Monday, November 8, 2010

There is no Santa clause

What do the figures at left all have in common? None of them exists. Nor would any parent ever tell his child that Superman or Batman is real. Yet some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real. Perhaps some also tell them that the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy is real.

They shouldn’t. These are lies. Parents who do this certainly mean well, but they do not do well, because lying is always wrong. Not always gravely wrong, to be sure, but still wrong. That is bad enough. But there is also the bad lesson that children are apt to derive from this practice, even if the parents do not intend to teach it – namely, the immoral principle that lying is acceptable if it leads to good consequences. There is also the damage done to a child’s trust in his parents’ word. “What else might they be lying about? What about all this religion stuff?”

This issue came up in the comments section of my recent post on lying, and I decided that it was important enough to address in a separate post. My more secular readers might not find it worth the attention. But the reason might be that they think that I am obviously right. Ironically, it is (I suspect) more religious and traditionally-minded people who are most likely to tell this sort of lie. Certainly there are many religious people who do it.

I would urge them to stop. A child is completely dependent on his parents’ word for his knowledge of the world, of right and wrong, and of God and religious matters generally. He looks up to them as the closest thing he knows to an infallible authority. What must it do to a child’s spirit when he finds out that something his parents insisted was true – something not only important to him but integrally tied to his religion insofar as it is related to Christmas and his observance of it – was a lie? Especially if the parents repeated the lie over the course of several years, took pains to make it convincing (eating the cookies left out for “Santa” etc.), and (as some parents do) reassured the child of its truth after he first expressed doubts? How important, how comforting, it is for a child to be able to believe: Whatever other people do, Mom and Dad will never lie to me. How heartbreaking for him to find out he was wrong!

To quote Fr. Thomas Higgins’ once widely-used textbook, Man as Man: The Science and Art of Ethics:

Certainly harmful truth might be withheld from children, but not by lying. They may not be told falsehoods which from the force of one’s words they will rightly take to be true. A child can distinguish between fable and fact. When we purport to tell him things “for real” he does not expect a fairy tale. An example in point is the Santa Claus legend. We obtrude the story upon his belief, insisting that we are not weaving tales and commanding his acceptance – it is nothing but lying. One’s intent is innocent enough, but this is a fair example of the end justifying the means. This conclusion will seem strange to American people. It will be said that we are so used to this story; our own mothers told it to us, it is surrounded by an aura of the happiest recollections. Yet it is speech contrary to one’s mind. God has never and cannot so act toward man, deluding him into accepting fiction for fact. It is a wrong way to discipline young minds – eliciting good behavior by falsehood. The motive of the good should only be the true. Because of this experience, it is difficult for the young to avoid the implicit conclusion that a lie in a good cause is legitimate. For some, the awakening is a cruel disillusionment; thereafter they will be wary of the things that are told them by those whose words should be sacred. (pp. 321-22)

The natural law tells us, and the Church has always taught, that lying is intrinsically wrong. There is no clause that says “…but it is OK when you’re lying to your kids about Santa!”

111 comments:

RP said...

"Personally, of course, I believe in Santa Claus; but it is the season
of forgiveness, and I will forgive others for not doing so." (GKC)

mattghg said...

I couldn't agree more, and well remember the 'cruel disillusionment' at finding that I had been spun a fable by my parents when I was small.

mpresley said...

Kids are not naive all the time. And I wonder how much "cruel disillusionment" happens. By the time I was old enough to think a bit, I knew Santa was simply a cultural myth (as I would put it now--back then I did not know about either culture or myth, but I knew about Santa). Santa, whatever "he" was in the past, is just a commercial entity, now. And even he's having problems making ends meet in this economy. I hear he's considering moving the factory to China. Are elves eligible for unemployment?

As far as telling "lies?" There must be a hierarchy of ends. To treat all ends equally is, in my view, wrong-headed. Fibbing for a "higher end" is not always unjustified.

In any case, the argument has been around a while; Socrates somewhere mentioned it once when he was explaining politics to his friends. However, Socrates, not wanting to lie, met his own end rather tragically.

Crude said...

While I find a lot to agree with on Ed's recent discussions of morality - in fact, he's made me understand more clearly why consequentialism has some serious problems, enough which may be decisive for me - I can't help but be reminded of Rorschach's character from Watchmen.

I'm sure Rorschach did things which Natural Law theorists would not approve of. But "never compromise, not even in the face of armageddon" seems like an interesting way to sum up the natural law theory being offered up here recently.

(And that's not a criticism. I just get a kick out of the idea of Ed Feser as Rorschach.)

awatkins69 said...

I'm sorry, but I just find this notion all highly implausible. Starting to sound like the famous criticism aimed at Kant's categorical imperative, about the murderer asking where your friend is.

Martin said...

. Starting to sound like the famous criticism aimed at Kant's categorical imperative, about the murderer asking where your friend is.

In the last thread Dr. Fesser maintained the answer is, "Right here".

Maolsheachlann said...

I see a new book coming up..."The Santa Delusion: How Festive Fibs Poison Everything".

(Just kidding.)

BenYachov said...

I find in my experience what upsets most parents about this issue is some defensively feel they are implicitly being told they are "bad parents" for telling their kids about Santa Claus. They are not since there are worst things you can do too your kids.
I refuse to judge them.


OTOH I have always felt it is not a good idea to tell kids about Santa because the day I found out there was no Santa I felt as if Christmas had somehow lost something. OTOH in hindsight that now shows me how I placed too much emphasis on the Elf in the red suit & not on the Babe of Bethlehem.

Christmas should be about Jesus. The only Santa I tell my kids about is the historical one. St Nicolas of Myra Oro Pro Nobis!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Yes, Dr Feser, but we must maintain the lie of Santa Claus in order to have a suitably hypnotizing and culturally innocuous enough mask to put over the reality of St. Nicholas as a celibate servant of the poor and an ordained defender of orthodoxy. How blase in contrast! Ho-ho-homoousios! Merry Hypostatic Union!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

High five, Ben!

Steveareno said...

When my oldest daughter was about 9 or 10, she started telling her younger sister that there was no Santa Claus. She was almost bullying about it. After a while I had had enough and spoke with her about it. She said some older kids on the bus had been teasing her because she still believed in Santa Claus, and I concluded that she was adopting their stance and passing it on to her sister. I asked her if she wanted to know the truth. She said yes, and I told her there was no Santa. A terrible look came into her eyes and she started weeping, distraught. It turned out that while she had adopted the knowing posture of the older kids, in her heart of hearts she was still hoping it was true. When I told her it was not, she was devastated. That episode made me question whether the Santa myth is worth maintaining.

That said, I love the presence of Santa Claus in Christmas. It evokes a warm nostalgia in me that is an integral part of the season. So I wonder if there is some middle ground that can be achieved. Not lying to our children, but somehow maintaining Santa as a cultural figure of some relevance to Christmas.

Ilíon said...

Not only did my parents not tell me that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunney were real, they never even told me about them in the first place.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I don't think Santa-truth has to be a total "boner killer." I think it's a matter of making Santa as much a part of Christmas as Harry Potter is a part of Halloween (nowadays).

Having said that, I don't think anyone will have a ruder awakening to the truth about Santa than Kate (Phoebe Cates) in Gremlins.

Ilíon said...

awatkins:I'm sorry, but I just find this notion all highly implausible. Starting to sound like the famous criticism aimed at Kant's categorical imperative, about the murderer asking where your friend is.

Martin: "In the last thread Dr. Fesser maintained the answer is, "Right here"."

I haven't read that thread yet. But, if that is Mr Feser's position, than his position is worthless. More to the point, if that is where his understanding of morality logically leads, than his morality is worthless.

If I may be forgiven for quoting myself:
"Anyone not in mental captivity to some (obviously incorrect) theory of morality knows that "lying" to the Nazis about where some group Jews are hidden is not a wicked act; it simply is not immoral, it is not sin.
.
Part of the problem is that in English we have only the one word to denote the intentional act of saying that which is not true.
.
Part of the problem is trying to bring the simplified version of moral reasoning we necessarily teach children into adulthood.
"

I thought I had further developed those thoughts here on Mr Feser’s blog; but if so, I don’t know where. Fortunately (for linkage purposes), I did develop the thoughts further on my own blog.

Edward Feser said...

Martin: "In the last thread Dr. Fesser maintained the answer is, "Right here"."

I haven't read that thread yet. But, if that is Mr Feser's position, than his position is worthless.

I never said any such thing. In fact I explicitly said that there are truths one should not communicate, in which case one should keep silent, or speak ambiguously, or change the subject, or otherwise distract one's listener.

Martin, you shouldn't tell lies. Ilion, you should take the two minutes to check whether I really said something before pontificating about it.

Ilíon said...

"Ilion, you should take the two minutes to check whether I really said something before pontificating about it."

Should you not take the two seconds to note the subjunctive manner in which I "pontificated"?

Ilíon said...

... nevertheless, Mr Feser, your response, your suggested resolution to the dilemma, is morally inadequate. Your "solution" amounts to "I'm not going to get involved (lest I didty my hands)."

But, God isn't going to judge us by how clean our hands are.

M. Flood said...

On the Santa Claus issue, I never recall believing in him, and my parents tell me that I was very sceptical of the whole notion by about four or five. I do not intend to tell any children of mine about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

I too find consequentialist moral reasoning to be highly suspect and capable of great evil - I agree with Ed's sentiments from his "Happy Consequentialism Day" post about the evil of deliberate attacks upon civilians in pursuit of military victory, but the issue of lying is much harder for me to reconcile.

Consider the state of our Western intelligence agencies. The CIA and MI6 have case officers in countries throughout the world, working to thwart narcotraffickers, terrorists, and enemy states. Those case officers recruit foreign nationals to provide us with information. To protect themselves and enable them to go about their work, the case officers have to lie and pretend to be people that they are not. Sometimes they even lie to their agents and do not let them know who they are truly working for.

