Thursday, November 11, 2010

The murderer at the door

We’ve been discussing (here and here) the classical natural law theorist’s claim that lying is always wrong. The classic problem case for this sort of view is as follows: A murderer comes to your door demanding to know where he can find his intended victim, who happens to be hiding in your home. Would it be wrong to lie to him? The natural law theorist holds that it would be. Some readers of my earlier posts on this subject reject the natural law position for that reason. Others do not, but are uncomfortable having to swallow something they take to be highly counterintuitive. Both are relying on their moral intuitions. I have explained in an earlier post why I think appealing to intuitions is bad philosophical methodology. I want to say a few things in this post about why the specific moral intuitions at issue in the present discussion should not be trusted.

First, let me clear away some misunderstandings that are no doubt at least part of the reason some people find the view in question counterintuitive. The natural law theorist is NOT saying that you are obliged to tell the murderer where his intended victim is. In fact you are obliged not to tell him. The claim is rather that it is wrong to resort to lying, specifically, as a way of avoiding telling him. You could instead say nothing, or try to distract him, or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue. You could threaten him, since he is himself threatening someone under your protection. Indeed, you can do more than threaten him if you are certain that his attempt at murder is imminent. You can punch his lights out, or even kill him if that is the only way to save your own life or that of the person you are hiding. This would be self-defense, and thus not murder. There is no question whatsoever here of your having a duty to sit back and let him do what he wants. The claim is only that it would be wrong to lie. And even if you did lie to him, the claim is not that you would have done something seriously wrong. You would be guilty of at most a venial sin, given the circumstances. So, things are hardly as dire as critics of the view might think.

Of course, many find it counterintuitive to hold that there would be even a slight moral failing in telling such a lie. But the classical natural law theorist has given a reason for thinking there is. As Aquinas says, the basic trouble with lying is that it is a kind of perversity. It takes what has as its inherent, natural end the communication of what is really in one’s mind -- speech and related behavior -- and deliberately turns it to the opposite of that end. The teaching about lying is therefore just a straightforward application of the more general moral system. For the natural law theorist has a worked-out theory of the good, grounded in a sophisticated metaphysics (classical essentialism), that explains why such an action must of necessity be bad (even if not always seriously bad). He argues that unless we accept some such account of the good, no account of goodness as an objective feature of the world, and thus no foundation for morality, would be possible at all. (See chapter 5 of Aquinas, chapter 4 of The Last Superstition, or the first half of “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation” for the rundown.) He also claims that something like the metaphysics that leads to this account of the good is rationally unavoidable in any event. (Again, see the relevant chapters in Aquinas and The Last Superstition.) Then there is the fact that in general, natural law theory conforms to traditional morality, and thus to the common sense of most human beings historically. (Of course it does not conform to the intuitions of contemporary liberal Western academics. But relative to what most human beings think and have thought historically, their intuitions are highly idiosyncratic.) Merely to say that one finds some one small part of natural law theory counterintuitive hardly outweighs all of this.

And we should expect even strong intuitions occasionally to be mistaken. As I argued in the earlier post on intuition linked to above, intuition is only ever a rough and ready guide at best. For example, in general we reason logically, which is why when we begin the study of logic we find that it consists largely in the codification of principles we had already been following implicitly. But even the best common sense reasoning is still rough around the edges, and there are some pitfalls we are prone to if we are not careful. That is why the study of logic is necessary, and why there are such things as fallacies – patterns of reasoning that are bad but which can seem to untutored common sense not to be bad. So, while it is true that from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, philosophical theory should never depart wholesale from common sense, this claim is itself something we know only as a result of philosophical theory, and that same theory tells us that common sense nevertheless needs here and there to be corrected. There is no reason to think that ethics is any different from logic in this respect.

Indeed, there are other cases where the moral intuitions even of religious and traditionally-minded people depart from what we know from natural law theory to be true. Common sense tells us that stealing is wrong, and common sense is right about that. Our intuitions reflect an inchoate understanding that private property is something good for us given our nature. But the concrete details of how a system of private property works out in actual human societies are not natural, but conventional and highly contingent. It requires intellectual effort to determine exactly what the natural law strictly requires of us vis-à-vis private property, what it recommends as best for us when possible but doesn’t strictly require, and what it leaves entirely open to custom and human law. Common sense tracks some of these nuances, but not all of them. It tells us, for example, that the starving man who takes food from a cabin in the woods has done nothing wrong. But it also often nevertheless counts this as “stealing,” which it is not, because (as the natural law theorist argues) the right that the natural law gives us over our property cannot, given its function in the overall moral system, possibly be so strong as to rule out this sort of thing. The owner of the cabin has a property right in his food, but not a right that is so absolute that it would be theft to take it under emergency circumstances of the sort in question. Because of this fuzziness in our intuitions, the starving man might feel guilty, though there is no reason for him to do so. The fuzziness can also lead to extreme positions on the part of those who think they are being “consistent” about treating property rights as natural rights grounded in natural law, such as Rothbardian libertarians (who would regard the cabin scenario as theft, and thus unjust). They are not being consistent, but simplistic and muddleheaded, because the very natural law considerations that ground the institution of private property also entail certain limits on it. (See the article on property rights linked to above for the details.)

Consider also that the intuition that lying to the murderer would not be even mildly wrong is itself historically and culturally contingent. We live in an age permeated by consequentialist thinking – so much so that even the most conservative and religious of people can convince themselves that deliberately incinerating tens of thousands of innocent people is justifiable “for the greater good,” and indeed a paradigm of moral courage. It is no surprise that in such a cultural context, lying to the murderer at the door should seem devoid of even the slightest moral stain. But other ages had other paradigms. For example:

St. Anthimus, Bishop of Nicomedia, would not allow the soldiers who were sent to arrest him, and who were enjoying his hospitality, to save him by a lie; he preferred to suffer martyrdom.



St. Firmus, Bishop of Tagasta, concealed in his house two young men, whom the emperor had unjustly condemned to death. The officers of justice came to the bishop, and demanded to be told where the young men were hidden. The prelate refused to answer; he was put to torture, but this availed nothing: “I can die,” he said, “but I cannot make others miserable.” The emperor hearing of his heroic conduct, pardoned the young men.

(Quoted from Rev. Francis Spirago, The Catechism Explained: An Exhaustive Explanation of the Catholic Religion, pp. 410-11.)

I have noted before that one finds the view that lying is intrinsically immoral defended by thinkers as different in cultural context and philosophical orientation as Aristotle and Kant. Augustine and (as we've seen) Aquinas were also uncompromising, and while there was some debate about the matter in the early Church, the view that lying is always and intrinsically immoral has been the standard view in Roman Catholic moral theology for centuries. Those to whom it seems intuitively obvious that lying to the murderer at the door would not be even slightly morally problematic should consider the possibility that their intuitions reflect their contingent cultural circumstances more than they do any innate moral understanding.

Finally, anyone who claims that it would not be even mildly immoral to lie to the murderer needs to provide some alternative account which both explains why lying is wrong in other cases but does not forbid it in the case at hand. And there are serious problems with such accounts. For example, it is sometimes suggested that it is wrong to lie only when the person lied to has a right to know the truth, which the murderer at the door does not. One problem with this suggestion is that it fails to capture what is wrong with lying per se. For we can fail to respect someone’s right to know the truth even when we don’t lie – for example, when we simply keep silent when someone who has a right to certain information from us asks for it. The view would also have the absurd implication that we can freely tell falsehoods not only to murderers, but also to innocent people who happen not to have a right to know certain truths. For example, it would entail that when there are certain secrets that a government has a right to keep from its citizens (about sensitive military operations, say), the government may not only refrain from revealing them to the citizens, but even tell outright falsehoods instead. It would entail that parents could tell falsehoods to their children, rather than merely keeping silent, about matters they are too young to understand. It would entail that rather than merely keeping silent, we can tell falsehoods to other adults about private matters we have no obligation to inform them about. It would entail that God might tell us nothing but falsehoods, since we have no rights against Him – contrary to the Thomistic view (defended in the post just linked to) that God can only ever will what is good for us, despite His not being obligated to us in any way. (Which brings to mind a further consideration: If even God cannot lie – as St. Paul famously affirms in Titus 1:2 – then where do we get off thinking that we may sometimes do so? Job 13:7 indicates that it would be wrong to lie even for the purpose of defending God’s honor.)

In short, I would say that the natural law position that lying is intrinsically wrong has powerful arguments in its favor, and when rightly understood is not as counterintuitive as it might seem. (Nor have I by any means exhausted the subject here. Natural law theorists have had much to say about the legitimacy in many contexts of broad mental reservations, evasiveness, stratagems during wartime, and the like.) Meanwhile, the alternative view has no good arguments in its favor, and is at best supported by culturally contingent and fallible intuitions. Thus, it poses no serious challenge to the natural law position. If there is a conflict between that position and our intuitions, it is the intuitions that have to go.

134 comments:

Ilíon said...

Your "solutions" to the dilemma, the ones short of killing the murderer (assuming one has the means to pull that off), revolve around a lying while lying to oneself about whether one is lying.

Meanwhile, it seems that you fully ignore the solution to the dilemma I have offered -- which is that there is no dilemma, it's a flase dilemms borne of a misunderstanding about morality.

Ilíon said...

It's a strange sort of morality, don't you think, which requires one to violate morality to do what is right?

Matteo said...

I've never understood the problem here. Lying is withholding the truth from those who have a right to it. Murderers at the door and the Gestapo have no right to it, so no lying is involved.

QED.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Ed - would it be lying to equivocate, with, say, a mental reservation - perhaps on the grounds of double intent?

"Is Victim X hiding here?"

"No, he is not" (mental reservation: he is protecting his life).

Perhaps not - double effect should mean that you don't intend the other effect, not that you use it as a means to a good end (protecting the victim).

but ... what do you think?

Jinzang said...

I have explained in an earlier post why I think appealing to intuitions is bad philosophical methodology.

Finding counter-examples to a philosophical position is not necessarily an appeal to intuition and has a long history in philosophy. What sort of arguments do you think should count? Logical coherence is too weak a standard.

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "We’ve been discussing (here and here) the classical natural law theorist’s claim that lying is always wrong."

Which claim you promptly deny, right after making it, by means of unprincipled exceptions for "little white lies."

If lying -- the conscious and deliberate deception of another mind -- is always wrong, then it is always wrong; and Pharisaical, or Jesuitical, if you prefer, mind-games and word-games do not ameliorate the immorality of it.

There are no degrees of sin -- sin is sin, and sin is death. Our social conventions about this sin being worse than that sin do not survive the grave. Before God's judgment, that fellow, who "only" unrepentantly committed fornication (and only the once! Your Honor), is as great a sinner as that fellow who openly and unrepentantly continuously committed and advocated homosexual perversity, who is as great a sinner as that fellow who "only" (and only the once!) unrepentantly spoke falsehood when he should have spoken truth.


E.Feser: "The classic problem case for this sort of view is as follows: A murderer comes to your door demanding to know where he can find his intended victim, who happens to be hiding in your home. Would it be wrong to lie to him? The natural law theorist holds that it would be."

And your "solution" to the dilemma (which I again point out is actually a false dilemma) is to engage in Jesuitical sophistry: your best-case "solution" is to deceive the murderer while simultaneously engaging in self-deception about the nature of one's deception of her (*).

If lying -- deception -- is always and without qualification immoral, then it is immoral even to attempt, in any way, to decieve the murderer. Since, presumably, one hasn't the means to capture or disable (or kill) her, then *IF* lying is always and without qualification immoral, then the only moral options one has are silence or by bravado ("I'm not going to tell you!") drawing the murderer's fury upon oneself. And, of course, one's silence will probably also draw her fury upon oneself.

(*) I'm intentionally mocking "gender inclusive language" PC BS by referring to the murderer as a "she."


E.Feser: "Both are relying on their moral intuitions. I have explained in an earlier post why I think appealing to intuitions is bad philosophical methodology."

ALL our rational knowledge is built, ultimately, upon a foundation of intuitional knowledge. ALL of God's knowledge is intuitional -- he does not reason to his knowledge; rather, be knows what he knows because he knows what he knows. ERGO, as is seen in two ways, intuitional knowledge is superior to rational knowledge.

The problem is, or course, that our intuitional knowledge is quite limited (we're not God, after all), and we are error-prone. And thus, we ascribe propositions/beliefs to "intuition" which are not, for us, intuitional knowledge at all.

