in a particularly forced “Nazi-at-the-door” scenario.
    So, let me say here that Leah’s brief mention of my stance above is way more accurate than what you’ll see elsewhere today on this site. Even so, I do have to point out that I am not and really have never argued for the superiority of the “right to truth” concept over the absolute prohibition of lying that is the common teaching found in the Catechism. Rather, as Leah accurately notes, not only do I say that Catholics disagree over the common teaching, but also that the magisterium *permits* us to take the rigorous view or a less rigorous view on the subject. One such “less rigorous” view is indeed the “right to truth” approach asserted in the first edition of the Catechism.
    Though I’ve personally never tried to argue specifically for the “right to truth” approach, despite what others allege today.
    Rather, my assertion is that we Catholics must form personal conscience according to either the common teaching found in the CCC ed two *or* according to a “less rigorous” approach such as that found in the CCC ed *one*. Both are acceptable options for a faithful Catholic. And neither view should be publicly called into question for ridicule and derision by the opposing view. We don’t have to divide over this.
    So, does this mean I would *also* be forced to conclude that the “less rigorous” approach means we can–and *should*–deny Christ Himself if such a denial could save a life?
    How about: OF COURSE NOT.
    Once folks can learn to distinguish the difference between things like divine truths (like Jesus Christ is Lord) and “facts” as truths (like someone’s location in space and time), we’ll probably have a much clearer conversation about lying and truth-telling. ..
    Hope everyone likes the Strange Notions trio of posts–Leah’s was a very engaging read, I thought. Thanks, JR

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    I observed in the earlier discussion of this topic that some derided the discussion of hypothetical examples (the Nazi at the door) as a way of avoiding arguing from principles–and it was also suggested that the hypothetical examples were emotionally manipulative. Perhaps they are that, but it does not seem to me to be so unthinkable that some hypothetical examples could easily enough become real (after all, people did have to lie to Nazis), and the stresses of the current moment could throw the problems of principles into sharp relief. Is it just too low-brow for me to suggest that the idea of “deepening the distance between myself and the person I am instrumentalizing” seems excessively abstract when juxtaposed with the idea of saving the person cowering in your secret annex?

    It seems to me that a principle such as Pikuach Nefesh, which (put very basically) holds that God’s law can and should be violated in order to save a life or preserve the peace, could be worth considering here. This is a fundamental element of Judaism, and I suspect that it’s not completely absent from Catholic thought. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? is it lawful to lie to the Nazi at the door?

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      I think you’re correct about the reality of these supposed “hypotheticals”, not only with the obvious fact that real people did once have to answer to Nazis seeking to arrest Jews, but also with a scenario with some similarities: the hiding of Catholic priests in England after the English Reformation. As regards the use of deceptions to hide and save Catholic priests became supported by some Catholic moral theologians, the terms “casuist” and “Jesuitical” took on pejorative connotations among English opponents of Catholicism, such that it was a common stereotype to accuse Catholics of condoning lying.
      This was the landscape within which both Newman and Chesterton wrote and touched on the morality of lying….Newman, while personally adhering to the common teaching, acknowledged many such theologians who did not. And Chesterton flat out acknowledged that every man is either a “casuist or a lunatic.”…

    • branemrys

      The choice of Nazis is obviously emotionally manipulative; but this is a case in which it backfires. The Nazi at the door scenario is not hypothetical; it happened to quite a few people, and there are Dutch Calvinists, for instance, are on record as managing to handle the situation while refusing to lie (and many of those who did refused to consider it the right thing to do); trying to pretend that good people in such a situation would have to lie is straightforward nonsense, and merely shows that people who use this rhetoric have never actually considered the real lives of real people who really did face such situations — the very mark of emotional manipulativeness in this kind of context.

      • Donalbain

        In the situations where people refused to lie, I think that it was an example of something I find rather horrible. It is just rules lawyering. They didn’t “lie”, but the intention was usually to make the Nazis think something that was not true. If that is OK, then lie and make it strong.

        • branemrys

          This is not an unheard-of view — what you call rules-lawyering is just what others call casuistry. The argument as you give it, though, is irrational: if equivocation is OK it simply does not follow that lying is OK, because they are not the same thing, and don’t even generally have the same broader effects; all that they share is overlap at one immediate effect. And in no other area of human life do we regard this kind of argument as even remotely reasonable. Nobody regards as reasonable the line of argument “When you sharply criticized X for his moral views, you weren’t ‘attacking’ him, but you were intending to make him very uncomfortable because of them; if that is OK, then beat him to a bloody pulp and make it strong.” Nobody regards as reasonable the line of argument, “When you refused to obey the police because what they were asking was illegal and oppressive, you weren’t intending to ‘rebel’, but the intention was to disregard the authority of the state. If that is OK, then overthrow the government and make it strong.” Even in cases where one should overthrow the government this is obviously recognizable as a thoroughly ridiculous argument: there is no coherent moral theory on which “If the moderate and restricted version is OK, you might as well go to the extreme” is anything but a silly argument. One might as well claim that it’s “rules lawyering” to insist that eating well is OK but that gorging yourself until you die is not, because if eating well is OK, you might as well gorge until you die and “make it strong”.

          • Donalbain

            In the examples you gave, the outcomes are different. You end up with a person who has been injured, or you don’t. You end up with an overthrown government or you dont.

            In the case of the lying example, the outcome is the same, you end up with a Nazi who believes that there are no Jews in the building.

          • branemrys

            Again, it’s simply false that “the outcome is the same”; in one case you have a person who has jumped to the wrong conclusion on inadequate evidence and in the other you have a person who has been fed false claims. This is a common error — assuming that because two outcomes can be described, at a sufficiently vague level, with the same description that they are the same mistake. But it is an error.

          • Donalbain

            How is the outcome any different? The Nazi walks away believing that there are no Jews in the building.

          • branemrys

            I just told you how they are different. It’s not really complicated: If we look at the Nazi’s belief structure in one case, the belief in question is grounded in information received, in the other is grounded in inferences drawn. These are completely different, as different as valid arguments based on false premises are from invalid arguments based on true premises; the mere fact that the conclusion supported in each case is the same doesn’t make the argument the same. You are only getting the result you are getting by keeping your description at a very vague level.

