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60What Comes After the Synodhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/11/a-synod-that-will-lead-to-decades-of-fighting
Thu, 05 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500 Whatever Pope Francis does in the wake of the Synod on the Family, we have a new
moment on our hands. Decades of relentless infighting over what exactly the Church teaches is on the horizon and will negatively affect the priesthood, religious life, religious institutions, parishes, families and individuals. Just as those who dissented from
were able to use a seeming openness to their point of view in the process that preceded the encyclical to legitimize their view, so too will dissenters find justification for their positions in the debates at the Synod.
A Benign Reading of a Confusing Paragraphhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/09/a-benign-reading-of-a-confusing-paragraph
Wed, 16 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
When I was asked to sign
critiquing Paragraph 137, I initially agreed with the reading of the authors of the Appeal—but as I studied the paragraph more carefully, it became clear to me that it could be read in a much more benign fashion, and that the benign reading is the correct one. My reading of the text holds that it is faithful to Church teaching but unfortunately written in a way that allows for a reading (or misreading) that would permit the use of contraception in some instances. The English translation improves upon the original Italian text by shaping it to be more evidently in accord with Church teaching, but it does not succeed in removing all ambiguities. Here it is in both languages:
]]>Why Tollefsen and Pruss are Wrong about Lyinghttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/12/why-tollefsen-and-pruss-are-wrong-about-lying
Thu, 15 Dec 2011 00:33:00 -0500 The
by Christopher Tollefsen and Alexander Pruss to my piece,
Fig Leaves and Falsehoods
indicates, I hope, that the needed conversation about the morality of all false signification is underway in earnest. I believe philosophers, theologians, and lay people must wrestle with this issue and help the Church clarify its teaching on lying.
It is not of great importance but it is curious that Tollefsen and Pruss misconstrue the intention of my article. I made it perfectly clear that I had not undertaken the project of defending the actions of Lila Rose and associates.
Whereas Tollefsen and Pruss speak of assertion I speak of enunciative signification. I prefer to use the more cumbersome enunciative signification because assertion in common parlance refers to speech acts whereas Aquinas (and the
) refers to both words and deeds that attempt to communicate to another about reality.
I believe those who defend some false enunciative signification have an easier time dealing with Scripture
than those who condemn all false enunciative signification. Those who maintain that all false enunciative signification is wrong, are faced with the task of explaining a multitude of instances wherein false enunciative signification leads to good and, it seems, approved results.
Since Augustine and Aquinas came to Scripture with an
that all false signification is wrong, they were obliged to try to find some explanation for the many instances when it seems to be approved. For example, Aquinas accepts Augustines explanation that since Sarah was related to Abraham on his fathers side, she was his sister. Aquinas identified true statements made to deceive as a formal falsehood and a mendacium: If, on the other hand, one utters falsehood formally, through having the will to deceive, even if what one says be true, yet inasmuch as this is a voluntary and moral act, it contains falseness essentially and truth accidentally, and attains the specific nature of a lie. (ST II-II, 110:1, resp.) Abraham spoke the truth but with the will to deceive and thus it seems he lied.
Aquinas explains the passage in Luke 24:28 where on the road to Emmaus Jesus pretended he would go farther as a kind of pretense, a signification not meant literally but figuratively (e.g, he was going to heaven). The figurative meanings may be intended as further meanings but it also seems to me that Jesus intended the disciples to think that he was literally going farther.
Tollefsen and Pruss also failed to respond to the evidence
that I provided from material issued by the Holy See that the authoritative version of the Catechism repeats the doctrinal content of the 1992 version which suggests that version was without error. Note that the first (and the second) edition received an
from Joseph Ratzinger. Were the authors of the first edition and Ratzinger guilty of challenging settled Church teaching? Moreover that
should be revoked if it includes teaching contrary to the faith. (Oddly, the Vatican website still posts the first edition!).
The only magisterial statements that support the condemnation of all lying are Innocent XIs condemnations of mental reservation. It seems reasonable to suppose that the Catechism would have cited such teaching had it wanted to convey that the teaching was settled. Let me refer those interested in a scholarly treatment of the Churchs position on falsehoods to a superb STD dissertation,
Catholic Teaching about the Morality of Falsehood
, by Rev. Julius A Dorszynski, published (with a nihil obstat and imprimatur) in 1948 by the CUA Press. Dorszynski argues that the morality of telling falsehoods is an open question and also argues for the morality of telling some falsehoods. I also recommend: Boniface Ramsey, O.P., Two Traditions on Lying
49 (1985): 505-533.
Tollefsen and Pruss also fail to address the failure of the Catechism to condemn spying, sting operations, social white lies, jocose lies, and all forms of deception used in warfare. Catholics desperately need guidance in such matters, since such behavior is routine in virtually every culture.