So, yes, an appeal solely to intuition is a bad philosophical methodology. At the same time, to ignore, or to denegrate, our intuitions, or what we think (rightly or wrongly) are intuitions, is even worse ... for to banish intuitions to the outer darkness is to banish reason itself to the outer darkness.

[continued ... I intend to pick apart, or respond to, the entire OP]

Edward Feser said...

Ilion, I know you can't read, as is evident from your remarks. But I thought Matteo could. I address that very dodge in the second to last paragraph of the post, Matteo, as you'll see if you go back and read it.

Ilíon said...

"Ilion, I know you can't read, as is evident from your remarks."

I guess I know that you won't argue honestly. You really need to do something about that. Soon.

Aeon J. Skoble said...

I am still not seeing how you can characterize Aristotle as having anything like a Kantian rule-based conception of what's right. That seems diametrically opposed to his definition of virtue. The mean points to something objective yet plural. It's not relativism and it's not consequentialism, but it's also not Kantian. For Smith to show courage will be different from how Jones shows it, if e.g. they are 110 pounds and 285 respectively. That's not to say that for each there isn't something that would definitely be cowardly. But if the sliding-fee-scale model applies to courage, why wouldn't it also apply to honesty? I'm starting to perceive your position, but not how you can ground it in Aristotle.

Jeff Culbreath said...

"You could instead say nothing, or try to distract him, or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue."

In other words, you may *deceive* him but you may not *lie* to him. Do I understand you correctly?

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "First, let me clear away some misunderstandings that are no doubt at least part of the reason some people find the view in question counterintuitive. The natural law theorist is NOT saying that you are obliged to tell the murderer where his intended victim is. In fact you are obliged not to tell him. ... There is no question whatsoever here of your having a duty to sit back and let him do what he wants. The claim is only that it would be wrong to lie."

I really can't see that anyone is/was confused about that.


E.Feser: "... You could threaten him, since he is himself threatening someone under your protection. Indeed, you can do more than threaten him if you are certain that his attempt at murder is imminent. You can punch his lights out, or even kill him if that is the only way to save your own life or that of the person you are hiding. This would be self-defense, and thus not murder. ..."

Since the point at issue is the claim that it is *always* immoral to lie, these are not really viable options open to this discussion.


E.Feser: "The claim is rather that it is wrong to resort to lying, specifically, as a way of avoiding telling him. You could instead say nothing, or try to distract him, or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue. ... There is no question whatsoever here of your having a duty to sit back and let him do what he wants. The claim is only that it would be wrong to lie."

And your "solution" immediately disolves into incoherence.

The dilemma -- false though it is -- is to try to prevent the murderess harming or murdering either one's friend or oneself without lying to her.

Your solution to the (false) dilemma is to deceive the murderess, which is to say, to lie to her, while simultaneously lying to oneself about the lying to her in which one is engaging.

But, you initial claim is that one may not lie to her. Lying to oneself negates lying to her? George Costanza logic isn't going to solve the puzzle you've set.


E.Feser: "And even if you did lie to him, the claim is not that you would have done something seriously wrong. You would be guilty of at most a venial sin, given the circumstances. So, things are hardly as dire as critics of the view might think."

Sin is sin (and sin is death); there are no degrees to sin/death.

But, let's disregard the Absolute and focus on where we live our lives.

If it's wrong, but not seriously wrong, to lie to the murderess, than what is the point here? Who *cares* about the deception of the murderess? It's unimportant.

====
E.Feser: "... You could ... even kill him if that is the only way to save your own life or that of the person you are hiding. This would be self-defense, and thus not murder. ..."

By the time I was five, six at the oldest, I understood the distinction between murder and justifiable homicide; and I'm sure most other persons did too. At such an age, had I been faced with a situation where I'd been forced to try to kill someone to preserve my life or anothers', the fear that killing him would be wrong would not heve been an issue for me.

But I was well into adulthood before I had resolved this issue about the morality of lying. Had I been in this scenario, I'd have lied to the murderess, and at once ... and I'd have foolishly worried that I was sinning in doing so.

We explain to our children that morality of hurting or killing others; but, when it comes to the morality of lying, we leave them with the simplistic understanding that is appropriate for two-to-four year olds.

[more to come]

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "I address that very dodge in the second to last paragraph of the post, Matteo, as you'll see if you go back and read it."

And, by the way, your "solution" is the dodge.

The objection Matteo raised (and that I've been raising) is part of the solution; it resolves the dilemma by helping us to see that there never was dilemma in the first place, by showing us that we *thought* there was a dilemma because we didn't quite understand what lying is and is not.

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "Ilion, I know you can't read, as is evident from your remarks."

I quite understand that no one likes to be told, "you're wrong." And, I further understand that few overly-schooled persons like to be told by a no one, such as I am, "you're wrong." And, I further understand that few professional philosophers like to be told about a philosophical opinion, "you're wrong," and by a no one, such as I am.

But, I don't give a damn about schooling and degrees and presumptive status. You're wrong.

But, more importantly than being wrong, you are confusing others who may not be as prepared as I am to disregard your schooling, your fame and your status. You are not helping others to grow in moral maturity, but rather are working to stunt a part of that growth.

On this issue, you are wrong, and I have been showing you that you are wrong. And, as you tend to do when I try to share some of my small store of wisdom with you, you ... well, you know what you do; I merely know what it looks like you do.

Anonymous said...

@Aeon: Your characterisation of Aristotle misconceives him. Certain acts do not admit of a mean, i.e. are always corrupt (NE 2:6), and men are governed by a universal and unchangeable law of justice (thought this does not constitute the whole of justice) (NE 5:7). The Eudemian Ethics is even more obviously inclined towards rigidity: witness his treatment of adultery at 2:3.

The "Aristotle is a pluralist who would never admit of a rigid, inflexible measure" view of the Ethica, while popular, does not present him accurately. It amounts, in the end, to a caricature.

Furthermore, Aquinas' account of the wickedness of lying stems directly from the explicitly Aristotelian thesis that goodness or flourishing is a function of the natural, immanent teleology inherent in all things, a much more central idea to the Philosopher's thought than any hesitations he might have had about moral absolutes.

@Ilíon: Just a tip: if you'd like Ed to actually respond to you, you might want to just address one or two issues rather than writing excessively long rant-posts. Ed simply does not have the time to read them, which is why he is as curt as is. Also, it makes you look a lot more intelligent and well-mannered.

BTW, are you a Catholic?

Ilíon said...

Anonymouse,
You're not even amusing in the best of circumstances.

Anonymous said...

@Ilíon: I fail to see how your point is at all relevant to the discussion. And could you answer my question?

Josh said...

Well, I've been thinking a lot about all this for a little bit now, over the last three posts...

I'm comfortable with it being a venial sin. If I were in that situation, I'd have to take one for the team, and I understand it's a weakness on my part/cultural inheritance that I have a hard time seeing what's wrong about it.

I respect that Ilion speaks his mind on what to me at least is a very important issue. But, (and forgive me if I've misunderstood what you are saying, Ilion) are you advocating the view "Sin is sin (and sin is death); there are no degrees to sin/death"? And is that one of your prime reasons for resisting the absolute prohibition on lying?

Because that seems as counter-intuitive to me as the moral dilemma over lying to the murderer.

Edward Feser said...

Ilion,

You post a lot of comments (too many, frankly), and a lot of very long ones. When I start to read them, I find that right off the bat they seem to consist of little more than misreadings and begged questions coupled with sarcasm. And that's when I stop reading, because I've got little enough time as it is to respond to serious comments, not to mention all the many other things I have to get done every day. If there's an actual argument somewhere later down in your blizzard of words, I'll never know it. Blame your editor, not me.

Aeon,

Where did I attribute to Aristotle a Kantian rule-based conception of morality? All I said is that he thought lying was inherently bad, which he did (Nicomachean Ethics 1127a28). One needn't be a Kantian to think that. Nor did I say I ground my position directly in Aristotle. It's the standard natural law position, and while natural law theory has a broadly Aristotelian metaphysical and moral basis, in several ways it goes beyond what Aristotle himself said. The only philosopher whose arguments I've directly appealed to is Aquinas.

Jeff,

If I answer the murderer by saying e.g. "I would be risking my own life by hiding a wanted man!" I have not spoken contrary to what is in my mind, which is what would be intrinsically immoral. It is true that he might be -- hopefully will be -- led to go away, but I did not lie to him, because I did not say something that is contrary to what I really think, which is what "lying" means (certainly it is what NL theorists mean by it). And one sign that I haven't lied is that the murderer could intelligbly say "Yeah, but you still haven't answered my question," which he could not intelligibly say if I had lied by saying "I have no idea where he is."

Jeff Culbreath said...

Right. But the reason for answering him thus is to deceive him. That is my purpose. And that's not a sin? Honestly, I'm not trying to be argumentative - just looking for clarity. I gave my two high schoolers your essay as a reading assignment tonight, and told them to read the discussion as well. So the pressure is on. :-)

Ilíon said...

Then I guess it's a good thing I'm not all that concerned (and haven't been for a long time) with whether you do read and do think about what I post. You know, only slightly more than I concern myself with anonymice.

Other people read, and some of 'em even think about what they read. And, since the confusion you're spreading -- intentionally, since you refuse to consider any arguments to correct the error -- is here on your blog, it just makes gosh-darn sense to try to offer the correction here.

Ilíon said...

J.Culbreath: "Honestly, I'm not trying to be argumentative - just looking for clarity."

Of course you're not being argumentative (and neither am I), but you are arguing. And, just as I am, you're arguing against Mr Feser's position. It's just that you're doing it in a supplicating manner, as I am not.

Jeff Culbreath said...

IIion, I don't see how your "manner" is going to further the discussion or lead to any clarity whatsoever. I generally agree with Dr. Feser but still find this topic difficult. He's the teacher, I'm the student - though perhaps not a perfectly docile student.

Ilíon said...

I get it! You're one of those persons who can learn only from those whose "manner" tickles his ear. Sort of like that anonymouse up there, who imagines that calling what I've written "rants" is all the consideration he need give it.

Oddly enough, one big reason Mr Feser is so pissed is that he and I have a very similar "manner" -- which is one reason I used to get such a kick out of him.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Jeff,

Natural law theorists typically distinguish lying and deception, because either can occur without the other. I can lie and know that you will not be deceived, and (as the example given earlier shows) I can deceive without lying. And it is only lying -- deliberately speaking contrary to one's mind -- that is claimed to be intrinsically wrong, while deception is wrong only depending on circumstances. That is why broad mental reservation, evasion, etc. can be OK in some circumstances, while lying never is.

John Thayer Jensen said...

I wonder if Ilion (and possibly Matteo) aren't confusing two things:

1) a duty not to lie
2) a duty to tell the truth, or to tell the whole truth, or to make a person wholly aware of something.

That's why I asked about 'mental reservations.' Allowing a person, who has an evil intention, to deceive himself doesn't seem to me the same as lying - giving him information that can only be taken falsely.

But I am, as I said, a little unsure about the legitimacy of a statement that could only be taken wrongly if normally interpreted.

jj

John Thayer Jensen said...

I must say that, practically speaking, I probably wouldn't be able to lie. I'm the worst liar in the world - ask my mother. I would probably just collapse in a heap. Different moral issue, but not lying :-)

jj

Jeff Culbreath said...

IIion, with all due respect, go pound sand.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Dr. Feser, thank you for the clarification. The distinction between deceit and lying is not something I have explored in any depth. I understand the difference, but it's not clear to me why there should be a moral distinction between them. I'll need to meditate on it a while.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Jeff,

The key difference is that lying involves acting directly and positively contrary to the natural end of one of our faculties, while deception does not. It's like the difference between contraception on the one hand and refraining from sex except during non-fertile periods on the other: The latter can be morally problematic (e.g. if one is aiming to avoid conception for a trivial reason), but it is not intrinsically immoral in the way in which the former is.

(I realize, of course, that not every reader will agree with that example, but Jeff will, so it seemed to me he might find it helpful.)

Ilíon said...

Josh: "But, (and forgive me if I've misunderstood what you are saying, Ilion) are you advocating the view "Sin is sin (and sin is death); there are no degrees to sin/death"? And is that one of your prime reasons for resisting the absolute prohibition on lying?"

No.

1) I have a horror of trivializing sin. My upbringing put a bit more weight on the OT than many Christians these days are comfortable with.

2) Ultimately -- which is what matters, after all -- there are no degrees to sin because the standard, God's moral perfection, does not admit of comparatives or degrees. If our righteousness is as filthy rags before him, how much more our sin? How could we even begin to say, "My sin isn't nearly as bad as that sin!"