          • Donalbain

            The belief the Nazi walks away with each time is incorrect and invalid. The only real difference is that in one situation the teller gets to feel smug because they twisted the rules of the game that they set up for themselves.

          • branemrys

            So your diagnosis of the situation in which people are risking everything they have in order to save their fellow human beings, and doing it out of commitment to moral integrity, and striving to do it in a way consistent with that commitment, and are at that very moment in extraordinary danger of their lives, is that they are obviously doing it in order to feel smug? And who is really guilty of smugness here? How many Jews and oppressed persons has your moral integrity led you to risk your life to save recently?

            In any case, the argument still doesn’t make any sense. Obviously there are other real differences. If you’ve never thought about the dangers of lying under an oppressive regime, I recommend you read some Vaclav Havel on how such regimes deliberately impose regimes of dishonesty on the people that they are trying to rule, setting up situations so that those who are not in agreement with the regime will be forced repeatedly to lie, and how this causes extraordinary problems for those resisting the regime (the habit of constant lying is difficult to prevent from spreading to the rest of one’s life, toxifying relationships and eating away at the trust required to build an effective and sustainable resistance movement to the regime). Without truth there is no solidarity.

          • Donalbain

            Yes. That is my diagnosis. In my opinion, the moral thing to do is to do whatever makes it more likely that the Nazi would end up leaving. That is the only criteria that I think matters. The only reason for doing something as sub-optimal as a refusal to lie is to feel that you have somehow “been good”, which is smugness.

  • Iota

    To be honest, I seriously dislike the “Nazis at the door” thing.

    In the context where no such threat is present (so people aren’t asking what they should actually do under the circumstances), it very often devolves into a kind of extremely abstract debate where one side is defending the idea that if other people are involved (here Jews) you should have a fully human contingency plan (assuming, charitably, they aren’t using it to move the moral Overton window), while the other side sees it as an attack against the fundamental virtue of Truth.

  • grok87

    “Humans are prone to any number of biases that make it hard to hear or
    notice the truth. You may be telling the truth when you use CAPS LOCK,
    but you’ve made it harder for your interlocutor to listen to you. Tone
    can be as effective a barrier to truth as misdirection.”

    I like the above. It is reminiscent of today’s epistle:
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082713.cfm
    Thes 2:1-8

    “You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our reception among you was not without effect. Rather, after we had suffered and been insolently treated, as you know, in Philippi, we drew courage through our God to speak to you the Gospel of God with much struggle. Our exhortation was not from delusion or impure motives, nor did it work through deception.

    nor did we seek praise from men, either from you or from others,
    although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ.
    RATHER WE WERE GENTLE AMONG YOU, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
    With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”

  • James_Jarvis

    I’m reminded of a quote from The Rainmaker by Nash“You’re so full of what’s right you can’t see what’s good!” Lying to the Nazi Officer may not be the right thing to do but it is what a good person would do. There is no moral imperative to cooperate with evil.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      I get a similar feeling when I reflect on the fact that those who claim the teaching on lying in the Catechism *second* edition is “magisterial” and obligatory for all Catholics just because it’s *in* the Catechism are the *same* folks who claim that the definition of lying in the Catechism found in the *first* edition is an erroneous loophole you can drive a truck through. (Which of course totally means that from this view the first edition of the Catechism universally–and “magisterially”–taught a moral error to the faithful *despite* assurance from JPII that the first edition was a “sure norm” for the faith. ) It’s amazing how the authority of the *same* resource is first undermined and then *enshrined* as the basis of what is “right” for all, without examining the “good”….

      • branemrys

        This is not the claim being made, though; for one thing, the first edition of the Catechism also describes lying in exactly the same way the change does in the second edition in other sections makes no restrictions; it’s just that in one sentence in one section concerned with the social issues related to lying it happened to link it to right to know, which was changed in the second edition. Further the first edition was explicitly published in order to determine whether anything required clarification; and where clarification was deemed required, it was made in the second edition. That’s why there was a first and a second edition! It was all on the same authority. And it so happened that one of the passages that was changed as needing to be clarified was precisely this one. It’s irrational nonsense to think that two things with the same authority will necessarily be equally clear; and two statements can be ‘sure norms’ and yet one of the presented in such a way that people can more easily misunderstand it. This is not a complicated claim, nor is it difficult to understand, nor is it anything like the nonsensical caricature you are trying to pin on your opponents.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          I actually pretty much *agree* with your description of the first and second ed stuff.
          However, see below a few words from an… “opponent”:

          ***[[When common sense washes away that dam, the next loop of the treadmill is to say, “If you don’t like the second edition of the Catechism, whose language was specifically tightened up to avoid the truck I am about to drive through this loophole, just stick with the first edition and tell yourself that so long as the person you are lying to has no right to the truth, you can lie your head off, because Nazis.” The idea here is that what we would in *any*
          other case call a “lie” magically becomes “not a lie” when you lie to somebody you have decided has “no right to the truth”.]]****
          AND
          ****[[The editors of the Catechism, realizing this well-meaning “no right to the truth” loophole essentially allowed every liar in the world to unilaterally declare that their victim had “no right to the truth”, fixed it in the second edition, so the Catechism’s teaching unambiguously underscored what moral theologians from Augustine to Aquinas to the present have overwhelmingly affirmed: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned”.]]****
          So the “right to the truth” phrase is declared here to be a “loophole” that needed fixing, right?
          So, if this “loophole” was an expression of *truth* and not error, why does the commenter above say it required fixing?
          Is the “right to truth” language of the first edition acceptable for belief, or not? It’s clearly a less rigorous expression of the teaching arising from Aquinas and Augustine, but is it a morally *acceptable* expression that Catholics can believe, or not?

