Saturday, February 26, 2011

Live Action, lying, and natural law

Several people have asked me to comment on the Live Action controversy.  If you’re not familiar with it, Live Action is a pro-life organization founded by activist Lila Rose (pictured at left), which has carried out a number of amateur “sting” operations intended to expose employees of Planned Parenthood as complicit in providing abortions to minors without parental consent and willing to overlook statutory rape and sex trafficking.  Many conservative Catholics have applauded Live Action, but many others have been critical of their deceptive tactics.  I haven’t followed the story closely, and I am rather sick of the topic of lying given the four long posts I devoted to the subject not too long ago (here, here, here, and here).  But my position should be clear from those posts. 

Following the classical natural law approach to ethics associated with Aquinas and other moralists in the Scholastic tradition, I argued, on both philosophical and theological grounds, that:

1. Lying is always wrong, even if not always gravely so.

2. Broad mental reservations are not lies, and neither are polite expressions such as “You look nice today,” “I’m fine, thanks,” and the like, because the linguistic conventions governing these expressions entail that they are not generally intended to convey one’s actual thoughts and feelings in the first place, but function as mere pleasantries.  Certain kinds of stratagems in war, certain deceptive moves in games, etc. do not necessarily count as lies either.

3. What is essential to lying is deliberately speaking contrary to one’s true thoughts; whether the listener has a right to the truth is irrelevant. 

4. Hence it is wrong to lie even to the murderer who comes to your door demanding to know where to find his intended victim.  It is not wrong to refrain from telling him, or to speak evasively, or to use a broad mental reservation.  But if these ploys do not work, it would be wrong to lie to him.  Not gravely wrong, but still mildly wrong.

5. It is also wrong to lie in wartime.  That certain deceptive practices are justifiable in war does not show otherwise, because lying is not the same thing as deception.  Broad mental reservations, evasive speech, feints, etc. during wartime are fine, but deliberately speaking contrary to one’s true thoughts is always lying and thus always wrong.

6. It is also wrong to lie to children about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, etc.  Not necessarily gravely wrong, but still wrong, and unwise too insofar as children who find that they’ve been lied to about these matters might reasonably wonder whether their parents have been lying to them about other matters too (religion, morality, etc.).

Please don’t bother commenting on these claims until you’ve read the posts in question, which deal with the stock objections at length.  I’m not going to rehash it all here.

Now, as I say, I haven’t followed the Live Action story closely.  It might be that some aspects of the organization’s tactics are defensible.   I really don’t know enough about the details to say, but as I have noted before, classical natural law theory does not condemn in principle such potentially deceptive practices as the use of broad mental reservations, evasive speech, camouflage during war, and the like (though there may be questions about whether a private organization may take it upon itself to use tactics normally reserved to lawful public authorities).  However, to the extent that the organization’s tactics involved lying – not mere broad mental reservations, evasive speech, disguises and the like but actual lying – they were wrong.  Not gravely wrong, maybe, but still wrong.  That just follows straightforwardly from the principles of natural law theory and Catholic moral theology spelled out in the posts linked to above. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I find that I am incapable of stirring up the slightest outrage at Live Action’s actions.  Their error seems to me relatively minor, a regrettable but (given how much confusion there is about the issue of lying even among faithful Catholics) understandable lapse in judgment committed in the course of furthering a good end.  Planned Parenthood is an evil organization and deserves the trouble they’re now getting.  My heart is with Lila Rose.  Still, my head is with Augustine, Aquinas, and the Scholastic manualists.  We simply may not do evil that good may come, even if the sin is only venial.  (I am, of course, speaking only of the objective moral character of the actions in question.  I would never presume to judge the subjective culpability of Live Action's members.) 

I have been dismayed by the feebleness of some of the arguments I’ve seen put forward on both sides of this issue in the Catholic blogosphere, and by people I respect.  For example, in defending Live Action, Peter Kreeft appeals to our “intuitions,” and while he takes pains to try to avoid the subjectivism that naturally threatens to attend such an appeal, I don’t think he succeeds.  As I have argued before, appealing to intuition is simply bad philosophical methodology.  And as I argued here, it is especially unconvincing when deployed by Christian moralists in defense of lying.   For as Brandon Watson has noted, the specific intuitions Kreeft appeals to have varied even among conservative religious people of the sort Kreeft would presumably take to be the most sound in their moral sensibilities.  (It is also quite rich for Kreeft to accuse Live Action’s conservative Catholic critics of being “more Kantian than Aristotelian.”  As Kreeft well knows, Aquinas thought that it is always wrong to lie, even to save a life.  Indeed, Aristotle himself seems to have thought that lying is intrinsically wrong.  I think it can safely be said that Aquinas was more Aristotelian than Kantian, and I’m pretty sure Aristotle himself was too.)

Brandon also rightly takes Live Action defender John Zmirak to the woodshed for Zmirak’s ill-informed farrago of straw men, erroneous historical claims, and accusations of “legalism” – the kind of thing more typical of leftist dissident Catholics than of someone with Zmirak’s reputation for orthodoxy.  Zmirak has also written a follow-up piece and Brandon a further reply.  (Brandon has in fact written a series of posts on lying over the last week or so which you should check out, including discussions of Scotus’s and Cassian’s views on the subject.)

On the other side of the fence, Christopher Tollefsen criticizes Live Action on the grounds that it is “unloving” to “deceive” others, and it seems to me that he (like some other critics) somewhat melodramatically overstates the gravity of the organization’s error.  Since Tollefsen is a Catholic and self-described “natural law” theorist, some readers might think his position reflects traditional Catholic moral theology and classical natural law theory.  In fact it reflects neither (though in condemning all lying, it does overlap with them).  As Chris Kaczor objects in a reply to Tollefsen, Tollefsen blurs the distinction that traditional natural law theorists and Catholic moral theologians are careful to make between lying and deception.  (I discuss the distinction here.)  Lying is always wrong, but deception need not be.  Indeed, as Kaczor points out, to deceive another through the use of broad mental reservation, evasive speech, and other actions short of lying can in the view of traditional natural law theorists and moral theologians be precisely the “loving” thing to do when innocent life can be protected in no other way.

Tollefsen is in fact a devotee of the “new natural law” school of thought, which has nothing to do with the centuries-old natural law tradition associated with Aquinas and other Scholastic moralists, but was invented by theologian Germain Grisez in the 1960s and later developed by legal theorist John Finnis.  (It is also represented by writers like Joseph Boyle, William May, Patrick Lee, and Robert P. George.)  The Grisez-Finnis approach to natural law (or “Grinnis” approach, to borrow David Oderberg’s coinage) begins with an affirmation of the Humean “fact/value distinction” – something Thomists and other Scholastics regard as the central, disastrous error of modern ethical theory – and aims to reconstruct natural law on a basis other than its traditional Aristotelian metaphysical foundation.  Hence, “new natural lawyers” are loath to appeal (as Aquinas and other Scholastic moralists do) to the intrinsic evil of positively frustrating the natural end of a natural faculty – such as the procreative end of our sexual faculties and the communicative end of speech – and they endorse the objections secular writers and theological liberals have directed at this “perverted faculty” approach.  (In fact these objections are aimed at crude straw men and oversimplifications of the traditional natural law position, and it is regrettable that “new natural lawyers” have seen fit to perpetuate such unjust criticisms.)

Sometimes the result is a novel defense of traditional moral conclusions – “new natural lawyers” have, to their credit, been staunch opponents of abortion and defenders of traditional sexual morality – though whether it is an improved defense is another question.  Anxious as they are about being perceived by liberals and secularists to be defenders of the “perverted faculty argument,” Grisez and Co. deploy arguments against contraceptive and homosexual acts which make no appeal to natural function, but which seem, as a result, merely obscure and convoluted.  We are told, for example, that the acts in question “instrumentalize” the body, “disintegrate the acting person,” or fall short of the “one-flesh unity” of marriage.  If this were just an eccentric way of talking about a failure to realize the natural ends of our sexual faculties, then the argument would be intelligible.  But given that “new natural lawyers” eschew talk of nature’s ends for us, it is hard to see precisely what the objection to the practices in question is supposed to be.

In the case of lying, Tollefsen bases his argument on an appeal to the “great good” of “unity” between one’s “inner self” and one’s “appearance in the world.”  If what Tollefsen meant were that lying directly frustrates the natural end of speech and other communicative behavior, and is thus (given the Scholastic account of the metaphysics of value) inherently bad in a way that merely refraining from communicating is not – which is Aquinas’s objection to lying – then it would be clear enough what the problem is supposed to be.  This would make it intelligible why “unity” between a person’s “appearance in the world” (i.e. his communicative acts) and his “inner self” (i.e. what he is really thinking) is a “great good.”  But since Tollefsen, like other “new natural lawyers,” rejects such “perverted faculty” arguments, we seem left, here as in the case of “Grinnis”-style arguments about sexual morality, with mere high-falutin’ jargon – which, though some apparently find it inspiring, does not provide an actual rational justification for natural law conclusions.