Just in case it interests you, I have an old post, which on the surface is about compromise, but at the deeper level it is about our sinfulness in light of God's righteousness and holiness (hint: we are the ice cream in the parable).

Josh: "Because that seems as counter-intuitive to me as the moral dilemma over lying to the murderer."

Also, as I've made reference (and linked above), I think a big part of the problem is the word 'lie' itself. We have words -- and therefore concepts -- to distinguish immoral killing from not-immoral killing. But, when it comes to trying to thinking about deception, we use the same words, and therefore our concepts are muddled, and therefore we do not (generally) think clearly.


Josh: "I'm comfortable with it being a venial sin. If I were in that situation, I'd have to take one for the team, and I understand it's a weakness on my part/cultural inheritance that I have a hard time seeing what's wrong about it."

And my point is that one need not sin in order to do what is right. How, exactly, would that work, anyway? Does not Mr Feser's position (and yours) ultimately amount to the position that (Christian) morality is self-contradictory? And, does that not ultimately mean that the Christian understanding of morality is false ... and that possibly there is no such thing as morality at all?

Ilíon said...

"IIion, with all due respect, go pound sand."

Children amaze me, sometimes. They want to be snide or snarky ... and then they want to whine when they get snide or snark back.

Can I help it that can sometimes out-shark without even breaking a sweat?

Josh said...

Well, without drawing a tangent to the thread's original intent, I'll try to respond...

I share your reticence toward trivializing sin, which is why I take this whole discussion over lying very seriously.

I try to hold to the Father Zosima idea from The Brothers Karamazov of seeing myself as responsible for other people's sins as a way of humility, to avoid seeing my sins as "less" or "more" than another's.

However, I also have faith that, were my sinful lie to fail to keep the murderer from his objective, we would not merit the same punishment. Is this not intuitive?

And as far as the ice cream parable goes...I believe in Purgatory...is there an objection to that?

I think you are right that the concept of lying begs for clarification, but I'm not sure I can follow what you said in particular.

"And my point is that one need not sin in order to do what is right."

Not really sure what to say about this...I think I agree with you, but I'm not sure. One thing that is a bit weird, at first glance at the Professor's post, is the idea that one could kill before one could lie. Man, I just don't know...these intuitions are dug in deep.

Good talking with you Ilion, I hope you return to Blog Graceland.

David said...

Some readers of my earlier posts on this subject reject the natural law position for that reason. Others do not, but are uncomfortable having to swallow something they take to be highly counterintuitive. Both are relying on their moral intuitions.

And of course still others are interested in sticking to natural law, are uninterested in intuitions, and propose an alternative definition of the end of man's communicative faculty.

Meanwhile, the alternative view has no good arguments in its favor, and is at best supported by culturally contingent and fallible intuitions.

I think this is slightly misleading insofar as it implies there is only one alternative, and that natural law is a single monolithic standard, when of course there are different possible natural law hypotheses.

Edward Feser said...

Hello David,

Re: alternative views, my primary target in the present post are views that are sympathetic with or at least open-minded about the general classical natural law ballpark -- where "classical" means "informed by classical essentialist metaphysics" -- because the critical response to my recent posts on lying seem to have come mainly from that direction.

Still, it is worth noting that the "new natural law" theorist Germain Grisez, who eschews arguments which appeal to the natural ends of our faculties and the rest of the classical essentialist apparatus, still ends up agreeing with the classical natural law view that lying is intrinsically wrong.

But it is true that there are other views often called "natural law" views which are open to the possibility of lying. But they are not "classical" in the relevant sense, i.e. committed to a broadly classical essentialist metaphysics, and I have argued in several places (e.g. in my book on Locke) that to abandon such a metaphysics is ultimately to abandon any genuinely "natural law" morality (and indeed any morality at all).

Anonymous said...

@Ilíon: Sort of like that anonymouse up there, who imagines that calling what I've written "rants" is all the consideration he need give it.

That is not what I said. I said that Dr. Feser will be much more likely to answer you, and that you will contribute more to discussion, if you keep your posts short and simple.

If you don't like anonymity, fine: my name is Leo Carton Mollica, and I am a student living in Chicago. Happy?

Finally, are you or are you not a Catholic? It's a simple enough question.

Leo Mollica said...

@Ed: Out of pure curiosity, what are Grisez's arguments for that thesis?

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "And even if you did lie to him, the claim is not that you would have done something seriously wrong. You would be guilty of at most a venial sin, given the circumstances. So, things are hardly as dire as critics of the view might think."

Ilíon: "If it's wrong, but not seriously wrong, to lie to the murderess, than what is the point here? Who *cares* about the deception of the murderess? It's unimportant."

[to continue the thought] But, of course, we're not just talking about some little social habits of no ultimate importance or consequence, that will pass away with all other things that perish. We're talking about sin and about our very lives (our "immortal souls," as the saying goes). Now, to be sure, our salvation doesn't hang on our knowledge or understanding or on anything else we bring to the table. Nevertheless, we ought not be confused if we can know the truth of the matter -- we have a duty to know the truth we can know; to not confuse ourselves and to not confuse one another.

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "Of course, many find it counterintuitive to hold that there would be even a slight moral failing in telling such a lie. But the classical natural law theorist has given a reason for thinking there is. As Aquinas says, the basic trouble with lying is that it is a kind of perversity. It takes what has as its inherent, natural end the communication of what is really in one’s mind -- speech and related behavior -- and deliberately turns it to the opposite of that end. The teaching about lying is therefore just a straightforward application of the more general moral system. For the natural law theorist has a worked-out theory of the good, grounded in a sophisticated metaphysics (classical essentialism), that explains why such an action must of necessity be bad (even if not always seriously bad). He argues that unless we accept some such account of the good, no account of goodness as an objective feature of the world, and thus no foundation for morality, would be possible at all."

Not all that is 'evil' is 'wicked;' not all that is 'not-good' is 'sin.' The shedding of human blood is *always* an evil, but it is not always a sin.

So, all you've established (without contradiction) is that lies/deceptions are inherently 'not-good' -- we agree! But, that claim was that lies are inherently sin.

And the incoherent secondary claim was that some lies are just "little sins." And, a further claim -- even more incoherent, for it turns the meaning of the word on its head (*) -- was that some instances of intentionally speaking falsehoods aren't even lies, "because everyone knows that that doesn't really mean that."

(*) I have said that people find the topic difficult because our language doesn't draw a distinction between immoral lying/deception and not-immoral lying/deception similar to the distinction between immoral killing and not-immoral killing. You ignore (and perhaps even deny the importance of) the point -- even as, in practice, you are trying to draw the distinction without admitting the distinction.


E.Feser: "Merely to say that one finds some one small part of natural law theory counterintuitive hardly outweighs all of this."

Who is doing such a thing? I am not; I am (and have been) showing that your argument/reasoning fails. And you are (and have been) waving your hands.

Now, sure, you're busy; I have never insisted that you pay any attention to any post of mine. So, just because I've already in the other thread shown that your reasoning on this fails, doesn't mean that you've read all that I wrote.

So, you write this new (and lengthy!) post to put your thoughts on the matter in one place. Fine. But then you want to behave like that because I'm going to try to go through it, point by point, to point out the failures? Again, fine. But now you get the full treatment. You know, pretty much the treatment you'd give some Evangelical Atheist (or "liberal") who is clearly refusing to reason properly.

[more to come, tomorrow]

PatrickH said...

Ilion: "[more to come, tomorrow]"

Oh dear.

awatkins69 said...

Ilion: Nobody denies the law of the excluded middle. Something is either bad or not-bad. But we can have degree. If I lie *a lot* I am doing more which is contrary to the actualization of my potentialites than if I were to lie once. This is obvious.

In the action of lying, if I tell a lie which I only would tell in dire situations, then it is worse than one which I tell just out of the blue to my friends to make myself look good. In the first I'm not developing a habit which always comes up and I'm also not acting contrary to any of the other virtues. In the second I am. So yes, some lies are worse than others.

Finally, I would sincerely suggest just cutting down the posts in size, only putting what is essential. I think in that case Dr. Feser would be more willing to reply. If you want to write a comprehensive response to each paragraph, you should probably write it in .doc format and e-mail it to the professor, asking nicely if he'd read it. Best.

Jonathan said...

I think you oversimplify the Rothbardian position.

If a starving man breaks into my log cabin and steals some of my food, he has taken my property and I could take him to court for recovery of the cost.

However, we also have customs, norms, religious beliefs and so on which would make it extremely unlikely anyone would follow that course of action.

I have always struggled with the strict Rothbardian position which takes it for granted that simple obedience to natural law will lead to a pleasant order. It is quite easy to imagine a libertarian order where the norms happen to be heavily influenced by social darwinism and charity is of no value.

I favour a libertarian definition of natural rights but combined with a Christian ethics which would presumably get around these dilemmas?

awatkins69 said...

With that said, I do want to ask Dr. Feser, how do you think we can go about classifying actions as being intrinsically worse than one another? Lying about Santa and lying to your about whether I stole a car are both the same action formally speaking, viz. telling an untruth. Yet one is worse than the other?

Leo Mollica said...

@awatkins: One way of classifying the degrees of evil, at least, is through asking, What is the degree of the good deprived by this evil? In that case, I think I'd incline more towards declaring the Santa lie wors than that about the car, since the Truth of the Nativity trumps nearly every other!

Eric said...

Professor Feser, would it be accurate to say that if we take a case where your only options are lying to the murderer or telling the murderer that you're hiding the person he's looking for (I know that this is almost never the case, but I would like to consider it as a thought experiment), then we have an opposition of duties -- the duty not to lie (or, rather, to tell the truth) on the one hand, and the duty to protect the innocent (or, not to contribute to the harming of the innocent) on the other? And if this is so, how does a natural law theorist decide among competing duties in situations where conflicts like this arise? I agree with your analysis so far, but I'm not clear on this particular issue yet.

romishgraffiti said...

Thanks again Ed, great piece. I don't know if this strays too much from the philosophical realm to the theological/exigetical realm, but I wondered if you would tackle the very common objection that, according to the objectors, Rahab lies in Josh 2, and Our Lord lies in John 7, and that shows that there are exceptions to lying.

thefederalist said...

It seems to me that classical just war theory, and even the self-defense theory, involve a lesser of two evils reasoning and require a prudential judgement to be made. So that while the lie (or the war, or the justifiable homicide) are evil, the immediate circumstance may require it to be the choice that is made because all available options are evil and this is the least.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the same boat as Eric, though, unlike him, I can see that situation very readily occurring in reality (imagine a no-nonsense Nazi walking up to some dude's door and saying: "Are you hiding any Jews in your home? Let me tell you right now in case you try to get clever and use slippery language: any other answer besides a simple 'No' will be comprehended as a definite 'Yes' in my book, upon which I will promptly storm your house.")

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser,

Wouldn't this view preclude much action of governments, e.g., undercover police work, disinformation campaigns during war, CIA spy work, etc.?

Anselm

BenYachov said...

>or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue.

Nazi: "Are you hiding Jews"?

BenYachov: No I am not! (i.e. They are hiding themselves I am just standing here....or I'm theologically an extreme supercesionalist & I believe only Baptized Christians are the true Jews of the New Covenant & thus these non-baptized people hiding in the basement are not real Jews.....etc).

This ambiguity thing works for me since I can deceive all I want without "lying". Of course on the practical & functional level it appears no different than lying but.....I'm glad I don't have to commit a venial sin.

Aeon J. Skoble said...

Hi again Ed-
The passage at 1127 is part of a discussion of truthfulness in social relations, as contrasted with boastfulness or self-deprecation, not a general claim. See for contrast Book IV chapter 12, particularly around 1144a25-35. I think that's more on-point for this discussion.
Best,
Aeon

Anonymous said...

Ok, BY, then amend the question to, "Are there Jews currently in your house?" Not so much wiggle room there.

Tony said...

Eric, I cannot imagine a theoretical case where the options were not: (a) speak and tell a lie; (b) speak and tell no lie; and (c) do NOT SPEAK.

A person might arrange beforehand to be "unable to speak", but they would still be able to gesture (shake the head), or write, so I don't see it achieving much.

A person could ignore the Nazi's "warning" that anything other than "no" would be taken as a yes, and say something other than "No" and other than "yes" anyway. The fact that the Nazi is saying he will "take it to mean yes" doesn't actually mean that it does mean yes: he is not the god of language, deciding what language means by his fiat. What he DOES about your speech is his (and God's) affair, but what you SAY is your own affair.