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            And if the “right to truth” phrase is viewed as constituting an “erroneous” theological opinion, then whoever holds such a view is affirming that, from Oct. 11, 1992, to Aug. 15, 1997, the authoritative magisterium of the Church officially and universally taught moral error to the faithful via the Catechism ed. one. [edit: assuming the holder of the view believes the teaching on lying expressed in the Catechism to be "magisterial"]
            This is the logical conclusion that follows any claim that the “right to truth” language in the lying definition of CCC ed. one constitutes a theologically erroneous opinion that needs correction…

          • branemrys

            Nobody holds that “the ‘right to truth’ phrase” is “an erroneous theological opinion”; this is a position you’ve made up in your head. What they deny is that the ‘right to truth’ phrase was ever intended to function in the way you claim it does; and what they claim is that the second edition clarified the claim precisely because it could easily be misread. In other words, the claim is that the first edition made an unclear claim, which included the ‘right to truth’ phrase, that could be misread in precisely the way they claim you misread it, and that the second edition clarified the verbal statement of the underlying principle in such a way that we can now avoid this misreading.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            ****Nobody holds that “the ‘right to truth’ phrase” is “an erroneous theological opinion”; this is a position you’ve made up in your head.****

            So you assert that “nobody” holds that this definition of
            lying from the first edition is at all erroneous: “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.” (CCC 2483)

            Would you likewise assert then that this definition of
            lying from the first edition can continue being used by Catholics despite the fact that the current edition has deleted the last part and now reads “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error”? Are *both* definitions acceptable for Catholics to use?

            **** What they deny is that the ‘right to truth’ phrase was
            ever intended to function in the way you claim it does;****

            Please be specific, as I have no idea what you mean by “intended to function in the way you claim it does”—what claim have I made about this phrase other than it is a less rigorous definition of lying with the phrase and more rigorous without it?

            **** and what they claim is that the second edition
            clarified the claim precisely because it could easily be misread. In other words, the claim is that the first edition made an unclear claim, which included the ‘right to truth’ phrase, that could be misread in precisely the way they claim you misread it, and that the second edition clarified the verbal statement of the underlying principle in such a way that we can now avoid this misreading.****

            Please specifically state how the statement is being
            misread.

            And if the statement is being “misread,” could you please
            supply what you think is the *proper* way to read the statement—the reading the first edition authors “intended*?

          • branemrys

            Dude, again, this is not complicated. Think your argument through before you post.

            Everyone you are arguing against holds that the claim in the first edition is entirely correct if read correctly. What they deny is that you are reading it correctly in reading it in opposition to their view (and don’t try to pull the disingenuous act and pretend, as you do here, that you don’t know the view you are opposing, that view being that lying in the Augustinian (rather than Grotian) sense is always wrong and that this has strong authority, as if this were somehow something you needed explained to you). And one of the things they point to you is that the second edition clarified it in such a way as to remove the source of your particular reading, because your particular reading (misreading, in their view) could easily arise from the particular way it was stated.

            Your last paragraph shows, rather starkly, the absurdity of your argument: you want to know the proper reading of the first edition, as your opponents understand it? Look at the second edition — your opponents repeatedly make the point that this is a clarification of the text. And that is in general what second editions are. If you haven’t even progressed so far in understanding the people you are criticizing that you can’t even grasp that their claim is that the second edition clarifies the meaning of the first edition against possible misreadings that were unfortunately made possible by the way it was phrased, then you should not be arguing on this subject, because you haven’t done your homework.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Here’s the problem: Are you actually aware, or not, that the “right to the truth” phrase originates precisely with an *alternative* theological opinion, long ago expressed, regarding lying offered in opposition to the “common teaching” on lying originating with Augustine and Aquinas??? [edit: in case it's of interest, the "right to truth" approach to lying is said to originate with Dutch philosopher and lawyer Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)]
            You sound as though this might be unknown to you, as though the “right to the truth” phrase just sort of popped on the first-edition radar without any history.
            Further, are you actually aware that indeed and most definitely people who oppose my claims about the CCC on this issue actually *do* see that long-existing alternative “right to truth” view as *erroneous*, so much so that they are definitely claiming the “magisterium” took it out because it’s *wrong*, not just because it’s merely an “unclear” rendering of the common teaching??
            I daresay you may have some re-thinking to do and some potential “homework” on how this debate has played out.
            As it is, perhaps you will be willing to answer this question about the two expressions–the first-ed with “right to truth” and the second-ed without it: What is your opinion:
            1. They both mean the same thing?
            2. They mean *different* things, with the first-ed defining lying *less* rigorously and the second-ed defining lying *more* rigorously?
            3. Something else? (if so, please explain).

          • branemrys

            Since we are talking about your opponents, it is irrelevant, but I am well aware of the history; more aware, apparently, than you, The ‘right to truth’ position on lying is due to Hugo Grotius; it was a Protestant view proposed almost certainly in intended opposition to the standard Catholic view on lying at the time, and was based on an analogy to the, at the time, more generally accepted ‘right to truth’ position on equivocation, which is a distinct subject. There are entire fields related to the virtue of truthfulness in which the right to truth is uncontroversially relevant, and one of those is dealing precisely with the social harms of deception generally (which includes lying but is not synonymous with it), that is, the ways in which acts of deception can be sins against one’s neighbor. Now go back to your copy of the first edition, and read the full paragraph of the sentence your previously quoted (not the summary sentence in 2508, whose meaning can only be understood in light of the passage it is summarizing, but the actual paragraph), and then come back and tell me whether it happens to relate the ‘right to truth’ phrase in any way to lying as a sin against one’s neighbor in that paragraph. Now go back a paragraph in the same first edition and tell me if the sentence you quoted was actually the first thing said about lying that could be taken as a definition of lying. Now look at 2485, and tell me what it explicitly says is a failure of justice and charity. Now, give me an actual argument that the way you insist the passage should be read is the only possible way it can be read, given that there are other sentences that apparently can be read as ‘the definition of lying’ and that the ‘right to truth’ phrase is brought in in a context emphasizing lying as a sin against neighbor. My point here, of course, is not whether this is the way it should be read, but that it is an obvious fact that the passage can be read in ways other than you claim it must be, namely, as defining lying with respect to right to truth.