Of course, “new natural lawyers” do attempt to ground their overall approach in a theory of the “basic goods.”  To the theory’s critics, though, the list of basic goods (which varies somewhat from writer to writer) itself seems arbitrary, formulated precisely so as to guarantee that certain desired conclusions will be reached and certain others will be ruled out.  Since (unlike traditional natural law theory) the “new natural law” lacks a foundation in an independently motivated metaphysics of human nature, this charge is hard to rebut.  To be sure, in recent years some members of the “Grinnis” school have incorporated into their arguments concerning sex and abortion the notion that only sexual acts of the “reproductive type” can facilitate a “one-flesh union,” a critique of the “body-self dualism” they take to underlie liberal views on sexuality, and considerations about the biology of the fetus.  Needless to say, this sounds very much like the traditional natural law theorist’s position that our sexual faculties have a natural end, that human nature is properly understood in Aristotelian hylemorphic (rather than either Cartesian or materialist) terms, and that ethics must be grounded in part on facts about human biology.   Yet Grisez was supposed to have provided a way to formulate natural law theory without such “factual” and Scholastic metaphysical premises!   So what is going on here? 

The answer, in my view, is that the project of the “new natural lawyers” is inherently deeply unstable.  The point of the theory from its inception has been to provide an alternative philosophical foundation for Catholic moral teaching, especially concerning sexuality.  But it is very difficult – I would say impossible – to defend traditional sexual morality without treating biological facts as normative.  And that requires attributing to biological phenomena essences in virtue of which they point inherently to certain ends; that is to say, it requires attributing to them something like Aristotelian formal and final causes.  Hence references to “acts of the reproductive type,” to “the language of the body,” and the like keep finding their way into the arguments of “new natural lawyers” – language which seems at best metaphorical and at worst unintelligible unless understood as a roundabout way of referring to the formal and final causes of biological phenomena.  Yet writers like Grisez and Finnis, officially committed as they are to the Humean “fact/value distinction,” have for decades been badmouthing traditional Scholastic natural law theorists for committing the so-called “naturalistic fallacy” in grounding ethics in Aristotelian metaphysics.  The attempt of the “new natural lawyers” to square this circle – to smuggle in a bit of disguised Aristotelianism after all, under the Humean radar – results in obscurantism and incoherence. 

The results of the “Grinnis” approach are in some cases not only obscure, but decidedly untraditional.  For example, “new natural lawyers” often hold, not only that it is better not to impose the death penalty (something many Catholic moralists have held over the centuries, Pope John Paul II being the most famous example), but that the death penalty is always and intrinsically immoral – a claim that is simply incompatible with biblical revelation, traditional Catholic moral teaching, and traditional natural law theory.  (Tollefsen and I debated this issue several years ago when we were co-bloggers at the now defunct Right Reason group blog.  You can find his statement of his position here and my reply here, courtesy of the Wayback Machine.)

Tollefsen’s conflation of lying and deception is of a piece with his conflation of intentional killing and murder.  And just as the latter conflation implies a kind of quasi-pacifism – Grisez and Co. hold that it is wrong even in a defensive war ever to intend to kill attacking enemy soldiers (one may in their view at most foresee and allow their deaths as an unintended side-effect) – so too the former conflation implies a radical restriction on “practices of undercover work, espionage work, and other forms of journalistic, police, and governmental work,” as Tollefsen acknowledges in a reply to Kaczor.  Tollefsen does not elaborate, but it seems likely that he would have to condemn as “unloving” many deceptive practices that do not involve lying and which have been considered justifiable by traditional natural law theorists and Catholic moralists.  (In fairness to Tollefsen, he does tell us in another follow-up article that he thinks that certain methods employed by police in infiltrating gangs and busting drug dealers can be justifiable.  He does not tell us, though, whether all of the kinds of broad mental reservation and evasion allowed by traditional natural law theory are sufficiently “loving” or conducive to the “unity” of the “inner self” with one’s “appearance in the world.”)

Hence, though the “new natural law” position is commonly regarded as conservative (and in some of its applications is conservative), it leads in other cases to what Tollefsen has called “liberal and progressive” outcomes, and certainly to outcomes that depart from traditional Catholic and natural law teaching.  My own view is that these outcomes and the novel premises they are based on are philosophically and theologically highly dubious – and pastorally unwise too, leading as they do (in the ethics of killing and deception, as we have seen here, but in other areas too) to a kind of otherworldly rigorism.   One of the great achievements of the Scholastics was to provide an Aristotelian corrective to the Platonic austerity of earlier writers, leading moral theology in a more sober, humane, and realistic direction.  It is no surprise that the “new natural lawyers,” in abandoning an Aristotelian metaphysics of human nature, have in some respects returned to something like the rigorism of the earlier writers.  In any event, it is important to emphasize that their novel conclusions are applications of Grisezism rather than of Thomism, traditional natural law theory, or traditional Catholic moral theology. 

[For criticism of the “Grinnis” school from the point of view of traditional natural law theory, see: chapter 5 of my Aquinas; David Oderberg’s paper “The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Law”; the first edition of Ralph McInerny’s Ethica Thomistica and chapter 9 of his Aquinas on Human Action; Anthony Lisska’s Aquinas’s Theory of Natural Law; Henry Veatch’s “Natural Law and the ‘Is’-‘Ought’ Question,” in Swimming Against the Current in Contemporary Philosophy; and Russell Hitinger’s A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory.  Chapter 5 of Aquinas also contains a general defense of traditional natural law theory; and for a defense of the traditional natural law approach to sexual morality in particular, see chapter 4 of my The Last Superstition.]

In summary, then: First, to the extent that Live Action’s methods involve broad mental reservation, evasion, and the like, those methods may be morally defensible (though there are questions about whether Live Action usurped the prerogatives of lawful public authority, which I have not considered).  Second, to the extent that these methods involve actual lying, they are wrong and should not be used.  Third, it seems to me that Live Action’s resort to lies was probably only venially sinful rather than gravely so.  Fourth, the remedy to the woolly thinking exhibited by some commentators on both sides of this intra-Catholic debate is to return to the clarity, rigor, and sober realism of the Scholastic tradition of natural law ethics and moral theology

80 comments:

Anonymous said...

What do you think of Guevin's argument (The Thomist, April, 2002) that a lie is not a lie if it is not within the context of "fostering human trust"; that is, human speech in certain contexts does not admit of falsehood because it can't possibly be ordered to the "political end" of speech. I ask this because I wonder if the analysis of the capacity of speech is unnecessarily limited in your account to its immediate function. Speech is teleologically ordered not only to expressing what's on my mind, but also to the end of political life. I wonder if this consideration makes Live Action's tactics more difficult to classify as lying.

Tony said...

that is, human speech in certain contexts does not admit of falsehood because it can't possibly be ordered to ....

The only context that I can think of this making sense is on the stage: everyone knows you are playing a part, and the words that go with the part are not your thoughts.

I have no clue what does not admit of falsehood because it can't possibly be ordered to the "political end" of speech. would mean, because politics is about the common good, and truth is one of the basic common goods. It _sounds_ like the sort of thing a politician would say after elected: well, everybody knew it was a campaign promise, which inherently has nothing to do with the truth. This sort of politician-speak is just the kind of smashing up of the political order that we want to avoid, by insisting on some principles. One of them is that political speech should be true, because all speech should be true.

Speech is teleologically ordered not only to expressing what's on my mind, but also to the end of political life.

The second cannot be separated from the first: speech serves the political end by reason of expressing my mind. If it were otherwise, then speech and truth would be wholly extrinsic to the common good, and could not have a political purpose except as a bomb - to destroy itself along with the opponent. But that's not how we think speech is related to the "political end". Achievement of the common good consists (at least in part) in the many of society acting in peaceful harmony with each other, and intentional false speech used to bomb opponents cannot be ordered to this result.

t said...

Do you think that the "new natural law theory" is somehow related to the "theology of the body" of the late John Paul II?

BenYachov said...

I'm probably more likely to agree with Zimrak or Kreef but this piece was reasonably argued sober and lacking in the fanaticism founded among some extremists who shal remain nameless in the blogiverse who equate support of the above with making a Faustian Bargain.

However given your position IMHO the "lying" done by Live Action was at best trivial. Morally on the level of pocketing a penny off your coffee table.

BenYachov said...

>it seems to me that he (like some other critics) somewhat melodramatically overstates the gravity of the organization’s error.