But still and all, you can use language in lots of ways other than "yes" without telling about the Jews and without telling lies. If you are smart enough or holy enough or God providentially wants to protect you, you might succeed in keeping them hidden regardless of the warning the Nazi gives you. Suppose you start insulting the Nazi's ancestry: "If your mother hadn't been too familiar with a dachshund, you might be capable of understanding me when I tell you "NO"!

There - you said NO. But you put it into the subjunctive, which is not a propositional true-or-false form.

Eric said...

"Eric, I cannot imagine a theoretical case where the options were not: (a) speak and tell a lie; (b) speak and tell no lie; and (c) do NOT SPEAK."

Hi Tony

As I said, I was using the example as a thought experiment to try to get a better understanding of natural law morality. I'm interested not in what to do in such a situation, but in understanding how natural law theorists think about cases where duties or moral obligations conflict.

In fact, I think your point helps make my question clear. If I choose not to speak, which I agree is almost always an option, then I'm in effect choosing (it seems to me) to risk the lives of those I'm protecting to avoid telling a lie. That is, if I choose not to speak I'm still choosing to fulfill one duty at the expense of another, and what I'm interested in is how a natural law theorist goes about making those sorts of moral decisions.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

@Jeff: “The distinction between deceit and lying is not something I have explored in any depth. I understand the difference, but it's not clear to me why there should be a moral distinction between them. I'll need to meditate on it a while.”

I would say that ‘lying’ is to ‘deceit’ what ‘murder’ is to ‘killing.’ Killing is not always wrong, for example in self defense. Murder is always wrong. Same with deceit and lying. It's not always wrong to deceit someone (being silent, not telling everything, using sarcams, etc.), while it is wrong to lie. ISTM that Ilíon fails to make the crucial distinction between ‘lying’ and ‘deceit.’ (Just like many people, for instance in discussions about just war, self defense, etc. fails to make the crucial distinction between ‘murder’ and ‘killing.’)

Mark said...

Edward,

I think there's a false dilemma here: lying versus turning over an innocent person to a potential murderer.

The potential murderer commits a fallacy of presumption similar to the well-known loaded question: "Are you still beating your wife?"

In the example of a questioner who seeks to kill an innocent person, the scope of the question needs to be widened a bit to see the fallacy of presumption the questioner commits.

Let's assume you are a person who has an obligation to protect the innocent when you are able. That obligation, in this instance, requires that you not blurt out to a potential murderer that an innocent person whom he would like to kill is hiding in your house. And so the question, "Is John Doe hiding in this house?," is really a bit like the "Are you still beating your wife" question because it presumes something that normally one doesn't have the right to presume. What is presumed is that someone indeed ought to blurt out to a potential killer that an innocent person is hiding in one's house. But that presumption, like the presumption that one is currently beating or has beaten his wife, is not appropriate. And so, this classic example of a moral dilemma, while it might appear literally to be a simple question, "Is John Doe hiding in this house?," is really not quite so simple in its implications. It goes something like this:

-- Potential Murderer: I presume that if you are hiding an innocent person whom I wish to murder in this house that you would tell me. That being understood, Is John Doe hiding in this house?

-- Person Hiding an Innocent Person from Potential Murderer: No (you presume wrongly).

No one, when context and moral scope are understood, is ever forced to lie to someone. Otherwise, aren't we then faced with one virtue or objectively good gesture contradicting another virtue or objectively good gesture.

BenYachov said...

>"Are there Jews currently in your house?"

I reply: No there are not.(i.e. since the basement I might not consider part of the House proper....I don't own the house it belongs to my relative/landlord so there are no Jews in my house .....plus there is always the extreme supercessionalist answer.).

I just have to lawyer it up. Besides I note one flaw in this theory is Nazis don't need a search warrant nor do they need to believe liars or the ambigious to seach your house.

Randy said...

The question is not whether you should tell the murderer that John Doe is hiding in your house. You should not. That is the greater moral imperative. To save the life of John Doe when you are able to do so.

But if you don't actually lie. If you say, "Why would you think he is hiding here?" Is that morally better than if you simply say No? I think the intuitive answer is that this is so. People who deceive will point out they didn't actually lie. There is something in making a true statement that they feel the need to point out even if they clearly and immorally deceived.

Jeff Culbreath said...

I am closer to understanding Dr. Feser's argument now, thanks to some helpful examples.

Some questions do remain. If "lying involves acting directly and positively contrary to the natural end of one of our faculties", and the natural end of human speech to communicate what is in our minds, then it seems to me that the "Grandma scenario" discussed at W4 is still a lie, and therefore a sin, so long as the falsehood is told with the intent to deceive (as indeed it usually is). Same with answering a sincere "how are you?" with "fine" when one is not feeling at all fine. At this point I don't quite see how these and other social pleasantries get a pass.

Brandon said...

If I choose not to speak, which I agree is almost always an option, then I'm in effect choosing (it seems to me) to risk the lives of those I'm protecting to avoid telling a lie. That is, if I choose not to speak I'm still choosing to fulfill one duty at the expense of another, and what I'm interested in is how a natural law theorist goes about making those sorts of moral decisions.

Are you, though? The lives of those you are protecting are already at risk -- if they weren't, there would be no force to the example. And there's no way to determine which option before you will actually put them more at risk. When we look at cases of people who actually faced such decisions, in fact, people like the ten Booms, there is no clear connection between action and outcome: there are too many things you simply cannot know. For all we can know, it may be the lie that will actually put them at greatest risk: as I mentioned in a previous thread, I doubt most of the people advocating the lie option are actually so smooth and clever as liars under stress that they could guarantee that they wouldn't flub it, and flubbed lies can turn a merely risky situation into disaster.

What we would actually need to study cases of the sort you are interested in is a scenario in which it is the doing of the duty itself that puts people at risk. I rather suspect, actually, that real conflict of duty dilemmas are typically very mundane: genuinely risky situations by their very nature introduce so many unknowns that it will be difficult to pin down a clear conflict of duty.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@romishgraffiti: The question of whether Jesus lied in John, at least, is dealt with in the comments to the original HAL post.

@Anselm: I won't claim to speak for Ed, but I'd assume that yes, lying in such cases would also be immoral. So what? The fact that something is ubiquitous or even (seemingly) necessary for our society does not vindicate it morally. Just think of usury.

John Thayer Jensen said...

I definitely think that 'social lying' is immoral - and therefore not "necessary for our society."

I do not, on the other hand, think that saying "fine" when asked "how are you?" - even though you have cancer or your wife has just died - need be a lie. There is a definite social meaning to that answer, it seems to me. It means something like: "insofar as there might be some service that I might reasonably be expected to request of you at the moment, there is none, and I appreciate your asking."

After all, whenever I say "fine" in response to "how are you," there are certain to be many things in my life that could be improved (go ahead, ask me what they are - if you have a few hours :-)). "Fine" doesn't seem to me a social lie.

But I do think that social lying is wrong - perhaps more seriously wrong than we tend to think.

"John is not at home" when someone rings and asks for me and I am at home seems to me a lie, and not a trivial one. I won't give such an answer about someone. "John can't come to the 'phone right now" is a truth. John can't come to the 'phone because it would make him uncomfortable to talk with you, or whatever - but I need not, and almost certainly should not, impart such information.

"Why can't John come to the 'phone?" "He's tied up right now." "Doing what?" "Well, I'm not quite sure" (I don't know if it's because he fears you or is angry or is just bored with you, so I don't know).

And so on and so forth. We have all been there.

It is true that in a decision to withhold information, or to allow an interlocutor to deceive himself, we must have a good reason - a very good reason. The default assumption ought to be that a person deserves the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. To equivocate for inadequate reason puts one in the 'jesuitical' (not Jesuitical :-)) position of Arthur Hugh Clough's counsellee in "The Last Decalogue":

THOU shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency:
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it's so lucrative to cheat:
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:
Thou shalt not covet, but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.

Eric said...

"Are you, though? The lives of those you are protecting are already at risk -- if they weren't, there would be no force to the example. And there's no way to determine which option before you will actually put them more at risk."

Brandon, thanks for the response. I agree with you: I was too quick in supposing that not speaking was more harmful to those one is hiding than lying about their whereabouts is. But I'm still confused as to how a natural law theorist would choose among duties when they seem to be in conflict, which is why I tried to limit the choices in the thought experiment to lying or revealing the location of those one is hiding. Could you help clarify that for me if you have the time?

Edward Feser said...

Whoa, been away from the computer all day, and look what happens! Thanks for the many thoughtful comments and questions, everyone. I will try to reply here and there as I can, later today.

Jinzang said...

I understand that your main intent is to explain the natural law position and how it differs from other ethical philosophies, such as consequentialism. And that is why you selected the hard example of the "murderer at the door." But, still I am puzzled. You say:

"You can punch his lights out, or even kill him if that is the only way to save your own life or that of the person you are hiding."

Normally one considers striking or killing a man a much greater evil than lying to him. How can it be that the stricture against killing is waived in this situation, but not the stricture against lying?

David said...

Jinzang‬: How can it be that the stricture against killing is waived in this situation, but not the stricture against lying?

The trick is that there is no stricture against killing. That is, under natural law, "killing" is not intrinsically evil, so the strictures all depend on external circumstances: you cannot kill such a person in such a situation. It is not that an imminent threat of murder "overrides" or "outweighs" some pre-existing default rule about not killing. On the other hand, if you accept that communicating facts is the proper function of speech, then it immediately follows that any deviation is immoral, before you even get to the who, when, and where. That is why all the objections based on the particulars of any given scenario fall short; in this case, the natural law conclusion is inevitable before we get to any of those details.

David said...

Ed Feser: But it is true that there are other views often called "natural law" views which are open to the possibility of lying. But they are not "classical" in the relevant sense, i.e. committed to a broadly classical essentialist metaphysics

Fair enough. Of course, it is possible to agree on natural law theory itself, in the fully classical sense, and still disagree on particulars. Human nature is not so trivial or self-evident that reasonable people cannot disagree on a subtle detail of what defines some faculty or the exact nature of its ends. A few commenters have disputed the exact formulation of communication being (exclusively) to speak one's mind truly, which means the conclusions drawn will differ (though perhaps only under contrived examples that bring out the differences) exactly because both sides are following the principles classical natural law.

David said...

"You could instead say nothing, or try to distract him, or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue."

The next time a Nazi shows up at my door, I shall try to distract him by reciting poetry at him. Probably a selection from my new favourite piece of free verse, entitled, "Yes, We Have No Hebraics". It goes like this:

    Jews? Here? Are you
    joking?
    There are no Jews here.
    I would not do
    such a thing.
    Not now. Not ever. Not
    here.

Of course, Nazis are known for being thuggish brutes, so I'm afraid he probably wouldn't appreciate the fine nuances of higher literature. The philistine might not even recognise that I was quoting poetry at all. But of course, that's his problem, not mine.

Anonymous said...

I am very sympathetic to classical natural law, but this is one area that for some reason that eludes me I cannot just get on board with.

I find Eric's thought experiment very troubling, and I find Jeff's point about social lying to be troubling as well.

The way I always thought about it was the way Jinzang stated it: I just couldn't believe that it could be right for me to use violence against the potential murderer but not to lie to him.

One commenter said the answer is that there is no stricture against killing in natural law. Can that be right?

How is killing not intrinsically evil, on any ground except consequentialist ones? I might be missing something, but if killing is not intrinsically evil because it can be used in self-defense, then obviously the same would apply to lying.

But on non-consequentialist grounds, how could killing not be intrinsically evil?

I can believe that lying in this case is a small sin, but what makes it hard for me to swallow the argument is that NOTHING is wrong with KILLING the guy. So I do something wrong if I lie, but not if I KILL him?

Even if I managed to find a consistent way to argue for that, I dare say I could never actually believe it. In other words, even if I thought it was right in theory, I could never have "click" where one knows one really does believe something.

I can't explain that; I'm just noting it.

And I can't see how Jeff's argument about social lying could be avoided. If it's wrong for me to speak contrary to my mind, then it is always wrong (or, if it's wrong to do it to a murderer, then it is certainly wrong to do it to someone who means me no harm). So every day, whenever pleasantries are engaged in -usually they involve little lies - we're all sinning?

Again, it's just something I can't believe. My very being is incapable of believing it.

My other problem is that if these distinctions get too tricky, then we ordinary folk won't be able to tell if we're lying anymore - if I say "fine," when I'm not fine, have I sinned? If I do it every day, am I condemning myself to hell?