While I can acknowledge that lying is wrong, I find it difficult to condemn these men and women for using deception in order to protect their countries.

Before I finish I am aware that many case officers can be occasionally excused for not being completely honest, since under their cover identities they do engage in business transactions and can thus claim to be a member of their acknowledged profession without complete disclosure of their real identity. Just so we can get that out of the way. The problem is that often times their work requires far more in the way of deception.

Are they acting contrary to the natural end of their communicative faculty? Yes. However they are acting in agreement with the natural end of loyalty and protection to their own. Is there no place in the realm of the moral for Nathaniel Hale?

Anonymous said...

I would have to firmly agree with Ilíon. This present conversation reminded me of something I'd read on uncommondescent some time ago.

lazily quoting StephenB:

"On the matter of lying and the problem of creating undue harm with the truth, I submit that the guiding principle is this: According to the natural moral law and the inherent dignity of the human person, ethical communication requires that the sender of a message is obliged always to speak the truth as long as the hearer of the message is entitled to the truth, which is almost always the case. The example stated above represents one of those few instances in which the receiver of the message, the Nazi offender, is, most assuredly, not entitled to the truth. This formula, while not too distant from Kant’s idea is, in my judgment, superior because it doesn’t force the decision maker to wade through a discursive reasoning process to arrive at the obviously moral conclusion—and clearly it doesn’t relativize or subjectivize the universal moral code."

So the key here rests in the intentions of those involved, and not so much the act(in a legalistic sense). Is this not a valid solution?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

We have it easier here in Spain: no Santa Claus, only Three Wise Men! (And of course they exist, so no problem with that.)

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...

how odd ... part #1 (of a too-lengthy post) vanishes when I post part #2. Blogger can be such a pain at times.

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "Martin, you shouldn't tell lies."

Did Martin lie? Or, did Martin misunderstand you? Or *gasp* did Martin understand you better than you want to understand yourself?

I suspect that very few who have dealt with me (and thus are aware that I am not shy about calling another person a liar) will grasp my point (for I'm sure they haven't grasped the logic), but one ought to be chary of calling another a liar.


E.Feser: "I never said any such thing. In fact I explicitly said that there are truths one should not communicate, in which case one should keep silent, or speak ambiguously, or change the subject, or otherwise distract one's listener."

Ilíon: "... your response, your suggested resolution to the dilemma, is morally inadequate. Your "solution" amounts to "I'm not going to get involved (lest I dirty my hands).""

Indeed, there are truths that one should not communicate, should not even hint at, should allow to be forgotten (as one takes them to the grave). But, that understanding -- assuming that one does indeed understand it and the why of it -- doesn't help us with the dilemma A.Watkins posed.

As a moral question, A.Watkins' dilemma is exactly the same as that faced by Corrie ten Boom and her family (see the post on my blog). In a bit, I will describe another dilemma, which is exactly the same as a moral question, and which ought to help you see the inadequacy of your proposed solution. Which is to say, I hope to help you see that you still don't have a mature and proper understanding of morality.

The incidentals between the ten Booms' dilemma with the Nazi soldiers and the dilemma A.Watkins describes (and the one I will describe) are exactly that: unimportant incidentals which do not figure into the moral issue. The Nazi soldiers (in the ten Booms' dilemma) were legal agents of the State, going about their legally prescribed "duty." But, their "duty" was no duty at all, for it was as fully immoral as that of the private individual in A.Watkins' dilemma who seeks to murder one's friend.


Now, the childish solution -- and I do not mean that disparagingly, assuming that one is, in fact, a child -- to the dilemma is to respond to the (immorally asked) question by telling the absolute/full truth: "Peter is in the root cellar, underneath that table" or "John is hidding in this drum (that you'd never think an adult could have squeezed himself into)."

Yet, even most children, by the time they are five or six, have, or at least are beginning to have, the intellectual maturity to understand that in cases such as these, telling the truth is immoral. And, we are all adults; surely this point does not require further elaboration.


Now, an adolescent solution (for lack of better term) to the dilemma is to do as Mr Feser says: "one should keep silent, or speak ambiguously, or change the subject, or otherwise distract one's listener."

That may work -- except for the first, these are actually all the same thing, deception via distraction -- but frequently it won't. And if it doesn't work, then your situation is worse than before, because now the Nazis or the murderer *know(s)* that you have the information they/he want(s), and they/he *know(s)* that whom they/he seek(s) is likely very nearby.

[continued]

Ilíon said...

OK, that was part #1, let's see whether this little post will trick Blogger into leaving it alone when I post part #2.

Ilíon said...

[continued]

BUT, in fact, the very minimum morally correct solution to the dilemma is to "lie" (in the post on my blog, I explain the reason for thuse scare-quotes around the word 'lie') to the murderer or the Nazis.

FOR, in actual fact, one is experiencing a moral dilemma in these scenarios only because one's grasp of morality is wholly immature: there is no actual moral dilemma in either the situation the ten Boom family did face or in the hypothetical to which A.Watkins alludes.

The problem is that one is trying to answer the wrong question: "How can I avoind lying?" -- that, and the fact that one has an immature-and-childish understanding of what lying *is* and is not.

The proper question is: "How can I thwart the wickedness this person seeks to accomplish?" and the answer is "I must use whatever moral means I have at my disposal."

In both these scenarios, as they stand, the only moral means one has at hand to attempt to thwart the wickedness is to attempt to deceive the wicked person(s).

Mr Feser's "answer" to the problem is to deceive oneself that one is attempting actively to deceive the wicked person(s). This is also what Cocky did in the ten Booms' Nazi situation (but, I suspect that Cocky was young, as Mr Feser is not).

In A.Watkins' scenario, suppose one happened to have a second option to attempt to thwart the murder: suppose one had the means to kill the murderer on the spot. Then *that* is what one must do. The reason one *must* kill the murderer is that trying to deceive him is iffy, but killing him is certain.

In the case of the ten Booms and the Nazis, even had they the means to kill that batch of Nazis, the problem isn't actually solved, but is made worse.


Morality is not *simply* about "keeping one's hands clean" -- our moral obligation is not simply to avoid committing wickedness ourselves. Our moral obligation is combat wickedness with all the moral means we have at our disposal ... and that requires that we clearly grasp what those moral means are.

It isn't good enough to say, "It's always immoral to lie," when one doesn't understand (or declines to understand) what a lie is and is not. It isn't good enough to say, "It's always immoral to kill," when one doesn't understand (or declines to understand) the distinction between murder and manslaughter.

Ilíon said...

Here's that scenario I said I'd present. It is the same, in its moral particulars, as the situation the ten Boom family faced or as A.Watkins proposed --


There is a hugely wealthy (and wicked) man. He is bored with hunting lions and tigers and bears; he wants to undertake "the ultimate hunt." To that end, he has contracted with some criminals to kidnap some person, to be released on his vast wooded estate, and whom he will hunt and murder upon catching.

You are that person. You have been released in the woods, given a two hour head-start, with nothing but the clothes on your back and your wits. Unbeknownst to the wicked rich man, your wits happen to include a great store of woods-lore, such that you may be able to evade him and escape his grasp.

Now, half an hour into your fleeing, you come across what you've been looking for: a place where you can lay down a false trail and stand a good chance of causing the wicked man to think you have gone one direction while you actually go another.

That is, you are intentionally going to do all that you can to deceive the wicked man. Does that not make you a "liar"? Of course it doesn't ... but neither the childish understanding of "always tell the truth" nor Mr Feser's somewhat less immature "evade the unwelcome question" fully captures and accounts for the moral goodness of your intentional deception.

Edward Feser said...

Did Martin lie? Or, did Martin misunderstand you? Or *gasp* did Martin understand you better than you want to understand yourself?

Don't be silly, Ilion. Martin said that my view was that you should tell the murderer at the door where your friend is. Not only did I say no such thing, but (a) there is nothing in what I said that implies it, and (b) I explicitly said that there are times when you should refrain from telling something you know and instead keep silent, change the subject, distract the listener's attention, etc.

In any case, my "Martin, don't tell lies" comment was meant to be flippant, since the subject we're discussing is lying and Martin misrepresented what I said. It is hard to believe that Martin doesn't know what I really said, since it's there for all to see in the HAL post. But I suppose it's possible that he was either being extremely negligent or somehow trying to be funny.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous (lazily quoting StephenB at UD): "[what he said]"

Exactly.

A proper/mature understanding of what lying is and is not -- and whether withholding some particular truth is or is not immoral -- includes and requires understanding whether the other person has the moral right to know the particular truth.

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "Don't be silly, Ilion. Martin said that my view was that you should tell the murderer at the door where your friend is. Not only did I say no such thing, but (a) there is nothing in what I said that implies it ..."

I gotta tell ya', what Martin represented as your position sounds entirely consistent with what I understand of you (including the actually self-denying points in your "Happy Consequentialism Day" post).


E.Feser: "... and (b) I explicitly said that there are times when you should refrain from telling something you know and instead keep silent, change the subject, distract the listener's attention, etc."

As I explained about, one's moral oblication is not to avoid deceiving the murder, one's moral obligation is not to protect oneself, one's moral obligation is not to "keep one's hands clean." One's moral obligation is to do all that one can, consistent with morality, to prevent him murdering the friend.


E.Feser: "In any case, my "Martin, don't tell lies" comment was meant to be flippant, since the subject we're discussing is lying and Martin misrepresented what I said."

Do you have the moral right to be flippant in this situation?

Did Martin *really* misrepresent your position? Or, do you not yourself really understand your own position?


E.Feser: "It is hard to believe that Martin doesn't know what I really said, since it's there for all to see in the HAL post. But I suppose it's possible that he was either being extremely negligent or somehow trying to be funny."

As I've admitted, I haven't read that thread yet. Nonetheless (as I also said), Martin's representation of your position *sounds* like what your position actually amounts to.

Edward Feser said...

Should you not take the two seconds to note the subjunctive manner in which I "pontificated"?