That's the problem with the blogiverse. Which is why I ideally will never have a blog. What the hell do I know that others need to hear.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm officially done pulling my (metaphorical) beard out over this. May God reward you. :-)

Josh said...

@BenYachov: I'll name Mark Shea...I thought he was a bit over the top meself

Mark P. Shea said...

Josh:

FWIW, I think Dr. Feser's conclusions and mine are basically identical insofar as we treat of the morality of Live Aid's act. So I'm happy to see people agreeing with him. I suspect the reason I appeared "over the top" is that I didn't confine myself to what I regard as the venial sin of Live Aid's lie, but also (perhaps foolishly) attempted to address the many arguments in the blogosphere attempting to justify that lie, or pretend it was not a lie, or (heaven help us) to enlist St. Paul and even Jesus as liars in a good cause. In short, I was trying to address the consequentialism being marshalled in the blogosphere on behalf of lying in a good cause. This took the discussion rather far afield whereas Dr. Feser is (probably wisely) confining it to discussion of the specific act of Live Aid.

Anyway, as I say, I'm talked on out this one. But I wanted to thank Dr. Feser for a good treatment of the question.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thank you for your very thoughtful article. While I don't agree with it, I appreciate your sensitivity and clarity. I'd like to address the nub of your case against lying, from an earlier post:

"As Aquinas says, the basic trouble with lying is that it is a kind of perversity. It takes what has as its inherent, natural end the communication of what is really in one's mind -- speech and related behavior -- and deliberately turns it to the opposite of that end."

The implied premise here seems to be:

"It is always wrong to exercise a faculty in a way that is contrary to its natural end." (Here, I'm using "faculty" to mean: an ability with a natural end.)

The question now is: what does "contrary to" mean?

Does it mean:

1. It is always wrong to exercise a faculty with an intention to not-X, if the natural end of the ability is to X.

Or does it mean:

2. It is always wrong to exercise an ability with an intention to prevent X, if the natural end of the ability is to X.

Or does it mean neither of the above?

Premise 1. is too strong. If the natural end of the speech faculty is to communicate what is in one's mind, then someone who uses a mental reservation with the intention of obscuring what is in his mind (as opposed to communicating a falsehood) also does wrong, because he is trying not to communicate what he believes to be true.

Premise 2. is too weak, for it merely implies that it is wrong to speak with the intention of preventing the communication of what is in one's mind. But a liar does not intend this. A liar simply intends to communicate a proposition which he believes false. He does not thereby intend to render himself incapable of telling the truth.

I suspect that it is impossible to explain precisely what is wrong with lying, using a general premise which applies to all faculties equally. Lying is sui generis; its malice has to do with the intension of the proposition being communicated. The perversion of our other faculties can be accurately described simply by reference to the agent's intenTion, without the any need to refer to the intenSion of some proposition which he utters.

I conclude that a convincing case against Lila Rose's sting operations has yet to be made.

Josh said...

Whoa...there's no hiding from you!

Yeah, I know you and Prof. Feser agree, you just do it in different ways...I've come to terms with Kreeft being wrong on this, but I still like his attitude toward the whole situation, even if I disagree with his reasoning.

grvaughan said...

Gary North (a well-known reformed, conservative protestant) is probably the only writer I have ever encountered to argue that there are occasions, even beyond duress (eg Gestapo at your door), where lying is morally justified.

It was sort of shocking to read this years ago, but after reflection, etc. I concluded he's correct on this. Of course, it should be rare, but we don't always owe every goofball out there (evil or simply very off-base) an honest answer.

Christians need to get this sorted out, because it causes countless people so much needless guilt & confusion.

Tony said...

grvaughan, there are arguments all over the place that you can lie to those to whom you don't "owe" the truth. This argument has been around for ages, and has many different forms. I don't know why you think this sort of reasoning is rare.

Anonymous said...

Vincent, how about:

3. It is always wrong to use a faculty that has as its natural object X, in such a way that the object X is thereby defeated.

You cast net too wide in talking about intention with mental reservation. The object X, in speech, is words that are consistent with the truth in your mind. When you have successfully presented words that have the meaning that is the meaning in your mind, you have achieved object X. When you use mental reservation, (to the extent mental reservation is licit) the words you use do in fact mean something that is consistent with what is in your mind, but they ALSO are taken usually to imply something beyond that first meaning, and that secondary meaning you are willing for the hearer to assume applies here even though it doesn't. Or, the words in addition have an alternate meaning that is inconsistent with what is in your mind. Thus, the object of the act, words that mean what you hold in your mind, still conforms to the natural object of speech. The intention of deceiving is something over and above the nature of the act itself, and is extrinsic to the act as such. (It would be wrong to use such deception when a the hearer has the right to the truth from us, anyway, but it would not be the wrong of lying, it would be a different sin against truth, just as calumny is a sin against truth that does not involve lying.)

The object of the act is not the intention.

Lauretta said...

Mr. Feser, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the truth that it is better for me to take our 12 gauge shotgun and blow an intruder set on harming someone into pieces than it is to tell them a lie (that my husband is on his way home) to try to deter him from harming someone.
I have the same knot in my stomach from this truth that I did when I first heard the Catholic "teaching" on the fate of unbaptized babies.
I will go ahead and tell everyone that they are to shoot someone trying to harm them before lying to them but in my heart I am going to be looking for an official clarification of this subject.

BenYachov said...

>@BenYachov: I'll name Mark Shea...I thought he was a bit over the top meself

I now regret attacking Mark.

I'm sorry.

BenYachov said...

>or pretend it was not a lie,

If someone thinks there is a plausible argument as to why it wasn't a true lie that is not a reason to claim they are "pretending" it was a lie.
I never accuse Protestants of "pretending" to believe in sola scriptura or Atheists of "pretending" to believe in God.


That is all I'll say on the topic. We have been experiencing some personal tragedy. Rosemarie found her mother who lives in the apartment above us had passed away in the night. We didn't even see it coming.

All of a sudden stupid internet arguments don't meaning anything any more.

Anyway your prayers are welcome. You too Mark.

BenYachov said...

I think I left a "not" out of my sentence above.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your post. You write that "The object X, in speech, is words that are consistent with the truth in your mind." According to Ed, the natural end of human speech is "the communication of what is really in one's mind." I have to say that Ed's definition sounds a lot more reasonable. If someone asks me, "Where's Fred?" I might answer, "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" which is consistent with the fact that Fred is outside, but it's a failure to communicate, nonetheless.

I am confused by your assertion that the object of an act is not necessarily the intention.

The reason why I'm a little wary of your proposed premise 3 (which describes an object of a faculty as being "defeated") as well as Ed's phrase, "turns it to the opposite of that end," is that they are both rather vague. (Remember, these principles have to apply equally well to all human faculties, from nutrition to speech.) That's why I tried to sharpen the wording up with my premises 1 and 2. But it seems I can't do that and capture exactly what the malice of lying consists in.

I will concede, though, that Ed has successfully shown in his earlier posts that lying is much broader than uttering an untruth to someone who has a right to know the truth.

Vincent Torley said...

This link will be of interest to some: a collection of links to some articles defending Lila Rose and other articles that are critical of her tactics.

http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/finding-for-the-high-road/

Mark P. Shea said...

Ben Yachov:

All's forgiven. And I'm deeply sorry for your loss. My condolences.

Mark P. Shea said...

Josh:

Since I haven't had the pleasure of making your acquaintance I can't say I was particularly trying to find you. :) The only reason I'm here is that I had two separate readers send me the link to Dr. Feser's piece. I reckon I'll link it on my blog tomorrow. As to Dr. Kreeft, I consider him both a hero and a mentor and I really wanted badly to agree with him--but couldn't. Oh well, as the great man himself once told me, "Even Michael Jordan misses layups sometimes."

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser and Benedict XVI were talking at the Vatican gardens. A terrorist appeared from nowhere and asked: "Who's the pope? I'm going to kill him". Being a good and brave catholic Dr. Feser said: "I'm the pope. Kill me". Dr. Feser was murdered and has sinned. Although it was only a venial sin, Dr. Feser did not repent it and then went to hell.

Anonymous said...

A few minutes ago, I told a lie to a Nazi at my door and then, by reading this blog, learned that I sinned. As they are still around, am I not morally obliged to repair my sin by calling them back before they go away?

Anonymous said...

But Aquinas did not think lying was always wrong.

“By contrast, practical reason deals with contingent things, which include human actions, and so even if there is some sort of necessity in the universal principles, nonetheless, the further down one descends to particulars, the more exceptions there are.” (ST I.II.94)

Lying is usually wrong; there are exceptions.

dcs said...

Although it was only a venial sin, Dr. Feser did not repent it and then went to hell.

The Church teaches that those guilty of venial sin go to hell? Really?

dcs said...

But Aquinas did not think lying was always wrong.