Forgive me - I know you've made the point about intuition many times - but this stuff about lying just does not "feel" right to me.

Edward Feser said...

Re: "You can kill him, but you can't lie to him?!"

Sure. What's the problem? Killing in self-defense is not intrinsically wrong. Lying is.

There is nothing odd in this. If you think there is, I suspect that's because killing under any circumstances is, of course, a big deal, highly consequential, etc., while lying often is neither. But that is by itself irrelevant to the moral character of each act. (Unless you're a consequentialist, in which case you are begging the question against the natural law view.)

Compare the case of a clerk at Macy's stealing five dollars from the cash register. I think everyone would agree that that is wrong even though it is not big or consequential, and it would be silly for someone to say "But how can you say killing in self-defense is OK, but stealing five dollars is not?!"

Same thing here. Once again the "counterintuitiveness" of the All lying is at least mildly wrong position rests on confusion.

Edward Feser said...

Jeff,

Why does "cat" typically refer to cats? Because the conventions of English usage determine that it does. But of course, given those conventions, it can also refer to a hipster, if uttered by (say) Sammy Davis Jr. or Frank Sinatra in 1960s Vegas. The overall context determines what is meant. Hence, if I say "The cat is on the mat" when someone asks me where Tabby ran to, everyone knows that what I mean to say is that there is a feline on a certain fllor mat, and if I say it while knowing that Tabby is not there, I have lied. But if I point to Sammy Davis or Sinatra and say "There's a cool cat!" it would be silly for someone to say "You liar! That's not a cat, that's a man!" Given the facts of English usage, "cat" has more than one usage.

Now, the same thing is true of expressions like "Fine, thanks," uttered in the usual social context. They have as a matter of convention come to have a standard use as pleasantries. They simply don't mean "I am literally free of any anxiety or trouble at all." That is why they are not "social lies," because they are not lies at all, given the way language works -- any more than "There goes one cool cat!" is a lie, given the way language works.

Re: Anonymous's question, "How do I know when I'm committing a sin?", common sense suffices in most cases. (And as I keep saying, trivial lies are only venially sinful in any case, so there's no question of "going to hell," pace Anon's worries.) But from a Catholic POV, someone who really needs to know has ready guidance either from the Church (where she speaks explicitly on such matters) or orthodox theologians (who have been in agreement on this particualr issue for centuries).

In the old days every priest would have been well-formed in Scholastic philosophy and moral theology and could easily answer questions about this sort of thing for people who had worries. And there were good, readily available textbooks on natural law ethics and moral theology for people interested in such things.

Unfortunately, things have gone way down hill and now folks have to resort to asking people like me. Heaven help us!

Jinzang said...

"Killing in self-defense is not intrinsically wrong. Lying is."

My point in coming here is not so much to debate what is moral but to understand your reason for thinking so. Why is killing not an intrinsic evil? Which sins in the decalogue are intrinsically evil? Is the distinction one that you can explain simply or is the matter more complex?

David said...

BenYachov: No I am not! (i.e. They are hiding themselves I am just standing here....or I'm theologically an extreme supercesionalist & I believe only Baptized Christians are the true Jews of the New Covenant & thus these non-baptized people hiding in the basement are not real Jews.....etc).

I was going to say, "There isn't a single Jew here!" (There are several.) Or, in case I'm hiding but a solitary Jew, I'd say, "There isn't a single Jew here!" (He's married.) But I like BenYachov's replies even better. This did lead me down a curious line of thought, though. The law is supposed to treat everyone equally, but we all know that rich people can get away with far more than the poor. It is appalling, and yet the same thing applies here. If you have enough of the right stuff — in this case, lots of brains rather than lots of money — you can get away with "lying" just by cleverly wording any statement in such a way that there is true interpretation possible (no matter how implausible it might be). But I don't want my intuitions to run away with me — perhaps that's just one of the advantages of being smart. Nonetheless, it cannot really be moral to deceive one's parents, say, just because one is adept enough at playing with words. But the fault isn't "lying", so what is it? What is the traditional application of classical natural law to situations like that?

TheOFloinn said...

So, all you've established (without contradiction) is that lies/deceptions are inherently 'not-good' -- we agree! But, that claim was that lies are inherently sin.

But an evil just is a deficit in the good, and sin just is an assent to it. It's just that sometimes one may find oneself in a position in which the only possible actions are deficits in a good, and, as Thomas said, one must choose that which is the lesser evil.

So to lie is to deliberately abuse a faculty contrary to its natural end. The justification is that the lie was in a good cause. The end [protect someone] justifies the means [lie]. But you mustn't accept this too easily or else you wind up justifying more and more lies.

Surely "Saving the Planet" is as good a thing as saving Nell from Snidely Whiplash. Does that mean we can lie about statistics on climate change? One is reminded of Schneider's dictum that a scientist must choose between being effective [achieving a noble end] and being honest [not lying about the data].

Some comments are here:

http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/kwkemp/Ethics/L/Pt3/L18T2Goodness.pdf

on page 4/5

David said...

Kjetil Kringlebotten: I would say that ‘lying’ is to ‘deceit’ what ‘murder’ is to ‘killing.’ [...] Ilíon fails to make the crucial distinction between ‘lying’ and ‘deceit.’

Actually, Ilíon already explicitly made the parallel between killing/murder and moral-deceit/immoral-deceit. But he also made the (highly defensible) claim that both kinds of deceit are properly termed "lying" (when done intentionally, of course). The catch is that killing does not become murder by killing in a certain way; any particular action which kills someone could be at one time moral and the same action could be at another time murder — that is, the physical activity itself is not what determines the morality of the killing. However, this is the claim in the case of lying. It doesn't matter whom you deceive or why, only whether you use your tongue to do it. If you speak the lie, it's wrong. If you indicate the lie by signalling or arranging some objects, etc., then the same deception of the same person in the same situation is fine.

Vincent Torley said...

David,

You wrote:

"It doesn't matter whom you deceive or why, only whether you use your tongue to do it. If you speak the lie, it's wrong. If you indicate the lie by signalling or arranging some objects, etc., then the same deception of the same person in the same situation is fine."

Surely that cannot be right. What if you use your hand to write the lie, "There are no Jews in the house," in order to save some people whom you are hiding?

Seriously, though, I have problems with the whole notion of a "communicative faculty." My active and passive intellect, and my will, are faculties of my soul, along with my senses, appetites, vegetative and locomotive powers. What is this "communicative faculty"?

Lying cannot be a misuse of the intellect, because it does not believe anything false when one is telling a lie. But neither can lying be a misuse of the tongue, since truth-telling is no more part of its telos than it is of the hand's telos.

I see more merit in the Finnisian / Grisezian argument that lying is bad because it makes the liar "two-faced," and involves him contravening the basic human good of integrity. One has an obligation to speak truthfully, even to people who have no right to the truth.

The question I would ask is whether this obligation is absolute or merely presumptive, and whether it still applies in cases where it is evident that the person to whom one is speaking intends to use the truthful information (should it be communicated) in order to commit a sin. It could be argued that by mis-directing the Nazi at your door, you are saving him from committing the heinous sin of murder, and thus doing him a good turn, by preventing him from falling into sin.

"Why is it OK for us to lie, but not God?" The Nazi has no way of making God talk. And God has plenty of ways of preventing the Nazi from killing.

Tony said...

But the fault isn't "lying", so what is it? What is the traditional application of classical natural law to situations like that?

David, If I recollect properly, the primary distinction between lying and deceiving is this: deceiving is as a genus, whereas lying is a species of it. Deceiving is any act of communicating that induces a false belief in the other. Lying is a particular way of going about that: using false statements or false words or false signs to achieve the deception. The other way of deceiving (not by lying) is to use true but ambiguous words, statements, or signs. Ed's point is that using false words to induce a false belief in the hearer is intrinsically disordered. His point does not lead to the conclusion that the other kind of deception is morally fine.

Whether it is moral to deceive someone is a much different issue. The leading issue for the moral determination is whether the person to be deceived has a right to receive the truth from you (as distinguished from: has a right to assume that the words you answer with are true, or, a right to HOLD the truth, but not from you). If you are the child and your parent asks if you took the cookie, YES, the parent has the right to the truth, and has the capacity to oblige you to come forward with the truth. In that case, deception of either kind, using true or false words, would be wrong. But using false words to deceive would then participate in 2 evils, rather than just one: that of deceiving, and that of disordered use of language.

There are, in addition, other sins against our obligations toward the truth: especially, calumny and detraction. Calumny is telling false tales of wrongdoing about someone (generally with the intent of making him look bad), detraction is telling TRUE tales of wrongdoing about someone (generally with the intent of making him look bad) when there is no reason for the hearer to know the truth. Thus, there are times when our obligation is, indeed, to keep our mouths shut about something that we know.

However, this is the claim in the case of lying. It doesn't matter whom you deceive or why, only whether you use your tongue to do it. If you speak the lie, it's wrong. If you indicate the lie by signalling or arranging some objects, etc., then the same deception of the same person in the same situation is fine.

I don't think so: if you use any signs that are part of common, general communication techniques, and the signs you use are the signs that are standard for the contrary of what is in your mind and unambiguously so, then this is a lie even if your tongue isn't involved. It is generally accepted that a written false word is a lie as much as a spoken false word. Likewise, a gesture that has only one, unambiguous, meaning, which is false in the situation, is also a lie. The principle of the "lie" is that you use conventional signs of unambiguous meaning to induce in the other a mental thought that is contrary to your own, and the meanings of those signs be false. The signs can be words or other.

Brandon said...

Vincent said:

Lying cannot be a misuse of the intellect, because it does not believe anything false when one is telling a lie. But neither can lying be a misuse of the tongue, since truth-telling is no more part of its telos than it is of the hand's telos

I find this unconvincing. This requires the assumption that there is no practical intellect, and that there can't be directive acts of the practical intellect involving perversion of the intellect considered precisely as intellect.

On communicative faculty, there are scholastics (e.g., Lull) who expressly insist that we have a distinct one, but the intellect is a communicative faculty, which is why Aquinas and other scholastics can regularly say, as they do, that we are political animals because we are rational animals. The intellect deals with truth of all kinds; although some are more fundamental to its activity than others.

Eric,

That would get into a long tangent. What you are actually asking is a question in casuistry (in the non-pejorative sense), and not a question in natural law. Natural law theory does not give you a moral life; it explicates what is clearly or likely necessary for fulfilling the fundamental practical imperative, "Seek good, avoid evil." But this is, so to speak, only the skeleton of moral life, the hard frame holds everything in place. To have a moral life one must flesh it out with virtue, and particularly with prudence, which is really what deals with the sort of problems you are considering, and it's casuistic theory that studies the features of consistently prudent moral reasoning. Moral life is a vast subject; the study of it has to cover many different sorts of things.

Edward Feser said...

Aeon,

In 1127, Aristotle says with respect to the subject of "those who exhibit truth and falsehood in their speech and actions" that "falsehood is in itself bad and reprehensible" (Thomson translation, emphasis mine). Litzinger's translation, in the context of his translation of Aquinas's Commentary on the Ethics, renders it: "A lie is intrinsically evil and to be avoided."

While it is true that the immediate context is a discussion of boasting, etc., the assertion that lying or speaking falsehood is "in itself" or "intrinsically" bad is a general claim. Evidently Aristotle is using this general claim to make a point about the specific issue at hand.

This understanding of Aristotle's meaning here is not some invention of mine, BTW. As far as I can tell, it is standard.

RP said...

Brandon:

"Moral life is a vast subject; the study of it has to cover many different sorts of things."

Probably many of those who do this study would agree with Aristotle that the answer to a moral dilemma is to ask the "good man". Socrates has given his answer - it is better to suffer evil than to do it. And Newman said something like: it is a greater evil to commit a deliberate venial sin than the destruction of the whole world.

Few there are in this day and age who would agree with them.

Tony said...

Seriously, though, I have problems with the whole notion of a "communicative faculty." My active and passive intellect, and my will, are faculties of my soul, along with my senses, appetites, vegetative and locomotive powers. What is this "communicative faculty"?

Vincent, I posted a partial reply to this issue over at W4. Briefly, it is true that the "faculty of communication" is not something that is a single organ of the body, and (even more importantly) is not something that univocally "has a nature". The faculty is a joint use of the tongue, the lungs, the vocal cords, and the intellect.