            You seem to have difficulty grasping, however, that this is not about me or even which view is right; this is about your absurd and unacceptable caricaturing of your opponents. Even on the assumption that they are wrong, their reasons for their views are not the idiotic ones you attribute to them but because they read the relationship between the first and second edition differently than you do; and in fact this is not an absurd way to read it — again, even if it is wrong.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            The “way” I claim the passage “must be” read is *not* in order to support my larger view of lying and the Catechism, but is as a *concession* to my “opponents,” who have waxed at length on their view that the two editions are *vastly* different on this point–that the reason the edit was made to drop the “right to truth” was *precisely* because it was lax phrasing and thus makes clear that the “magisterium” wants to teach that Catholics may *only* believe the most rigorous expression.
            I am willing to concede the meanings are different (are you? you’ve not responded directly to my question on this), but this concession hardly matters at *all* to my more direct assertions: namely, that the Catechism teaching on lying is *not* “magisterial” but *is* the common teaching of Catholic theologians, which is exactly the kind of teaching one should expect to find in Catechism–*regardless* of whether looking at ed. one or ed. two. And as such, a Catholic may form conscience either according to the teaching found in the Catechism, *or* according to a “less rigorous” view (regardless of whether such a less rigorous view has ever or will ever appear in a universal catechism).
            *That* is my stance on the issue. The rest of what I say above reflects my view of the absurd conclusions that *necessarily* follow from the views taken by some of my “opponents” (including someone who straight-facedly claims the second-edition teaching to be magisterially *infallible*!).
            Face it–if the Grotius-inspired “right to truth” language of the first edition is viewed as an *erroneous* view–and it definitely is by many of my opponents, and if these folks understand the second ed to “correct” a prior error to a “magisterial” teaching from the Catechism, then everything I’ve said above is *not* a “caricature” of certain “opponents”–it’s an accurate conclusion stemming from their views.
            Granted, not *all* folks I’ve encountered who accept the common teaching on lying consider that teaching to be a) magisterial and b) corrected in ed. 2 from erroneous expression in ed. 1. But a couple of my most vocal critics and their adherents *do* take this view. If you do not, I’m all the more relieved.

          • branemrys

            All this shows is that you have not done the basic work required to understand what a genuine concession to your opponents would be. Nor does any of it in any way serve as a defense of your absurd caricature in the comment that started this whole thing off.

            You seem also to be laboring under the misapprehension that the ‘right to truth’ phrase is itself inconsistent with the Augustinian/Thomistic view. This is false: it is the implicature or use of the phrase as a qualifier, which is the most common reading, that is inconsistent with it. On the A/T view, the ‘right to truth’ phrase is otiose and redundant. The whole point of the A/T view is that everyone has at least some right to truth — this is at least implicit in Augustine and said very explicitly in Aquinas using the older language of ‘moral debt’ or (as it is sometimes translated) ‘debt of honor’ (and it is perhaps worth noting that the Catechism explicitly quotes Aquinas’s exact statement of precisely this claim in the earlier section on truthfulness) — and that, while different people in different circumstances can have the right to truth in greater or lesser degree, everyone has the right to truth at least so far as not to be out-and-out lied to. That’s the position in question. The problem people who accept the Augustinian and Thomistic views have is not with the phrase but with what the phrase is often, particularly since Grotius, taken to imply.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            ****You seem also to be laboring under the
            misapprehension that the ‘right to truth’ phrase is itself inconsistent with the Augustinian/Thomistic view. This is false: it is the implicature or use of the phrase as a qualifier, which is the most common reading, that is
            inconsistent with it. On the A/T view, the ‘right to truth’ phrase is otiose and redundant.****

            The “misapprehension” is on the part of many commenters
            who have chosen to make clear *they* think it is inconsistent with the Augustine-Aquinas view, and I’ve opted to agree with them precisely *because* its inclusion in the CCC lends itself to opening up the line of inquiry
            established by Grotius.
            **** The whole point of the A/T view is that everyone has
            at least some right to truth — this is at least implicit in Augustine and said very explicitly in Aquinas using the older language of ‘moral debt’ or (as it is sometimes translated) ‘debt of honor’ (and it is perhaps worth noting that the Catechism explicitly quotes Aquinas’s exact statement of precisely this claim in the earlier section on truthfulness) — and that, while different people in different circumstances can have the right to truth in greater or
            lesser degree, everyone has the right to truth at least so far as not to be out-and-out lied to. That’s the position in question. The problem people who accept the Augustinian and Thomistic views have is not with the phrase but with
            what the phrase is often, particularly since Grotius, taken to imply.****

            I actually can agree with this, seems to me. I see what
            you are saying regarding the implicit idea that in the common teaching “everyone” has a right to truth instead of the positive lie. But if someone tells me that “right
            to the truth” is a loophole that needs fixing, and that it (being expressive of the “Grotian” challenge to the common teaching) is an erroneous opinion that a
            Catholic may not embrace, that doing so is magisterial dissent, I hardly can see how I am at fault for a “caricature” of this opponent’s position by drawing additional conclusions from its absurdity…particularly since I keep getting accused of embracing and defending “right to truth” as *the* correct view that contrasts with the common teaching (which I’ve never actually done).
            My view actually remains simple–Catholics can opt for the common teaching or something less rigorous but still reasonable when forming conscience on lying and truth-telling, and that we shouldn’t be divide over this issue because the magisterium permits us to either embrace the “safe” common teaching or some other reasonable theological opinion…

          • wineinthewater

            “The “misapprehension” is on the part of many commenters who have
            chosen to make clear *they* think it is inconsistent with the
            Augustine-Aquinas view, and I’ve opted to agree with them precisely
            *because* its inclusion in the CCC lends itself to opening up the line
            of inquiry established by Grotius.”

            So, you’ve opted to agree with a flawed argument as part of structuring your argument? This has been part of the problem with this debate. It really seems that you are intent on making your point rather than finding the mind of the Church. Otherwise, you would correct the misapprehension on the part of your interlocutors, not try to use it to help you make your point.

