False witness not to bear be strict…

… and cautious, lest you contradict.

May one ever tell lies? Robert George and Chris Tollefsen think not. But whatever our opinion of Lila Rose, would we say she’s committing objectively evil acts? Let’s hash it out.

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73 Responses to False witness not to bear be strict…

  1. David P. says:

    And also: Given that lying is always wrong, what counts as lying? Is there a (morally relevant) difference between “deception” and lying? &c.

  2. David P. says:

    In contrast to the George-Tollefsen model of lying, there’s that of MacIntyre, elaborated in his Tanner Lectures at Princeton, “Truthfulness, Lies, and Moral Philosophers: What Can We Learn from Mill and Kant?” I’m not sure whether I completely endorse MacIntyre’s position, but it’s an interesting counter-perspective, nonetheless. (The lectures are here: http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/macintyre_1994.pdf )

    Here a kind of summation of MacIntyre’s view of the matter, from pp. 356-7:

    To the Dutch housewife it must have been evident that, even were she able to kill the Nazi official, the consequence would have been a reign of murderous terror directed against the entire community, including the children whom she was pledged to protect. Moreover, killing the Nazi official would have done unnecessary harm, provided only that she was able instead to lie convincingly. In this type of case the normally illegitimate power exercised by the successful liar becomes legitimate, first because and insofar as it provides a defense against the prior illegitimate exercise of power by the aggressor, and second because by lying she avoids other more harmful uses of power. I take it therefore that the Dutch housewife’s lie and all other lies of just the same kind were and are justified. But what is this kind and how is the rule that justifies them to be formulated?

    It would be misleading to state it as though its form was “Never tell a lie, except when.. .” For this would suggest that we were first formulating a rule and only later, as a second thought, introducing an exception. But this is a mistake. The rule that we need is one designed to protect truthfulness in relationships, and the justified lies told to frustrate aggressors serve one and the same purpose and are justified in one and the same way as that part of the rule that enjoins truthfulness in relationships. The Massachusetts mother and the Dutch housewife upheld in their exceptional circumstances just what the normal rational truthful person upholds in her or his everyday life. The rule is therefore better stated as “Uphold truthfulness in all your actions by being unqualifiedly truthful in all your relationships and by lying to aggressors only in order to protect those truthful relationships against aggressors, and even then only when lying is the least harm that can afford an effective defense against aggression.” This rule is one to be followed, whatever the consequences, and it is a rule for all rational persons, as persons in relationships.

    • Stephen Paquin says:

      I find the MacIntyre excerpt question-begging.

      1. What does it means to be “unqualifiedly truthful”? This suggests I should be telling all people all things at all times.
      2. Why is the relationship with the aggressor excluded from consideration by the general principle “Uphold truthfulness in all your actions by being unqualifiedly truthful in all your relationships”? MacIntyre himself remarks that it is “a rule for all rational persons, as persons in relationships”. The aggressor does not cease to be a rational person, and the ability to verbally communicate with him presupposes a relationship, however shallow or violent.
      3. If, as MacIntyre notes, lying itself is a form of “harm”, and, as I would argue, we can’t lie without intending this harm (for the lie does not cause the harm, but is, itself, the harm), then lying is an intrinsic evil even before consideration of “defense against aggression”.

      Speaking more broadly, I’d be curious to hear MacIntyre’s explanation of what, exactly, an intrinsic evil is. I think that this, more than anything else, would get at my own discomfort with MacIntyre’s methodology. Christianity has long held that one can never do evil for the sake of good. However we decide to interpret or flesh this out, I think that taking this claim seriously requires abandoning ethics as a “hermeneutic” exercise. But that is, perhaps, a discussion for another day.

  3. Michael Skiles says:

    I’m not quite sure what to think of this issue.

    I don’t think I’m persuaded by the notion that when you lie (say to the Nazi at the door) you are intentionally impeding the good of friendship/community with him. Clearly, when you speak an assertion, ordinarily a limited community would be instantiated that is not instantiated when you reveal a counterfeit self. But it is not clear that it is precisely by the not-coming-to-be of community that you achieve your end, and if you insist that this is so, then how could one justify the person who remains silent when asked, or is otherwise deceptive in a way that does not entail making a false assertion?

    It seems that for all of these cases, one chooses not to create a community, but I don’t quite see why a community would be intentionally impeded.

    As for the claim that in lying, one creates an alienation between the inner and outer self, that simply is intentionally impeding the good of self-integration.

    I might be able to buy that, but I have a little qualm with it. If one thinks that one simply has to alienate the inner from outer in order to lie, I don’t see why one would not be doing so when playing Mafia, for example. Of course, they say that actors and poker bluffers are fine, because they are taken to be making assertions, but in games like Mafia, it seems that we instead have a social understanding that it is alright to lie. In fact, the game tests how good of a liar you are; people do assert that they aren’t Mafia, and win by deceiving. I do not want to say that this is wrong; it just seems that if one is to have an account of lying that claims that in order to lie, one MUST intend this self-alienation, then I don’t see how one could play Mafia without also intending it.

  4. Michael Hannon says:

    I think Thomas’ distinction between deception and lying is relevant here. Certainly, in the Dutch housewife example, to deceive the Nazi is a good thing–to my mind, you should deceive him whether or not you are in fact hiding Jews, for that is information that he does not have any right to. But here, as for example in the case of contraception, it is not the end (deception / avoiding conceiving a child), but the intended divorce of the act from its intrinsic purpose (speaking a known falsehood / sterilizing the marital act) in which the immorality consists. Even in the case of the Nazi, it seems to me that lying as such would be wrong, though deception more generally would seem to be not just permissible but morally obligatory.

    The case of Mafia seems to me to involve what Robbie George referred to this morning as “a context of social conventions that could render a statement one knows to be false something other than a lie: such as when someone invites a friend out for a ‘quiet meal’ on his birthday, only to deliver him to a big surprise party in his honor”. That is different than lying in a way comparable to how sarcastic comments, wherein we say things we know to be false in such a way as to draw attention to their falsehood, are different than lying. Not every word we speak, taken at face value, must accord with the truth, but taking into account the context in which the words are spoken, the words must not convey un-truth for the sake of leading others to believe this un-truth to be truth. With Mafia, the entire game is premised on the fact that our statements in the game are not trustworthy. We do not live our everyday lives in such a context.

    And those kinds of conditions, that context that makes a deception something other than a lie, does not seem to exist in the case of Live Action.

    According to the Catechism, “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving” (CCC 2482). In the following paragraphs, the Magisterium could not be more blatant about the moral status of lying: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity” (CCC 2485). So to justify Live Action would seem to demand that we prove that the kind of deception involved therein is not, properly speaking, lying at all; is not “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving”. Unfortunately, it seems to me that that is precisely what Live Action’s program has done.

    Naturally, I could not be more adamantly pro-life. I believe abortion is the greatest moral tragedy of our age. I just think that we, as Christians and as pro-lifers, need to really take St. Paul’s words in Romans 12:21 to heart: “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

    God bless y’all always.

  5. Michael Skiles says:

    I do not deny that social understanding makes people aware that one’s words are not trustworthy in Mafia. But if one is to establish a moral absolute against lying based on the grounds that it involves intentionally impeding the good of self-integration, one must prove that self-alienation must be intended as the very means by which one can execute a lie. This sort of claim would hold that in order to ever tell someone a falsehood with the intent to deceive, one must erect a barrier between that person and one’s inner-self, and offer a counterfeit inner self. If one is to make such a strong claim about lying, then clearly one would also be doing this in Mafia.

    Also, what are people’s thoughts on Santa Claus? Is it wrong to tell your kids about him?

    • Michael Hannon says:

      I didn’t try to establish the moral absolute on the grounds you just laid out, but regardless, I think that those contexts change what the act is and how it affects its subject. Presumably on a NNL account, as Patrick said last weekend, the disintegration of the self that lying brings about by setting inner against outer is not at all at work in Mafia-esque contexts. All is essentially said in an elaborate jest that all parties are aware of.

      And my initial reaction to Santa Claus is that, again, the context makes it such that that great modern fairy story of sorts is not in fact lying, but is rather comparable to the surprise party example. But I know there are a number of people on this blog that *strongly* disagree with that, so I’d be interested to hash that out more here as well.

      • Michael Skiles says:

        I can respect your not wanting to make sense of the NNL account of lying. But let us be clear; we know that the NNL’ers would say that the disintegration does not exist in these social contexts, yet we still have not explained with that would be if, in order to execute a lie, one must AS A MEANS, alienate the inner and outer selves.

        As for Santa: The reason that some say that social contexts could render false statements as non-lies is that the speaker does not expect the receiver to be deceived. But children are not privy to the social conventions regarding Santa Claus; they believe it to be just as trustworthy of a statement as any other.

        Although, I’m disinclined to condemn giving children the wonderful gift of Santa Claus.

      • Clare Coffey says:

        Are we actually getting into the Santa wars? In February?