But this is not an damaging blow to Ed's NL thesis. The "faculty of sight" is not a faculty that resides wholly within a single organ of the body either: it requires the eye, the optic nerve, the optic center of the brain, and the sensitive soul. All these must operate in tandem for sight to happen. Similarly for the "reproductive faculty": you need the gonads and several other organ components to achieve reproduction, not just one organ acting alone. And, in order for the act of reproduction to be a human act, they have to operate under the command of the will, a spiritual power. The fact that the "power" takes a framework of several organs is OK.

I think that properly speaking, when a baby is born the "faculty of communication" - at least as regards speech - is only a potential that may come to be actual. As the baby learns, it comes to be able to co-ordinate the operation of the lungs, vocal cords, and tongue, to express a sound that it KNOWS as a convention, means something that represents an idea in the mind. But the formulation of a habit of organizing these multiple faculties to do all this in a coordinated manner constitutes a kind of "firmware" reality, the "faculty of communication," a power that is called a faculty perhaps analogously, but is certainly something real. It is enough for Ed's argument that the organizing habit be real, whether it be called a faculty or not.

It is also admitted, I think, that this "faculty" has a "nature" analogously, also. Only the full organism has a nature properly speaking, the parts of it have separate "natures" in a less complete sense. But this too is enough for the argument to hold. Certainly we say that the "natural end" of the reproductive faculty is to produce new persons, and we don't much worry about the fact that this faculty cannot be said most properly to have a "nature". To the extent that it can be said to have a nature (lesser, but still real extent), that nature implies a definite telos, and that is enough for the argument.

Ed, if I screwed that up, feel free to wallop me on the head, give me an F, and correct my mistakes.

Ilíon said...

[this post and the next are diversions from the main topic, so as to deal with some snark]

Anonymouse: "Just a tip: if you'd like Ed to actually respond to you, you might want to just address one or two issues rather than writing excessively long rant-posts. Ed simply does not have the time to read them, which is why he is as curt as is. Also, it makes you look a lot more intelligent and well-mannered."

Jeff Culbreath: "IIion, I don't see how your "manner" is going to further the discussion or lead to any clarity whatsoever. I generally agree with Dr. Feser but still find this topic difficult. He's the teacher, I'm the student - though perhaps not a perfectly docile student."

AWatkins: "Finally, I would sincerely suggest just cutting down the posts in size, only putting what is essential. I think in that case Dr. Feser would be more willing to reply. If you want to write a comprehensive response to each paragraph, you should probably write it in .doc format and e-mail it to the professor, asking nicely if he'd read it. Best. "

Such "friendly advice" might as well be straight out of Hell. It's just that honest. This "advice" is "Shut up!" and "How dare you dispute Herr Doktor Professor!?"

Truth is, I'm not all that concerned with whether Herr Doktor Professor replies or even reads what I've said; Mr Feser's response and reaction speaks for itself. My audience, of you will, is limited to those willing to willing to grapple with the questions. And among that audience is an unknown number of "lurkers" -- and I have a duty to that audience, both those who post here and those who just read, to offer a coherent refutation of Mr Feser's position.


Ilíon: "[more to come, tomorrow]"

PatrickH: "Oh dear. "

So ignore it. Is anyone holding a gun to your head?

Other people are following the argument I mean to present. One of them even emailed me yesterday to let me know he's in at least broad agreement and is following what I have been saying.

---
Oh, and a tip for the Anonymouse: establish an identity.

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: (a free-paraphrase of multiple comments) "[Whine, whine, whine! Why are you bothering me? I don't have time (or interest) to *attend* to the argument you're making. Besides, you're saying too much!]"

*slapping forehead* Who knew! So, what I was supposed to do is simply assert, "You're wrong!" and you'd have (recognized and) admitted your error?

You have presented a lengthy argument to support a set of conclusions. The argument is flawed, and some of the conclusions are unsound. And we all recognize that -- including you, yourself, which is why you are forced to make unprincipled exceptions to it and to further assert that the purported inherent sinfulness of lying is (sometimes, or even often) trivial, and therefore that lying -- sinning -- is sometimes permissible on grounds of triviality.

I am presenting an argument to attempt to rationally explain the flaws we all recognize in your argument and conclusions (and, by the way, mopping the floor with your argument). It is, perforce, going to be at least as lengthy as your argument.

I am taking you seriously enough to attend to your flawed argument and rebut it, rather than simply dissmissing it.

Now, you could respond by saying something like, "I'm busy, and so unable to respond to your criticisms" You could respond by saying nothing and letting the two arguments arguments address one another.

Instead, you chose to respond in a most juvenile manner; which response, among other things, seeks to harness group-and-personal politics, and "authority," to discourage anyone else from even attempting to attend to the argument I'm making. As I said to my advisors, your behavior speaks for itself.

===
And, there is another point.

The young man I mentioned, the "lurker" who contacted me, seems to be in an intellectual pickle. On the one hand, his reason tells him that I am correct that lying (which simply another word for deception) is not intrinsically sinful; his priest tells him that that is correct. On the other hand, he fears that official Catholic doctrine, to the extent that there is an offical doctrine on this particular point, will be in agreement with your argument.

How will he resolve that? I don't know. But one potential solution is to deny his own reason -- to lie to himself about what he believes to be true; and that never ends well. Another potential solution is to conclude that Catholicism is seriously misguided -- and, indeed, self-contradictory.

My argument offers a way out of that self-contradiction (at least, as applies to this particular question). And you don't even want to consider it.

===
Look, I *don't* want to conclude that you're intellectually dishonest. But, if you insist upon leaving me no other option, I will not shy from the conclusion.

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Oh, and a tip for the Anonymouse: establish an identity."

Ah, I see that you did; apparently your full name. I don't really care a person calls himself, just so it's not "Anonymous."

Leo Mollica: "Finally, are you or are you not a Catholic? It's a simple enough question."

This matters, how? Does my religious affiliation, if any, have any bearing on the content of my argument?

Anonymous said...

^^How about I henceforth call myself "Anonymoose"? Would such a change make all the difference in the world for you? Will you give this here "Anonymoose" a great deal more prima facie respect during conversation than you would an "Anonymous," leaving aside the small fact that it's impossible to see how my online name has "any bearing on the content of my argument"?

Strange fellow, you are.

Anonymous said...

"Strange fellow, you are."

Indeed. With a handle referring to an ancient Greek city which tells no one anything about yourself, a picture of you hiding your face from the camera, a perennial refusal to divilge what religion you profess (as you condemn all others' and agnostics and atheists as well), and a passionate hatred for people who log on as anonymous...

It seems like you would hate yourself if you should ever find it.

Ilíon said...

'Ilíon' is the "name of my name."

Knowing my name won't tell you a thing about me, and it won't make me less anonymous, in fact, than I am. If you really want to know my name, it’s not difficult to dig up … and, to make it easier for you, there are even a few web-pages which are all about “exposing” my full name. But, you’ll have to go find those pages under your own steam.

For that matter, knowing Mr Feser's actual name doesn't really make him any less anonymous to you or to me.

For a further matter -- and on the assumption that Mr Feser desires to discuss ideas with others, as opposed merely to lecturing his readers -- it would actually be better if we did not know Mr Feser's name, or rather, did not know what he is "in real life." The temptation to assert "authority" and the temptation to bow to "authority" are too great.


However, knowing someone's name -- or knowing merely his handle -- establishes an identity for the comments/statements he makes. The non-identity of 'Anonymous' does not do that, even when there is only one person speaking as 'Anonymous.'

Eric said...

"Natural law theory does not give you a moral life; it explicates what is clearly or likely necessary for fulfilling the fundamental practical imperative, "Seek good, avoid evil." But this is, so to speak, only the skeleton of moral life, the hard frame holds everything in place. To have a moral life one must flesh it out with virtue, and particularly with prudence, which is really what deals with the sort of problems you are considering, and it's casuistic theory that studies the features of consistently prudent moral reasoning."

Brandon, thank you very much. That helps quite a bit.

Edward Feser said...

Ilion,

I will continue, for now anyway, to tolerate your obnoxiousness, as well as your habit of misrepresenting both my views and my attitude toward critics. But I can no longer tolerate the frequency and length of your comments. Stop posting so frequently and at such length. Say what you want -- I rarely read 'em anyway -- but if I keep seeing post after post after post, and if I keep seeing absurdly long comments, I'll start deleting.

Ilíon said...

That's it: you *are* a fool. You *are* intellectually dishonest, you *are* a liar.

On multiple levels.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Good grief, Ilion, don't at least Our Lord's warnings against calling people fools worry you??!!

A discussion on a blog is a place to discuss the subject, not to attack persons, man.

And if you have any content - as opposed to attacking the blog owner or the other commenters - why not stick to the subject?

OK, I am not sticking to the subject here :-) I had been trying just to ignore all the spleen but it is getting a little off-putting, frankly.

jj

Edward Feser said...

I'm going to leave that remark stand, Ilion, because it says everything about you and nothing about me.

Edward Feser said...

Oh, and thanks for keeping it brief.

PatrickH said...

Ilíon: "[more to come, tomorrow]"

PatrickH: "Oh dear."

Ilion: "So ignore it. Is anyone holding a gun to your head?"

Oh dear.

Daniel Smith said...

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut. (Joshua 2:1-7)

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31)

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? (James 2:25)

awatkins69 said...

Ilion: That's very rude of you to misrepresent what I say. I did not tell you to shut up. In fact, I said to just cut down the post size, leaving the essentials. Also note that I'm not some Feser Fanboy; *I'm the one who brought up the murderer at the door counter-example which we are discussing in the first place.*

There is no malice in anything I've said. What good is moral philosophy if you don't even learn the charity to take your neighbor's suggestions for what they are: kind suggestions?

Edward Feser said...

awatkins69,

Apparently, anyone who does not load every comment with gratuitous insults, begged questions, and misrepresentations counts as a "supplicant" and a Feser Fanboy.

Edward Feser said...

Daniel,

The traditional understanding of the Rahab example is that she committed a venial sin -- which she shouldn't have -- for the sake of a good cause, and that it is her devotion to the latter, rather than her ill-advised means of furthering it, that the biblical writers are praising her for. (She was a prostitute, after all. If they're going to cut her some slack despite that, cutting her some slack despite her having committing a venial sin is hardly surprising!)

Warren said...

Anonymous,

Not sure why you want to know, but a brief exchange I had with Ilion once indicated that he was not a Catholic - to put it mildly. In fact, he seemed to me to be filled to the brim with standard-issue anti-Catholic rhetoric and propaganda straight out of the sixteenth century.

Ilion, if I've got it wrong, please correct me.

Anonymous said...

@Warren: I was asking Ilíon because he said somewhere that all sins are equal, so I thought I might press him on the venial/mortal distinction. Not very interesting, or contributing much to the conversation, but that's why I wasn't pressing it anymore.

@Ed: I think St. Thomas gives a similar explanation of the Egyptian midwifes: they were praised for their good intentions and excused of their venial sin, given the expiating circumstances.

—Leo

Anonymous said...

Hi professor Feser,

I was the anonymous who responded to a few times earlier worried about lying/killing and "going to hell" for daily venial sins (social lying).

I want to re-iterate that my main problem is that you say, "killing is ok in self-defense." Isn't that a consequentialist claim? I really do want to understand this correctly - I'm not trying to do "gotcha!" games here.

It seems like the position is, self-defense is meant to protect one's own life or another innocent person's (the person hiding in one's house). Killing is okay if it is done to further and secure that consequence. Isn't that consequentialist?

I think I understand what you mean with the venial sin of stealing-five-bucks example, but again I come back to the exception you state for killing - it is ok in self-defense. So, if one can imagine a situation where stealing would save one's life...

Ok, how about this? Lets say the murderer has a weapon in his car, and I have my brother sneak outside, pick the lock, and steal the weapon. I have evaded being killed, I have not killed the potential murderer, but I have stolen.

My problem is that you say killing is justified in THIS case - for self-defense. So in this case - in self-defense - it is hard for me to see why stealing would be morally worse, to secure the same end.

It just seems to me you're saying the latter case is consequentialist but the former isn't, and I don't see the difference.

Again, I'm really trying to understand, not to pick nits.

Thanks for taking the time to reply to all of us, by the way!

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Anonymous - about 'consequentialism' - if I understand these things correctly, I would say that, regarding killing in self-defence, the principle of double intent applies. Your intent is not to kill the person per se but rather to prevent his killing an innocent person (you). If you have to use lethal force to prevent him, you can. His death is not intended.

Which is why if you can stop him non-lethally, it is your obligation to do so.

Regaring your theft case, I would say the same. Some theft, though, seems to me not theft at all. If you are starving, for instance, the 'universal destination of goods' - God intends them for the good of all - means that you have a right to those goods.