Suppose I said "I don't know whether the charge that Ilion is a child molester is true, but let me riff for several thousand words on the theme of what we should think about Ilion if he really were a child molester. And hey, don't get rank with me about it, Ilion, didn't you notice the subjunctive?"

As I've admitted, I haven't read that thread yet. Nonetheless (as I also said), Martin's representation of your position *sounds* like what your position actually amounts to.

Let me get this straight. I've just told you what my view is, and how Martin got it wrong. I've also pointed out that there's a whole post on the subject for anyone to read in case he is interested and wants to make an informed comment on what I really think. (It would take only a few minutes to read it -- less time, I gather, than it is taking you to spam up my combox.) It is in any event blindingly obvious that "Do not tell a lie" does not entail "Say whatever is on your mind -- rather than keep silent, or change the subject, etc."

And yet you insist that Martin's flippant one-liner probably better represents my actual view than I did -- despite the fact that you admit you haven't actually read what I said about it. And on that basis you're going to keep posting these logorrhetic discourses about "what Feser really thinks."

Do have that right? 'Cause I know you hate it when people misrepresent you...

Ilíon said...

That's really stretching, don't you think?

just thinking (pure thoughts) said...

Yet I assume telling boys that masturbation will send them to hell, or at least cause hairy knuckles is still ligit.

Josh said...

I really don't get the Nazi thing and the confusing conclusions Natural Law comes to on that, still. Ilion seems to be making more sense on it, I think, because I don't see how the Natural Law position is different from the Kantian imperative in this case.

Eric said...

Professor Feser, I agree with you that lying is always wrong, but I'm confused about something: Let's take the Nazi scenario that everyone is bringing up. Suppose one is being questioned in such a way that only a lie will save the lives of the Jews you're hiding (we can imagine such a scenario: As you try ambiguous language, misdirection, etc. the officer shouts, "Stop with all the talk! Now, answer me, yes or no: Are there any Jews anywhere on your property? Yes or no!"). I agree that lying is wrong even in such a case, but I also know that (if I had the courage) I intuitively think it is "more" moral (if I could put it that way) to lie than to admit that I'm hiding Jews and thus potentially to cost them their lives. My problem is that I can't understand how this intuition can be justified on natural law grounds (I can see how it can be justified on consequentialist grounds, of course), or even if my intuition is correct and that I should lie in such a case. Can you clarify this for me please, if you have the time? I think it will also help me to understand the sort of reasoning natural law theorists engage in a bit better. Thanks!

Josh said...

And ditto for me re: Eric's sentiments

Ilíon said...

To make reference to a side-topic which arose in the WWWW incarnation of this post ... given A-T, do dead people even exist, such that one even *can* pray to saints?

Anonymous said...

@Ed: Thank you for posting on the topic. My sentiments on Santa Clause are precisely the same.

Nevertheless, I have this question for you: suppose you have a child with a mental disability such that he can never progress beyond the mental capacities of eight-year-old. You've always told him that Santa is real, and if you were to tell him the truth, he would a.) probably never come to terms with it, b.) be totally devastated, no matter his age, and c.) never (because of his disability) "grow beyond" his anger and sorrow. What should his parents do? (I should add that this is not a purely academic question for me.)

@JT: First, I assume that most parents who say, rightly or wrongly, that masturbation leads to Hell really believe that it does, so saying so doesn't count as lying (given the definition Ed is using). And of course saying that it leads to hairy knuckles is immoral. Did you really think Ed would believe otherwise? Or are you just trying to stir up resentment?

Here are my two cents, if anyone cares, on recourse to "intuitions" to defend lying in the case of the Nazi. Even if you can't make sense of telling the truth being more "moral" than lying in such an instance, would it not make sense to at least think of it as more "truthful," "noble," "honest," or "honourable"? And is it not undeniable that, whatever else they might be, truthfulness, nobility, honesty, and honourableness are varieties of virtue? Just a thought.

TheOFloinn said...

IIRC, somewhere in the Summa, Thomas Aquinas uses the example of the judge who restricts puts a thief in prison. Now to restrict another man's liberty is an evil, since man has a natural right to liberty (as to life or property) and it adversely affects the thief's family, etc. But to allow the thief to go free is also an evil, since it disregards the rights of others in the community to their property.

The judge is therefore faced with a choice between two evils, and must perforce choose the lesser of the two evils.

Notice that this does not make imprisonment not evil. It simply acknowledges that it is the lesser evil of the two.

Ilíon said...

Saints above! Aquinas was a consequentalist.

Martin said...

Wow, I toss off a comment and make a fool of myself in two seconds

In any case, my "Martin, don't tell lies" comment was meant to be flippant, ...

As was my remark.

since the subject we're discussing is lying and Martin misrepresented what I said. It is hard to believe that Martin doesn't know what I really said, since it's there for all to see in the HAL post. But I suppose it's possible that he was either being extremely negligent or somehow trying to be funny.

Bingo on both points.

I apologize for having misrepresented you. Under other circumstances I would attempt to demonstrate an actual intelligent thought hidden behind my crude crack but that would take away from my personal mortification at having made the remark in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

William Lane Craig has said that he believes it possible that in heaven God prevents people from knowing or remembering events from their past that are particularly terrible, as remembering these would impede their happiness. I wonder if you could briefly comment on this idea, both in general and insofar as it relates to what you have been saying about lying. Whatever its status, I take it that it would not be lying as it does not involve speech that is intentionally false.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

First, I think Ed is probably right on the "Santa" question, although a real moral dilemma arises when one parent has already told the child that Santa is real, and the child asks the other parent about Santa. What does one do?

Second, I feel bound to point out that the Catholic Church does not unquivocally teach that lying is intrinsically wrong, in the sense that Ed defines it. See The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on lying at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09469a.htm .

Vincent Torley said...

Sorry, that should have been "unequivocally." I'm not the best of typists.

A short quote from The Catholic Encyclopedia on lying:

"There is some difference of opinion among the Fathers of the Christian Church. Origen quotes Plato and approves of his doctrine on this point (Stromata, VI). He says that a man who is under the necessity of lying should diligently consider the matter so as not to exceed. He should gulp the lie as a sick man does his medicine. He should be guided by the example of Judith, Esther, and Jacob. If he exceed, he will be judged the enemy of Him who said, 'I am the Truth.' St. John Chrysostom held that it is lawful to deceive others for their benefit, and Cassian taught that we may sometimes lie as we take medicine, driven to it by sheer necessity."

The article goes on to say: "In places almost innumerable Holy Scripture seems to condemn lying as absolutely and unreservedly as it condemns murder and fornication." Puzzlingly, it fails to list even a single verse. And what about "Judith, Esther, and Jacob"? Did they sin?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Martin,

No prob -- thanks for the clarification.

Hi Vincent,

Just to be clear, the Church does teach that lying is intrinsically wrong. (I don't think you meant to deny this, but your wording is possibly ambiguous.) What there has been some disagreement about among theologians is how to define "lying" (which I think is what you meant). But even so (and as the rest of the article you cite makes clear) the view I've been describing has been the standard view among orthodox theologians for many centuries now. While it is not considered infallible, neither is it merely one equally likely opinion among others.

Hi Eric,

I think I'll address that in a further post.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Here's something I don't get.

Ilíon's thesis is that it is not always immoral to lie, since one's moral duty is to combat evil "with all the moral means" one has. This, however, seems to beg the question, since the issue is precisely whether lying is ever a moral means of action. If it is not moral to begin with, it is not in the arsenal of truth.

The masthead of my blog has a quotation from Sirach 4: "[28] Strive even to death for the truth
and the Lord God will fight for you." That is the kind of combat I feel obliged to uphold.

I am also mindful of the fact that Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44). If my Catholic immaturity makes me unsuitable for that kind of sonship, so be it.

Biblically, there is no room at all to defend lies of any kind. (Rahab is a red herring.) Hence, it seems there can only be a "rational" basis for condoning, much less encouraging, lies "for a higher purpose."

I was watching "Curb Your Enthusiasm" last night and I saw the scene in which LD is trapped on a ski lift with an Orthodox Jewess as the sun goes down. Being alone with a man after sun down is a major offense for the young lady, so she ultimately makes a drastic decision. We laugh, of course, as LD goes on eating his "snack", knowing that that kind of religious devotion is baseless and silly. Just laughable fodder for the Brights and Gnus.

Yet, I wonder… Is not the Cross a scandal to the Greeks? Is not that kind of devotion grotesquely extreme and childish?

All the handwringing and plate-spinning about how tricky it would be to evade the Nazis, etc. is just that: the squeaking of fallen flesh trying to get a pass. Rationalism. Common-senseism. Real-Worldism.

I'm chief among sinners, and I don't deny I've spun more than my share of lies. Even so, I believe God always will provide a way for His saints to honor Him, and I maintain that someone like J. H. Newman is great because he "never sinned against the light."

Even natural ingenuity suffices to say simply, "I don't know where they are or whether they are on my property," since, for all you know they may have shifted position, been translated miraculously, or fallen into a worm hole, and so on. Call is specious, but it is not deceit per se, since that consists in a knowing misrepresentation.

As for the hunting analogy, the prey is not being asked where he is, so he is not lying about the answer. Even if he were asked (by loud speaker, say), he could simply remain silent. His false trail is just an elaborate form of semiotic silence, not deceit. Further, in the rules of the game, he is being truthful to his role: to be anything less than cunning prey would be a lie in the hermeneutics of the game.

Anonymous said...

Here is a case I think it is worth thinking about. In war, Side A might lie to Side B to deceive it into thinking it will be at one position when it will in fact be at another. The Allies did this in World War II when, as a high-ranking German soldier was being returned to Germany (as part of the overarching deception campaign to mask the plans for D-Day) and was being conveyed through England, he was told he was in a certain part of England rather than another. Because the territory was empty, he formed the wrong idea about what was going on where in England, and he likewise misinformed the German High Command. This was a flat out lie that the British told, but it brings out how lies are sometimes used in war, even just war, even if the lies themselves are not justified (that is what is at issue).