          • wineinthewater

            Some of your opponents have not been very precise in their language. That is unfortunate. However, I think that you have allowed that imprecision to frame your own argument and that is also rather unfortunate. So let me lay out my objections to your argument.

            Your argument is based on this fundamental assertion that the teaching contained in the Catechism is not magisterial, but merely the “common teaching” of the Church. You have never substantiated this assertion, so let me give a reason that it is not true. The catechism was published by apostolic constitution, the “highest” expression of the pope’s *ordinary* magisterium. Since both editions of the catechism are an expression of the pope’s ordinary magisterium, they both express the one Catholic faith. They may express doctrines differently, but they cannot express different doctrines. (branemrys has explained quite well how the two editions are in harmony, so there is no need for me to do so.)

            Your argument relies on this idea that the first edition permits a faithful Catholic to embrace an alternate “school” to the common teaching expressed in the second edition. However, since the first and second editions must be in harmony, the first edition cannot be interpreted in a way contrary to the second edition. So, the fact that the second edition precludes your position shows not that the first edition was in error but that your interpretation of the first edition was in error.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            ****Your argument is based on this fundamental assertion
            that the teaching contained in the Catechism is not magisterial, but merely the “common teaching” of the Church. You have never substantiated this assertion, so let me give a reason that it is not true.****

            No, I have substantiated this assertion by citing multiple sources in which this teaching is *exactly* referred to as the “common teaching” of Catholic theologians: The online Catholic Encyclopedia in more than one article, moral theology manuals, the *New* Catholic Encyclopedia,
            including the 21st –century edition that post-dates the CCC, etc.,etc. This assertion is well-substantiated, but I will hear you out….

            **** The catechism was published by apostolic
            constitution, the “highest” expression of the pope’s *ordinary* magisterium. Since both editions of the catechism are an expression of the pope’s ordinary magisterium, they both express the one Catholic faith. They may express doctrines differently, but they cannot express different doctrines. (branemrys has explained quite well how the two editions are in harmony, so
            there is no need for me to do so.)****

            So far, so good. No quarrel with this—the CCC as a
            *whole* is an expression of the ordinary papal magisterium. And, yes, I even agree that both editions sought to express the same truths in complete harmony
            (which is why JPII says the editio typica “repeats” the content of the first ed.)

            ****Your argument relies on this idea that the first
            edition permits a faithful Catholic to embrace an alternate “school” to the common teaching expressed in the second edition. However, since the first and second editions must be in harmony, the first edition cannot be interpreted in a way contrary to the second edition. So, the fact that the
            second edition precludes your position shows not that the first edition was in error but that your interpretation of the first edition was in error.****

            Here is where we differ, as this has never been my
            argument.

            My argument, as mentioned above, is really utterly
            independent of the content of the first edition. Yet I am continually put in a position of addressing the first edition vs. second edition content by those who themselves claim that the *second* edition is a deliberate refutation of a
            less rigorous “right to truth” concept present in the first. My argument is that the teaching on lying is common teaching and is therefore a “safe” opinion Catholics certainly can
            observe, but Catholics can *also* adhere to a less rigorous view than this, because it’s common teaching and *not* a teaching of the magisterium.

            The reason it’s not “magisterial” is that the CCC clearly
            contains a mixture of content, some of which has its source with the authentic teaching office of the pope and bishops and some content of which originates with the writings of the saints, Church Fathers, and other non-magisterial sources. Follow the footnotes: the teaching on lying goes back to Augustine and Aquinas, not the magisterium… and such non-magisterial teaching is not automatically “magisterialized” simply by being *in* the Catechism (this point is made clear by Cdl. Ratzinger himself in his “Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Ignatius Press)

            So, do you see why it’s common teaching, non-magisterial, and why a Catholic can follow a less rigorous theological opinion on what constitutes the sin of lying?

          • wineinthewater

            “The reason it’s not “magisterial” is that the CCC clearly contains a mixture of content, some of which has its source with the authentic teaching office of the pope and bishops and some content of which originates with the writings of the saints, Church Fathers, and other non-magisterial sources.”

            That is not so clear to me. I do not have “Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” so I do not know whether it makes your point or not. And since it is clearly not magisterial, just referencing this book isn’t enough. But let’s consider three things:

            First, let’s assume that you are right, that some of the content of the Catechism is not magisterial. What is the basis for assuming that this is from the “non-magisterial” part? You’ve said to follow the footnotes. But that there are no magisterial documents does not mean that this teaching
            is not magisterial, for that is not how the ordinary magisterium works. You reference the old Catholic Encyclopedia, but you are very selective in your reference and terminology. It calls the Aq/Aug position not just the common teaching, but the common and universally accepted view until modern times. It characterize those “other schools” as discordant voices. It dismisses those other schools as being out of harmony with Catholic teaching about *why* lying is immoral. All told, the article doesn’t present the view you’ve presented, of vying schools of thought in which one has generally prevailed but others have legitimately contended. Rather, this presents a story that looks much more like modern dissent from the universal teaching of the Church in her ordinary magisterium.

            The second thing to consider is the issue of error. Again, let’s accept for the purpose of argument that the catechism contains non-magisterial elements. The teaching in the catechism makes a positive moral claim, that lying is an intrinsic evil, that there are no circumstances in which lying can be justified. This is not a pastoral teaching, this is a teaching about faith and morals, and made within the context of the pope’s ordinary magisterium. To say that it is wrong – as you seem to be saying, since it must be wrong if we may adopt an alternate view – is to say that the Pope has erred in his ordinary magisterium. That is a high claim.

            The third thing to consider is prudence. I think that it is highly imprudent for a cleric of the Church to be publicly endorsing the rejection of part of the catechism. The Apostolic Constitution that promulgated the Catechism states that it is a “a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion,” but you are saying that it is not. For it says something unequivocal about the faith, and you are claiming that it is wrong in its unequivocal-ness.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Hi, wineinthewater. You wrote:

            ****That is not so clear to me. I do not have
            “Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” so I do not know whether it makes your point or not. And since it is clearly not magisterial, just referencing this book isn’t enough. ****

            Two things—first, the Catechism *itself* makes clear what
            it contains (from Fidei Depositum): “A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of
            the Fathers, Doctors, and saints of the Church, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the People of God. It should take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has intimated to his Church. It should also help to illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in
            the past.”