        • Michael Skiles says:

          Apparently. Seasonly inappropriate arguments about the morality of Santa are no stranger to Zion. It was a frequently argued topic during First Principles, last year, (In early August)…

  6. Stephen Paquin says:

    For what it’s worth, I would never lie to my kids about Santa Claus, and I mean this very seriously. To read a child a fairy tale is one thing. To convince them that a fairy tale is *actually the case* is quite another, and I don’t see how that could be anything but a blatant lie.

    There’s an obvious disanalogy between the surprise party and Santa Claus. In the surprise party, your invitation need not be a lie. You can say, for example, “Come join my friends and me for lunch at Mory’s!”. The unavoidable implication of the invitation, that you and your friends are having lunch, is, in fact, true. But I really don’t think it’s possible to maintain the Santa Claus myth without directly and intentionally lying (though I don’t think it’s possible to lie unintentionally anyway). Similarly, certain types of sarcasm are immoral. St. Thomas was well aware of this.

    Mafia doesn’t seem to be problematic to me: Entrance into the game presupposes common use of deception. This presupposition is explicit on almost all occasions, particularly when rules are being explained. If this is the case, then it is not an assertoric context, understood as that context in which assertions necessarily signify what you believe to be the case. A similar example is the theatre: the context and social convention are such that people *know* not interpret statements from the production as manifestation of actors’ beliefs.

    As you’ve probably inferred, though, I’ve been uncomfortable with Live Action from the start. And I’m skeptical of virtually any position on this matter which would suggest that St. Thomas More was a fool, and not a martyr.

    “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

    • Matthew Schmitz says:

      My parents took the same view on lying about Santa Claus, and so do I.

    • Michael Hannon says:

      Just for clarification–in George’s surprise party example, the words spoken did communicate a kind of untruth, rather than just concealing part of the truth, which is the way your explanation makes that case seem, Steve. Would you say that the “quiet meal” rhetoric is morally problematic? George seemed to be saying that words spoken against the truth for the purpose of deception in cases like that are not in fact lying, but your point seems to be that they would be, and thus we can deceive but may not enlist words against the truth to do so.


      • Stephen Paquin says:

        “your point seems to be… we can deceive but may not enlist words against the truth to do so.”

        Correct. I don’t think all deception is evil, especially because most “deception” is simply the result of common ambiguities of language, and we can’t possibly be responsible for ensuring that everything that we say, or even most of what we say, is interpreted in precisely the way we mean it. That seems absurd to me.

        The relevant question in this case is whether or not the “quiet meal” rhetoric is, in fact, enlisting words against the truth such that your assertions are not true in *any* sense. I’m inclined to think it’s sufficiently ambiguous that it’s probably not a lie:

        Are you having a meal? Certainly.

        Will much of that meal be quiet, meaning that you are not causing much noise? Yes. And this is obviously the case until the guest of honor arrives.

        Could that meal also be “quiet” in the sense of being a small gathering of people? Yes.

        I think it’s plausible to say that there is *some* commonly accepted semantic range in which the “quiet meal” rhetoric is true. But it seems wildly implausible that an assertion like this could be anything but false:

        “I run a sex trafficking organization and need medical attention for my agents.”

        • Michael Hannon says:

          We’re in agreement re: Live Action. But I’m inclined to think that the surprise party justification rests not just on the ambiguity of the phrase “quiet meal”, but on the social context in which it is spoken. There do seem to be deliberate spoken untruths, such as that, that are not lies, and thus are not intrinsically immoral, even though the language itself expresses something false. Thus I think someone could be justified in saying something far more specific and plainly untrue to get the guest of honor to a surprise party, and I don’t believe that would raise any moral problems at all.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          Could you use an example, Mike? I don’t think the context helps in this situation, given that the guest of honor has no reason whatsoever to believe that your words represent anything other than what you believe and take to be the case (or he would not take your invitation seriously!).

          For what it’s worth, I think that the example of St. Thomas More, at least as depicted in A Man for All Seasons, is quite telling: he looks for every possible ambiguity in the profession he is being asked to make. But, ultimately, he realizes rightly that he can’t make the profession and mean it in *any* plausible sense. That is, more or less, what I take to be the only acceptable position: We are expected to be “as clever as serpents” (Mat 10:16), but this will only get us so far.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          “Let’s go have dinner, just the two of us.” Or, “Oh my gosh, is it your birthday?! I completely forgot. Sorry I didn’t have time to plan something, but let’s go grab dinner.” My inclination (and I think RPG’s) is to say that statements that in other social contexts would amount to blatant lies change their characters in these sorts of extraordinary circumstances, wherein there is a clearly established social practice that these deceptive statements play into.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          Well I don’t know what Robert George would say. If he’s on the same page as Tollefson, then he would say that the second claim is clearly a lie (“I completely forgot!” and “didn’t have time to plan something” seem quite difficult to get around).

          The first is slightly more ambiguous because you could take the “just the two of us” as an apposition to the implied “us” in “Let’s”, meaning “[Addressing “just the two of us”], Let’s go grab dinner!”.

          For what it’s worth, though, I don’t claim to have a neat analysis for every example that can be thrown out. This type of practical ambiguity shows up in every position on lying. You can take a stance in which lying is always wrong and have some degree of ambiguity as to *exactly* which statements qualify as a lie. Or you can take a stance that only some lies are wrong and then have some degree of ambiguity as to *exactly* which lies are wrong.

          I take the first of these stances. It seems to me that it has plenty of support in Church tradition and is consistent in its own right.

        • Sherif Girgis says:

          I think (and have told him!) that George’s birthday example is inconsistent with his and Chris’s general theory, which I accept. I think that the plausible definition of lying, every case of which exhibits the wrong they see in all lies, is this: proposing as true what one believes to be false. To translate this into their somewhat metaphorical language of inner and outer self, ‘what I propose to be true (and therefore as believed by me to be true)’, equivalent for these purposes to ‘what I expect others to *take* me to be proposing (and therefore myself *believing*) to be true’, is the ‘outer self,’ and ‘what I believe to be true’ is the inner self. When these are divided, integrity is damaged.

          I think this clarifies when and how social conventions might get me off the hook. If a social convention merely *excuses* the false utterance, that itself doesn’t stop it from being a false assertion—an intended division of inner and outer self. It just means that people won’t likely blame me for it.

          But when the social conventions alert my interlocutors that we’re in a context where they should not *take* my utterances and movements to represent what I think to be true, then these conventions effectively make my outer self ‘blank.’ Clearly, though, this requires that they realize then and there, that we’re in such a context. That’s what happens in poker (where people know that bluffing is part of the game) and in raising false flags in war (where there are widely known and accepted international conventions about that). The reason to make such rules in poker, or in war, is to “scramble” the data, to prevent an outer self from being formed at all, in those contexts.

          In the surprise birthday case, on the other hand, to accomplish my goal I actually have to get the person to think that my utterances or movements *do* represent what I believe to be the case. It’s not that I’m trying to prevent them from inferring anything about a party either way from what I say. (Unless, of course, I only say true things about where we’re going. But in George’s own example, I say something actually false: “It’s a quiet meal!”)

        • Sherif Girgis says:

          And I apologize for the barbarous syntax, which was entirely praeter intentionem.

    • Margaret Anne says:

      Re: convincing a child that a fairy tale is actually the case is nothing but a blatant lie. Why read the fairy tale at all then? Steve, you love Chesterton. The fairy tale may express an aspect of reality in a way that a host of true propositions cannot. Maybe don’t tell your kid there are fairies behind every bush, but no need to say it’s all make believe, either.

      Not perfectly related to our moral discussion of lying and deception (or Live Action, on which I’m undecided), but O’Connor’s distinction between the honesty of a person’s statement and the truth leaves space for MacIntyre’s Dutch housewife, and his rule of truthfulness in relationships:

      “This thing of demanding honesty of people is in the upper reaches of extreme Innocence….When you ask [someone] to be honest with you, you are asking him to act like God, whom he is not, but whom he makes some attempt to be in giving you what you want, and it doesn’t make him show up too well, of course. Never, above all things, ask your family to be honest with you. This is putting a strain on the human frame that it can’t bear. [A person’s] honesty is only honesty, not truth, and it can’t be much value to you intellectually or otherwise. To love people you have to ignore a good deal of what they say while being honest, because you are not living in the Garden of Eden any longer” (Flannery O’Connor, Habit of Being).

      • Stephen Paquin says:

        I’m certainly all for fairy tales (and Chesterton!), and I agree “the fairy tale may express an aspect of reality in a way that a host of true propositions cannot”. Addie and I had a great conversation about this the last time we talked. With all due respect, though, that is completely and utterly beside the point. One can enjoy a fairy tale and even believe life is a form of a fairy tale (I do!) without convincing their child that a *particular* fairy tale is *actually* true. This is simply absurd, and this is exactly what one does (and intends to do!) in the whole Santa Claus routine.

        The Flannery O’Connor quote seems to take an argument of this form:
        1. Honesty grounded in truth is hard.
        2. Humans, having been expelled from the Garden of Eden, are fallen and weak.
        Conc: Don’t expect too much out of people’s honesty.

        O’Connor makes the distinction between truth and honesty to illustrate the imperfection of people’s honesty outside of the Garden of Eden, not to say that a person’s honesty ought not manifest truth. Rather, the very fact that it *did* in the Garden of Eden should be an indication that our honesty *ought* to be grounded in truth, even if we fail to live up to this. And if lying is contrary to the truth, then it is wrong, even if we’re not culpable for it much of the time.