Yes he did (ST. II-ii q.110 a.3).

Mr. Green said...

I was surprised by Kreeft's response. His point about starting from widespread instincts is an important one; if a view ends up seriously at odds with common sense, it needs an awfully solid argument to shore it up. However, he does shoot his position in its own foot when he adds, "except, of course if it has anything even remotely to do with sex". Again, a very relevant point, but can anyone honestly believe that our fallen natures are any less tempted towards lying?? Little children lie, you don't even have to show them how!

This new so-called natural law thing also explains why Tollefsen felt as though he was vaguely beating around the bush a bit, rather than coming out with a traditional natural-law defence. But I don't see how we can make a big deal out its being more rigorous and austere than real NL — maybe it's slightly further down the line, but compared to the middle-of-the-road "common sense" positions (let alone moral relativism way at the other end of the scale), there's not much difference between them. Maybe NL leaves a tad more room for undercover work than pseudo-NL, but NL itself is clearly a "radical restriction" on such activities; as ordinarily practiced today, they definitely involve lots of flat-out lying.

What I would like to see is a clearly delineated definition of "mental reservations" and how they work. The examples I've seen so far for the most part seem to be either very mild forms (which would hardly work on any real-life Nazi), or else barely disguised lies that ought to be immoral even according to the kinder, gentler traditional Natural Law.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous cracked wise[sic]: Although it was only a venial sin, Dr. Feser did not repent it and then went to hell.

Ha-ha, good joke. The funny part being that everyone knows you don't go to Hell for venial sins. (Wait, does Mr. Anonymous know that? He wasn't lying, was he?!?) Or maybe the joke was supposed to be that it's a different Dr. Feser, since it's completely out of character for the Ed Feser here — a guy who's against Santa Claus is hardly going to lie about being the pope. Although maybe he simply panicked, in which case it wouldn't be a sin at all (although objectively, the lie would still be wrong). More likely he would have jumped in front of the pope or (being the polemical sort) tackled the terrorist or something. But I guess that's not as funny.

freddy said...

You totally lost me at #6.

Fr. John Hardon in his book, "The Catholic Catechism" (Doubleday, 1975) on page 402 of the paperback edition: "Circumstances are an integral part of human speech; such circumstances are the time, place, tone of voice, and the persons addressed. Thus what may verbally contrary to fact, like telling children about Santa Claus, is not lying."

Mr. Green said...

Lauretta‬ wrote: I have the same knot in my stomach from this truth that I did when I first heard the Catholic "teaching" on the fate of unbaptized babies.

What "teaching"?

Of course, our stomach-knots are exactly why we ought to reflect on such matters calmly and rationally. We have gut-reactions for a reason, but they're notoriously unreliable. Most people don't get too upset when transfinite mathematics or quantum physics violate our common-sense expectations; after all, we don't run into infinite quantities or quarks as part of our day-to-day lives, so we don't expect our instincts to be prepared for such things. But killers-at-the-door are pretty rare in real life, too. What's not rare are opportunities to lie for our advantage, and to come up with rationalisations for such. Given our fallen natures, wouldn't you agree that it is at least very plausible that our gut-instincts about lying are flawed?

Consider also this: a lie is an attack on the truth. But "truth" isn't merely an abstract term; God himself has said, "I am the Truth". Looking at it that way, an attack against a man (even fatal) really must be less of an offsense than an attack on Truth Himself. (The foolishness of God is greater than the "wisdom" of men....)

Here's another question: can you wrap your mind around the idea that blowing someone to pieces is better than adultery? Why or why not?

Tony said...

Mr. Green, this is how Fr. Hardon characterizes "broad mental reservation."

Speech that limits the meaning of what is said but contains a reasonable clue to the sense intended. No lie is involved, because what is said really has two meanings. The two meanings are present either by reason of the words themselves or by reason of the circumstances. One who employs a broad mental reservation expresses what he thinks and uses words according to the meaning they really have. His words have another meaning also, and the speaker foresees that in this other meaning the one listening will not understand.

"Strict mental reservation" is described as this:

Speech that limits the meaning of what is said but gives no clue to the particular sense intended. This type of mental reservation is actually a lie and is never allowed.

For the latter, if I ask you "do you have a horse" and you answer "No", where what you are thinking is "No, I do not drive a Lexus", this would be an example of strict mental reservation. It falls squarely and directly in the category of lies. The extended phrasing in your mind "I do not drive a Lexus" is neither implied within the word "no" as such, nor is it implied within the context of the circumstances, and so the word you actually used does not represent the truth in your mind in any way.

On the other hand, if you answer the question by saying "I have a mustang", while thinking "I own a Ford Mustang" you may appear to have answered the question in the affirmative, but in reality you are using a word that has 2 distinct senses. The words you used do in fact express the truth that is in your mind. The fact is that they also express another thought altogether. This is a broad mental reservation, and is not a lie but may constitute another moral evil depending on circumstances.

Tony said...

By the way, I would contend that the multiple meanings or words that enable broad mental reservations depend on conventions (as all words do), and as a result are also limited by conventions: if the second meaning is only known within select group as some kind of in-house trade word, using it outside of that group with the second meaning can result in the usage being a strict mental reservation (i.e. a lie) rather than broad reservation.

For example, if I were to have answered "I own a Mustang" in an a remote southern Bolivian town where the most modern car they have seen is a 1950 jeep, and they have to look up my English in a Spanish-English dictionary printed in 1956, the term "mustang" in reference to a car is simply outside of their experience, then within their system of convention "mustang" does not have a meaning as a car.

Lauretta said...

Mr. Green,
When I first became a Catholic, many cradle Catholics told me that they were "taught" limbo for unbaptized babies and they truly believed it was as binding as, say, the teaching on the Immaculate Conception. It was after several years that I read then Ratzinger's Intro to Christianity and saw that I was not the only one who had reservations about that idea. Most Catholics just blindly accepted it.

Yes, God is Truth but He is also Life. I am a pretty firm believer that as much as is at all possible, we need to leave the issue of life up to God because it is irreversible. Once we kill someone, justly or not, we have taken away their opportunity for conversion and repentence. We, in a sense, have sealed their fate. Committing no other action, as far as I can tell, carries with it that same degree of irreversibility. One can reveal the truth to someone who has been lied to, one can stop committing adultery, but one cannot unkill someone. To me that is an action that should be taken with utmost fear and trembling.

It is true that one cannot undo adultery but one can make amends and restore the relationship with the spouse with sincere contrition and repentance. The same is not true with killing someone.

BenYachov said...

>All's forgiven. And I'm deeply sorry for your loss. My condolence

No worries guy.

Mark said...

Edward,
I wonder if you’re letting Live Action off the hook too easily here. Granted, it is wrong to do evil to achieve a good. But why? Well, in the case of lying, it must be that the metaphysical foundation for why lying is wrong is the same foundation for why the good that might follow is right. Lying, if it really is a case of doing evil that good might result, fractures the very foundation for the good that those lying hope to achieve. Yet you say that the lying in the Live Action scenario might not be “gravely wrong.” Okay, but then the good that they are trying to achieve could not be, well, “gravely right.” In other words, if this is a case of doing evil that good might result, then the evil of the lie must be proportionate to the good of what the liars hope to achieve; otherwise, there is no metaphysical link between the evil done and the good that is hoped for when doing the evil. But Live Action surely thinks that the good they are trying to achieve is profoundly morally right. If so, then doing evil to achieve this good must be gravely wrong.

And what, really, is the lie here? Live Action’s act seems to be “intentional verbal misleading with the end of causing an individual to sin.” And so the lie is one which has the intention of causing another to sin, and sin mortally. In this case, I don’t see how the lie could not be gravely wrong.

Phillip said...

Dr Feser,

I appreciate your comments on Grisez et al. I have read both sides and have been somewhat confused by what seems an untenable philosophy of the "New Natural Law." You have well articulated well they are wrong.

I might add to areas where Grisez deviates from traditional Catholic positions is his understanding of the licitness of craniotomy of the fetus to save the life of the mother. This in his broader context of holding that, under certain circumstances, one may end the life of the fetus to save the mother. Sister McBride and her defenders used this argument to support their decisions at St. Joseph's in Phoenix.

Tony said...

Well, in the case of lying, it must be that the metaphysical foundation for why lying is wrong is the same foundation for why the good that might follow is right... Okay, but then the good that they are trying to achieve could not be, well, “gravely right.” In other words, if this is a case of doing evil that good might result, then the evil of the lie must be proportionate to the good of what the liars hope to achieve; otherwise, there is no metaphysical link between the evil done and the good that is hoped for when doing the evil.