Of course deciding in a particular case whether your taking (theft if it is) is lawful is not necessarily an obvious matter.

I'd be curious what Professor Feser says but that's my take on it.

John Thayer Jensen said...

PS - regarding consequentialism vs double effect - it seems to me that is at least a part of why, though lying is wrong, deception need not be. Letting the 'murderer at the door' draw false conclusions may not be your intention - your intention is to protect the victim. It is an unfortunate side effect that the murderer must be deceived.

But I am not so sure about this. Deceiving the murderer may be right in itself. He has forfeited the right to truth because of the way he intends to use it.

The bottom line principle is that you may not do evil that good may come - that is consequentialism. If lying is intrinsically evil, then you must not do it. If killing is not intrinsically evil - and since God does it every time a person dies, it cannot be - then it can be used in some situations.

God will never lie. He definitely allows persons to deceive themselves, as Scripture often testifies ("that their hearts may be hardened and they may not believe the truth").

Again, I am very much an amateur here. I would like to hear what Professor Feser says about it.

jj

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anon and John,

What John says is part of the story. That is, if you can stop him non-lethally, you should, but if you can't, you may resort to killing him.

This isn't "consequentialist," though. Consequentialism is not the view that consequences are important -- every view, including natural law theory, agrees with that. Consequentialism is the view that only consequences are important, and therefore that there are no actions that are wrong in an absolute way. That is what natural law theory denies.

Hence it says that intentionally killing an innocent person is always wrong. But killing a person who is not innocent is not always wrong (though it sometimes is): it can be done by anyone in self-defense if necessary (but not if this is not necessary); and it can be done by the state in punishment of a serious enough crime (though it can;t be done by private citizens merely as punishment, as opposed to self defense.

Similarly, lying is always wrong, but speaking evasively, ambiguousll etc. are not. Sometimes they are, but not always. But that doesn;t make the view "consequentialist," because it doesn't say that consequences are all that matter. It says that consequences can be weighed, but only within a framework of absolute principles.

Jonathan said...

If saying something that is not true is a breach of some natural law, period, then what about fiction?

Brandon said...

Jonathan,

Given how many detours these comments threads have seen, it's perhaps understandable that you missed it, but over the past three posts it's been said about a jillion times that the position is not that "saying something that is not true is a breach of some natural law, period" because there are ways one could say something that is not true that aren't actually inconsistent with a disposition to truth -- fiction told for entertainment's sake being an obvious case (quoting false statements in order to explain them would be another, and so forth).

just thinking said...

Ed

It looks like you left the W4 combox on this same post, so I am repeating below an exchange Tony and I has about conscience being a guide.

I wonder if you would give your comments.

Tony said:

The general rule that "you must follow your conscience" is completed by the qualifier "properly formed." A person who refuses to look up what the law says, and then says "gee, I didn't KNOW that the law said I have to pay taxes on this income" has no excuse. And if a person admits to the truth of the Gospel, and refuses to try to understand the Gospel enough to understand that the commandment against adultery ALSO forbids lust has no excuse for his sins of lust. In perhaps a less emphatic way, a person who has heard in some sermon 5 years ago that "even white lies are sins" but blew it off as being "unrealistic" and never bothered trying to follow up on it and never bothered to understand the basis for the teaching cannot say "my conscience didn't tell me it was wrong" as excuse - he didn't make the effort to inform his conscience appropriately. The Bible is there, and the preachers are out there who preach the truth. People who cannot be bothered to search out what is actually taught are not excused.

On the other hand, a person who has APPROPRIATELY attempted to receive formation for his conscience, and has been led astray by false teachings through no fault of his own, IS excused from guilt. In this sense, his conscience is clean.


I said:

Yep, Tony, That's how I recall it.

A big question is the theological beliefs of the minister, pastor, priest, lay religious ed, or nun doing the teaching/preaching. Here, I think, you will find more who do not adhere to NL, and so in our era, the murderer will most likely get fibbed, and the fibber gets to feel noble about it (if it works).

I am not so sure 'follow your conscience' really has been addressed. What most commenters are following is what their common sense tells them - their nature. But, it is true that a well-formed conscience will usually be in line with common sense, as in lying to the murderer at the door.

There are many cases, where the conscience will lead an individual to transcend his natural tendencies, and withhold gossip, not escalate a hostility, etc. Lying to the murderer ain't one of them.

Following a well-formed conscience, the majority of people reject Ed's admonition not to lie as ignoble and unnatural. Such is the nature of a lot of the NL.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser: The traditional understanding of the Rahab example is that she committed a venial sin -- which she shouldn't have -- for the sake of a good cause, and that it is her devotion to the latter, rather than her ill-advised means of furthering it, that the biblical writers are praising her for.

What does James mean then when he says this: "In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?"

It's not just the giving of lodging for which she is "considered righteous", but also the sending off in another direction.

I'm wondering if James (and by extension God) is saying that it's not the act, but rather the spirit in which the act is committed that ultimately determines the righteousness of it?

Daniel Smith said...

There is a lot of mystery to God that we humans cannot understand (given who and what we are and who and what He is.)

It seems to me that the essence of religious error can be boiled down to "man trying to explain God".

The Sadducees and Pharisees were the religious experts in Jesus' time and had endeavored to "explain" what was and wasn't "sin" (and any number of other things.) They had introduced an abundance of rules and regulations based on thorough study of God, the scriptures, and traditions. Then Jesus came and crushed their human musings with authority from heaven.

What I see in Christianity today more closely parallels the Sadducees and Pharisees than the teachings of Jesus. I think we may need Him to come back and do that again.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Daniel Smith:

I'm wondering if James (and by extension God) is saying that it's not the act, but rather the spirit in which the act is committed that ultimately determines the righteousness of it?

I don't think this can be right. I suspect there are many adulterers who have tried to justify their adultery in this way.

Let us postulate that Professor Feser is correct. Rahab committed a venial sin by lying, but she committed a good act by sending the spies off on another path.

The question raised by this is: Does a venial sin vitiate a good act?

In fact, does any sin vitiate a good act? I have friends who have twin boys, conceived using IVF. It is surely the case that some embryos were discarded in this process - at least, stipulate that some were.

But their boys - and the existence of those boys - is itself surely an unqualified good - is it not? And they may be praised for doing it, though not for the means they chose.

Or is this hogwash? :-)

jj

Brandon said...

Then Jesus came and crushed their human musings with authority from heaven.

Yes, but you're leaving out the part where he crushed their heavenly musings by holding up stricter standards, and criticizing them for letting themselves off too easily; the Sermon on the Mount gives an ethics far more severe than what the Pharisees seem to have usually advocated.

David said...

Daniel Smith: What does James mean then when he says this: "In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?"


James says nothing specifically about Rahab's lie, only about her taking them in and helping them escape. He's not talking about sending off the king's men in the wrong direction — in fact we might speculate as to why that particular detail is the one he didn't mention! — but there's nothing to condone it in that passage.

I'm wondering if James (and by extension God) is saying that it's not the act, but rather the spirit in which the act is committed that ultimately determines the righteousness of it?

No, not at all. Intent certainly is one factor in determining moral responsibility, but not the "spirit" of the act. For example, if Rahab honestly and for good reason happened to believe that lying was the right thing to do in that case, then she would not be culpable; but the act itself would still be objectively sinful.

The Sadducees and Pharisees [...] had introduced an abundance of rules and regulations based on thorough study of God, the scriptures, and traditions. Then Jesus came and crushed their human musings with authority from heaven.

The Sadducees and Pharisees got some things right and some things wrong. Jesus rebuked them when they were wrong (particularly when their errors were the result of pride), but he never said there was anything wrong per se with details or absolutes. Some of the instructions he gave us are broad and vague; some are strict and specific. We can hardly strive for greater holiness without striving to understand holiness better.

rkirk said...

Am I right in saying that the natural law prohibition against lying is somewhat like the natural law prohibition against taking human life? I.e. -- people have a right to both life and truth under normal circumstances, but there are certain actions through which one forfeits one's right to either.

Leo Mollica said...

@rkirk: No, the traditional natural law argument against lying bears very little similarity to that against murder: the latter is based upon the rights of others involved and upon the common good as ordained by right reason, whereas the former derives from a teleological analysis of the nature of our communicative faculties, just as traditional arguments against masturbation or homosexuality derive from teleological analysis of the nature of our sexual fallacies.

As the immorality of lying does not derive, on this view, from the moral character of others involved, it is never permissible to lie, whereas it is sometimes permissible to take the life of a criminal or heretic (well, maybe not a heretic), since the taking of human life is not intrinsically an abuse of our natural faculties the same way lying or masturbation is.

Anonymous said...

Whoops! I meant sexual faculties, not fallacies! Sorry if I caused any confusion, there. :)

—Leo

David said...

Tony: Ed's point is that using false words to induce a false belief in the hearer is intrinsically disordered. His point does not lead to the conclusion that the other kind of deception is morally fine.

But Ed does refer to misleading the murderer at the door by non-verbal [or written] means (e.g. ambiguity). Accidentally saying something you didn't mean to is no more a lie than being accidentally misunderstood. Deliberate ambiguity, however, is either (a) unsuccessful or (b) a conscious attempt to mislead someone, i.e. lying. (Maybe saying it was moral to trick the murderer in that way was a mistake and accidentally deceived me! Because if not, it opens a loophole wide enough to drive an entire Panzer division though: because you could always make up a new language on the spot in which the sounds for "Your victim is here" just happen to be the same as the sounds for "Your victim is not here" in English.)

The principle of the "lie" is that you use conventional signs of unambiguous meaning to induce in the other a mental thought that is contrary to your own, and the meanings of those signs be false. The signs can be words or other.

That's what I would expect; but other commenters gave examples of leaving a false trail in the woods. Maybe they were wrong; and certainly a trail is only indirectly communication... but then, really, speaking and writing are "indirect" — just sounds and squiggles — except by convention, as a very convenient shorthand so that we don't have write philosophy papers by arranging broken twigs.

The fact that the "power" takes a framework of several organs is OK.

Sure, and that's not my problem (nor Prof. Torley's, I daresay). The loose way of speaking is fine; the issue is with saying that the [analogous] nature of the [full assembly of parts making up the] communicative faculty is just "to reveal one's mind truly". We already know that that in fact cannot be its nature because everyone agrees that acting, joking, etc., are valid activities. So at the very least the true nature of communication is to truth-tell OR to act OR to joke OR to command OR to question, etc. Put simply, the end of communication is to communicate; what we are communicating will depend on the circumstances (such as whether we are answering a parent, or performing a play, or even dealing with a murderer at the door).

Of course this does not prove that it's OK to lie to Nazis, only that if it's wrong, the wrongness must lie elsewhere than an abuse of communication. Why is not "deterring or diverting the evil-doer" a legitimate end of the power of speech? I take this to be what Vincent was getting at: communication itself can be said to have only a modest "nature", and to decide how to apply it virtuously depends on a host of other conclusions about the nature of man (his natural duties towards preventing evil, and so on).

Really, if anything seems like an obvious abuse of the communicative faculty, it would be mumbling. Speaking unclearly certainly undermines the goal of communication, so that ought to be the only possible direct perversion of speech. Of course, it won't usually be sinful since most of the time we do not intend to speak unclearly, but deliberate poor enunciation — or scat singing? — would be immoral. For that matter, being ambiguous (on purpose, and when not joking, etc.) would be the only thing you couldn't do to the Nazi, rather than being the thing you were allowed to do.

Brandon said...

David, I'm not sure where you're getting any of this. You say:

Deliberate ambiguity, however, is either (a) unsuccessful or (b) a conscious attempt to mislead someone, i.e. lying.

The conflation of (b) with lying seems pretty obviously problematic, since it means one can lie by saying things you and everyone else know to be true. Not only is this not what we usually mean by lying, it has the awkward practical problem that you could never defend yourself from a charge of lying by showing that what you said was true: you still could have been lying, however true what you said was. But, of course, when accused of lying everyone (rightly and reasonably) defends themselves by appealing to their grounds for thinking that what they said was true; by your reasoning everyone who does this is not acting reasonably, because such an appeal can't do anything to prove the charge wrong. If someone accused you of lying, what else would you do besides insist that what you said was true?

Joking, acting, and the like also clearly are not inconsistent with revealing one's mind truly: if it is clear that you are joking,for instance, you obviously are truly revealing your mind: everyone knows exactly what you are doing, so you obviously are revealing it. Even in deliberate ambiguity you are revealing your mind truly to an extent; you are simply leaving out things (which is why the morality of deliberate ambiguity, unlike the morality of lying, depends on what other people have a right to know).