        …And how many lies does one have to make to convince their children of Santa Claus? It’s not a done deal with one lie. First, you lie to your kids about where the presents came from. Then, you lie about what you heard at night. Then, you lie about where you were that night. Then, you lie about why Santa brought the other kids better presents. Then, you lie about the handwriting on the note from Santa. Then, you lie about the cookie crumbs on the table and the carrot pieces on the doorstep. And on and on and on until much of your relationship with the children is built on lies.

        Replace Santa Claus with “the flying spaghetti monster”, and the whole stunt appears as ridiculous as it should.

        The nativity story is as wonderful a fairy tale as any. Why do we need to distract ourselves with all the consumerism of Santa Claus? If you really want to give your kids presents, then give them presents. Trust me, they’ll be very happy, even if you don’t lie. Many of them will be happier that you didn’t.

        • Clare Coffey says:

          I thought this was relevant. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txCiZFPsKR8

          Seriously though. Maybe I was raised in a stranger-than-usual environment, but I grew up believing all kinds of fairy tales were true. My chain smoking Irish great aunts told us about the fairies, elves, monsters, that lurked behind the most mundane facades–mermaids in the reservoir, changelings in the house next door. We not only believed them, my cousins and I would occasionally lead expeditions to rout out and face the bandits who camped out in the garage, or leave food for the little people in the woods.
          I never felt violated by my aunts’ complicity in these delusions, because it wasn’t lying. It was theater-a way to express and enact the wonder in the every- day world that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around or articulate. And for many families, Santa Claus is the same kind of theater, a way to present the wonder of the mysterious and dynamic magic of free gift in a way that viscerally affects a child’s imagination.
          No one ever had to tell me Santa Claus wasn’t real. I just grew out of it, and grew into bigger things. (And that might not be every kid’s experience, which is why the parents, and not people on blogs, are responsible for their children’s minds.) And my 6 year old imaginative life was richer for Santa, and richer for my semi-certifiable aunts.
          Virtue is a fight, a hard one. I know, Michael, no objective evil is a small matter. But I think for some, the most basic chastity and charity and integrity and sobriety is enough of a life-long fight without dissecting and sterilizing and wringing the color out of the whole human experience in the search for possible contaminants.

          Ok, done with rant. Now let’s talk about Harry Potter. Or possibly mantillas?

        • Michael Hannon says:

          Re: Santa, I think I agree with Clare. Certainly, I want to agree with Clare. My experience was very similar to hers there. I loved the Santa myths, and in large part still do with regards to little ones in my life. But if lying is as broadly defined as most are suggesting here, and because lying in intrinsically wrong, I see the obvious conclusion. Still, I must admit I do not like it, and I fear we erred along the way. I will certainly reflect more on this before I have kids of my own. :-)

  7. Stephen Paquin says:

    And, also, could we finish the argument on capital punishment?

  8. Shivani says:

    With regard to what someone mentioned earlier, it may be helpful to get clear about what we take to be the distinction between lying and deception. Lying seems to involve person A saying something false to person B in order to get person B to believe that the false things is actually true. Deception, I take it involves person A getting person B to intentionally have a false belief. Here, I think talk about what makes something misleading is helpful– person A misleads person B when A unintentionally causes B to form a false belief.

    It seems that misleading someone, since it isn’t intentional, can be morally permissible. That leaves four major questions:
    1) Is lying morally permissible?
    2) Is deception morally permissible?
    3) Can lying be morally obligatory?
    4) Can deception be morally obligatory?

    It seems to me that if lying is permissible, since it seems like a stronger offense than deception, deception will also be permissible. So too for moral obligation– that is, if lying is ever obligatory, deception could also be morally obligatory.

    In the poker and warfare cases, we typically have deception rather than lying. It’s not as though the poker player is going around telling everyone that he has pocket aces, when he really has a 2-7. He’s just acting as though he has particular cards (that he doesn’t in fact have), and people are inferring things on the basis of his behavior. He’s intentionally trying to get people to form the false belief that he has been dealt a good hand — but not by stating a belief that’s false. I think a better case to prove the lying point about social context, though is Hannon’s Mafia game. The players
    players actually, in this case, make false utterances in order to get people to believe these false utterances. But, since it is in a social context where people know that at least some of the utterances will be false, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of lying that we always want to rule out.

    Admittedly, I haven’t read MacIntyre’s Tanner lectures, but it seems that the unqualifiedly truthful bit except for aggressors rule David excerpted might not account for social context cases. But I’m still left to puzzle the Dutch housewife case. I don’t want to say it’s morally obligatory for the Dutch housewife to lie, but I do want to say it’s permissible. And the Dutch housewife’s lie doesn’t seem to be permissible for the same reasons of social context that Mafia does. Then what?

    I thought about whether moral wrongness could count against a particular action, but not be decisive in particular cases, but this seemed like a bad avenue to go down. Thoughts?

    • Stephen Paquin says:

      With the Dutch housewife case, I’m inclined to think it’s wrong, but not gravely so. Something can be objectively evil without being a mortal sin. I don’t know if that’s helpful or not, but essentially I’d say that, were she to lie, it would be wrong, but not that big a deal. Comparable to like stealing a pencil.

      • Michael Hannon says:

        I get really uneasy with these claims that certain objective evils are just “not that big a deal”. Certainly the distinction between a matter that is grave such as to potentially constitute mortal sin, and matter that is not, is a true and useful distinction. But the fact that a particular action is not gravely wrong gives me no comfort in either committing or judging the action, nor do I think it should.

        That aside, it is unclear to me how, on the view that lying is wrong because of this “mostly metaphorical” disintegration of the inner/outer selves, deception could fare any better. On the teleological view, when it is said that lying is wrong because through it the agent acts directly contrary to the telos of verbal communication, it is easier for me to see how one could distinguish between lies and deception more broadly.

        I’m not endorsing either of those views necessarily, but Sherif (or someone who takes the Tollefsen/George account to be true), how are those two matters different? Does deception (‘intentional deception’, if that isn’t redundant) not necessarily create a break between the inner and outer selves as well?

        • Sherif Girgis says:

          My first instinct is the reverse: that the teleological view fares worse with deception than the NNL view. If you use communication to get someone to believe falsehoods instead of truths, isn’t that at odds with the telos of communication, on that view? Whereas if your method of deception doesn’t in any way get the other person to think that you believe the falsehood that they have now accepted, then again you haven’t shaped an ‘outer self’ for them, much less one at odds with your inner self. That will be true of some forms of deception but not others, I guess. But *whenever* you assert something, you constitute an outer self: you imply not only that it’s the case, but that you believe it to be the case. Assertion is inherently personal, and disclosing of self, in that way.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          I suppose that critique is right if the telos is the effective communication of what is known to be true, rather than just the stating of what is true. For example, with regards to the Dutch housewife, suppose she says, “How foolish do you think I am? Hiding Jews when doing so will likely lead to my death?! You must think me incredibly rash to even ask a question like that!” On my original account of the telos of (at least plainly declarative) speech, that passes with flying colors. (This is, as far as I can tell, the view advanced by Anselm in De Grammatico and De Veritate.) She speaks nothing contrary to the truth. But she does indeed will that the Nazi misunderstand her and be deceived, so if the telos is instead to get her understanding of reality across to the listener, then she directly acts against that end.

          Am I right to assume that, in this case, you believe the deception to be unjustified? Clearly the housewife has “[gotten] the other person to think that [she believes] the falsehood that they have now accepted”. It’s not clear to me what deception would amount to without that, though. Leading someone to think that you believe something contrary to what you actually believe seems to be at the very heart of willful deception. Am I misunderstanding what you mean by ‘deception’ here?

          Pax Christi.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          …And how do we determine what the telos of verbal communication is?

          Whenever someone asserts that the telos of “faculty X” is “Y”, I can’t help but feel like they’re pulling it out of thin air.

          Also, Mike, I commented on the gravity of the lie in question merely because I thought it might help to account for the general uneasiness people usually feel in coming to one side or the other in the Dutch housewife example. When people hear the word “objective evil”, they always think abortion, murder, etc etc. For those reasons, I could see someone immediately dismissing the idea that the Dutch housewife lying is objectively evil simply because it doesn’t even seem to resemble any of the other objective evils they are familiar with. Your point, though, is well-taken: Death before sin, even venial!

        • Kevin Gallagher says:

          For that matter, we can set up for ourselves a false “outer self” without ever uttering a false statement. There are all kinds of actions short of verbal assertion by which we implicitly claim to believe certain things. By this I mean that, unless we are standing on a stage or in some other way obviously taking on an alien role, it is fair for anyone to assume that what we do we do in propria persona. Even if we don’t want to agree that actions speak louder than words, they do at least speak.

          As long as one has to pretend, to play a role, to censor one’s actions carefully, to plot one’s (non-assertive) actions so as to get across a desired effect — as long as one does this sort of thing, the rift between “inner” and “outer” self has been established.