Similarly, think of an Allied soldier in a gunfight with a Nazi. The Allied solder can throw his voice, and so he calls out "Over here!" so as to mislead the Nazi regarding his position. The Nazi takes the bait, and he leans out and shoots the Nazi dead.

One last point: is there any morally relevant difference between cases of lying, that is, intending to deceive by the use of what one takes to be false speech, and other cases of deception that do not involve false speech? The Allies using inflatable "tanks" and other fake pieces of equipment to deceive the Germans into thinking they were amassing troops in an area of Britain which would lead the Germans to think that an attack would come elsewhere than Normandy Beach, for example.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Let us, however, utter the life-saving lie, but unfortunately the Nazis still somehow discover the Jews.

They make us an offer: we can save our family's life by executing the Jews.

Or let's say they have pity on us as otherwise good Germans and allow us to save the other Jews if we just execute one of them.

Or perhaps we are allowed to save them all if the Nazis can have their way with the women among them and, perhaps, also among our family.

In every case, surely the morally mature person objects entirely to making the deal: it's just wrong to do such things, no matter how much good comes of it!

At which point one of the Nazis reminds us, "Thou shalt not lie."

God's law, Schmod's law.

Josh said...

Well, all right then. I guess I understand when it's put in terms of murder and stuff. Although, Brandon, I'm not saying it was the moral thing to do in exclusion of other things. Mainly that it seems to me clearly not an immoral thing to lie to Nazis to save lives in that situation. But I'm certainly willing to humble myself to the fathers of the church in deference to wisdom and tradition.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

…further procrastination…

Surely it is no small irony to defend lying to Nazis (Nazis, Nazis, it's always got to be "the Nazzies") based on the claim that they are "not worthy of the truth", since it was the Nazis who deemed their targets "unworthy of life".

Die Nazis haben deswegen eine Art Krieges! Von der Moral des lebensunwerten Lebens zu der des wahrheitsunwerten Lebens!

…back to the grind…

just thinking said...

TheOFloinn said: "Notice that this does not make imprisonment not evil. It simply acknowledges that it is the lesser evil of the two."

Good post for putting things in perspective.


Anonymous said: "@JT. First, I assume that most parents who say, rightly or wrongly, that masturbation leads to Hell really believe that it does, so saying so doesn't count as lying (given the definition Ed is using). And of course saying that it leads to hairy knuckles is immoral. Did you really think Ed would believe otherwise? Or are you just trying to stir up resentment?"

The masterbation example probably rose to consciousness in relation to Santa as a similar example of what adults tell juveniles whose thinking is not that advanced yet.

With tongue-in-cheek, I always thought religious ed. teachers/clergy used the masterbation threat to fill up the pews at confession time! Likewise, the Santa "lie" reflects an adults inability to throw off the oppressive influence of capitalist marketing at Christmas time exerted through TV and peer pressure. And, honestly, isn’t it likely that parents reverse their rhetoric on Santa as the child’s wish list becomes ever more expensive with their age?

Seriously, what is the history of the Santa myt? Was it condoned by the Church? I know they have a history of amplifying characteristics of their saints to gain more widespread appeal in non-christian cultures.

As for parents, I for one, am glad mine never brought up masturbation.

As for stirring things up…well sure!

awatkins69 said...

JT: Masturbation is a sin and a mortal one at that. It's a very good thing to admonish the sinner.

Anyways: With all of this, I don't think we should misrepresent Dr. Feser by saying that he thinks we are obligated to tell the murderer where the friend is.

I also largely agree with natural law theory, and I'm somewhat tempted to think that Dr. Feser is correct. However, I think there may be some ways we can make this roll both with our moral intuitions and our meta-ethics:

1. We may be able to use some sort of Anscombean principle of intention, along the lines of the principle of double effect: *"I bring about an effect iff I intend that effect."* In natural law theory, I believe, an action is only immoral if it is intended, and not if it is a side-effect or consequence. Now, I'm somewhat skeptical about whether this can help us in this case, and I already kind of think it might not work. However, maybe someone could use this principle to bring this all more in line with our moral intuitions.

and/or

2. We could somehow say that the end of our communicative faculties is not *necessarily* truth, but rather that it should be used in a general sense for the good of myself and others. Then, we might be able to say that there are some cases where not knowing the truth is a good thing.

These are just a couple of suggestions. These ideas are still quite vague and un-elaborated, and maybe I'm completely wrong on this. Just a thought though.

Crude said...

Interesting conversation all around. My own amateur take on the consequentialism aspect of things is here, for those curious of what yet another person sympathetic to Feser's views has to say. Mere layman though I am.

Ilíon said...

"(I don't think you meant to deny this, but your wording is possibly ambiguous.)"

Isn't that a bonus?

RP said...

One thing in common with Feser and all the people posting comments is the agreement that the Santa Claus story is a lie. My post showed Chesterton didn't think so (unless someone is prepared to show he deliberately believes a lie).

A story is told of Aquinas. Some of his fellow teachers or students called him to a window saying a witch was riding by on her broom. Aquinas dutifully went over to look and the others laughed at him. Aquinas responded to their laughter by saying he'd rather believe a witch was on her broom than that they would tell him a lie.

No need to blame the decline of philosophy on Occam or Descartes or Scotus or Kant or all the other who derive their Metaphysics from Logic. Philosophy started its decline because Aquinas had no sense of humor and didn't recognize a joke.

It's a similar thing with those who can't see (with Chesterton) that Santa Claus is real.

Anonymous said...

Modus tollens, which is used in all "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" arguments, disabuses us of a belief in Santa Claus:

1) If Santa Claus existed, then we would expect to see a factory in the North Pole, presents inexplicably falling down chimneys, etc.
2) We do not observe any such things.

Conclusion: Santa Claus does not exist.

just thinking said...

RP

The friar's lack of a fun side has sent a lot of self-fondlers to Hell over the last 700 years, too.

I cannot find info on how St. Nicholas rose to superstardom - does anyone have a link?

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

@TheOFloinn: “Notice that this does not make imprisonment not evil. It simply acknowledges that it is the lesser evil of the two. ”

I don't know if you have represented Aquinas correctly, but I would say that, given the man in question is guilty, putting him in prison is not evil. There are certain things that, by their own nature, restricts your freedom without being ‘evil.’ Take for instance being a citizen of Denmark. That restricts you from just walking into Germany without a passport. No one would call that ‘evil.’ Similarly, committing certain crimes restricts you from just walking freely, by the very nature of the deed done. Just some, and not all, restrictions are evil.

@Ilíon: “Saints above! Aquinas was a consequentalist.”

Do you know this, or did you just take the poster before you for granted?

just thinking said...

Found it (stupid not to google to wiki).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus

In as much as something is real if it makes a difference, the irrepressible myth of Santa over the past 1700 years appears to be more real than most things.

BenYachov said...

Using disbelief in Santa Claus as a rational to deny God is pure fundamentalist New Atheist emo stupidity. If there was a Santa he would by definition be an isolani. God as understood by classic philosophy & Theology is not an isolani. If He was he wouldn't be God.

Russell's Teapot argument is horse-hockey! I'm surprised there are still idiots living who us it.

Ilíon said...

Codgitator:Here's something I don't get.
.
Ilíon's thesis is that it is not always immoral to lie, since one's moral duty is to combat evil "with all the moral means" one has.


Perhaps you're not getting something because you’re overlooking a vital point I made, which is that the word ‘lie’ is inadequate ... which leads to an understanding (that I chose to not explicitly spell out) that almost no one consciously and rationally understands what he's talking about when he starts talking about the morality of lying. Yet, most people do understand at a ... hmmm ... pre-rational level the particular point I mean to bring into your conscious and rational awareness (as witness Mr Feser's rationalizations concerning "little white lies"). At the same time, almost everyone puts up a violent mental struggle to avoid consciously understanding, much less knowing, this point.

We have a word 'kill' and we have a word 'murder:' 'kill' is descriptive and non-normative, whereas 'murder' is proscriptive and normative.

And then we have the word 'lie,' which we try to use simultaneously descriptively and proscriptively.

How are people going to understand what they're trying to think and talk about when they insist upon using ambiguous and equivocal language for the critical term(s)?


Codgitator:Ilíon's thesis is that it is not always immoral to lie, since one's moral duty is to combat evil "with all the moral means" one has. This, however, seems to beg the question, since the issue is precisely whether lying is ever a moral means of action.

It’s not begging the question. It’s recognizing that morality is a unity and can be properly understood only as a unity or gestalt. (I made reference to this, in the very place you quoted: "Our moral obligation is combat wickedness with all the moral means we have at our disposal ... and that requires that we clearly grasp what those moral means are." ... but, as is my manner, I did not spell out everything on the point, as that wasn't the issue I was pursuing).

Morality cannot be captured in a formal axiomatic system (any more than can love ... and, in the end, love and morality are the same thing). Our moral obligations cannot be captured in a list of "do" and "don't."

We can come up with lists and we can come up with systems -- and we must, for that is how we teach the children the beginnings of moral obligations and the beginning of grasping morality -- but those lists and systems are only the beginning of wisdom. Even Christ's two-point summation of the Law (which is probably the best that can be done), is incomplete in itself, and requires that we think and consider and understand and apply: for, what does it *mean* to love another, whether God or one's fellow?


Codgitator:If it is not moral to begin with, it is not in the arsenal of truth.

There is 'lying' and there is 'lying' ... which are you talking about?

[continued]

Ilíon said...

[continued]

Codgitator:Biblically, there is no room at all to defend lies of any kind. (Rahab is a red herring.) Hence, it seems there can only be a "rational" basis for condoning, much less encouraging, lies "for a higher purpose."

Why is Rahab a red herring? She was a traitor to her people: she deceived the legal authorites of her city, who were going about their legal duty to the city and its people, and in so doing aided in the destruction of the city, and of its people.