            Note what it says about the “spiritual heritage” of the
            Fathers, Doctors, and saints—this content is clearly
            non-magisterial…

            Second, here is what Ratzinger said in “Introduction to
            the Catechism of the Catholic Church”:
            [[This brings us to the question already mentioned before, regarding the authority of the Catechism. In order to find the answer, let us first consider a bit more closely its juridical character. We could express it in this way: analogously to the new Code of Canon Law, the Catechism is de facto a collegial work; canonically, it falls under the special jurisdiction of the Pope, inasmuch as it was authorized for the whole Christian world by the Holy Father in virtue of the supreme teaching authority invested in him. . . .This does not mean that the catechism is a sort of super-dogma, as its opponents would like to insinuate in order to cast suspicion on its as a danger to the liberty of theology. What significance the Catechism really holds for the common exercise of teaching in the Church may be learned by reading the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum, with which the Pope promulgated it on
            October 11, 1992–exactly thirty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council: "I acknowledge it [the Catechism] as a valid and legitimate tool in the
            service of ecclesiastical communion, as a sure norm for instruction in the faith.” The individual doctrine which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church…]]

            ****First, let’s assume that you are right, that some of
            the content of the Catechism is not magisterial. What is the basis for assuming that this is from the “non-magisterial” part? You’ve said to follow the footnotes. But that there are no magisterial documents does not mean that this teaching is not magisterial, for that is not how the ordinary magisterium works.****

            Actually, *yes*, if there are no universal magisterial
            documents to be had, then one cannot claim that a teaching originating with a single bishop or theologian can in any way obligate the Catholic Church as a *whole*. This should be abundantly clear: the universal Church cannot be bound by a *non-universal* teaching, not to mention a common teaching of Catholic theologians…

            **** You reference the old Catholic Encyclopedia, but you
            are very selective in your reference and terminology. It calls the Aq/Aug position not just the common teaching, but the common and universally accepted view until modern times.****

            Actually, here it is you being a bit selective, since the
            original reads: “The doctrine which has been expounded above reproduces the common and universally accepted teaching of the Catholic schools throughout the Middle Ages until recent times. From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards a few discordant voices have been heard from time to time.”

            Clearly, you can see the “universally accepted teaching
            of the *Catholic schools*” (as in the *Scholastics*–the *theologians*….) means exactly what I said it meant?

            **** It characterize those “other schools” as discordant
            voices. It dismisses those other schools as being out of harmony with Catholic teaching about *why* lying is immoral. All told, the article doesn’t present the view you’ve presented, of vying schools of thought in which one has generally prevailed but others have legitimately contended. Rather, this presents a story that looks much more like modern dissent from the universal teaching of the Church in her ordinary magisterium.*****

            But how can you conclude this when the very article
            itself says this teaching is the “common teaching of Catholic *theology*”??? The very article cited is not presenting a case of official teaching of the pope and
            bishops against magisterially dissenting theologians. Seriously, read Newman’s essay on lying and
            equivocation and then tell me I’m wrong on this…

            ****The second thing to consider is the issue of error.
            Again, let’s accept for the purpose of argument that the catechism contains non-magisterial elements. The teaching in the catechism makes a positive moral
            claim, that lying is an intrinsic evil, that there are no circumstances in which lying can be justified. This is not a pastoral teaching, this is a teaching about faith and morals, and made within the context of the pope’s ordinary
            magisterium. To say that it is wrong – as you seem to be saying, since it must be wrong if we may adopt an alternate view – is to say that the Pope has erred in his ordinary magisterium. That is a high claim.****

            I’m NOT—repeat—not, saying it’s “wrong”. When have I ever said it was wrong? I say very clearly it’s *safe*, not wrong. The common teaching is safe. Catholics can believe it and form conscience based on it. Again, the folks claiming the Catechism taught *error* are the folks who
            interpreted the *first* edition as being “wrong” and needing
            fixing…

            ****The third thing to consider is prudence. I think that
            it is highly imprudent for a cleric of the Church to be publicly endorsing the rejection of part of the catechism.****

            Well then it’s probably a darned good thing that I’m
            actually *not* publicly endorsing the rejection of the Catechism, right?

            **** The Apostolic Constitution that promulgated the
            Catechism states that it is a “a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion,” but you are saying that it is not. For it says something unequivocal about the faith, and you are
            claiming that it is wrong in its unequivocal-ness****

            No, I’m stating very clearly that it *is* a “sure norm
            for teaching the faith” exactly in the same way that JPII is saying it: the Catechism as a whole is a “sure norm for teaching the faith.” No question about that. But not everything in the CCC has equal doctrinal “weight”, and when it comes to things still in the field of the free opinions—like the common teaching of Catholic theologians on lying, the faithful are permitted to form conscience according to the common teaching *or* according to another well-considered theological opinion…

          • wineinthewater

            “as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers, Doctors, and saints of the Church”

            Now that makes sense. You’ve been using “common teaching” as if it is a technical term, as if it were some class or grade of authority within Catholic teaching. But I’ve only encountered it in that one CE article, so it’s been throwing me off this whole time. Now that I see that this is what you are talking about – and incidentally, for which you’ve given a very good argument – I understand and agree.

            “Actually, *yes*, if there are no universal magisterial
            documents to be had, then one cannot claim that a teaching originating with a single bishop or theologian can in any way obligate the Catholic Church as a *whole*.”

            That was not my contention. I’ll be more precise. The *ordinary* magisterium of the Church does not depend on documents, strictly speaking. It is established by the universal teaching of the Church through time. We, of course, must depend on documents to record this teaching so that we can see that it has actually been universal through time. So, it becomes difficult to say that something has been the universal teaching of the Church without record of it. But the documents attest to the authority, they are not the source of the authority. That’s all I was getting at.