          Now — I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, since I suspect it’s very often fine, sometimes indeed praiseworthy, to say things that aren’t true, whether we say them by actions or in language. But I fear that a distinction between deception and lying, made to accommodate an absolute prohibition on the utterance of falsehood, cannot be maintained, at least if it depends on such reasoning about inner and outer selves.

          It is with the greatest reluctance that I entertain the suspicion that a fair number of traditional authorities may have been in the wrong; I prefer to think that we’ve lost, and must recover, some understanding of the matter from which their conclusions would naturally follow. Nevertheless in this case I do not see how this could be done.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          On reflection, I’m actually inclined to believe in this case that my original account of telos was incorrect, for speech is always from someone to someone. Even in the rare case when I talk to myself (which strikes me as an extraordinary case anyway, and not one we should use to judge the nature of speech), there is still a listener–me.

          But more generally, to ask what is the purpose of a natural substance, or in this case a capacity of a natural substance, seems hardly absurd. What is tricky about the question ‘What is speech for?’, or ‘What is the function for which speech exists, the end at which it aims?’? It seems to me a perfectly reasonable question to ask. And to answer it, we look to particulars of our experience (here, of speech), abstract from those particulars (the first act of the mind) to come to know the form of the thing, and once we know what it is, we can see what is required for it to be a good member of its kind. That good is, of course, its telos.

          This may not be the best place for this debate, Steve, but I’m curious, where does the difficulty here enter in for you: in knowing the intrinsic nature of a thing (its formal cause), or in going from the intrinsic to the extrinsic so as to discern the purpose for which it exists (the epistemological leap from formal to final)? The reason I ask is that, whereas most of the NNL camp, following Hume, seems to have more trouble with the latter, your comments here and on DP’s paper make me suspect your trouble arises more in the former. But please, correct me if I’m wrong there.

          God bless.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          But speech isn’t even a natural substance. Why should we suppose, merely from the fact we can do it, that it has a telos?

          It just sounds to me like we could also ask what the telos of “running” or “kicking a soccer ball” is. But it seems to me obvious that the telos of these acts would be imposed upon by them by the agent. Why is speech any different? And if it isn’t any different, why even discuss the telo of speech? In this case, we simply transform our initial question into “what ought the telos of my speech be?”, and answering this question inevitably just reduces to discussing what is good for the agent. We’re right back to square one.

          And if speech is different in that it has its own mysterious telos independent of that which the agent imposes upon it, then how do we, in fact, abstract this from our particular experience? How can any amount of observation of our use of the faculty tell us how it ought to be functioning? These arguments, those that concern “what the particular telos of a faculty is” are precisely the never-ending arguments that I find to be such an embarrassment to the teleological position. For a good example of what I mean, look at the types of teleological arguments that are current on the topic of contraception.

          Speaking more generally, I do have Humean sympathies. Taking a claim you made earlier that I tried to entertain, “If we know that man is a rational animal, we know that his end involves the perfection of his rational animality”, I still can’t help but feel it’s a non sequitur unless we presuppose a normatively ordered world from the start. But this is precisely what I doubt.

          And I really do apologize. I don’t want to fill up this entire blog with my skepticism. We’d probably be better off just discussing these issues in person.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          Speech is not a natural substance, but it’s a natural capacity of a natural substance, at any rate; namely man. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but (notwithstanding issues about teleology in general) it would seem that it makes perfect sense to talk about the natural end of natural capacities such as speech. But someone correct me if I’m mistaken there.

          Kicking a soccer ball involves our use of an artifact and thus, as previously explained, is not analogous to the telos of a natural capacity. Running seems fine, I suppose. But some distinctions seem necessary before it makes sense to talk about teloi there. There is a difference between running in the sense of just general local movement at a quick pace, and ‘going for a run’. But let’s focus on speech for now, as that is more relevant to this discussion.

          Re: abstraction, first of all note that we must have abstracted from particulars to a universal to even coherently talk about “speech”, as opposed to just many different particular ‘speeches’. Insofar as we have a concept of the thing, we know it in itself, we know what it is that each particular instance is an instance of. (Though of course, as Thomas says, our concepts are *always* limited. We can really know things, but we cannot really know any thing fully.)

          To unpack and elaborate our knowledge of what a thing is, we then move beyond the concept to different claims about the concept. (ie, we go from the first to the second act of the mind, from abstraction to judgment, the object shifting from a concept to a proposition). Here, there can and will be dispute–that’s largely what we’re doing now, disputing different propositions whose subject is ‘speech’. And these are meaningful disputes to have. They are how we get at a correct understanding of the nature of speech. If you want to dive further into that, I’m happy to, but for this post I’ll stick at the meta level to try to help you see what I understand our philosophical project to be here in general.

          Finally, re: normativity, I believe that we do experience reality as normative. Clearly that isn’t true if we allow knowledge to be defined as Hume defines it, as falling into either matters of fact or relations of ideas. No ‘brute’ facts or logical connections are normative. But our shared human experience of reality as normatively ordered is one reason why I think Hume’s philosophy ultimately fails here. If you take ‘normativity’ to be mean moral normativity, I think we clearly know that some things are really right for us to do, and some are really wrong. If you don’t think ‘normativity’ is necessarily a moral term, then even outside the moral realm, we know that it is right (in accord with a kind of norm) for acorns to become oaks, for (most) birds to fly, for fish to swim, etc. There is a limited kind of normatively, in that sense, that we can see even with regards to inanimate objects like rocks falling when dropped, etc.

          I don’t think we presuppose normativity, if by that you mean that we bring it to reality. But I do think it is more than justified to premise our arguments with the idea that reality is normatively ordered, precisely because our experience teaches us that this is so. We know a difference between simple regularity (your example that lots of humans fornicate) and normativity.

          Buuut I’m about to be late for Mass, so if any of that needs clarification (which I’m *sure* it does), let me know. Pax!

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          The difference between regularity and normativity in nature is precisely the difference that I’ve never seen no matter how hard I try to wrap my head around it. You’ve noted that:
          “even outside the moral realm, we know that it is right (in accord with a kind of norm) for acorns to become oaks, for (most) birds to fly, for fish to swim, etc.”

          I grant that acorns naturally grow into oak trees, but, when I say that, I mean that they normally do, not that they ought to. How the heck am I supposed to know that they ought to grow into oak trees just from observing THAT THEY OFTEN DO?

          Obviously, I grant that nature is normatively ordered in the trivial sense of operating by some type of regularity. But I say this as sincerely as possible: I have no “shared human experience of reality” as being normatively ordered, and I honestly cannot understand how you find a more meaningful sense of normativity than simple regularity by looking at nature alone. It always seems to me that you presuppose some more robust sense of normativity and read it back into nature.

          But I really, really don’t want to have this argument again. I know all the points that you and David will make, and I find them helpful, but, ultimately, besides the point.

        • Kevin Gallagher says:

          Your problem, Steve, is that you don’t believe in essences or natures. But living things have natures, the perfection of which is their end.

          Now nature is sometimes frustrated, falling short of perfection, and so if you hope to demonstrate natures by statistical uniformity, you’re bound to be disappointed. (Even if you were satisfied with the uniformity of your observations, your purely extrinsic account of nature would still be vulnerable to a critique similar to Hume’s of causation.)

          When however we speak about the nature of a thing, we’re not primarily speaking about any of its attributes or properties, though these are not irrelevant. A thing’s nature is not a bundle of outward phenomena, but something intrinsic that is the principle of the properties and of their unity.

          Now the nature of a thing is not observed by us per se, and in this your critique is quite correct. But all human beings are able, by their understanding, to come to have concepts of the things we perceive. Even if you would deny that you can determine, by watching a tree, what its end is, you would nonetheless still admit, I imagine, that you are able to perceive a single thing that is a tree. But if you can do this, you already are gathering together the various sensations associated with beholding a tree into a concept of the tree.

          Understanding what it would mean for a tree to flourish follows naturally, once the concept of a tree is adequately developed. This doesn’t mean it’s automatic: one could come to know it only by a study of trees. Metaphysics is not a way to sneak out of natural science.

          To believe that observation of statistical regularities is the most we can hope for in the realm of natural knowledge is not only to underestimate our ability to know natures; it’s also a philosophical error, albeit a very popular one. But I should hope that Super Flumina is still a “safe space” for sound metaphysics.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          No, Kevin. My “problem” is not that I don’t believe in essences. The reason I enjoyed David’s paper so much was, in fact, because I agreed with most of his arguments :) I focused on the difficulty of identifying the essence of a substance because I think this difficulty is telling of a conflation between the essence and telos of a thing. My fundamental “problem” is that I feel you, Mike, and David are positing a logical relation between the essence and the telos that isn’t actually there. My viewpoint could probably be summed up thus:

          “Why *ought* all substances fully manifest their essence?”

          Taking the example of a tree…
          It is well and good to say that a tree that most fully manifests the essence of what it is to be a tree is a “good” tree, insofar as you understand “good” as simply meaning “most fully exhibiting what it means to be a tree”. It is a very different claim, however, to argue that all trees *ought* to fully manifest their essence. This would be to say that the telos of all things is to actualize the set of potentialities associated with its essence.