Is there a principle by which her duty to her people and to their implicit trust in her must surrender to a higher duty, such that her betrayal of that trust (and of their lives) is moral, rather than immoral?

'Cause I gotta' tell ya', if there isn't, then that bitch deserves to burn in Hell. Is Rahad a bitch, or is she a righteous woman faced with horrible and evil (but not wicked) decision?

Codgitator:Biblically, there is no room at all to defend lies of any kind. ...

Perhaps you ought to be concerned about Mr Feser's rationalizations concerning "little white lies". In the family and church culture in which I was raised, "little white lies" were understood and taught to be simply lies, and as utterly immoral as "big black lies."

So, who is/was wrong, Mr Feser or my parents and religious teachers?

In fact, both are wrong, for they are working with an inadequate understanding of 'lie.'

[continued]

Ilíon said...

[continued]

Codgitator:All the handwringing and plate-spinning about how tricky it would be to evade the Nazis, etc. is just that: the squeaking of fallen flesh trying to get a pass. Rationalism. Common-senseism. Real-Worldism.

Actually, you're now describing Mr Feser's (false, or at best inadequate) solution to the (non-existent) dilemma: "speak ambiguously, or change the subject, or otherwise distract one's listener."

Mr Feser's "solution" is legalistic/Pharisaical. Mine grows out of a somewhat deeper or more mature understanding of the moral issues involved.

My solution doesn't imagine that we can weigh moral questions without also considering consequences ... even as I engage in "consequentialist" reasoning while pretending to myself that I do not.


Codgitator:... and I maintain that someone like J. H. Newman is great because he "never sinned against the light."

Of all mankind, only Jesus the Christ never sinned against the light.


Codgitator:Even natural ingenuity suffices to say simply, "I don't know where they are or whether they are on my property," since, for all you know they may have shifted position, been translated miraculously, or fallen into a worm hole, and so on. Call is specious, but it is not deceit per se, since that consists in a knowing misrepresentation.

And now you're engaging in legalistic/Pharisaical rationalization to try to turn deception into not-deception. But, deception is deception.

If it is immoral ever to deceive anyone, then it is immoral deceive someone. Even Nazis.

Oddly enough, after reading My Feser's post on "lying" to HAL (I need to read it again, more closely, and the comments), I had thought about composing a post to address this very sort of rationalization.


Codgitator:As for the hunting analogy, the prey is not being asked where he is, so he is not lying about the answer. Even if he were asked (by loud speaker, say), he could simply remain silent. His false trail is just an elaborate form of semiotic silence, not deceit.

Lying (I'm at this instant using the word in the descriptive, non-normative sense) isn't a matter of intentionally giving false information to a verbal-and-explicitly-asked question, it's a matter of intentionally putting false information into another mind. Quoting Mr Feser (he is using the word in the proscriptive, normative sense): "[lying] is directly contrary to the natural end of our communicative faculties, which is to convey what is really in our minds."

Playing word games ("His false trail is just an elaborate form of semiotic silence, not deceit") does not change intentional deceit into non-deceit.

The false trail is intentional deceit. But, it is not immoral, for the hunter has no moral right to the truth of the matter.

Codgitator:Further, in the rules of the game, he is being truthful to his role: to be anything less than cunning prey would be a lie in the hermeneutics of the game.

Playing word games does not change intentional deceit into non-deceit. The "prey" has no role, for the entire enterprise is utterly immoral in all its particulars -- it is not a paint-ball game that two friends have decided to play.

Ilíon said...

BenYachov: "Using disbelief in Santa Claus as a rational to deny God is pure fundamentalist New Atheist emo stupidity."

Sure; and in similar wise, using "the problem of pain/evil" as a rationale to deny the reality of God, or to question his love and faithfulness, is mere anti-rational emotionalism.

"The problem of pain/evil" was rationally answered thousands of years ago ... but the answer isn't emotionally satisfying; and so, in every new generation some (or many) imagine that their emotional tantrum falsifies the answer.

Ilíon said...

BenYachov: "Using disbelief in Santa Claus as a rational to deny God is pure fundamentalist New Atheist emo stupidity."

Sure; and in similar wise, using "the problem of pain/evil" as a rationale to deny the reality of God, or to question his love and faithfulness, is mere anti-rational emotionalism.

"The problem of pain/evil" was rationally answered thousands of years ago ... but the answer isn't emotionally satisfying; and so, in every new generation some (or many) imagine that their emotional tantrum falsifies the answer.

PatrickH said...

I would lie to the Nazis because I can't think of a different way of foiling them. And foiling them I most surely intend.

And then I would confess my lie--as a lie--in confession. No rationalizations. Just, "I have sinned...I told a lie." And I would accept the penance given me.

If lying is not immoral in the Nazi example, then I would have nothing to confess. No penance would need be performed. No forgiveness would need to be granted.

In other words, lying can be seen as always and everywhere to be wrong, immoral, and therefore requiring forgiveness. And it can still be something I might do, especially if I can't think of a better way to solve the problem.

Because turning Jews over to Nazis is surely wrong too. And I suspect that should even the most orthodox tradtionalist priest hear my confession of that deed...well, the penance I would be given would be rather more drastic than that given for my telling a lie to save those Jews.

But I would still need to do penance for the lie. That would still be necessary. Because lying is always wrong, even if it is sometimes the best I can do.

BenYachov said...

Ilíon,

Amen to that Bro!

Cheers!:-)

BenYachov said...

BTW to be clear my shout out to Ilíon was a response to his comments to me. Whatever problems he thinks he has with Dr. Feser's statements....I'm not involved.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

PatrickH:

Pastorally, I very much side with your position in your latest comment. My main worry in getting involved in this thread is that there seems to be moral alchemy at work, whereby lying, otherwise intrinsically wrong, magically becomes good. I agree with Thomas's treatment in ST II-II q. 110, a. 4: lying is always a sin, though not always a mortal sin, a point made by Dr Feser in the prior post, I believe.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ilíon:

I really appreciate your grasp of the importance of distinctions, a very Scholastic method. (Here's to the indefatigable distinguo!) Thanks for being irenic.

I was aware of the kill/murder distinction as I made my reply and I admit that an adequate response must tease out an equally sophisticated distinction for truth and falsity. Seeing as this is neither the time nor the place––nor am I the thinker––to make an adequate response, I will limit myself to a few points.

An immediate difference to note (between the murder/kill vs. lie/confabulate distinction) is that the former distinction ties into the larger social order and one's social authority as an organ of justice, whereas the latter distinction is being debated about a private matter. Meaning: the state kills criminals by means of this or that official, and thus the official does not murder the criminals; by contrast, this debate is focused on how an individual, with respect to his own mind and conscience, should handle a moral crisis. The imagined liar facing Nazis is not an organ of the state, and as such his only obligation is to God: which is to say, to the truth.

If he were an agent of the state, however, that would be a different matter, for then he could simply withhold any information about the Jews on the grounds of state security. What of the dreaded "Tell us or we'll kill you!" gauntlet? How many loyal citizens have lost their lives at that juncture, yet without lying, is countless. But such cases abound, and therefore it is no moral duty of an agent of the state to disclose or lie about anything. If it were my heroic, sanctified self in the scenario, I would like to hear myself say, "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to kill me, because I can't tell you what you want to know."

The allegedly "better me" would simply squint my eyes and reply without a pause, "No Jews in there." But that is just to bow down completely to consequentialism, since I the "better me" could do whatever he liked in any situation, as long as he felt he were waging war on a higher plane.

But I am on no higher plane. I am faced with the decision: utter what is at variance with my mind or not? I can only hope I would utter what I genuinely see as falling within my epistemic rights: "I have no real evidence there are Jews in my cellar this instant, and if you want a yes or no answer, I can't give one. Try the next farm. I don't have the answers you want."

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...


Getting back to my original point: Why is it wrong for a private citizen to execute a lawbreaker? Because he's "taking the law into his own hands." Why is it wrong for a private citizen to deceive in every instance? Because he's "taking the truth into his own hands."

St Thomas speaks of lying as presenting as one's mind what is in fact at variance with one's mind. The prey in your scenario is doing no such thing: he is very clearly indicating his mind to the hunters: "This is how I say I don't want you to kill me!" An actor is not lying when he says his name is Han Solo, since it is not at variance with his mind––and much less with the minds of his co-performers and audience––that he is really portraying himself as someone who says, "Han Solo" in response to "What's your name?"

Incidentally, I am curious how you would respond to the deals I hypothesized if the Nazis found the Jews anyway. If 'lying' is not lying because it is just a tactic of the good, then presumably 'rape' and 'execution' are not immoral either insofar as they are ballsy tactics of fighting evil. Seemingly, as long as you don't really "mean" to lie––or rape or kill––, then you didn't "really" do so.

"If I don't mislead the Nazis, they will find and kill the Jews inside. Hence, I shall lie like the Devil. In the end, I know I'm doing the right thing."

"If I don't play along with the Nazis, they will kill the Jews and my family. Hence, I shall 'play along' like the Devil. In the end, I know I'm doing the wrong thing."
Best,

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I'm also surprised no one has brought up the movie "Life Is Beuatiful". You know, the whimsical paean to the ultimate anti-Nazi Santa-Claus ruse. I'm being genuine: how do the various sides of this debate parse that film morally?

On the one hand, the dad spent his every waking moment shielding his son behind an elaborate lie-game. So that's obviously wrong by "my" side's lights.

On the other hand, the dad did the best he could to protect his son from undue woe. So that seems pretty commendable to the more consequentialist among us.

Again, no snarkiness meant at all. (Damn the Internet! Where's the "no, I mean it, I'm not being sarcastic" emoticon!)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ilíon:

To be clear, might I summarize your basic position like this?

A. Manslaughter is not morally wrong because it is an action with no intent to kill, but which nevertheless results in another's death. Murder is different because it is a conscious, rational action that achieves its goal in the death of another.