            “Clearly, you can see the “universally accepted teaching
            of the *Catholic schools*” (as in the *Scholastics*–the *theologians*….) means exactly what I said it meant?”

            No, because you have consistently left out the “universally accepted” part. You have also consistently left out the “From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards a few discordant voices have been heard from time to time” part. The net result is very misleading. By selectively saying only “common teaching,” you have downplayed how truly dominant the position has been throughout Catholic history and up-played the legitimacy of the contrary position.

            “Seriously, read Newman’s essay on lying and equivocation and then tell me I’m wrong on this…”

            Newman’s essay does you no favors. If you read it carefully, you can see that Newman accepts as a given that lying is always a sin. Newman is addressing the issue of “falsehoods” that are not, strictly speaking, lies. The controversy and confusion he addresses is not about whether there is just cause or “special cases” that justify lying, but whether there are special cases that justify other acts that he classifies as falsehoods, or “material” rather than “formal” lies, specifically evasion, equivocation and silence. Also note the source of the confusion; it is primarily Anglican thinkers. The “other schools” that Newman addresses are, often as not, not even Catholic. Further, they are not other schools about lying, but about Newman’s broader concept of “falsehoods.”

            And it is quite telling that Newman doesn’t deal with the mode of “falsehood” of strict mental reservation. This is because Pope Innocent XI condemned it in “Sanctissimus Dominus.” In that bull, he did two things, condemning both the claim that strict mental reservation is not a lie and the claim that there exist special cases that justify the practice. If there are no special cases for strict mental reservation, something less obviously a lie, how can there be special cases for lying? And I think a papal bull should meet your requirement of a “magisterial document.”

            “I’m NOT—repeat—not, saying it’s “wrong”. When have I ever said it was wrong?”

            The Catechism does not just define a “safe” position. It does not just offer a broad characterization of the morality of lying. It does not just state Catholic teaching in a way that lacks nuance and theological precision (as was often the case of the Baltimore Catechism). It makes a positive theological and moral claim, that lying is an intrinsic evil. This categorically precludes any special cases for justifying a lie. However, you have repeatedly said that a Catholic may adopt one of the less strict schools of thought on lying (even if you have not claimed that you do so yourself). If we may adopt a less strict school, then the Catechism must be wrong, lying cannot be an intrinsic evil. That the catechism is wrong is a necessary condition of your position.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Thanks for the reply. I’ll try to briefly respond…
            Common teaching is a “technical” theological term for those opinions of theologians held in common by a “majority” of theologians but still among free opinions, even when endorsed or referenced by the episcopal magisterium. Think, for example, of the “common teaching” on the limbo of the infants…
            Regarding your view of my “downplaying” the “dominance” of the common teaching, I sincerely have never intended to do so and am sorry it has come across this way to you.
            Regarding Newman–yes, he personally accepts the common teaching on the intrinsic evil of lying, no question, but he *acknowledges* the numerous other views on this question or on the question of what actually constitutes a sinful lie.
            Regarding Mental Reservation, read the CE article on this for more–Pope Innocent had very specific “laxist” errors in mind and does not touch directly on the issue of broad mental reservation *or* on whether the definition of lying that forms the common teaching is accurate or not. We could walk through the texts of his bull if you wish….
            Lastly, is my position necessarily built on the “wrongness” of the Catechism? No it’s not. It’s not a question of the *catechism* being “wrong” in any way. The CCC merely *repeats* something that already exists, and in doing so, adds no magisterial “weight” to what it repeats–the common teaching of Catholic theologians on lying.
            Is the *common teaching* “right” or “wrong”? Or, said another way, is there something we can call “lying” that is *always* wrong? Yes, there is a form of “lie”, a human act, that forms a moral category we really could call “intrinsically evil” *if* the term lying is adequately defined. OR, one might argue, the common teaching might be “wrong” to say that all human acts we call lying are intrinsically evil. It’s going to depend on which choice one makes in defining the “lie”–we have to decide how to define it, either according to the act itself *or* according to its morality.
            Either way, though, it’s not the CCC that’s right or wrong–it’s the common teaching repeated in the CCC that’s right or wrong. And the Magisterium permits us to form conscience either according to it or according to something less rigorous.
            This is why I keep saying the common teaching is “safe” to embrace no matter what, which is why it’s even *in* the CCC. The question is always “may” one speak a falsehood intending to deceive, without sinning? Not *must* one….
            Hope these points help somehow–I’m grateful that we’ve had opportunity to dialogue on this as respectfully as we have. Thanks.

          • wineinthewater

            “Regarding Newman–yes, he personally accepts the common teaching on the
            intrinsic evil of lying, no question, but he *acknowledges* the numerous
            other views on this question or on the question of what actually
            constitutes a sinful lie.”

            Here’s my issue: he acknowledges them, but who are they? He mentions Clement, Milton and Alfonso, but that is in a discussion about “just cause” generally and not lying specifically. You have mentioned them, but who are they? Grotius? He’s Protestant. The CE article mentions challenges to the “common teaching” but does not name them. Newman references “Greek Fathers.” Which ones?

            This is part of my problem. Even if we allow that a Catholic may align themselves with another “school,” we are talking about them aligning themselves with anonymous dissenters in the face of Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, the modern catechism, the Catechism of Trent, etc. Even if we allow that a Catholic *may*, I don’t think that statement is responsible without qualifying it, without remarking on the prudence of siding with anonymous, dismissed minority opinions in the face of some of the heaviest theological hitting in the Church.

            “Regarding Mental Reservation, read the CE article on this for more–Pope
            Innocent had very specific “laxist” errors in mind and does not touch
            directly on the issue of broad mental reservation *or* on whether the
            definition of lying that forms the common teaching is accurate or not.”

            I have read the article, and I’ve read the bull. I think the most pertinent part is that Innocent does not allow special circumstances for strict mental reservation. It becomes inconceivable that special cases could be allowable for straight up lying that are not allowable for the indirect lying of strict mental reservation. So, for a Catholic to ascribe to one of these minority schools, we must not only admit that astoundingly common teaching is wrong, we must also allow that Catholic teaching is inconsistent.