          But I don’t see why this should be the case. I’m inclined to think, on the contrary, that it is quite good for many trees to be stumps to sit on, or platforms for swings, etc etc. Now, of course, these examples of trees would be “bad trees”, insofar as they are bad examples of what it means to be a tree, but I would reject the claim that they are bad *as such*. That would be the normative claim that doesn’t follow and presupposes, rather, the truth of the claim that “all substances *ought* to fully manifest their essence”. Until that claim is derived, normative claims are non sequiturs, and I don’t see how one can possibly come to that claim merely from the fact of looking at nature and coming to an understanding of the essence of things. That claim, rather, is the starting point of teleological ethics, and, insofar as this is the case, analytics are correct when they speak of the “is-ought fallacy”. You must presuppose this normative claim before you get anywhere- you cannot derive it from any number of “is” claims. It is, rather, the very condition in light of which “is” claims can be said to entail normative claims!

          Now that doesn’t mean teleological ethics is wrong. It simply means that ethical arguments in teleology aren’t deductions. And I think David Pederson would probably agree with this.

          The difficulty I have with teleological ethics is, first and foremost, that all arguments turn upon the question of what the telos of a thing is. And this question can only be answered by discerning the essence of a thing. And you are right to note that there is no easy methodology for determining the essence of a thing. But what this means is that there are, fundamentally, no standards to resolve ethical disagreements when positions differ as to what, precisely, is contained in the essence of a thing. And, insofar as this is the case, I think teleological ethics is vulnerable to much of the very same critique to which MacIntyre subjects Enlightenment ethics in his After Virtue project.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          Also, I’d be interested in discussing, in the future, how to deal with Hume’s critique of causality. It seems quite strong, and it’s not obvious to me how essentialist metaphysics deals with it. In the past, I’ve honestly just given up on natural causality. Nonetheless, I take your word that there are good responses to the critique.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          More on this later, as necessary, but the first principle of ethics is that the good is to be pursued, the evil to be avoided. To deny that is to misunderstand the most basic concepts of moral thought (which I do not believe anyone in this discussion does). And ‘good’ in this normative, ethical sense is *not* just a chance equivocal term that just happens to also refer to a thing’s properly fulfilling its nature, becoming a good instance of its type.

          However, you would be right, Steve, to reply that ‘good’ is not quite being used univocally here either. For we would certainly not say that a tree has an ethical obligation to fulfill its nature qua tree. This is because ethics presupposes rationality and free will. It presupposes that the subject is capable of knowing his own nature and choosing to act for or against its fulfillment. But if those conditions are met (as they are in the case of man), then there is no fallacious logical leap to the ethical claim that man ought to act so as to become a good member of the species man.

          To have a final cause means to be designed for an end. There is nothing absurd in saying that, insofar as I am designed for an end, I ought to pursue it (where ‘ought’ is understood ethically).

          Granted this system, like any objectively binding moral system, ultimately needs an appeal to the existence of God as Designer and Law-Giver to unpack the full metaphysical framework in which we as moral creatures operate. We can do a limited amount of work in this field without that appeal, certainly, and at times we should. But now let’s flesh this out a little more with some natural theology.

          Insofar as I as a man have a telos, God made me for a specific purpose. Insofar as I am capable of both knowing that telos and choosing to pursue its fulfillment through my actions, I have a moral obligation to do so. For my omniscient and omnibenevolent Creator designed me to be a particular way. He cast me in a specific role in this great cosmic story that is Creation. What greater reason for observing a normative dimension to reality could there possibly be?

          Again, I do not think we must appeal to God to demonstrate the logic of teleological ethics. Hume is shown to be false before we shift onto theological grounds. But to understand the full “why” behind this or any objectively binding ethics, we must of course understand that this natural law has a Natural Law-Giver.

          Pax, all. Love y’all.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          Steve, re: Hume and causality, read PK’s Socrates Meets Hume. Clearly refutable. As with most things, Hume here defines his conclusion into existence, but his definitions are almost always demonstrably incorrect.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          That didn’t make much sense, did it? Sorry. I meant that he defines the terms of his premises such that his conclusions validly follow, but upon reflection, his relevant definitions are fairly easily shown to be incorrect. Pax.

      • Sherif Girgis says:

        I’m in the unfortunate position of having strong opinions on everything mentioned in this post — Hume is wrong on causation, essences ground natural norms in the more-than-merely-statistical sense, yet the NNL critique of perverted faculty arguments is sound, etc., etc.–but not enough time to do more than baldly assert them.

        I will, though, clarify a point I made about assertion. When I form an outer self by asserting, it’s not just that I do something with the goal of getting someone to believe something that I think false. Decisive example: Hannon thinks I’m so stupid that, as a rule, he believes the negation of what I believe; and, awkwardly, I know this. I believe that P but want to get Hannon to believe that ~P. So I assert to him what I believe to be true– P–with the goal that he come to believe what I think false (~P) as a result. No split between inner and outer self here, and yet I set out to get Hannon to believe something false, and succeeded.

        So our definition of what constitutes my ‘outer self’ will have to refer more directly to *me.* When I form an outer self for Hannon’s consideration, I make an utterance or gesture in such a way, and with the goal, that he *take it* to be *intended* by me to be proposing P as true (and therefore as believed by me). So it isn’t necessary that it involve words, just that it involve something that he will take as intended by me to communicate P. Thus, it isn’t even necessary that I *in fact* intend to get him to believe that P. (After all, I can lie to you by asserting that P even when I know you won’t come to believe that P, and it’s impossible for me to intend what I know won’t happen–so intending that you believe that P isn’t necessary for lying to the effect that P.)

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          “Thus, it isn’t even necessary that I *in fact* intend to get him to believe that P.”

          Amazing. This is exactly the type of argument regarding intentionality that I was trying to come up with on my own. Your example is brilliant.

        • Michael Hannon says:

          Now Sherif, we may have our disagreements re: NNL, but I certainly don’t think you’re so stupid that I therefore believe the negations of all of your beliefs. ;-)

          Steve’s right. Solid example. I appreciate the clarification. When/if you find time, would love to hear your input on some of these other topics as well. God bless.

        • Shivani says:

          I don’t find the Hannon case so compelling. It seems necessary that you intend Hannon to take the thing falsely to be guilty of lying– if you tell the truth and know that it’s likely that Hannon will take the opposite, I don’t think you’ve done wrongly.

          Sherif, you suggest that you could lie by asserting that P even if you know full well that I won’t come to believe that P and that it’s impossible to intend what you know won’t happen. I think knowing full well that I won’t come to believe that P needs to be distinguished from it being impossible that I come to believe that P. It seems that you could intend the former, but not the latter. In the Hannon case, it may be that you know full well Hannon will not believe what you say, but it doesn’t seem impossible for Hannon to believe what you say.

          Speaking of the Hannon case, Lauren alerted me this week to what’s called a double bluff (intending to deceive someone by telling them exactly what you want to do, with the awareness that they probably won’t believe you). There might be some kind of wrong here, but I struggle to see whether it’s the same kind of wrong as the wrong of lying.

        • Stephen Paquin says:

          ” I think knowing full well that I won’t come to believe that P needs to be distinguished from it being impossible that I come to believe that P. It seems that you could intend the former, but not the latter.”

          Can you think of an example, Shivani? It’s a valid distinction, but I can’t even conceive of how I could intend something I believe, or, even more to the point, *know* , won’t happen.

          It’s completely possible that I could be misled about the facts of the matter, meaning that it is possible to end up with “unforeseen” consequences insofar as I am ignorant. But it seems that your intention would necessarily be drawn from what you take to be the case, regardless of whether what you believe is *actually* true. This indicates to me that I could only intend what I believe will happen.

        • Sherif Girgis says:

          Shivani, I’m not sure I understand your post—and insofar as I do, I think it might be based on thinking that I said exactly the opposite of what I meant. So I’ll just say again what I was trying to show with the example. Then please let me know if I’ve missed your point.
          My example was just meant to show this: I can *intend to deceive* someone WITHOUT falsely asserting anything, and without splitting my inner and outer self, and therefore without lying—or even causing myself a harm substantially similar to that involved in lies. The Hannon case was supposed to be an example of this: intending to deceive WITHOUT lying at all.
          I then separately made the converse point that I can lie without intending to deceive, because to lie I need only say/do something with the goal that you take it as intended to represent what I believe. I needn’t have the further goal that you come to believe it, too (i.e., that you be deceived). And as confirmation of this point, I said that after all, I can lie to you even if I’m sure you won’t come to believe the false claim yourself.
          Here’s an example of that. I eat so much one week that on Friday evening, my mom forbids me from entering the kitchen (whose walls are white) until Monday. Late Friday night, Mom paints the kitchen blue. On Saturday, I enter it to steal some cookies then sneak out, noticing meanwhile the new color. On Sunday night, Mom, suspecting me, asks me what color our kitchen is. Not wanting to give myself away (but also fully aware that she knows it’s blue), I say “it’s white, duh.” I can’t be intending to deceive her here about what color the walls are, and yet I lie, precisely because I split my inner and outer selves—I project for my mom a false picture of my inner beliefs.

        • Shivani says:

          Sure, sorry about the confusion- I clearly completely misread your initial post about Hannon. Mea culpa.