Further, it's false to say that speaking unclearly "undermines" communication; if this were true then people who habitually speak unclearly could never communicate, which is nonsense. It is instead a poorly suited means for communication, but still a means by which communication should happen. Saying that speaking unclearly is inconsistent with the goal of communication as as ridiculous as saying that driving badly is inconsistent with goal of driving from one place to another: it's both obviously false and confuses inconsistency with inadequacy.

Jinzang said...

I'm trying to understand the natural law position (as explained on this blog) but failing.

The natural end of the ear is hearing. But no one would say that wearing earplugs in order to sleep in a noisy dormitory was immoral.

But I fail to see the distinction between this and the natural law position on lying. What am I missing?

John Thayer Jensen said...

@JinZang:

The natural end of the ear is hearing. But no one would say that wearing earplugs in order to sleep in a noisy dormitory was immoral.

I would say that in this case, at least, there is a difference between not using something and using it wrongly.

It was agreed above that in the murderer-at-the-door case I could be silent.

Kind of hard to decide how to use hearing for a wrong end, though - at least I can't think of one.

jj

romishgraffiti said...

I would say that in this case, at least, there is a difference between not using something and using it wrongly.

Indeed. And at the risk of tossing this grenade into the mix, it's what we say when people try to equate natural family planning and artificial birth control because the end consequences are the same. It's the difference between not doing something and doing something and deliberately thwarting what that something is supposed to do.

Daniel Smith said...

John Thayer Jensen said...
I don't think this can be right. I suspect there are many adulterers who have tried to justify their adultery in this way.

But it's not whether we can justify our actions in our own minds, it's whether God views them as righteous.

God seems (by my reading of the bible anyway) to be more concerned with the inward spirit by which we act than with the actual outward act.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Daniel:

But it's not whether we can justify our actions in our own minds, it's whether God views them as righteous.

But my point is that if we talk only about our attitudes, we have no criterion left for judging the rightness of our actions. We are in world of disorder. God will sort it out at the end - but no one can ever judge the action of anyone else in that case.

And in that case there seems to me no point whatever in talking about what is right or wrong. So long as you mean well - you are ok - and no one but you and God can say whether you mean well or not.

jj

Daniel Smith said...

Brandon said...
Yes, but you're leaving out the part where he crushed their heavenly musings by holding up stricter standards, and criticizing them for letting themselves off too easily; the Sermon on the Mount gives an ethics far more severe than what the Pharisees seem to have usually advocated.

It's not "more severe" legalism though - the Sermon on the Mount was all about the inner vs. outer man. If you lust after a woman in your heart, it's the same as committing the outward act of adultery.

Jesus was saying that what matters is what you are on the inside; that that will determine what you do on the outside.

The Jews were obsessed with laws and regulations, Jesus said that if one loves God and loves his neighbor, he would fulfil the whole law.

It's NOT about laws, commandments, and what is and isn't sin. It's about our inner devotion to God.

Jinzang said...

I would say that in this case, at least, there is a difference between not using something and using it wrongly.

Isn't there a problem with circular definition here? An act is immoral if you use something wrongly? Surely this is not the most lucid of explanations.

I don't mean to be critical, I'm just trying to understand the distinction that natural law makes.

Brandon said...

It's NOT about laws, commandments, and what is and isn't sin. It's about our inner devotion to God.

Except that this is exactly contrary to what Jesus himself says; he says that people who fail to meet this higher standard have sinned and more than once talks about it in terms of commandments. Yes, the overall point is that devotion to God is even more inner than outer and (ultimately) that forgiveness and something more than human is required; but this does not mean there is no standard being held up. The legalism lay not in following the law -- for which Jesus never condemns them -- but for using it as an excuse to let themselves off lightly ("Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven") by condemning others over minor external matters while they themselves neglected the more serious internal matters ("whitewashed tombs"). If one associates natural law theory with the Pharisees and scribes, one is really committed to saying that Jesus would take a stricter stance on lying than natural law theory does by requiring (in some way) an even more perfect devotion to truth; his whole track record, all the rest of his teaching, consists entirely of insisting on extraordinarily high standards while letting there be a lot of room for forgiveness. It's only when we take such things seriously that we see your need for divine grace; if we refuse to acknowledge our failings, constantly giving ourselves excuses for them, we are on the way to making our cases hopeless.

Brandon said...

Jinzang said (in response to John),

Isn't there a problem with circular definition here? An act is immoral if you use something wrongly? Surely this is not the most lucid of explanations.

But John's point wasn't to define what the immoral action was; rather it was to distinguish it from something else.

On hearing as the natural end of the ear, (1) earplugs aren't inconsistent with hearing (as, say, deliberately mauling your ears to become deaf might be), they just massively reduce what one hears in service to higher ends (for instance, you could wear them not in order to eliminate your hearing but in order to preserve your hearing, or you could wear them for a good that belongs to the whole organism, like sleep); and (2) as witnessed by the thriving Deaf community, hearing is not an end essential to being properly human, whereas truth is, and the ends that are relevant to human moral life are those relevant to being properly human.

John Thayer Jensen said...

It's NOT about laws, commandments, and what is and isn't sin. It's about our inner devotion to God.

It seems to me that the "inner devotion to God" is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an action to be right.

I can please God by obeying the law (both natural and revealed) with the right attitude. No aspect of my attitude can make a wrong action right. If I lie (stipulating that all lies are wrong, which is the question we are debating) to save someone's life, my intention to save the person's life is good and can be pleasing to God - but the fact that I used a lie to do so cannot be, no matter what my attitude.

jj

David said...

[Hm, posted this yesterday and it seems to have disappeared... hope it doesn't show up twice now!]

Brandon: But, of course, when accused of lying everyone (rightly and reasonably) defends themselves by appealing to their grounds for thinking that what they said was true

If I tell you I can't lend you some money because I'm flat broke, when really I'm not, then that's lying. Now suppose that I forgot about a bill and my last twenty bucks was automatically deducted from my bank account that morning. I didn't know that, so I'm still intentionally deceiving you. Now you can quibble that calling it "lying" is a poor application of English terminology, and if you want to come up with a different word for it, fine. But morally speaking, I'm certainly guilty of the same moral failing that we would otherwise have called "lying". (And such deception wouldn't stand up in court if humans were telepathic, but since we're not, yes, I could produce my bank statement after the fact and probably get away with it.)

if it is clear that you are joking,for instance, you obviously are truly revealing your mind

And what if it's not obvious? What about the kind of joke that depends on the hearer's believing it, at least for a few moments? Are such jokes therefore not really jokes but lies, and hence immoral? Does issuing a fake baptismal certificate to a Jew truly reveal someone's mind? Or consider the case of entering the witness protection program, or operating said program? And what about laying a false trail in the woods — is that truly revealing my mind that I don't want to get caught (anyone would expect that I don't want that), or falsely implying that I went the other way?

[cont'd]

David said...

[...]
Even in deliberate ambiguity you are revealing your mind truly to an extent;

OK: how far does our moral obligation extend, then? Is it ambiguous-but-moral to say, "I don't know of any Jews here" (because aliens may have just beamed them up)? How about, "There's not a single Jew here" (because they're all married)? Or "I'm not hiding any Jews" (they're hiding themselves). Which, if any of those, is acceptable, and why or why not? Why is "No Jews here" not revealing my mind truly (it truly reveals that I don't think you have any business executing them and I think you shouldn't even be asking the question) — or is it permissible too?

Further, it's false to say that speaking unclearly "undermines" communication

It undermines it to a certain extent. Obviously, you would have to be speaking wholly unclearly in order to wholly undermine communication. And (partially) bad driving certainly is (partially) inconsistent with the goal of driving, which surely is to drive well. (Otherwise in what sense is it bad? I guess you're thinking of something like speeding and driving on the sidewalk as being "bad driving" even though you might still make it to your destination. But either "driving" normally means "driving safely", in which case driving on the sidewalk is inconsistent; or else "driving" simpliciter just means "operating a motor vehicle", in which case it wasn't "bad" — that is, it was an act that had immoral effects, but you nonetheless succeeded in operating a motor vehicle.)

Ultimately, my problem is that the given definition of the communicative faculty is not precise enough to support all of the conclusions being drawn. In order to draw natural-law conclusions, we need a definition that is clear enough to distinguish all these different cases without being arbitrary. (And that does not in turn depend on other ambiguous definitions, such as exactly when and how speech is "ambiguous".)

David said...

[...]
Even in deliberate ambiguity you are revealing your mind truly to an extent;

OK: how far does our moral obligation extend, then? Is it ambiguous-but-moral to say, "I don't know of any Jews here" (because aliens may have just beamed them up)? How about, "There's not a single Jew here" (because they're all married)? Or "I'm not hiding any Jews" (they're hiding themselves). Which, if any of those, is acceptable, and why or why not? Why is "No Jews here" not revealing my mind truly (it truly reveals that I don't think you have any business executing them and I think you shouldn't even be asking the question) — or is it permissible too?

Further, it's false to say that speaking unclearly "undermines" communication

It undermines it to a certain extent. Obviously, you would have to be speaking wholly unclearly in order to wholly undermine communication. And (partially) bad driving certainly is (partially) inconsistent with the goal of driving, which surely is to drive well. (Otherwise in what sense is it bad? I guess you're thinking of something like speeding and driving on the sidewalk as being "bad driving" even though you might still make it to your destination. But either "driving" normally means "driving safely", in which case driving on the sidewalk is inconsistent; or else "driving" simpliciter just means "operating a motor vehicle", in which case it wasn't "bad" — that is, it was an act that had immoral effects, but you nonetheless succeeded in operating a motor vehicle.)

Ultimately, my problem is that the given definition of the communicative faculty is not precise enough to support all of the conclusions being drawn. In order to draw natural-law conclusions, we need a definition that is clear enough to distinguish all these different cases without being arbitrary. (And that does not in turn depend on other ambiguous definitions, such as exactly when and how speech is "ambiguous".)

Ilíon said...

The following posts are not all complete at this time (2010/11/16) (*). But, as Herr Doktor Professor has no desire to engage actual criticism of his argument, and as I generally don't continue to hang around when I'm clearly not wanted (**), I'm not really going to say more here. Interested readers are free to follow the links, so long as the links are there.

Truth and Honesty ... and Otherwise (this was written weeks ago, but is topical)
Lying is not intrinsically immoral
Lying is not intrinsically immoral, Part II
What is a lie?

Herr Dokor Professor has some issues

(*) also, I need to leave town (to go out of state), so if I don't finish them soon, it may be a while before I do.

(**) also, I quickly lose interest in intellectually dishonest persons.

Edward Feser said...

But, as Herr Doktor Professor has no desire to engage actual criticism of his argument,

I engage criticism all the time, Ilion, as all sane readers of this blog know (and as is evident from the fact that I've now written two long blog posts in reply to criticisms of my two original posts on lying). I just don't engage irrational, gratuitously nasty windbags who by their own admission can't even be bothered to read what I've written before criticizing it.

I quickly lose interest in intellectually dishonest persons.

Must be hard to live with yourself, then.

Don't let the door hit you in the arse...

Edward Feser said...

BTW, re:

I quickly lose interest in intellectually dishonest persons.

"Quickly" for Ilion apparently means "after posting countless lengthy comments at such persons' blogs, and writing four separate posts about them on my own blog."

Ilion, I'd hate to see how many pixels you would waste responding to someone you do have an interest in!

Daniel Smith said...

Brandon:
Except that this is exactly contrary to what Jesus himself says

I guess it depends what part of the gospels you're reading and how you interpret it.

To my mind, Jesus condoned "unlawful" behavior all the time; eating with unwashed hands, picking grain or healing on the Sabbath, hanging out with sinners, speaking to a Samaritan woman... All of these things were deemed "unlawful" by the religious experts of the day.

The higher standard Jesus holds us to is one of inward purity - not one of outward compliance to man-made rules.

Daniel Smith said...

John Thayer Jensen:
But my point is that if we talk only about our attitudes, we have no criterion left for judging the rightness of our actions. We are in world of disorder. God will sort it out at the end - but no one can ever judge the action of anyone else in that case.

Which is probably why we are told not to judge others.

John Thayer Jensen:
And in that case there seems to me no point whatever in talking about what is right or wrong. So long as you mean well - you are ok - and no one but you and God can say whether you mean well or not.

Actually no one but God knows for sure. We deceive ourselves all the time. I believe that this is why Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 4:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.