Umm, Mark? There isn't any metaphysical link between the evil done and the good that is hoped for. There isn't any proportionate relationship, or any necessary relationship of ANY sort to the good hoped for, because the good hoped for is WHOLLY extrinsic to the act as such, it is a purely accidental effect of the lie qua lie. There is no proportion, for example, between the mis-information in "no jews here" and the result of "saving 14 lives". And there need not be any such relationship, because it is not true that the evil has any relation to the good hoped for.

If I understood your theory, it would be actually exactly upside down: if there was a metaphysically NECESSARY connection between the evil done and the good hoped for, then that WOULD provide a basis for doing evil that good result. It is precisely on account of there being no such metaphysical connection that the principle exists to begin with.

Mr. Green said...

Freddy quotes: "Thus what may verbally contrary to fact, like telling children about Santa Claus, is not lying."

This is comparable to Prof. Feser's example of replying "Fine" when the cashier at the supermarket asks, "How are you?" In both cases, the superficial literal meaning is not really what is meant according to social conventions. To this extent, it's not a question about lying, but about language, and in what meaning actually consists. The catch with Santa Claus is that young children do not understand all the cultural associations, and so to speak in language that we know they will not be able to understand (that is, that they will interpret literally) sure seems like lying. I think the response is to say that there is nothing wrong with children participating in many things that they do not fully understand; part of being a child means that you come to understand certain things as you mature. After all, a very young child will not understand everything that goes on when you say "Fine, thanks", but it seems to me fine to teach a child to say this anyway. In fact, it is (partly?) by participating in this ritual that the child learns to understand it in the first place.

Anonymous said...

As an acquaintance mentioned in sending a link to this wonderful article (and I hope this epithet sticks):

Feser the Laser.

Mr. Green said...

Tony wrote: [multiple meanings, etc.] can result in the usage being a strict mental reservation (i.e. a lie) rather than broad reservation.

Yes, and I like your example. In general, "broad mental reservations" do not seem very helpful to me. Either your interlocutor will not reasonably understand what your "reserved" meaning is, in which case it amounts to a simple lie; or else it is reasonable that he'll understand, in which case there's no point phrasing it that way. Hardon's Catechism (that Freddy referred to) says:

...the speaker limits the common and obvious sense of his words to a particular meaning. If he limits the meaning and gives no clue, this is a strict mental reservation. But if he limits the meaning while leaving a reasonable clue to the sense intended, this is called a broad mental reservation. Strict mental reservations are actually lies. There is no way the listener can read the speaker's mind [...].

In a broad mental reservation, however, there is a clue to the meaning of what is intended [...] he may invoke this kind of reservation by saying one thing and intending something else. [...] Evidently such reservations must be used with prudence, at the risk of creating suspicion and mistrust if people cannot be sure that what they are being told is what they hear or what they are supposed to figure out from the situation in which they hear it. They are not expected to be always on the lookout for some "hidden meaning" in what is heard or read.


Sure, if you say something that is technically true, and the other person misinterprets it, that's their problem. But if you are the deliberate cause of that confusion, then it is clearly your fault. Suppose your boss invites you over for dinner, and his wife cooks an atrocious meal. The boss asks you how you like the food — now if you're in a sitcom (and given the setup, it sure sounds like you are!), there's a good chance you will be saved by the bell (or some sillier interruption, like the oven exploding or a wacky neighbour bursting in).

But the other half of the time, you'll have to answer, perhaps with a response like, "I never tasted anything like it!" This would be a broad mental reservation — you mean it in the sense of "never tasted anything so bad", but you're hoping the boss will interpret it in the sense of "never tasted anything so good". But this is equivalent to the alternative response of, "Mm, delicious!" said with a grimace on your face (which again, the boss happens not to notice, of course).

In either case, the audience knows your true meaning, but you are deliberately reacting in a way designed to mislead the boss. The fact that one relies on a cleverer play of words is irrelevant to its moral import. The two phrases are synonymous in this context — one could be substituted for the other without affecting the meaning your boss infers. And clearly changing one phrasing to an equivalent one cannot change a lie into truth any more than translating it from English into French could.

(By the way, everything from sitcoms to The Twilight Zone to movies have addressed the fundamental instinct that there is something wrong even with small lies. When even Hollywood picks up on a moral intuition, that's a pretty good sign that any attempted argument to the contrary had darn well better be iron-clad.)

Mr. Green said...

Lauretta wrote: many cradle Catholics told me that they were "taught" limbo for unbaptized babies and they truly believed it was as binding


Ah. Not that much has changed since Aquinas took over from the prevailing Augustinian view centuries ago, but I have heard some queer things that people were apparently taught about limbo. (Not to mention the silly caricatures of Augustine in the first place.)

It is true that one cannot undo adultery but one can make amends and restore the relationship with the spouse with sincere contrition and repentance. The same is not true with killing someone.

Indeed, and killing can never be taken lightly, even when permissible. There are many examples of martyrs who could have saved themselves through violence but chose not too. That does not mean they would have been wrong to do so, but that a moral act can be rejected in favour of an even better act. Killing the Nazi at the door may be allowed, but not killing him may be better still — no matter how many die as a result. Clearly, killing one innocent is worse than killing a dozen guilty, not because it's fine to go around killing guilty people, but because killing the innocent is wrong regardless. Similarly, if lying is wrong in itself, then you must never do it even to save a dozen or a thousand lives, any more than you could kill one innocent person.

But that doesn't answer the question: is adultery justified by saving lives? Can the end of saving lives justify any means whatsoever? You imply that adultery is immoral even in such a case by saying it calls for repentance. If it were the right thing to do in such dire circumstances, then there would be no need to repent. Conversely, repentance entails regret, a resolve not to do the same thing again. If you think it would be justified, though, then you would do the same thing if the same situation ever arose again. Though we cannot, God can bring someone back to life, but even God cannot undo our sins if we are not truly contrite. That's why sin is worse than killing, worse than death. That gut feeling we all have about lying to Nazis (even people who argue lying is intrinsically wrong) may be a clue pointing towards a justification for some lies, but that justification itself cannot be because it would be a means to a good end. If the premises as presented by Prof. Feser are correct, then lying is intrinsically evil, no matter how unpleasant that conclusion may "feel".

dcs said...

@Mr. Green,

You seem to be implying that broad mental reservations are lies. Have I misunderstood?

Either your interlocutor will not reasonably understand what your "reserved" meaning is, in which case it amounts to a simple lie; or else it is reasonable that he'll understand, in which case there's no point phrasing it that way.

The standard is not whether one's interlocutor will understand, but whether the words are in fact true. I agree that some mental reservations (i.e., "He is not at home [for you]", "I am fine, how are you") depend on conventions, but by no means do all of them. And if one owns a 1965 Ford Mustang then his statement "I own a mustang" is true. I think it might get a bit dodgy if one owns a horse and responds "I own a mustang" when asked whether he has a car; but then that could be because I can't think of a good reason why one would answer that way. Strict mental reservation is when one says something that one believes is false, but mentally adds something to make the statement true. "I own a Mustang [in my daydreams]." The statement is false on its own, whereas a broad mental reservation is true on its own, even if it is not the whole truth.

Mark said...

Tony,
Thanks for responding. You elided an important sentence in my comment. “Lying, if it really is a case of doing evil that good might result, fractures the very foundation for the good that those lying hope to achieve.” If lying doesn’t do this, then the lying is indeed extrinsic to the good hoped for. But wait, that would mean that the lying is unrelated to the good hoped for. But what can that mean? It’s as if you’re saying the lying in the case of Live Action has no bearing on the good hoped for. If so, then why do it? Of course it’s related. It’s the means to the end. The problem is that it’s an evil means to a good end.

The moral principle that the end never justifies the means is rooted in the fundamental relationship between a means to an end and the end itself. And it must be the case that an evil means to an end damages the good of the end in a way that is substantial; if not, why avoid the evil means?

So, given your view that “it is not true that the evil has any relation to the good hoped for,” what, precisely, would be wrong with doing evil that good might result?

Mr. Green said...

dcs: The standard is not whether one's interlocutor will understand, but whether the words are in fact true. I agree that some mental reservations depend on conventions, but by no means do all of them.

But all language depends on convention. (And I suppose, all communication of any form does if you include "conventions" created by God such as the laws of physics.) And the words can always be true — "I am the king of Bavaria and I have ten arms" is a perfectly true sentence... in Frenobulaxian. Of course, in order to communicate successfully, we both have to agree to the same set of conventions, such as "the English language", or more specifically, "the English language as spoken at a certain time and place in a certain context". It may be an important distinction to the philosophy of language, but it can't matter to morality whether the convention is about what English-speakers mean by the letters "mustang" vs. what ranch-speakers mean vs. car-speakers. Many, many factors go into determining what the meaning is of given sounds and symbols, but the truth or falsity only comes up after we decide what that meaning is. You might accidentally miscommunicate if you don't know what language/dialect/slang/context the other party uses, but if it's deliberate then it doesn't matter how you get there: if the end result of your communication is purposefully to mislead the other person, then it's a lie.