          That being said, I think the point of contention is whether or not there can be any case of lying without intending deception. The mom -wall color case helps clarify this a bit as does an email exchange I had (cough Lauren-you-should-get-on-the-blog cough).

          It seems clear that you’re intending to deceive your mother in the case, though not about first-order claim about the color of the walls. You’re attempting to deceive her about a higher-order claim, what color you think the walls are (and relatedly, you’re attempting to deceive her about whether or not you have been in the kitchen). Are there cases in which one lies without similarly intending to deceive either on a first-order level or a higher-order level?

        • Sherif Girgis says:

          Shivani — yes, I agree with you completely. There’s always some intention to deceive. I was imprecise about what kind of deception isn’t necessary.

  9. Clare Coffey says:

    It depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is….

    Look, all I know is I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinksy.

  10. Stephen Paquin says:

    Those squished up boxes are getting quite silly, so I hope you won’t mind if I respond to you here, Mike.

    “And ‘good’ in this normative, ethical sense is *not* just a chance equivocal term that just happens to also refer to a thing’s properly fulfilling its nature, becoming a good instance of its type.”

    When Thomas uses the word “good” in Question 94, he is not using the word to signify “happiness”, “flourishing”, or anything normative. By “good”, he simply means anything that provides a reason for action itself. He is articulating the principle not as a principle of ethics, but as the starting point of all deliberate action for rational agents. This is evident from the context:

    “As being is the first thing that falls under apprehension simply, so good is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of the good.”

    This means that even the most wicked people necessarily abide by the principle “the good is to be pursued and evil is to be avoided”. That’s what we mean we say that nobody does evil for the sake of evil. Even the wicked do evil things for the sake of good, and the fact that they are able to engage in the deliberation characteristic of the practical reason assures us of this.

    But by “Good is to be pursued and evil is to be avoided”, Thomas most certainly does *not* mean something normative. He later specifies that good, noting that it refers to “those things to which man has a natural inclination [and] are naturally apprehended by reason as being good”. Regardless, though, it makes no sense whatsoever to understand the “good” in “the good is to be pursued and evil is to be avoided” as referring to happiness or anything normative. I’ve probably read through these passages 20 times since this summer, and I’d be willing to stake my life on that claim.

    Consequently, for that reason, and the reasons I articulated above, I would reject the claim “there is no fallacious logical leap to the ethical claim that man ought to act so as to become a good member of the species man.”

  11. Margaret Anne says:

    Re: Steve’s reply to O’Connor’s quote (sorry for the novel, and if I repeat things already said). You’re right, Steve, that [one] conclusion is that you shouldn’t expect too much of a person’s honesty. But the crux of the point is why: it’s not simply because perfect honesty is a difficult virtue to practice. A person’s perfect honesty may be inadequate to the truth of the situation, for a variety of potential reasons. In some cases, complete honesty may even be untruthful. To bring the distinction between honesty and truth into the realm of morality, another conclusion is that total honesty is not the virtue to strive for (understanding honesty as speaking with no intent to deceive another). Some examples of where honesty is inadequate and even untruthful:
    a) I have a dangerously limited perspective of the thing in question, so that even though my statements may be correct, I will confuse the truth of the matter if I speak, and should instead say nothing. Eg I only know a piece of the story, I’m reacting (honestly) to something that just happened, I’m speaking feelings that might quickly pass, I am mistaken.
    b) I’m saying something the listener has no right/need to know, and their knowing it would be harmful. The small example that has been cited is of a surprise party, or a social situation. More truthful than my strict honesty is upholding the underlying circumstances and relationships. If I tell my sister that I don’t think she’s looking her best, when it’s too late to change and she’s not going to be publicly embarrassed by her appearance, I’ll ruin her evening and be false to the affection that I have for her. That doesn’t mean I have to tell her she looks wonderful, either.
    c) The more serious case: the Dutch housewife. I need to read what MacIntyre says, but in my mind it’s not a case of ends justifying the means. Ultimately, the Truth is Christ, who spoke explicitly to some, and in parables to others. The very truthfulness of my statement depends on the extent to which it also reflects the truth of the situation and its relationships: I’m a friend to the person I’m hiding; the Nazis are enemies who want to hurt her. I have a greater responsibility to my friend than to the Nazis, and I would probably say that I am morally obliged to try to deceive them. Yet I must aim to achieve this without making a statement that is out-and-out false (a lie). The distinction necessary here between honesty and truthfulness (and why demanding honesty isn’t always good) is, as O’Connor says, because of sin, but not always the speaker’s sin, as in the Nazi example. This distinction wouldn’t have made it okay for Thomas More to swear the oath. The truth is that he owes allegiance to God first, then the king, and he can’t deny this in any way—he had looked for loopholes (he didn’t care whether he deceived the king or not as to his stance), but there were none.

    With Live Action there does seem to be a problem if you are not just intending to deceive, but asserting false facts as true facts in response to direct questions. A declarative statement about a matter of fact that is false is a lie.

    In summary, my two reasons for distinguishing between honesty and truthfulness:
    a) honesty focuses on the person and his intention in speaking, while truthfulness focuses on the thing spoken about
    b) the thing in question includes the statement, but goes beyond it.

    Truthfulness is what should be striven for at all costs.

    And back to fairy tales and Santa Claus… You make the story present to your child, and if it does capture reality in an important way, then it is truthful. When your logical 7 year old comes up and asks if Santa Claus is an actual person, then you say no. But as Clare says, usually when children discover that a particular fairy tale is not a matter of fact, the fairy tale has already grown into something bigger…a sense of the real mystery of the world. You agree that life is, in a way, a fairy tale…how does that mean anything to you if a particular fairy tale has not gripped you as being somehow true? By asserting it to be false to your child, who hasn’t yet mentally distinguished between facts and truth, you are denying its truthfulness. Santa Claus might be our culture’s poor version of St. Nicholas, and I won’t fight for him as hard as I would for Clare’s Irish aunts (I also believed there were little people in the garden), but he is a version. I think the same kind of balance with myths and fairy tales is called for as in the honesty/truthfulness examples. Don’t explicitly make a declarative statement that is false (Santa does live in the north pole, oh too wise seven year old!)…but you also (very importantly!) need to uphold the truth of the matter, on a deeper level, whether it be rightly-ordered human relationships or the presence of God in the world. This is often more difficult than simple honesty.

    • Stephen Paquin says:

      I’m glad you made this post, Margaret, as it turns out that we agree on virtually everything. In summation of your post, I’m inclined to say that the “candid friend” is not, in fact, a truthful friend, and I imagine that this makes a great deal of sense to you (hopefully!).

      Insofar as you are honest when you say, “When your logical 7 year old comes up and asks if Santa Claus is an actual person, then you say no.”, then I couldn’t be in agreement more. If you can somehow maintain the Santa Claus mystery without outright lying, then I don’t see that much harm in it. I have the suspicion, though, that as soon as you tell your child that Santa is not real, it will utterly change things. But that’s neither here nor there for the discussion at large.

      ” I have a greater responsibility to my friend than to the Nazis, and I would probably say that I am morally obliged to try to deceive them. Yet I must aim to achieve this without making a statement that is out-and-out false (a lie). ”

    • ashleynicoletherese says:

      So I have many many questions which I’m sure you all will be awesome at tackling bit by bit, dissecting, and spitting back out cleverly-crafted answers, which is why I approach you this evening:

      I must confess, I am growing quite confused by all of this jargon about the inner self and the outer self. While I understand and can certainly appreciate the importance of introducing terms and ways of thinking about the nature of man and his purpose and essence, telos, etc etc somewhere along the line I must have missed where we picked up an inner and outer self. Is the inner self the soul? the heart? The interior reality of our being from which our words and actions naturally flow? What’s the outer self? What we project to others?

      If we really do have inner and outer selves (which D Schaen. would disagree with and just say what I say and do is who I am, there is nothing else; no interior self) then I am confused about why it wouldn’t be “harmed” or “damaged” by acting. Regardless of circumstance, outcome, perception by others, in method acting, one is still trying to embody another person’s experience and assert that through themselves, thereby trading their authentic self with that of another and projecting it to the world.

      To my understanding, while limited and less philosophically sharp, we are composite beings. So much so in fact, that my mind was constantly being drawn to Karol Wojtyla’s assertions in The Acting Person that our words, our thoughts, our actions are all inter-related and affect one another. This dynamic unity causes what we say and do to actually shape and form our moral character; so in a sense, we aren’t “damaging” an inner self (unless by damage we understand that to be distort or redirect our characters further away from ultimate unity or loving relationship with God. Is that what you all mean?) when we lie. We just are liars, then.