            I see how you can hold your position without the Catechism needing to be wrong. I find it a bit sophist, but I understand it.

            Still, I find the “special cases” position to be unsupportable. I do not see how a teaching can be universally accepted without being universally taught. I find it hard to believe that a common teaching, universally accepted, challenged only as late as the 17th c. and apparently mostly from Protestant corners and apparently mostly indirectly through discussion of “other falsehoods,” and treated as a given in magisterial documents on related issues, is wrong.

            Further, I don’t see the good fruits of the position, nor of even arguing for the position. We should be striving for the narrow gate to heaven, not for the narrow loophole to heaven. This might be an interesting topic for the theological sphere, but I don’t think it is prudent for the public sphere.

    • Brandon B

      The way you are using the words “right” and “good” is strange to me. The way I use the words, the right thing to do is the same thing as what a good person would do. What distinction do you see?

      • James_Jarvis

        The quote makes sense in the context of the movie. In the example of the Nazi at the door I would argue that doing the right thing in the abstract by telling truth, because it is always wrong to lie, would be the wrong thing to do because it would cause the death of the someone. If I lie and save a life that is a good thing, even if lying is wrong. If I had a better grasp of moral philosophy I might be able to express this more clearly, but there you go.

    • stanz2reason

      Lying to the Nazi Officer may not be the right thing to do but it is what a good person would do.

      Might it stand to follow then that telling the truth to the Nazi officer may be the right thing to do, but it is what a bad person would do?

  • keddaw

    Funny that those of us without superstitions would rephrase the penultimate sentence as:

    “Religion is creating distance between my target and the world-as-it-is.”

    After all, at most one of them is correct so the rest are teaching some falsehoods as ultimate Truths. Lucky that Leah picked the correct one with magic*, spirits, demons and exorcisms, eh? Wouldn’t want her chosen religion to create a distance between her and the world-as-it-is…

    * Not (just) miracles, but the other stuff the Bible says is true like sorcery and the witchcraft that the church used to put people to death for.

  • MumbleMumble

    Can you give an explanation of why it is always wrong to lie that does not involve religion?

    • MumbleMumble

      I’m really not trying to be snarky. Are you able to come up with an argument that is not based around the specific teachings of your religion?

      • Brutus

        I can, if you allow me to interpret ‘religion’ as ‘supernatural’.

        When you intentionally deceive someone, you create or foster a belief in them which you know to be contrary to reality. For a reflexively consistent agent, having beliefs which diverge from reality is always strictly worse than having beliefs which accurately reflect reality.

        (I’m omitting the long discussion which leads to the conclusion that treating other people as though they are consistent agents with complicated preferences is better).

        • MumbleMumble

          That’s sort of an important omission you’ve got there. If someone’s beliefs were to cause harm if they accurately reflected reality, then isn’t it preferable to deceive them in order to prevent harm?

          • Brutus

            Only if one is a consequentialist.

            I omitted that portion of the discussion because I don’t actually believe it, and I don’t care enough to explain the bases well enough to give it a fair hearing if you aren’t already familiar. It’s very much pseudoreligious in nature, starting with some dodgy assertions about identities as metaphysical objects.

          • MumbleMumble

            So the answer to my original question is still no?

            I’m sorry, I really don’t understand why this is so complicated. If the Nazi is at the door, and you lie to protect the life of somebody else who is innocent, then what is the problem? (I realize that we seem to be on the same side of the argument here – that was a question geared more towards the folks like Leah.) All these other justifications just sound like ridiculous posturing, trying to either prove (a) some unnecessary level of objective morality, or (b) some religion.

          • Brutus

            Model the Gestapo as a rational agent; telling him that there are no Jews in the house should not his belief regarding whether or not there are. My answer was actually for the closely related question about “deceiving” rather than lying, because that dodges all of statements that are non-factual without being deceptive.

  • Cam

    As far as I understand the Nazis-at-the-door experiment, the entire point is to test our ethics on lying in a situation where telling the truth is guaranteed to cause immediate, measurable and terrible consequences. Like, that’s the basic premise of the experiment. You can’t just say “well how about other solutions, like distracting the Gestapo with cookies?”. This might be a real-world solution, but we’re not looking for real world solutions, we’re trying to test our ethics.

    So while the parts of your essay that make claims about the inherent harms of lying are fine in themselves (albeit built on a foundation of things that aren’t real), you haven’t addressed the issues raised by the thought experiment at all, and the ‘strict Catholic edict against lying’ isn’t looking too great at the moment (noting that other Catholics, and possibly the catechism, disagree with you on the strictness of this edict).

    Assuming that we accept your claims about the inherent harms of lying, it would be awesome if you could explain why you think these harms are always going to be less desirable than whatever harms come from telling the truth in a given situation. You’re a virtue ethicist who just caused the death your Jewish friend- why is this okay? Screwing with telos or whatever might be bad, but is it as bad as people dying? Though it’s not even clear at all from your post what you think the best action to take in the thought experiment would be.

    “The telos of humanity is to be healed of all divisions. The wounds we have inflicted on ourselves or on others will be closed up, and it will be possible to be wholly united with each other and with God.”

    Um, citation needed. Did god tell you this? Is this in the bible? If so, what passage?

  • Delphi Psmith

    Lying to the Gestapo is always good. Sorry.

  • grok87

    Ok this is totally off topic, but I just love this picture of Pope Francis.
    https://mobile.twitter.com/FabioMRagona/status/373177674107072512/photo/1

  • BA Anderson

    If killing to save life is justified, then lying to save life is–even more so. Unless one thinks the integrity of language is more important than the integrity of life.

  • Brutus

    You have no right to a relationship or peace which would be destroyed by the truth.

    That said, there are ironic statements which appear to be lies, but when unpacked those statements are more about status; “It’s no bother” can be an acknowledgement that the speaker will do it without complaint because of their status.


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