More on the Catholic argument about lying

Behold, a philosopher throwing away his integrity for a cheap rhetorical point:

Do you care more about protecting your own moral correctness than protecting your kids’ lives?

Because only pharisees worry about “moral correctness” when really important things are at stake, right?  I’ve just lost most of the respect I once had for Peter Kreeft.  Sophistry like this has no place in philosophy.  What Kreeft has just done is surrender to consequentialism.  But once he starts down that road, why stop there?  What if some people’s life fulfillment depends on those kids not existing?  After we’re done with our fun harassing Planned Parenthood, why don’t we settle down and work there?

As I said, I’m not completely sold on lying being an intrinsically immoral act (and therefore never justified), but these defenses of lying are pushing me in that direction.  I often find that my mind is made up on an issue by being repelled by one side’s arguments rather than attracted by the other side’s.  It was reading Thomas Bokenkotter’s celebration of modernism that turned me into an integralist.  It was reading Philippe Nemo’s celebration of capitalism that turned me against this inhuman system.  Evil and heresy seem to have a logic of their own.  At first, they seem reasonable, their deviation from orthodoxy ambiguous, but just let their followers work on them for a while, and their true nature becomes clear.  Let people remarry under extreme circumstances?  What could be more reasonable?  But there’s not much point arguing the issue either way, because those who decided to make the exception quickly found that everybody’s case is exceptional, and now they divorce and remarry at the drop of a hat.  The “reasonable” position proved remarkably unstable.  Similarly, the “birth control is okay, but only for married couples” position.  Logically, one can say birth control is acceptable, while fornication, masturbation, and the like are not, but no one seems to be able to hold this position for long.  Make the procreative end optional, and it’s hard to see why one should hold the line against the other stuff.

The first step toward evil is small, but the seed of what’s to come is all in that step.  Suppose the captain of a boat gives orders to his crew, and they all promptly carry them out.  Who is running the boat?  The captain, of course.  Suppose after the captain gives his orders, the first officer tells the crew to carry out all the captain’s orders except for one little thing, which he tells them to leave undone, and this the crew does.  Who is running the boat?  Just as obviously, the first officer.  Even though what the crew does is only slightly different, the essential structure of the chain of command is entirely different.  So it is when we say to God, “I will do all you ask, except this one little thing.”  Needless to say, given a little time, the deviations introduced by the first officer will cease to be minor.

In contrast, the anti-lying group seems to be avoiding these problems (see Kevin O’Brien and especially Mark Shea).

10 Responses

  1. ‘Suppose after the captain gives his orders, the first officer tells the crew to carry out all the captain’s orders except for one little thing, which he tells them to leave undone, and this the crew does. Who is running the boat? Just as obviously, the first officer. ‘

    You’re giving the negative side of the issue – the first officer tells the crew to leave something undone.

    Also consider the other side. Suppose the captain tells the crew to swab the decks and then fall out for rum and rations. The first officer says to the crew, “Swab the decks, then scrape the cables, then polish the brass, then fall out for rum and rations.”

    By adding extra tasks, the first officer is still damaging the enterprise. The men might use too much time and be unable to receive their desperately needed rations.

    Likewise, I would argue that churches start from a reasonable set of Ten Commandments and then distort them to hell and gone. “Do not perjure yourself when under oath” is a very different commandment than “do not ever say anything even slightly dishonest, by omission or commission.”

    Personally, I regard honesty as important to my sanity, but I don’t presume to know what is most important for other folks’ sanity. I need to write an essay on the relationship between honesty and sanity but in brief, I think it’s best to always tell oneself the truth. And if you are true to yourself, it follows as the day the night that you cannot be false to any other man.

  2. You are too kind.

    Kreeft’s essay is deeply disturbing. Almost everything he says in it is wrong. Consider this bit of extreme parochialism:
    That is why there is massive agreement about morality, even among believers in very different and mutually contradictory religions, and even many atheists.
    What can he possibly mean by this? Is he utterly ignorant of history and anthropology? Does he actually believe that what people find “instinctually wrong” is not heavily influenced by culture? That everyone has fairly direct, conscious access to natural law? That everyone who reports different intuitions from his is lying?

    It does no good to babble about how these intuitions are “not infallible,” either. Either different people’s moral intuitions are radically contradictory of one another, or there is an enormous amount of lying going on.

    He is right about one thing. Virtually no modern person (including myself) has a moral intuition which says: “lying is always wrong.” But, so what?

    His characterization of modern methods of reasoning in ethics and moral philosophy seems similarly strange. Don’t philosophers constantly reason like: Hypothetical A induces intuitive reaction B from which we infer moral principle C from which we deduce bizarro conclusion D? He seems to be saying that this is not done enough!

    And look at this:
    You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis.
    A promise to do something intrinsically evil is (obviously) evil. WTF? Does he believe he is making an argument here?

    I’m with you. I find the doctrine (clearly proclaimed in the CCC, at least this week) that lying is always wrong a very difficult teaching. But the flimsy crap Kreeft is throwing around does not even begin to be enough to disregard the Church’s teaching. Hey, if some guy named Kreeft has an intuition, then we can just jettison the Church’s teaching in favor of it!

  3. […] “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the Additionally on this topic you can read: http://kennypittman.org/2011/02/20/dummying-down-the-church/ On the same subject: http://goodnewsnow.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/have-i-made-it-to-chapter-2-of-misquoting-jesus-yet/ Also you can take a look at this related read: https://bonald.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/more-on-the-catholic-argument-about-lying/ […]

  4. The Church’s teaching on this point seems unsettled. I note that the paragraph 2483 of the original version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church stated that “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.” The editio typica, however, drop the phrase “someone who has the right to know the truth.”

  5. HI Stephen,

    I’m impressed that you’ve got an old and a new catechism. My thoughts on the issue are also unsettled, but I don’t like that original phrase myself. If I were to fabricate a bunch of stuff to you about my personal life, I’m pretty sure that would be lying.

  6. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for providing the fuller critique. I’m still surprised; I thought Kreeft was better than this.

  7. That’s what I meant by “this week.” But how does that mean the teaching is unsettled? The CCC says what it says. The fact that the Holy See noticed this “typo” or “braino” or whatever and changed it surely strengthens our confidence that the changed version is the current teaching.

  8. […] Bonald writes: The first step toward evil is small, but the seed of what’s to come is all in that step. Suppose the captain of a boat gives orders to his crew, and they all promptly carry them out. Who is running the boat? The captain, of course. Suppose after the captain gives his orders, the first officer tells the crew to carry out all the captain’s orders except for one little thing, which he tells them to leave undone, and this the crew does. Who is running the boat? Just as obviously, the first officer. Even though what the crew does is only slightly different, the essential structure of the chain of command is entirely different. […]

  9. “What I have been saying shows what different schools of opinion there are in the Church in the treatment of this difficult doctrine [justified falsehoods]; and, by consequence, that a given individual, such as I am, cannot agree with all of them, and has a full right to follow which of them he will. The freedom of the Schools, indeed, is one of those rights of reason, which the Church is too wise really to interfere with. And this applies not to moral questions only, but to dogmatic also.”
    –Bd. John Henry Newman, On Lying and Equivocation

    http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia65/noteg.html

  10. Hi Christine,

    I agree; I don’t think this issue is authoritatively settled yet. It does weigh on me, though, that so many defenders of lying in extreme circumstances, like Zmirak, start by protesting their orthodoxy and end by arguing that Sacred Tradition is unreliable.

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