      If a lie is something we assert that we do not believe to be true, then if we assert something that IS true, yet we don’t believe it, would that be a lie? I am thinking of the age-old adage “fake it till you make it:”

      A friend asked me about this example: say Person A were to encounter Person B on the street. Person A says to B: “I hope you have a great day!” (even if they are feeling quite adverse toward that person)… Or example 2: say Person A asks Person B how they’re doing. Person A would reply to person B “I’m doing very well!” even if they’re not and don’t believe they are at that moment, but they hope that by expressing their ultimate desire they will set themselves on a trajectory to achieving the reality. Is this a case of the will over-riding emotions? This is how I explained it to the friend, but now perhaps I fear I was wrong…

      So many questions: Just as there is a law, and the spirit of the law, does the “spirit of the truth” also exist? And regarding heresies, no one would call them lies, although they are deviations from the fullness of truth. They participate in the truth to some extent, but some element has been bracketed off or enhanced to the exclusion of the other truths. So too, any assertion has complex elements to it, right? How fully does it have to participate in truth to not be considered a lie?

      And Margaret, to your point on honesty, I loved that! I would only add that even if our attempts at honesty are fallen and often less aligned with truth than we would like or hope, it is still valuable to strive after honesty… for in so doing, we allow our thoughts to be brought into the light for critique or conversation and hopefully arrive at a fuller understanding of the matter.

      And also: loving the seasonably inappropriate conversation about Santa! We older batch of kids grew up with a delightful imagination full of fairy tales, tooth fairies, and Santa. I for one didn’t feel betrayed when suddenly, Santa just seemed to no longer exist. I think my parents eased me out of it by telling me more and more of the story about Saint Nicholas. My little brothers and sisters never had SC and I always count it as a bit of a loss… Annnnd there are remnants of truth retained in the Santa story, which, I think counts it more as a myth or a legend than a lie.

      In closing, let us fondly remember the Princess Bride quote:
      “Get away from me, you Witch.”
      “I’m not a witch, I’m your wife! And after you called me a witch, I’m not even sure I want to be THAT anymore!!!”


      • Michael Hannon says:

        Briefly, the inner/outer self thing, which I am not sure I endorse, and which they say is “mostly metaphorical” (after reading that phrase like sixteen times, it finally started making some sense to me–maybe the phrase “semi-official Vatican newspaper” will eventually click too), just boils down to a distinction between what I actually believe to be the case (inside my mind), and what I present as what I believe to be the case through my words and actions (to the outside world), most especially through my plainly declarative statements.

        I think Tollefsen et al would say that in acting, there is no external self at all in this sense, because your words and actions are *clearly* not meant to express what you believe to be the case. They are a drama, and the audience knows this. The problem disappears because you are not revealing your “inner self” through your acts, and everyone knows that.

        “Fake it till you make it” does not need to involve lying, but the example you gave does, and thus would indeed seem to be immoral insofar as I can make sense of any of this morally at this point. But perhaps the “How are you?” “Good. You?” exchange signifies something different in our culture than it would otherwise taken at face value, like the “He’s not in right now. May I take a message?” line. We know, through a clearly established social custom, that that does not necessarily mean what the words there say. The first example there is just a basic greeting (comparable to “What’s up?” “Not much.”), and the latter obviously just means that the boss doesn’t want to talk to you right now.

  12. Michael Hannon says:

    This is the article I was arguing back and forth with Prof. Kreeft about over email earlier this week. At the end of it all though, I am glad he published this. I remain unconvinced on Live Action, but am very convinced of his method. Lila’s case is just not a case where the moral intuition is at all obvious to me. Which essentially means he and I need to duke it out more, I suppose. But I do agree with his starting point for moral dispute. Verrrry interested to hear y’all’s feedback.


    • Shivani says:

      Two things re: the Kreeft article:

      1) When thinking about whether we should prioritize abstract philosophical principles or our case specific moral intuitions, I’m pretty sympathetic to the idea that we need to consider both. I generally think the best strategy is something like reflective equilibrium– you have both principles and what I’ll follow Kreeft in calling intuitions, and you try to achieve some level of coherence among them by mutual adjustment. In some cases, our confidence in our intuitions will be much stronger than our confidence in our principles (e.g. torture), and in other cases, our confidence in our principles will be much stronger than our confidence in our intuitions (e.g. ethics re: technological advances, say). The fear of prioritizing our intuitions over principles, is that we’ll be producing a sort of ad hoc system of ethics in which our various intuitions in cases don’t seem to cohere in any meaningful way, so we’re not able to infer anything about the next case from prior cases. I do think, however, Kreeft is right to point out that there is an opposite fear in not weighing our intuitions and only thinking about principles– our ethical judgments will be entirely alien to human experience. I think this just tells in favor of a more Aristotelian approach to ethics, with the claim that living an ethical life being more of a knowledge-how than a knowledge-that.

      2) I’m not sure that most pro-lifers share Kreeft’s intuitions– it certainly seems to me that Live Action is in the wrong. What are your intuitions?

    • Stephen Paquin says:

      The wrongness of what Live Action did has been obvious to me from the start. I’ve never had these other “intuitions”.

      For what it’s worth, I think there are a great deal of people who do, in fact, intuit that lying is always wrong in all circumstances. Kreeft doesn’t seem to acknowledge that.

    • Michael Hannon says:

      For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think there’s next to anyone who isn’t a philosopher by trade who thinks uttering known falsehoods is wrong in all circumstances. Some of these more extreme cases, eg the Dutch housewife, and even the more commonplace ones like the surprise party, are things that I think next to everyone agrees about outside of philosophical circles.

      And I agree with your #1, Shivani, but I think he’s right that our intuitions do, by necessity, precede our principles.

      The thing is, I agree with Kreeft’s method here, but Live Action is not nearly as morally obvious to me on an intuitive level as it is to him. Nor do I think it is as obvious to most pro-lifers as he makes it out to be. So the next step for him, if he is to continue this, is to meet us where we’re at and appeal to us on the Live Action issue the same way he’d appeal to a pro-choicer on the abortion issue. I hope he goes there. We’ll see if he does.

  13. Kelly Christine says:

    Besides, the Nazis are not fools. They would suspect clever prevarications and sniff out duplicitous ploys. They could be reliably deceived and deterred from searching every inch of the house only by an answer like “Jews? Those rats? None of them in my house, I hope. Please come in, and if you find any, please give them rat poison. I hate those vermin as much as you do.”

    You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis. Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It’s a good thing to do. If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.

    The closest analogy I can think of to Live Action’s expose of Planned Parenthood is spying. If Live Action is wrong, then so is all spying, including spying out the Nazis’ atomic bomb projects and saving the world from a nuclear holocaust.

    -I thought this part of the article articulated what I believe must be true about this sort of scenario. I also think what live action did was not a morally reprehensible thing, but I’m too tired to write out why right now. I sort of think its worse for pro-lifers to call out other pro-lifers nationally. Divisive and rather counter-productive. Michael, I’m interested to hear more specifically where you don’t follow Kreeft’s thinking on this.

    • Stephen Paquin says:

      [Edit: Apologies, Kelly. When I wrote this post, I didn’t realize most of your own post was an excerpt from Kreeft. Having noted that, I’ll leave my post as it stands.]

      “If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid…”

      If you’re going to make a claim like this, Kelly, then you ought to be willing to articulate when and where lying/deception is *ok* and explain how this follows from your first principles of ethics, whatever they may be. For what it’s worth, you’ve called the entire Magisterium of the Church stupid:
      “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.” (CCC 1753)

      Frankly, I’m much more inclined to trust the Church than your seemingly inarticulable intuitions.

      “You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis.”

      This is absurd. Suppose that the circumstances are such that, to keep that promise, you need to murder a baby. Would you be justified in doing so? Certainly not. The fact you made a “promise” to do something has no bearing upon the legitimacy of the means you take to achieve that end (or whether the circumstances were such that you could morally uphold that promise in the first place!).

      “Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.”

      To critique a “legalist” position presupposes principles by which to judge it *as* legalist. In fact, one could argue that, in this case, it is precisely your position that doesn’t “see the person”, given that the Nazi doesn’t cease to be a dignified human being however wicked he might be. Of course, that’s no argument against lying: it’s simply an example of the type of gross generalizations one can make when we assume a false dichotomy between persons and principles. Obviously, if you’re going to make any morally relevant explanation as to *why* such a position of mine “sees no people”, you’ll have to do so in *principles*.

  14. Lauren K. says:

    It appears all the core arguments have been laid out by now, but I just wanted to add a few thoughts:

    1. Re. the definition of lying, I’m with Shivani in that it seems to just be built into the definition of lying that there is an intent to deceive, even it it refers to deception at a higher order level. Unless you want to say that lying consists of telling a falsehood with the intent to deceive the other person ONLY about the proposition strictly contained in that falsehood, I can’t imagine how one could have an instance of lying devoid of any intent to deceive.

    2. I haven’t thought this out all the way, but besides the Dutch housewife and surprise birthday party examples, an instance where lying doesn’t intuitively seem morally wrong is in a situation like the following: Sara claims, “I would never, ever, give a homeless person money, no matter what they said to try to convince me.” Sara’s friend Ned hears about this and, as a joke, plans to dress up as a homeless person and sit along the route that Sara takes to get to the subway. He does so, gets her attention, and tells her this completely fabricated sob story about his life that ends with her giving him money. He doesn’t coerce her or physically threaten her in any way. When Sara finds out later that it was Ned (it shouldn’t matter whether she’s angry or amused) and asks him to explain, he says, “When you claimed you’d ‘never, ever’ give money to a homeless person, I took that as a challenge to see if you really meant it.”

