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Is it sometimes o.k. to lie?

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Is it sometimes o.k. to lie?

Post  pascendi on Thu Jun 09, 2011 1:49 am

I couldn't figure out which heading to put this under, so I guess it goes to the watercooler. I find this a fascinating topic, something new to chew on. Some of my facebook friends from TAC are hashing this out in the last couple weeks. They are against this position below (on the whole, and as far as I know), but I think she might be right. I have know idea who Henry is, I'm just copying and pasting...


Henry posted a very thoughtful article defending lying in the
circumstances we have been discussing.

In fact, it's probably the first time I've heard arguments against
St. Thomas that are not simply consequentialist or emotional. Here
are some important passages:

Can the defense of some false signification be squared with the
traditional absolute prohibition of lying? A close consideration of
the analogy with the use of lethal force and the taking of property
should help us see that the absolute prohibition can be retained.
Neither Aquinas nor the Church understands the use of lethal force in
defense of innocent life to be an “exception” to the prohibition of
murder. Nor does the taking or destroying of property belonging to
another when necessary to avert some great evil function as an
“exception” to the prohibition of theft. Murder is the direct and
voluntary killing of an innocent human being. Theft is taking
something against the reasonable will of the owner, and a reasonable
owner would approve of taking property to protect important goods.
Therefore, properly stated, although killing and the taking of
property are sometimes morally permissible, the norms against murder
and theft remain absolute, without exception. Similarly, I believe
that the telling of some falsehoods and other forms of false
signification are compatible with the absolute prohibition of lying.

The mistake that Aquinas makes (and those words do stick in my
throat!) is that he analyzes the question of lying with a prelapsarian
understanding of the purpose of signification—an understanding that
presumes the innocence of man before the Fall. He does not make this
same mistake in respect to the protection of life and property: He
realizes that behavior in reference to human life and property is
necessarily different in the postlapsarian world. Before the Fall, man
has no need to use force against another, nor need he destroy
another’s property (or even possess property). But after the Fall,
innocent life is often threatened, and property owners are often
absent or unreasonable. Thus new forms of behavior are permissible
given new realities, behavior directed towards defending human life
and protecting other important goods....

Another argument against false signification is that it is destructive
of the integrity and virtue of the agent. Certainly a sign that an
activity is immoral is that those who engage in it are corrupted by
it. I don’t believe that those who have used false signification to
protect the innocent have become corrupted thereby. In fact, I think
they grow in virtue. I think those in recusant England, both lay and
clergy, who engaged in false signification grew in their faith and
virtue; I think those who provided false passports to Jews grew in
holiness; I think soldiers who outwit the enemy and policemen who
capture criminals through clever false signification are good and
admirable, much as soldiers who kill the enemy and destroy the
property of the enemy. These are just actions and help the agent grow
in justice rather than in vice. Indeed, I believe most who failed to
attempt to deter Nazis by false signification would suffer terribly
from a sense that they have violated some deeply good part of their
being. Some would hardly be able to live with themselves if they
remained silent when a false statement would have served to save the


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