"I own a Mustang [in my daydreams]." The statement is false on its own, whereas a broad mental reservation is true on its own, even if it is not the whole truth.

I guess that's what my point comes down to: there's no such thing as "true on its own". A sentence has meaning only in a given context. What that context is or how it works is irrelevant; we could focus on the issue of lying by considering telepathic beings who communicate thoughts directly. In that case, there would be no ambiguity — either you're communicating a thought to the other person that you believe is true, or one you believe is false. Ambiguity is possible only because we communicate through a medium, and either you are aware (or, in practice, more or less sure) of whether the person will understand you correctly, or not. Deliberately misleading someone through an utterance that's "almost" true (i.e. would be understood accurately under almost the current circumstances) is morally no better than misleading someone through one that is very unlikely to be interpreted truly (e.g. if we all spoke Frenobulaxian).

Lauretta said...

Mr. Green, I believe that contraception is intrinsically evil, isn't it? But the Church allows it in cases of nuns being raped, I believe. Abortion is intrinsically evil but I believe it is allowed if both the mother and child would die if nothing was done. These exceptions apply to so many sins, stealing, killing, etc. that it seems strange that exceptions do not occur for lying as well.
The Catechism states that not everyone has a right to the truth. Those who commit criminal acts lose many rights, the right to freedom, the right to life sometimes, that it would seem that they could lose the right to know the truth as long as the sole purpose of telling them an untruth was to protect the innocent.

dcs said...

@Mr. Green,

Deliberately misleading someone through an utterance that's "almost" true (i.e. would be understood accurately under almost the current circumstances) is morally no better than misleading someone through one that is very unlikely to be interpreted truly (e.g. if we all spoke Frenobulaxian).

Again, I am not sure what you're getting at here because both of these could be examples of broad mental reservation. It is true that one broad mental reservation is not necessarily any morally good than another broad mental reservation. A strict mental reservation, on the other hand, is not just an utterance that is unlikely to be interpreted truly; it is an utterance that is false -- the speaker is saying something contrary to what is in his mind, then mentally adding something to it to make it true. A broad mental reservation is not contrary to what is in the speaker's mind (i.e., he is not saying something he believes to be false); the likelihood of its being interpreted truly is not relevant.

Richard A said...

laura,

The Church does not allow contraception in the cases of nuns being raped. The Church - by which I assume you mean the Roman Catholic Church - does not understand the issue of contraception as being one of church "discipline"; i.e., its licitness is not dependent on whether the Church allows it or not. It is a strictly moral question, and the Church does not consider herself at liberty to "allow" it.
Besides which, in the cases of "contraceptives" used after intercourse, we are really discussing abortifacients. Which are intrinsically evil as well, and which the Church never allows. The Church does understand as morally permissible a necessary (to save the life of the mother which is immediately threatened) medical procedure that has the unintended side effect of ending the life of the developing fetus.

dcs said...

@Richard A.,

You are mistaken about that. A woman who has been raped may use contraception in order to repel an unjust aggressor. She can take medication to inhibit ovulation, for example.

Besides which, in the cases of "contraceptives" used after intercourse, we are really discussing abortifacients.

Actually, there is legitimate debate over whether the "morning-after pill" is an abortifacient. Recent research appears to show that it is not -- because the abortifacient effect of hormonal birth control is something that happens when it is taken constantly over a long period of time. A one-time dose is not sufficient for it to be abortifacient.

Richard A said...

@dcs,

I am willing to stand (slightly) corrected. It appears to be the case that in sub-Saharan Africa, around fifty years ago, some nuns were given permission to go on a birth control regimen because of the high likelihood, at the time, that they could be raped. This is different from the situation you described, however.

The manufacturers of "emergency" contraceptives are quite clear that their products function in three ways: inhibiting ovulation, inhibiting fertilization, inhibiting implantation. This last is abortive. Quite possibly their abortive qualities are enhanced for someone practicing an ongoing regimen of BC; nonetheless, that is part of the intent and the design even of the one-time use pill.

dcs said...

@Richard A.,

The point isn't whether the manufacturers say their pill inhibits implantation, the point is whether it actually does inhibit implantation. And there is reason to believe that it does not.

Richard A said...

@dcs

And, there is reason to believe that it does. Back in the old days, when there was doubt about the individual humanness of the embryo, how did we resolve the doubt?

Kinda off the topic of lying and the new natural law, though.

dcs said...

@Richard A,

Back in the old days, when there was doubt about the individual humanness of the embryo, how did we resolve the doubt?

Doesn't it depend on the degree of doubt? If one can be morally certain that emergency contraception does not cause abortion then one can act.

I think it goes without saying that an ultrasound should be conducted first to see if a child has been conceived or implanted in the womb.

Furthermore the rights of a person who does not exist (i.e., a child who has not yet been conceived) cannot trump the rights of a person who does exist (i.e., a woman who has been raped who has a right to defend herself from an attacker).

patrick said...

I do not regard the so-called "new natural law theory" as new in the core of its teaching, but rather a recovery of a more accurate understanding of the principles of the natural law in St. Thomas himself. The accusation that the "new natural lawyers" follow Hume instead of Aquinas by thinking the naturalistic fallacy is actually a fallacy, ignores the fact that according to Aquinas the principles of the natural law are self-evident (per se nota) and underived. If they are underived then they are not derived from theoretical propositions, and so moral knowledge cannot require for its justification a derivation from theoretical knowledge.
Of course the "new natural lawyers" defend the position that moral norms are grounded in human nature, even though they are not derived from propositions describing that nature--so the implication that the their theory is more Humian or Kantian than Thomistic is simply inaccurate.

Tony said...

dcs: You are mistaken about that. A woman who has been raped may use contraception in order to repel an unjust aggressor. She can take medication to inhibit ovulation, for example.

Absolutely not, this shall not rest uncontested. There is no way whatsoever that the baby can be referred to as "the unjust aggressor." Not in a culture that feels free to use "blob of tissue" for a baby.

If the only action of the drug were to prevent ovulation, then taking the drug would not "repel the unjust aggressor", it would prevent the conception of a SECOND victim of the crime. It would not repel the raper. Nor would it even repel his sperm. But if the action of the drug results in non-implantation of a conceived person, then what it "repels" is an innocent victim of not 1 but 2 separate crimes, one by the raper and one by the woman.

dcs, if you want to make this argument, you need to stop using "repel" here.

Brandon said...

The accusation that the "new natural lawyers" follow Hume instead of Aquinas by thinking the naturalistic fallacy is actually a fallacy, ignores the fact that according to Aquinas the principles of the natural law are self-evident (per se nota) and underived. If they are underived then they are not derived from theoretical propositions, and so moral knowledge cannot require for its justification a derivation from theoretical knowledge.

I can't speak to the precise criticism or its viability, but natural law, properly speaking, doesn't have first principles; it has precepts, which are definitely derived, since they come from the principles of practical reason as applied to facts, actions, and circumstances. The first principles of practical reason are themselves self-evident, but they cover far more than what we would usually call moral knowledge -- they virtually contain everything in practical reason, moral or not. But even the first principles of practical reason are underived only in the sense that there are no more fundamental principles from which they are concluded. They do actually have a derivation in another sense: they are derived from the notion of the good, which is convertible with and in a sense derived from the notion of being, out of which the whole range of reason is unfolded as a seamless robe, so to speak, by composition and division and reasoning.

Moreover, while the first principles of practical reason are self-evident, many of the consequences of them depend on conclusions that are not derived by practical reason, because precisely the whole point of practical reason is to apply the principles of reason to actually acting in the actual world as actual human beings.

Richard A said...

@dcs

Well, let's see. Some (fairly small) percentage of otherwise fertile women don't ovulate when they "normally" would; the Pill does something to increase the likelihood of ovulation's being suppressed. Some (fairly large) percentage of sexual intercourses do not result in fertilization; the Pill causes that percentage to be much greater. Some percentage of fertilizations don't implant; the Pill (used regularly and frequently according to your studies) increases that percentage. Some implanted embryos miscarry; I'd bet the Pill increases that percentage. Of course, for any act of intercourse that does not result in pregnancy we usually don't know which of these was the reason. I cringe to think of the "science" that The Pill manufacturers must have to do to determine the "effectiveness" of each of their contraceptive approaches.
That's the background to discussing what it means that the Pill is contraceptive. Regularly prescribed birth control, and those presented as "emergency" contraceptives act in the three ways discussed above. What you suggest the studies have shown with regard to the anti-implantation aspect is that the percentage of fertilized embryos in women who were not on a birth control regimen that did not implant is statistically identical to the percentage of women whose fertilized embryos did not implant with no "emergency contraceptive" intervention at all, and who weren't on a birth control regimen.
It's difficult to see how the study could determine that only the anti-implantation aspect "failed" in those women who were not already taking the Pill (not theoretically impossible, though, I grant), since for a pregnancy that didn't happen we hardly ever are in a position to know which was thing that didn't happen (well, they all didn't happen; but you know what I mean). In fact, it looks to me that your studies will eventually show that "emergency" contraceptives are only effective on women who don't "need" it.