B. Confabulation is not morally wrong because it is an action with no intent to distort the truth, but which nevertheless results in another's being misled. Lying is different because it is a conscious, rational action that achieves its goal in the deception of another.

Best,

TheOFloinn said...

being a citizen of Denmark... restricts you from just walking into Germany without a passport. No one would call that ‘evil.’

Of course it is an evil. It is a deprivation of the good of liberty. In Olden Days, no such passport was needed, but in the Modern Ages, the paramount power of the State demands such obeisance.

Do not confuse "evil" with Hollywood monster movies. There are degrees to these things.

Ilíon said...

bY: "BTW to be clear my shout out to Ilíon was a response to his comments to me."

I, for one, understood that (and I am mystified as to how my post to you is duplicated).

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Interestingly, this post seems to encapsulate, in condensed form (is that redundant?), the current debate here. Worth having a look.

http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/03/25/did-i-lie-about-the-catechism-and-lying/

David said...

Codgitator: All the handwringing and plate-spinning about how tricky it would be to evade the Nazis, etc. is just that: the squeaking of fallen flesh trying to get a pass. Rationalism.

Rationalism or rationality? Remember that there is also such a thing as scrupulosity, that it is possible to rationalise permissible things as sinful, not only the other way around. I was going to bring up the case of killing someone (e.g. pushing the old man in front of a train to save a dozen children) because that's a good counter-example. Sure, we find it emotionally abhorrent to think that the end would justify the means in such a case, but note that we also find it emotionally abhorrent to let the dozen children die. In this example, either alternative goes against our gut, but most people have no problem accepting what reason tells them is the right course, despite their feelings. Most people are clearly able and willing to stick to their principles even when the result is harsh. (I wish some of them could articulate their position better, naturally, but even though many posters have said little more than, "lying to Nazi just 'feels' right", there is a rational case to be made.)

The most obvious logical problem with the "lying is always wrong" position is that it seems to be followed by a ridiculous series of loopholes and technicalities. That, I would argue, is the main reason why certain people react so vigorously against it. To say that rather than lying, you should bribe the soldier, or say "I don't know" (because a miracle might have occurred), or say "Yeah, SURE there are Jews hidden here" (because the soldier might be too stupid to know what sarcasm is — yeah, right), or deceptively arrange leaves and sticks on the ground (because that's not actually "speech") is simply not credible. I am truly shocked to see so many people making such claims with a straight face. As I said in the sister-thread to this one, if you maintained that all those things were flat out immoral, that would at least be consistent.

I hope it's evident to all of us that if you throw a ball in the house and break a vase, it would be lying to tell your mother, "I don't know what happened"... after all, it might be a fantastic fluke that the vase just happened to break at the same time you were chucking the ball around. Even if you were looking right at it when the ball knocked it over, you don't "know" that God didn't dematerialise the ball, send an angel to topple the vase, and then rematerialise the ball an instant later. But this of course is preposterous, no matter how technically accurate, and you are morally guilty of lying. (If you want to quibble that "lying" is the wrong word in English, that's a different argument, as long as you agree that the action is wrong and (im)morally equivalent to "lying" in this case.)

[cont'd]

David said...

Codgitator: In every case, surely the morally mature person objects entirely to making the deal [with the Nazi]: it's just wrong to do such things, no matter how much good comes of it! 
At which point one of the Nazis reminds us, "Thou shalt not lie."

At which subsequent point, I whip out my concealed weapon and shoot the Nazi in the head. After all, killing in defence can be permissible. Just as long as I don't lie. Hm. Again, if you were to claim that all killing was always wrong, then I would disagree, but I think that would be consistent with your approach to lying. But to say that lying is always worse than killing a man is just not logically coherent.

I should perhaps clarify that lying is not being claimed to be immoral in quite the same way killing is: Prof. Feser and others say that lying is an abuse of our communicative faculties, that it frustrates their natural end, and thus is immoral. "Killing" can never be wrong in quite this way, because the actual action that results in death — chopping or strangling or button-pushing — is not in itself contrary to the natural ends of our limbs. "Chopping" is a fine thing for arms to do, and what makes it good or bad is the context (whether you're chopping wood, or someone's legs off; and whether your leg-chopping is torture or surgery, etc.). The claim would be that lying is a perversion of speech in a way that mere "chopping" on its own cannot be. But this does not hold up.

We use speech for all sorts of things that are not purely communicative of our true beliefs — acting, singing, joking, trying to get the @#$% automated "voice attendant" to perform the correct function, etc. What makes a particular vibration of our vocal chords "lying" — or truth-telling — depends inherently on the context (especially on the audience). Consider that running into your room, burying your head under your pillow, and whispering, "I love brussels sprouts" [when you don't] cannot be considered lying. Certainly in ordinary English, that would not be a good description; you can't lie to no one, there has to be some person you are lying to! (Even if you're lying to yourself — one person is acting in two different capacities, but somebody —you— still fulfills the role of the audience.)

Thus lying vs. joking, etc. does depend on external context just as much as torture vs. surgery, etc. do. Killing and torture and so on are still wrong (when they are wrong, which may or may not be every single time) according to natural law, of course; but the unnaturalness simply happens not to lie in the corruption of a natural human faculty itself. Rather, the unnaturalness lies in the frustration of some duty or obligation which binds us, which by definition is relative to the context. Thus joking, scat singing, prestidigitating, misdirecting Nazis can all be defended, while semiotic silence, subtle sarcasm, patently pedantic sophistry, and the rest are all [equivalent to] immoral lying.

Brandon said...

The most obvious logical problem with the "lying is always wrong" position is that it seems to be followed by a ridiculous series of loopholes and technicalities. That, I would argue, is the main reason why certain people react so vigorously against it.

I'm not sure what your basis for this diagnosis is at all, since obviously the objection that is being made is not that there are too many 'loopholes' but that there aren't enough: people are arguing that there should be lots of loopholes, in fact, and this is what's being resisted. They want more technicalities. Likewise, the claim hasn't been that lying is "flat out" immoral but that it's always immoral in some way. What's being insisted on is that there's an intrinsic disorder to it that can't be eliminated. Sarcasm, silence, etc., may indeed sometimes be immoral; but it's clear enough that there is no such intrinsic disorder. Some of the suggested alternatives to lying have indeed been questionable; but they are questionable not because they are 'loopholes' but because they are likely to have immoral aspects in the context for their own reasons. I'm also not at all clear what you mean by equivalence throughout your comment.

So I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say.

David said...

Brandon: What's being insisted on is that there's an intrinsic disorder to it that can't be eliminated.

And that's what I claim is incorrect. It occurs to me that my comments here follow from my couple of longish comments in the previous thread, so if you read those, I hope what I've said will make more sense. Natural law does not indicate that lying is wrong per se anymore than that killing is wrong per se. If you say all killing is murder, then to attempt to justify, say, fatal force in self-defence would amount to a loophole; but if you acknowledge that some killing is moral, then no loophole is needed. Similarly, if it's always wrong to take a true statement and say it preceded by the words "It is not true that...", then it's just as wrong to say those words in a sarcastic tone. The two may differ in literary value, but not in moral value. However, if you claim (as I do) that "lying" is not intrinsically wrong, then you don't need "more technicalities": some instances of untruthfulness are simply moral kinds.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks very much for your comments. I look forward to reading your next post on lying. Just a few points you might like to address in your next post:

1. The Jewish position on lying. Jesus was born and raised a Jew. From what I can make out, Judaism does not prohibit lying (defined simply as deceit) in an absolute sense, and Jewish law even obligates an individual to lie in certain situations. (See the online paper, "Should Moral Individuals Ever Lie? Insights from Jewish Law" by Dr. H. H. Friedman and A. C. Weisel, at http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/hf_LyingPermissible.html . The article cites numerous Talmudic references.) If Jesus disagreed with this view, would He not have been obliged to say so?

2. Lying (again, defined simply as deceit) is part and parcel of how wars are won. Think of Operation Mincemeat in World War II. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mincemeat . Was this wrong? And what about Churchill's dictum: "Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies"?

3. Without either willingness on the part of a President to kill millions of innocents, or a President's lying about his willingness to do so, nuclear deterrence could not work. Killing innocents is wrong, so if lying is wrong, the only option (short of fighting to the last man) is let the Russians and Chinese take over. Is that what you are advocating? What is your take on nuclear deterrence?

Brandon said...

Natural law does not indicate that lying is wrong per se anymore than that killing is wrong per se. If you say all killing is murder, then to attempt to justify, say, fatal force in self-defence would amount to a loophole; but if you acknowledge that some killing is moral, then no loophole is needed.

But all murder is wrong per se. The parallel would be right if the claim were that all deception were lying; but it's precisely the recognition that this is not true that seems to be lumped in the 'loophole' category. This diverges from the case we are considering, where everyone ex hypothesi is positing what everyone would recognize as a lie from the get-go and asking whether it's entirely moral, as you note in the other thread. So I don't know why you keep structuring the parallel the way you do.

Similarly, if it's always wrong to take a true statement and say it preceded by the words "It is not true that...", then it's just as wrong to say those words in a sarcastic tone.

I'm not sure I follow this. There are cases where adding a negative judgment to a true statement is obviously not lying, so nothing said about lying implies that it's always wrong to do this. And sarcasm doesn't always indicate negative judgment (it can, for instance, indicate something you think true but are mocking as absurd, or expressing contempt for, or, indeed, what it can be directed at can be something other than the statement, for instance, the person being addressed; I could go on -- I come from a sarcastic family, so I've experienced a jillion different uses of it), although that is indeed what it often suggests, just because we do often use it in that way. You're quite right that tones can indicate logical features; but the translation is not always straightforward. It is entirely possible that in a case such as we are considering that sarcasm would be wrong as well; but this needs to be shown on its own merits rather than assumed.