    It might be a stretch, but Live Action could arguably be seen as operating along those lines – Planned Parenthood, insofar as it receives federal funding, has agreed to the conditions of federal funding, e.g. that it will abide by the law and will not support sex trafficking, statutory rape, etc.; they’ve essentially said, “We would never enable or conceal these kinds of activities and their perpetrators, even if they came into our offices and asked us to help them.” And Live Action took that as a challenge. Now maybe taking that challenge would only have been acceptable if Live Action had found an actual pimp to go in there and talk about actual problems he’s having with his actual underage sex workers. Or maybe Planned Parenthood has to explicitly issue a challenge: “We’d never do this – just try us.”

    [Edit: one might in fact want to condemn Ned, and say that what he did is just as wrong as what the Live Action team did, even if it was just a joke.] But it seems that we often lie in just this manner, i.e. to see what people would do if the contrived situation reflected reality – a friend asks us, “Did you leave that weird note on my door?” and we say, “Yes. [brief pause] Just kidding! I have no idea who wrote it, I just wanted to see how you’d react.”

  15. Stephen Paquin says:

    Having reflected a great deal further on the matter, these are my thoughts:

    I believe that lying, defined in the narrow sense (false assertion), is always and everywhere wrong. I believe that this position is the one that is overwhelmingly affirmed by the magisterium and tradition of the Church at large. I do believe, however, that certain forms of deception (most notably: mental reservation through ambiguous language) are acceptable and, at times, morally obligatory. However, many people want to argue that lying and deception are simply two sides of the “same coin”. The burden, then, is for me to distinguish them.

    Now, I would start out by reflecting on this: there seems to be a radical difference between these two states of affairs:
    1. Believing the proposition ~P, when P is actually the case
    2. *Not* believing the proposition P, when P is actually the case.

    The second state of affairs is simple ignorance, whereas the first is being wholly mislead about the truth of some matter. Now, it seems to me that we can conceive of many situations where either state of affairs is desirable. But, as far as I can tell, the desirability of the first state of affairs is almost always parasitic upon the second state [and, technically, it appears that the first state of affairs is a particular subset of the second state, such that for the first state to be true is *also* for the second to be true]. What I mean by “parasitic” is that, in all those cases where state of affairs 1 seems desireable, it is only desireable insofar as it meets the conditions for state of affairs 2. Even in the dutch housewife example, lying to the Nazi is desireable to achieve the end of saving the Jews only insofar as it prevents the Nazi from being led to believe that Nazis are in the house. After all, we don’t mislead the Nazi for the sake of misleading him! We mislead him only insofar as misleading him allows us to achieve the end we are seeking. And achieving the end we are seeking only necessitates the second state of affairs, not necessarily the Nazi’s belief of ~P. [That this is true is evident from this further consideration: What causes the Nazi to check the attic and kill Jews? The belief that they are in the attic. How do we prevent this from happening? Prevent him from believing P]. And I’d venture to say that *most*, if not all, of the legitimate forms of deception we agree upon are, similarly, a form of mental reservation. Those that aren’t forms of mental reservation are, for me at least, precisely those forms of “deception” which are controversial from the outset.

    Now, it is my contention that directly intending the first state of affairs is always wrong. It seems to me that such an intention is nothing above and beyond directly intending the privation of the good of knowledge of a particular person. But it seems plausible to me that such a state of affairs could also be contrary to the telos of a person’s speech, etc. Or, even adopting Sherif’s position and Shivani’s comments, it seems plausible that such an intention could, itself, entail the privation of one’s own personal integrity. Regardless, where someone falls in the meta-ethical debates should be irrelevant to my analysis at large if they are willing to accept the claim that directly intending the first state of affairs is wrong. On the other hand, in principle, I don’t see anything wrong with the second state of affairs. It’s possible, of course, that someone may have a “right” to certain knowledge, and the second state of affairs would be undesirable insofar as that’s the case. But it doesn’t seem to me that it’s undesirable *in itself* merely that someone *doesn’t* know something.

    Now, bearing in mind the distinction between these states of affairs, I believe that lying and “mental reservation” can be distinguished from one another with regard to their intentional structure such that, in both acts, the first state of affairs is foreseen, and even expected, to be brought about by the act. In lying alone, however, I believe that such a state of affairs cannot but be intended. But I believe that, in at least certain cases of mental reservation, one only intends the second state of affairs, even if the first is ultimately brought about. I take this to be the pivotal distinction which would separate an intrinsically evil act from an act which could, in principle, be justified given that other conditions such as proportionality, fairness, etc were met.

    Taking the Dutch housewife as an archetypical example of where I believe mental reservation (but not lying) would be justified, and taking P as representing the proposition “the jews are in the attic”:

    1. In lying, one makes some false assertion with the intention that the aggressor will not discover P, in order that the Jews may be saved, with the further expectation that the aggressor will believe ~P as an effect of the act.
    2. In mental reservation, one communicates some truth ambiguously with the intention that the aggressor will not discover P, in order that the Jews may be saved, with the further expectation that the aggressor will believe ~P as an effect of the act.

    Now, so far, the acts are virtually indistinguishable. The relevant distinction comes in only when we examine the connection between your form of communication and the belief of the aggressor. *Why does the aggressor attach any meaning to your words above and beyond the fact that they are sounds?* Because he takes them to have *some* bearing upon what you actually believe to be true. For why else would he ask you *anything* if he didn’t think your response would in some way reveal what you believe to be the case and, he further hopes, what is actually the case? Likewise, why do you respond to him, lying or otherwise? Because you believe that he will take your words as having some bearing upon what you believe, and further, what is likely going to be the case. Lying and mental reservation, then, always presuppose this reciprocal relation of beliefs and expectations, even when one *genuinely* intends to mislead someone.

    So how does this help us? This means that, when a Dutch housewife lies to the Nazi (makes a false assertion), she is, first and foremost, intending that the Nazi believe that what she says is a revelation of what she *believes to be the case*, when it is, in fact, not the case. Whereas in committing an act of mental reservation, she intends that the Nazi believe that what she says is a revelation of what she *believes to be the case*, and it is, in fact, the case insofar as she does believe what she is saying, even if she foresees that the Nazi will misinterpret the content of what she is saying. The fact remains, then, that what the Dutch housewife says is a revelation of some belief, even if the Nazi misinterprets what, exactly, it is that she believes (for the essence of ambiguous language is that it *is* true in some respects while false in others).

    Consequently, there are two relevant variables: P and Q. P represents the proposition “the jews are hiding in the attic” while Q represents the proposition “what the Dutch housewife says is a manifestation of her beliefs”.

    In the case of lying, the Dutch housewife intends for the Nazi to believe Q, when ~Q is actually the case, and foresees that the Nazi will believe ~P.

    In the case of mental reservation, the Dutch housewife intends for the Nazi to believe Q, when Q is the case, and, also, foresees that the Nazi will believe ~P.

    Obviously, then, the legitimacy of lying to the Nazi would be ruled out ex hypothesi, given that one cannot but intend to actualize a state of affairs in which the Nazi believes Q, when ~Q is actually the case (and this is the first state of affairs of which I spoke). But in the case of mental reservation, one need not intend that first state of affairs characteristic of deception that would be “intrinsically evil”.

    But, of course, the mere fact that, *in principle*, one doesn’t need to intend such a state of affairs doesn’t mean that all cases of mental reservation will be justified any more than *all* cases of lethal self-defense will be justified. One can kill someone in cold blood under the pretense of “self-defense”, and such a distinction would be indistinguishable to an outside observer. Rather, one must always remember to examine human acts from “the perspective of the acting person” (Veritatis Splendor).

    In any case, I take this example to be representative of *all* cases of lying and those cases of mental reservation I find acceptable. I believe that this analysis is consistent with the statements of both the Catechism and St. Augustine that “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving,” and I understand “deception” as consisting in precisely the first state of affairs I articulated (and not *merely* simple ignorance). My stance on this matter is very much indebted to the comments of Sherif and Shivani on this post, along with an action theory that looks something like this: http://www.westchesterinstitute.net/images/Fellows/brugger_essay_intention-side-effects.pdf .

    (Sorry for the excessive length of this post.)

  16. Stephen Paquin says:

    A great article responding to the the more intuitive Kreeft/Arkes-esque criticisms of Tollefson’s position: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/02/2658

    “One could restate the question as follows: ‘Are you seriously telling me that a gentleman would never lie?’ If one posed that question in certain European cultures one thousand years ago, one would find not a few responses in the affirmative. Moreover, these affirmations would come not only from religious fanatics—monks in cloisters or hermits in the desert—but from worldly men, not the most earnest Christians, but men committed to a notion of gentlemanship bound up with absolute standards of conduct. And these men would be as puzzled at any doubt of the true gentleman’s unswerving disdain of falsehood as Arkes and Kreeft are at Tollefsen’s position.

    To be sure, none of this shows that Tollefsen is right. It does show, however, that in their efforts to dismiss him out of hand Kreeft and Arkes are appealing not to the moral common sense of mankind as such, but to the moral sensibilities of a contemporary culture that is steeped in consequentialism and that therefore is already very predisposed to agree with them in this particular dispute.”

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