What degree of doubt do you need to ignore the possibility that an innocent life will be ended, by invoking a procedure that the inventor of the procedure declares is designed to end that life? I'm afraid that your studies will have to be able to declare with "scientific" certitude that the EC manufacturers are lying when they claim that their product inhibits implantation (obviously, in those cases where the other two operations of their product also "failed").

Hard not to sound callous, but a woman who has been raped has already not been defended from her attacker. Or are you seriously proposing that the nascent child is also her attacker?

Anonymous said...

Excuse me for butting in.

hCG (hormone produced by the placenta and used in pregnancy tests) is detectable in the blood of approximately 5% of patients 8 days after conception and in more than 98% of patients by day 11. It becomes detectable after implantation of the embryo.

In terms of ultrasound, transvaginal ultrasound detects intrauterine pregnancy by 4-5 weeks' gestation (21-29 days after conception). Abdominal ultrasound requires an additional week.

The minipill and emergency contraception if administered before ovulation, may inhibit follicular development and maturation, resulting in absence of ovulation. Administration following ovulation may affect the endometrium (lining of the womb where implantation should occur), thus inhibiting implantation. They also may affect tubal transport of the sperm or ova.

As you can see from above performing an ultrasound to see if a implantation has occurred will not be sensitive enough (about 2 weeks too late), nor is it routinely used for this purpose.
An ultrasound will definitely not detect whether fertilisation of the egg (ovum) has occurred.

Also the most sensitive ELISA test for hCG becomes positive 14-17 days after conception (fertilisation). Implantation usually occurs 7-10 days after ovulation (or 6-9 days after conception).

It should also be said that in resource poor settings where ultrasounds are less readily available this option is also not practical for this independent reason.

Lauretta said...

OK, I believe that we have all come to the consensus now that what I stated earlier is true about contraception and abortion being allowed in some instances by the Magisterium. Would you know that by reading the Catechism? I certainly wouldn't have known that from reading the Catechism. Might it not be true then, that this issue of "lying" might be the same? There may be times when the Magisterium finds it acceptable to keep the truth from someone who has no right to know the truth in serious circumstances. When someone is engaged in seriously harming another person, might it just not be possible that "lying" may be permissible given the many exceptions we have seen to other intrinsically evil actions? Just a thought.

Mr. Green said...

Hi, Lauretta: No, the Church could not allow anything that it declared intrinsically evil, because by definition that would be telling us to sin. In fact, the Church has not declared that contraception in those cases is allowed (and surely at least part of the reason is how hard it is to come up with justifiable ways around its intrinsic immorality—there in fact may not be any). Nor is abortion, strictly speaking, ever allowed. What is permissible is to perform an operation, say, that might have as a side-effect the death of the baby; but killing it deliberately is obviously the murder of an innocent (intrinsically wrong) and never moral. (It's similar to any other case where two people are in danger and you can save only one: it is of course moral to try to save either person, but not by actually killing the other.) This distinction is sometimes lumped in with "abortion to save the mother's life" (for PR reasons, I guess), but the permissible case is not actually abortion and actual abortion is not permissible.

Stealing, killing, and many other sins are not intrinsically wrong, and thus by definition there will be possible cases in which they can be carried out morally. Taking somebody's property is not necessarily wrong, because you might have permission or might have the authority to confiscate it; but such facts are extrinsic to the act itself of picking up the property and moving it. You can't tell just from somebody's moving the property whether it was justified or not without resort to outside information — in the wrong situation, it will be extrinsically immoral. Adultery is intrinsically immoral because it does not depend on anything outside the act itself. The people involved in the act itself are either married to each other or to other people, and no condition or event outside of the adultery affects that. The question is whether lying is like adultery or like stealing, and Aquinas's answer is that its wrongness is intrinsic. (There may be additional wrongness depending on extrinsic circumstances, of course, but that would only make it even wronger.) Lying perverts the natural function of communicating one's mind, and so the lie is wrong before the air even passes your lips — any outside effect or circumstance can't undo that.

Note that this is why the right somebody has to know the truth (or lack thereof) is irrelevant. As an extrinsic fact, it may make lying worse, or it make it a sin even to remain silent (which of course is intrinsically fine, and can be sinful only if there is a suitable extrinsic circumstance, for example someone's having the authority to demand the truth from you). So while I agree that the killer at the door has no right to demand the truth, it would still be wrong to lie to him, instead of remaining silent.

dcs said...

@Lauretta,

what I stated earlier is true about contraception and abortion being allowed in some instances by the Magisterium

No, abortion is never allowed because it is intrinsically evil. Contraception isn't allowed either; what is allowed is for women who are raped to defend themselves from an aggressor.

Might it not be true then, that this issue of "lying" might be the same?

Yes, lying is the same; it is intrinsically evil and never permitted.

There may be times when the Magisterium finds it acceptable to keep the truth from someone who has no right to know the truth in serious circumstances.

Keeping the truth from someone is not the same as lying. There are circumstances in which we are obligated to keep the truth from others, but we still cannot lie to them.

If something is intrinsically evil, there are no exceptions.

dcs said...

@Anonymous,

I believe that ultrasound may be used to determine whether a follicle has formed on an ovary.

Whether a one-time dose of EC affects the endometrium is exactly what is debatable.

Mr. Green said...

dcs wrote: A strict mental reservation [is] an utterance that is false -- the speaker is saying something contrary to what is in his mind, then mentally adding something to it to make it true. A broad mental reservation is not contrary to what is in the speaker's mind; the likelihood of its being interpreted truly is not relevant.

The problem is that there is no objective, unique way to distinguish those two cases. If my utterance has only one interpretation (that I'm aware of, when I utter it), then it's easy: either that statement represents my mind or it doesn't. But the whole point of a broad reservation is that there are two or more interpretations (depending on the context, the mentally added bit that remains unspoken, etc.). The speaker has to have both those meanings in mind (or again, he isn't using a BMR), and one of them is false. I don't see how having a true meaning as well as the lie makes it any less immoral. (It's just a convenient or sneaky way to tell a lie and the truth with a single sentence.)

If "both [of my examples] could be examples of broad mental reservation", then I must be right in concluding that there is no objective difference between broad and narrow. The Frenobulaxian example was supposed to be a clear rationalisation, because I can always make up a new language on the spot. If the truth is that I'm hiding Jews in my attic, I can always say, "There are no Jews here" [is how I'd answer that question in Frenobulaxian]. If the truth is that I don't like the food, I can always say, "HThis is' a whon'derful m-eal" [as they'd say in Old High Klingonese]. If you got caught in the lie, and tried the excuse, "Oh, I was speaking in Rigellian, which just happens to sound coincidentally very like English", you probably won't be believed, whereas you might get away with, "Oh, I meant I've never tasted anything like it in a bad way" — but the thing that you're getting away with or not is simply a lie. Broad and narrow reservations may differ in degree (whether the "default" meaning is closer to the truth or to lying, perhaps), but they do not differ in kind.

dcs said...

@Mr. Green,

I did not realize that your reference to "Frenobulaxian" was to a language one is making up on the spot. That is definitely an example of strict mental reservation because no listener could possibly understand what one is saying.

Catholic said...

Glenn Peoples thinks he has your number Feser:

http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2011/can-a-catholic-support-live-action%e2%80%99s-pro-life-activism/#more-2366

Mr. Green said...

dcs wrote: That is definitely an example of strict mental reservation because no listener could possibly understand what one is saying.

Right, which is why I brought up the matter of interpretation. But it's only a more obvious example when it's that extreme. What difference does it make whether your listener cannot understand what you're saying (because you're using a made-up language, and thus he does not know how to decode your utterance to get the intended meaning), or because you're using a clever phrasing or supplying a certain context or relying on the lack of a certain context (and again, does not have the opportunity to decode what you really think)? I suppose in one case, there's a 100% chance he won't understand, as opposed to a 95% or 72% chance he won't understand if you merely play with an otherwise-known language, but a 72% lie is still going to be immoral.

dcs said...

@Catholic,

Mr. Peoples clearly isn't Catholic, so it is not surprising that he does not hold to the traditional Catholic teaching on lying (which he oddly associates with Kant and not St. Augustine and St. Thomas).