I confess that having read your argument twice, I'm still completely puzzled by where you are getting the claim in the other thread that on the point in question "it seems to follow that lying is worse than murder"; were you just responding to something I missed? Or is it supposed to follow somehow from the parallel? I don't see how it fits in at all.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Another interesting consideration:

In cases where clergy actually misled authorities or were mendacious about sexual abuse cases--again, in the actual cases, not in the media super-smear--, I wonder what a consequentialist would say about it. Protecting the clergy and the stability of the Church seems to outweigh the good of giving victim a sense of "justice." As always, scratch a secularist with the sins of the Church and you find an absolutist.

Thoughts?

Ilíon said...

Are there any consequentialists, or is consequentialism essentially a straw-man?

"As always, scratch a secularist with the sins of the Church and you find an absolutist."

Self-identifying moral relativists and moral deniers generally turn out to be moral absolutists. It's just that their moral claims and the foundations on which they make them are false and self-devouring.

On the other hand, those who are lambasted as being moral absolutists ("I can't believe you're so ignoranst as to believe the world is black-and-white!") generally understand that moral obligations and expectations are relative to the context.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ilíon:

I think a consensus is quasi-formed here, though your position may be an outlier.

It seems that while both "sides" agree that lying is intrinsically wrong, they also agree that there are cases wherein duress and confusion can significantly diminish the moral onus of telling a lie. I would in all likelihood dissimulate about the Jews in the cellar but would still recongize I had sinned by doing so. I may post some quotations from St Augustine on the matter. It's not like mankind had to wait for Nazism to think hard about lying. As Augustine says at the end of the passage I hope to cite, "Among the perfect not even lying is to be found."

I say your position might be an outlier in so far as you seem to be arguing that in certain cases, a lie is not only not immoral but aloso not even really a "lie."

It is an incidental, but my comment earlier about Newman was to the effect that he strove never to sin against the light, not that he in fact never did sin. We Catholics do only hold that the Virgin Mary was preserved from every stain of sin and moral defect by Christ's Passion.

Best,

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

@TheOFloinn: "Of course it is an evil. It is a deprivation of the good of liberty. In Olden Days, no such passport was needed, but in the Modern Ages, the paramount power of the State demands such obeisance."

Ok, let me rephrase: Take for instance being your neighbor. That restricts me from just walking into your house without permission. That is strictly a restriction, but no one would in their right mind call that ‘evil.’

@Vincent Torley: Jesus was born and raised a Jew. From what I can make out, Judaism does not prohibit lying (defined simply as deceit) in an absolute sense, and Jewish law even obligates an individual to lie in certain situations. (See the online paper, "Should Moral Individuals Ever Lie? Insights from Jewish Law" by Dr. H. H. Friedman and A. C. Weisel, at http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/hf_LyingPermissible.html . The article cites numerous Talmudic references.) If Jesus disagreed with this view, would He not have been obliged to say so?

Your argument assumes first that 'Judaism' is a undivided unit, and second that you can project things in the Talmud back onto Second Temple Judaism. I see no reason why we should assume that the Talmud is representative for anything else then what it actually represents: (a certain strand of) Rabbibical Judaism.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

Rabbibical = Rabbinical

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

It may be tangential but Vincent's point about parsing the Judaic and Christian stances on lying raises the issue of sola Scriptura and the development of doctrine. Presumably, if Jesus disagreed with the consensus view that "God is one" simply speaking, He should have said so explicitly. But that's to pretend Nicea and Constantinople never happened. Etc.

More to the point, though, we can also find a much laxer stance on abortion in the rabbinic tradition than in the Catholic and largely Christian tradition, but I don't think that's going to convince Dr Feser, or any other committed Catholic, that his position is weaker therefore.

RP said...

just thinking:

The friar's lack of a fun side has sent a lot of self-fondlers to Hell over the last 700 years, too.

Lots of people, maybe all, lose their faith because they won't give up their sins. And if they go to hell it's because of that - no matter what kind of sins they prefer. Unrepentant sin of any kind changes the way we think and see reality.

I didn't think anyone would take me seriously that philosophy has declined because Aquinas couldn't see a joke. Sorry - it's my stupidity and ignorance.

My point is simply it's not all about Logic. If Chesterton believes in Santa Claus there must be some way he is real; some way in which it is alright to tell your kids about him; some way to keep the wonder and mystery of childhood alive. Otherwise, maybe we should use Aristotle's Categories as their first Reader.

Damien S said...

I was a little disappointed as a child to learn that Santa is not real but I did not harbour any bitterness towards my parents for teaching me such. A child's imagination is a wonderful thing that needs to be encouraged by the parents and I don't believe that telling them about Santa is a lie, but rather an invitation to use their imagination.

Sorry Ed but I am with Dennis Prager on this one;

http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2002/12/24/in_defense_of_santa_claus/page/full/

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

RP:

Does harry Potter help keep the magic of Halloween alive? Sure. Do we tell kids he is real for all that? No, and Dr Feser's point is that to tell kids otherwise is a lie. The 4W thread for this post has a lot of this topic in it, seeing as I think w4 draws moe "real people" than this blog (by real I mean, like, adults, and parents, and stuff, ya know). I agree Santa is "real" insofar as he represents the "spirit of Christmas"--ruddy, fat, earthy, magical, jolly and just--and is a real part of Christmas just like dancing skeletons are real parts of Halloween. Real, real, real, but not existent in the way the Santa ruse presents it in kids' minds.

just thinking said...

I think Dr. Torley's perennial insight has once again won the day.

Nothing in this combox or in Ed's post rise to the level of challenge he poses here.

Game over. Good work, VJ!

RP said...

Codgitator

The 4W thread for this post has a lot of this topic in it, seeing as I think w4 draws moe "real people" than this blog (by real I mean, like, adults, and parents, and stuff, ya know)

I don't know what you mean. I do notice you have many posts on this topic on Feser's blog and none on 4W.

TheOFloinn said...

Take for instance being your neighbor. That restricts me from just walking into your house without permission. That is strictly a restriction, but no one would in their right mind call that ‘evil.’

It is an evil in that it is a defect in charity. Why should I have barred you from my house? Why should I not have used that Modern Ages greeting: "Make yourself at home"?

But then, of course, you must respect my natural right to property. (Remember, the medievals spoke of natural rights to life, liberty, and property. It is entirely possible that these should come into conflict from time to time. That's why we talk about choosing the lesser of two evils.

Part of the problem is the Modern tendency to restrict the term "evil" to only the most extreme lack of a good and not to any lack of a good. This is akin to someone telling you "You are not sick" because you have a head cold and not bubonic plague. There are degrees of good, and therefore there are degrees in their lacking. That's why Dante's hell is layered.

David said...

Brandon: The parallel would be right if the claim were that all deception were lying; but it's precisely the recognition that this is not true that seems to be lumped in the 'loophole' category.

Well, yes: people seem to be claiming that all lying is wrong, but not all intentional deception is lying. That seems to me to be confused both morally and linguistically. That is, if you use sarcasm to negate a statement it's as much a lie as using the word "not" would be in the same situation. (You're right, of course, that sarcasm can have other effects besides negation, but in the context, I don't think anyone was suggesting those other kinds of sarcasm.) It does not make sense to say that one kind of intentional deception is a lie (=wrong) and that a different mode of intentional deception is only sarcasm (=acceptable). Either the intentional deception is wrong, or it isn't. (It would be like saying "killing someone with a gun" = murder = always wrong; but "killing someone with your bare hands" = manslaughter = OK. That sounds like a bizarre technicality to me.)

This diverges from the case we are considering, where everyone ex hypothesi is positing what everyone would recognize as a lie from the get-go and asking whether it's entirely moral, as you note in the other thread. So I don't know why you keep structuring the parallel the way you do.

There are two things I disagree with: one is the claim that lying is intrinsically wrong (or specifically, that the natural end of communication is only to divulge our actual beliefs; without this premise, it does not following that lying is always wrong). Rather, lying ought to be seen as parallel to killing, and thus possible to justify in theory.

The other, quite separate, problem I have is the suggestion that different kinds of deception carry different moral weight; that is, that some intentional deception is lying and some isn't. I cannot see any logically coherent way to defend such a distinction. To say that all forms of intentional deception are lying/immoral would at least be consistent. (Of course, joined with my other point, I would claim instead that all forms of intentional deception are not intrinsically immoral, but rather their morality depends on the context — it does not, however, depend on the particular mode of deception.)


I confess that having read your argument twice, I'm still completely puzzled by where you are getting the claim in the other thread that on the point in question "it seems to follow that lying is worse than murder"; were you just responding to something I missed?

If lying is intrinsically wrong, but killing isn't, then lying itself is a worse kind of thing than killing is. So an instance of lying is a worse kind of thing than an instance of killing (even if that particular instance is an evil one, i.e. is an instance of murder). But maybe that's too rhetorical, so I won't push the point. (Obviously the murder can be a more evil action than a small lie.) But even to say that natural law can justify killing people but never telling a lie is enough to prompt us to take a closer look at the premises.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

RP:

I was being a bit tongue in cheek, seeing as this blog seems to draw more eggheads, while W4 seems to draw more "balanced" people, i.e., people who care about a broader range of topics than metaphysics and the like. Hence, I think you can find more there than here on the topic of why opposing "the Santa ruse" as an existential claim does not equate to opposing "the Santa thing" as a cultural diversion.

Ilíon said...

David: "Rather, lying ought to be seen as parallel to killing, and thus possible to justify in theory."

A related point to be understood has to do with the charge of circularity that was lobbed against what I'd said in defence of such a position -- What distinguishes murder from mere killing (or manslaughter)? One might say that the difference is that murder is unjustified and immoral. But that's merely to state a tautology, for "an unjustified and immoral killing" is simply the definition of murder.


David: "The other, quite separate, problem I have is the suggestion that different kinds of deception carry different moral weight; that is, that some intentional deception is lying and some isn't. I cannot see any logically coherent way to defend such a distinction."

There is no rational way to claim that some intentional deception is not lying. "Intentional deception" is simpply the $5 way to say "lying."