Lauretta said...

Are you saying, dcs, that a nun using whatever means to prevent pregnancy is self-defense and not contraception? So the intrinsic evil of contraception would not be true since that was not their intent? We also say that killing someone in self-defense is not murder and therefore not a sin. We say that taking something from someone when we are starving is not stealing and therefore not a sin. Why then would someone who was hiding a person from people who meant to harm them be lying if their intent was to protect the person from harm?
The Catechism says that lying is wrong when it is done with the intent to lead into error. What if the intent was for protection or uncovering immoral and illegal actions? If the intent can totally change the morality of the actions I mentioned above, why not the same for telling an untruth? If contraception(an intrinsic evil) isn't contraception when the exact same action is done but for a different intent, I don't see why that would not apply in the case of telling an untruth as well.

dcs said...

@Lauretta,

If the intent can totally change the morality of the actions I mentioned above, why not the same for telling an untruth?

But the intention doesn't change the morality of the actions you mentioned above. And "lead into error" does not refer strictly to moral or theological error but to errors in judgment. So if a lie to someone and tell him that I am a pimp, I have lead him into error. Otherwise any sort of preposterous lie could be justified, such as lying about miracles in order to get people to convert to the Faith.

Lauretta said...

Why doesn't the intention change the morality of an action? If I kill you because I am angry at you, it is murder. If I kill you while defending myself or another from your dangerous aggression, it is a moral act. I could use the same gun in the same room of the same house, the only thing that changed was my reason for killing you--my intent.
The nuns in Africa used the same methods for preventing pregnancy that a married couple would use, but in their case it was to prevent some of the harm from an act of violence. They were still contracepting--preventing conception--but their circumstances were different.

dcs said...

@Lauretta,

The rape victim who uses contraception to avoid getting pregnant isn't frustrating the natural end of the sex act. It is the circumstances and not necessarily the intention that speak to the morality of the act.

One who lies is always frustrating the natural end of communication.

If we can lie to save lives, what is to stop us from fornicating or committing adultery to save lives? Perhaps a mother might offer herself to the would-be rapist so that her daughter could escape.

Lauretta said...

dcs, but do you not see that changing the circumstances takes something that is an intrinsic evil, contraception, and makes it not a sin? This happens with killing in defense, stealing and many other things. It seems odd to me that lying would be the one exception. Speech, it seems to me, has more than one purpose, just as all of these other issues. Sometimes if speech is to protect or reveal that which is hidden, it would make sense that the sinfulness of it can change, just as the other intrinsic evils.

Mr. Green said...

Lauretta wrote: changing the circumstances takes something that is an intrinsic evil, contraception, and makes it not a sin

The point is that circumstances cannot affect something intrinsically. That is, when we consider a given subject, whatever is contained within the description of that subject is "internal" to the discussion; anything outside of that, any external circumstances or events that are independent of that subject are by definition extrinsic. What's out or in depends of course on exactly where we focus: something inside your town can be outside your house, etc. So given that person A deliberately killed person B, can we know whether that was justified or not? No: killing is not intrinsically immoral, so we need some outside information to decide. If we know that person A deliberately killed innocent person B, then we do not need any information outside of that to know that it was wrong. We can call "killing of innocents" intrinsically immoral simply because anything external is irrelevant.

Similarly, adultery is intrinsically immoral insofar as outside circumstances cannot justify (or unjustify for that matter) such an act. It doesn't matter whether it resulted in saving a thousand innocent lives; saving lives is good, but it's irrelevant to whether the adultery was good or not — as soon as we know it was adultery, we know it was bad. Contraception also is intrinsically wrong because, again, outside events do not affect its morality. It doesn't matter why, or where, or when; hijacking your body to thwart its natural behaviour violates God's established order. As with adultery, there is nothing you can add from the outside which makes this behaviour back into something moral.

(Incidentally, I disagree with DCS's position that contraception would be valid for nuns in this example. In one sense, they do not intend ever to make use of it; but at the same time, they are deliberately and knowingly taking the contraceptives for no other purpose than that their contraceptive powers can be put to use. So it's difficult to see how this escapes the inherent immorality of contraception. But this is not an easy question, which I'm sure is why the Church has not made a definitive proclamation about it already.)

(continued...)

Mr. Green said...

(cont.)

Now the claim is that lying is intrinsically wrong — that is, once we've got as far as establishing that someone has used his powers of communication to knowingly and deliberately deceive, we already know it's wrong, and any additional factors that you might bring in cannot change that. If that sort of deception goes against our nature, then it's wrong no matter how many lives it might save or whom you're lying to, etc. Obviously, your nature does not change when you talk to one person or another; if the act has a good effect after the fact, that does not change your nature either. Lying is thus not an exception; unlike killing or taking property, which do not in themselves violate our nature, lying (or adultery, etc.) do. Taking another's food to feed a starving man is not an exception to stealing; we can't call it stealing until we take into account these additional factors. Killing an attacker is not an exception to murder; it's not murder unless events outside of the killing itself make it so (e.g. that the victim was innocent).

Note that there are factors that lie "inside" the act of lying, and those of course do affect it. Or rather, the intrinsic details affect whether it actually is lying or not. For example, if you ask for directions and I mistakenly lead you astray, that is not a lie. I have used my communicative faculty to give you deceptive information, and deliberately so; but because I did not know that the information was deceptive, I did not lie. This still does not depend on outside considerations — maybe you were not in fact deceived by my bad directions, but that is not what makes it a lie or not. Only the inside elements determine that. So the only way to argue that lying is sometimes acceptable is to dispute what makes a lie up from the inside, to deny that it is according to our nature to always communicate our minds sincerely. If you actually can defend such a view, then you have a chance of defending certain types of deception. Unfortunately, in all the recent articles and comments on this topic, I have not seen anyone trying to defend such a theory. (Most of the disagreements seem to rely on instinctual reactions against Nazis-at-the-door. Perhaps that's because it's no easy task to refute Aquinas and the great weight of philosophy and tradition coming down on the other side.)

Glenn said...

To the commenter called "Catholic": I do not think I have Dr Feser's number. In fact I agree with him: A consistent Catholic cannot endorse the action of Live Action as being innocent of sin.

Glenn Peoples

Lauretta said...

Mr. Green,
You have given me much to think about! I have wondered if we are looking clearly enough at the definition of lying as given in the Catechism, as well as the principle of double effect, when looking at the Live Action issue.

The Catechism says something to the effect that lying is the telling of falsehoods with the intent of leading into error. I think it could be posited that LA were not trying to lead PP into error but to reveal the truth. The error that PP entered into of believing that LA people were someone they were not would be an unintended side effect of their intent of revealing truth. It would seem to be similar to the example given in the Catechism of the wounding or killing of someone being the unintended side effect of stopping an aggressor's attack. I, however, am not a theologian nor a philosopher but just a poorly educated layman trying to understand the teaching of the Church, so I may certainly be misunderstanding what I am reading.

dcs said...

that changing the circumstances takes something that is an intrinsic evil, contraception, and makes it not a sin?

No, the circumstances change the nature of the act. A woman who is raped and who uses contraception is not trying to frustrate the natural end of the act of intercourse but trying to defend herself from an aggressor.

The Catechism says something to the effect that lying is the telling of falsehoods with the intent of leading into error. I think it could be posited that LA were not trying to lead PP into error but to reveal the truth.

PP was lead into error insofar as they believed they were talking with pimps and prostitutes. "Error" does not refer strictly to moral or theological error.

Lying cannot be justified by the principle of double effect because it is intrinsically wrong.

Lauretta said...

dcs,
But maybe what they did was not lying since their goal was not to lead into error but to reveal the truth about illegal activities. It would seem to me to be so similar to the example given in the Catechism regarding the double effect of killing an aggressor.

cjaubert said...

I hope that this post is seen, as what I’m responding to is over a year ago:

Richard A wrote: “I am willing to stand (slightly) corrected. It appears to be the case that in sub-Saharan Africa, around fifty years ago, some nuns were given permission to go on a birth control regimen because of the high likelihood, at the time, that they could be raped. This is different from the situation you described, however.“

With respect, Richard, there has NEVER been a time that nuns (or anyone else) were permitted to use the birth control pill because of rape. This is a Catholic urban legend. Never happened.

Jeff said...

Newman say that it is a material though not a formal lie if a lawyer or a priest tells a straight untruth to someone asking a question to which the first party must not give a correct answer.

He bases this on societal expectations and approbations.

I don't know why it isn't a legitimate development of this idea to say that society expects ordinary people to lie, for example, to murderers searching for a victim. They too have a particular duty.

Anonymous said...

Hence it is wrong to lie even to the murderer who comes to your door demanding to know where to find his intended victim.

That's all, folks!