But, as not all killing is murder (i.e. "immoral killing"), so to, not all lying/deception is [we don;t have an English word for this] (i.e. "immoral deception").

And, we all know this, which is why "the Nazi at the door" scenario is so unsettling for some.

However, human beings being perverse, most of us would rather insist upon sticking with the incoherencies we're used to than to stretch our minds and eliminate an incoherency. Sadly, it isn't only the so-called atheists who behave in this manner.

David: "If lying is intrinsically wrong, but killing isn't, then lying itself is a worse kind of thing than killing is. So an instance of lying is a worse kind of thing than an instance of killing... "

In truth, there is no such thing as a gradiation of wickedness; all sin is equally wicked, all sin is equally death-dealing. However, we do not dwell on that absolute plane, and so, in our social intercourse, we must relativize some sins as "worse" than others.

David: "(Obviously the murder can be a more evil action than a small lie.) But even to say that natural law can justify killing people but never telling a lie is enough to prompt us to take a closer look at the premises."

And, as ought to be clear, almost no one is willing to do that.

Edward Feser said...

JT seems to me to be writing from the Twilight Zone, 'cause I have quite the opposite reaction to Vincent's latest.

First of all, I am, of course, writing from a Catholic POV, and I assume Vincent is too. But in that case, what does first-century Judaism have to do with anything (even assuming that Vincent is representing it correctly)? Especially since, as we know from the NT, Christ disagreed in all sorts of ways with opinions then prevailing? (And since when is the NT a record of absolutely everything He taught, so that if He doesn't say it there, He must not have taught it?)

Second, since when does some guy's sheer speculation, formulated literally yesterday (and in a combox!), about what Christ might have thought trump centuries of more or less settled consensus among Catholic theologians, the teachings of saints, popes, and catechisms, etc.? I would think even a non-Catholic might find that a bit hard to swallow.

Third, why would a natural law theorist or Catholic theologian be impressed for a moment by Vincent's other arguments, which are sheer consequentialism, and thus simply beg the question against natural law theory and Catholic moral theology? (For the record, natural law theory does allow what it calls stratagems in war -- making it unclear where one is going to attack, putting equipment where one does not intend to use it, etc. -- though not lies. Take the bother actually to read some of the work written on this by natural law writers if you're interested in the reasoning, because I did not intend, and do not have the time, to discuss every possible application of the natural law view of lying here in the combox!)

Finally, how does anything Vincent said -- or what some others have said here, for that matter -- actually address the reason why Aquinas and other natural law theorists have given for the claim that lying is intrinsically wrong? Just saying "Well here's an early Church father who thought it was OK, and then there's what some article I read about Judaism says" doesn't cut it.

just thinking said...

Most excellent counter argu,ent to my now shaken conclusion.

Still, considering the Catholic take on lies along with VJ's points does really call the natural law into doubt, at least for me. But I am more pragmatic about these things.

Edward Feser said...

JT,

It shouldn't. I'll have a post up addressing the "murderer at the door" example by later today or tomorrow.

One Brow said...

I avoided the whole issue by playing the Santa Claus game. When kids are very young, there is no difference between fable and fact. As they age, they understand what games are, that they are fun to play, and it's about the participation.

Anonymous said...

When I was a child I taught all kinds of fairy-tale stories including those about Santa Claus, the Easter Rabbit, the Tooth Fairy, and of course Jesus (Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so).

I quite naturally outgrew all of them. Stories about, and belief in Jesus do not provide anything real to cope with the facts of life, and besides which everybody dies,

Anonymous said...

Just as there are degrees of importance in the Mosaic law ("the greatest of these... the least of these commandments..," etc.), there are degrees of evil or guilt in breaking them.

Thus while Sabbath-keeping is so important a law as to be among the ten commandments, both Jesus and the Pharisees had no problem with rescuing cattle on that day; and Jesus went one further in licensing Sabbath-breaking for a higher good by defending his disciples' breaking off grain to eat, ie, working on the day of rest.

I'm sure there's already a pigeonhole for my thinking--perhaps you can tell me what it is-- but it would go something like this: being compelled by wisdom and love to violate a law or commandment in this miserable, conflicted world may involve committing objective sin, but the sin does not loom large in God's eyes. We are clean in Christ, and it is but our feet that need washing.

But this would be true even for a strict Pharisee. Hence, if on a Sabbath day he dishonor his father and violate ritual purity laws to boot by pulling a woman his father has forbidden the family to deal with out of a cesspool, he has both broken weighty commandments and besmirched his hands. But these are both venial in the context, and he has only to wash his hands and observe any atonement and Mosaic redress--just as if, if it were I as a Christian, I should at my next confession number these incidentally-contracted offenses, which, counterbalanced though they be, weigh on my conscience.

How much more terrifying is the alternative, to go before our High Priest, who has covered our sins and issued a higher law, and say, I didn't want to soil my hands or anger my dad, so I let the man drown in filth. Or, I knew you were a hard master and I didn't want to sin against your holy laws, which are like honey in the honeycomb to me, so I threw him the best stick I could and looked for a way to shovel out the cesspool while I called 911.

If you hemmed and hawed with the commies while I listened in terrified silence and dawning horror as you casually suggested I MIGHT be in your home, you couldn't say for sure, I would feel betrayed, and your lily-while lips and hands would nauseate me.

I disagree with those who say that our liberty in Christ is such that in retrospect we should feel no compunction whatsoever for the eggs that were broken to make an omelet. It's good for us to be aware of every jot and tittle and to take heed lest trespasses become well-trodden paths. One should be aware of the dirt on one's feet, and take them to the Master.

Margaret D

Anonymous said...

Just as there are degrees of importance in the Mosaic law ("the greatest of these... the least of these commandments..," etc.), there are degrees of evil or guilt in breaking them.

Thus while Sabbath-keeping is so important a law as to be among the ten commandments, both Jesus and the Pharisees had no problem with rescuing cattle on that day; and Jesus went one further in licensing Sabbath-breaking for a higher good by defending his disciples' breaking off grain to eat, ie, working on the day of rest.

I'm sure there's already a pigeonhole for my thinking--perhaps you can tell me what it is-- but it would go something like this: being compelled by wisdom and love to violate a law or commandment in this miserable, conflicted world may involve committing objective sin, but the sin does not loom large in God's eyes. We are clean in Christ, and it is but our feet that need washing.

Continued...

Anonymous said...

Continued from above....

But this would be true even for a strict Pharisee. Hence, if on a Sabbath day he dishonor his father and violate ritual purity laws to boot by pulling a woman his father has forbidden the family to deal with out of a cesspool, he has both broken weighty commandments and besmirched his hands. But these are both venial in the context, and he has only to wash his hands and observe any atonement and Mosaic redress--just as if, if it were I as a Christian, I should at my next confession number these incidentally-contracted offenses, which, counterbalanced though they be, weigh on my conscience.

How much more terrifying is the alternative, to go before our High Priest, who has covered our sins and issued a higher law, and say, I didn't want to soil my hands or anger my dad, so I let the man drown in filth. Or, I knew you were a hard master and I didn't want to sin against your holy laws, which are like honey in the honeycomb to me, so I threw him the best stick I could and looked for a way to shovel out the cesspool while I called 911.

If you hemmed and hawed with the commies while I listened in terrified silence and dawning horror as you casually suggested I MIGHT be in your home, you couldn't say for sure, I would feel betrayed, and your lily-while lips and hands would nauseate me.

I disagree with those who say that our liberty in Christ is such that in retrospect we should feel no compunction whatsoever for the eggs that were broken to make an omelet. It's good for us to be aware of every jot and tittle and to take heed lest trespasses become well-trodden paths. One should be aware of the dirt on one's feet, and take them to the Master.

Margaret D

Montag said...

Would this be a moral problem if no presents were exchanged?

What is the role of Play in all this?
Is there a problem because Play intrudes into the space of Faith? Why is that a problem? Are there not instances of Myth and Play in Religion?
Cruel disillusionment is not a sufficient reason to use, since most of us have a whole bunch more of those in store.

Why not pull the kids aside, wipe their tears and tell them that Santa is a symbol ( and as real and potent as the symbol "Money" is real and potent!) for all men and women of goodwill?
There is more to reality than mere fact and mere lie.

Joe said...

Is it a lie if it's intended as a symbolic truth? This is something I've thought about with my daughter, and I thought perhaps the proper use of Santa Clause is as a long-term lesson about maintaining gratitude/excitement for graceful provision. That is, the child grows up being excited about and grateful for gifts from Santa Clause on Christmas morning, and then gradually learn than Santa Clause is really his parent, who's the proper object of that excited gratitude.

I think it would be possible to employ this without telling a lie.

Rock said...

Although I am completely opposed to lying in any form, including jocose and officious lies, I DO tell my children about Santa Claus -- only he is called "St. Nicholas" around my house. Does he wear a red coca cola outfit? No. Does he slink down the chimney? No. Does he drie a herd of reindeer? No. Does he bring children gifts at Christmas? Absolutely! This is not a lie because I BELIEVE what I am saying, and one only lies when one's words contradict one's beliefs. Perhaps then I am just delusional? No. Because we pray as a family for the good bishop's help, and my children understand that sometimes God uses natural or voluntary instruments to bring about His will, St. Nick being one, but Mom and Dad, Grandparents. neighbors, or anyone else inspired by the story of St. Nicholas being others. The older my children get, the more they understand the role of the instrumental causes. Do miracles occur? Sometimes, but usually, the only miracle is that a grumpy, older sibling has been inspired at Christmas to make a present for an annoying little brother and write on its wrapping, "From Santa Claus."

Private said...

Lies!! Santa Clause is real and you will get what's coming to you next Christmas. He will judge you and find you naughty!!

Timothy Trosclair said...

I agree with Mr. Feser entirely, which is why I will tell my children the same thing my father told me when I asked him if Santa Clause was real. He said "Santa Clause is a real myth", and I got on quite happy. For, I was five and did not understand the difference between reality and myth.