Tollefsen and Pruss seem to misconstrue my argument when they note that Aquinas acknowledged other purposes for speech than the communication of truth. I was clear that I understood that Aquinas acknowledged many purposes for speech that is not enunciative. As I stated, commands, questions, etc. serve purposes other than asserting truths about reality. Only the truthfulness of enunciative signification is at issue, signification that makes a statement about the way things are.
My colleagues curiously state: Neither is it an argument against Aquinas to point out that assertions can serve
purposes beyond the communication of truth. My claim, however, was that enunciative signification not only can and does serve purposes other than the communication of truth such as consolation, encouragement, and deterring people from evil and, most importantly, those purposes do not require strict adherence to the truth. If we use the principle
operatio sequitur esse
, we would readily acknowledge purposes for enunciative signification other than strict communication of the truth. (More about this below).
Tollefsen and Pruss challenge my claim that Aquinas condemnation
of all false signification would rule out a soldier placing an empty tent in a field in order to lead the enemy to think that the soldier is in or near the tent when in fact he is hiding somewhere. I am not sure they fully understand the scope of the Churchs and Aquinass condemnation of false enunciative signification. The Catechism states To lie is to speak or
against the truth (2483; my emphasis) Aquinas states: The term “words” denotes every kind of sign. Wherefore if a person intended to signify something false by means of signs, he would not be excused from lying.(ST II-II: 110:1, ad 2).
Tollefsen and Pruss say Placing tents is not asserting”it does not have the disclosure of truth as its inner purpose. What is its inner purpose? It is certainly not asking a question or making a command. It is signifying that there is someone in the tent with the hopes that the enemy will be deceived about reality. It is presenting something through signification that does not correspond with what one knows in ones mind. I do not see how the act is anything other than false signification.
Certainly, Aquinas acknowledges that ambushes are done for the sake of deceiving. Aquinas is not opposed to permitting people to be deceived in some situations. He is, however, opposed to deception that happens by false enunciative signification. The only ambushes Aquinas allows are those that involve hiding ones plans. The enemy is deceived, not by false signification but by ones hiding ones location.
I am, of course, pleased that Tollefsen and Pruss seem to approve of soldiers placing tents with the purpose of leading the enemy to draw false conclusions about their whereabouts. Though, again, I do not think they can claim Aquinas support. What support could anyone offer to invoke Aquinas support for false passports, missives from the military that state a false starting time for a battle in order to deceive the enemy, disguises used by spies, and the whole variety of false significations that are standard fare in warfare and many modes of police work and spying? After all, he was opposed to jocose lies, social lies, and lies to save lives.
In his article for the Thomist ,
Lying and speaking your interlocutors language, Pruss argued that it is moral for someone hiding Jews in his attic to say to a Nazi seeking to kill the Jews, There are no Jews in my attic. Pruss argues that such a statement is not a lie (would Tollefsen agree?), but is a kind of speaking anothers language. The protector hears the Nazi saying Do you have despicable individuals in your attic that I am seeking to murder? His negative response means I have no despicable individuals in my attic and that is a truth.
I think Pruss position is more in line with mine than Tollefsens. Pruss position could be expanded to explain and justify many instances where good people are inclined to engage in false enunciative signification, such as when encouraging and consoling. You look lovely tonight. You will do better next time. The recipient generally understands that these words are not meant to be taken literally but are the language of love, so to speak. In fact, these communications are less deceptive than Pruss speaking the language of the Nazis. In the case of encouragement and consolation, the interlocutor understands quite precisely what the speaker means and does not feel deceived, whereas the Nazis, though purportedly being addressed in their own language, would be deceived and indeed that is the intention of the speaker.
Tollefsen and Pruss argue that the reason that false signification is wrong is that one is not being true to ones self. That claim seems much more Kantian than Thomistic. When speaking of a subcategory of false signification, the category of hypocrisy or dissimulation, Aquinas does speak of presenting ones self as other than one is for that indeed is what hypocrisy is. Yet, Aquinas does not portray lies in general, jocose lies, social lies, protective lies, as being some violation of inner integrity. They are, again, a misuse of the purpose of enunciative signification: a communication of the truth about reality. Sometimes the reality that one is communicating about is ones inner self, but only sometimes. I see no evidence in Aquinas of a concern for the type of disintegration that Tollefsen and Pruss find in false enunciative signification.
Moreover, their use of J.L.A. Garcias claim that when we communicate we are soliciting anothers trust does not, I think, find a true parallel in Aquinas. Aquinas certainly thinks that engaging in false signification destroys trust but I can not see that he speaks of soliciting trust. Here I do not want to engage Garcias arguments but to say that when one responds to a Nazi one is soliciting his trust, seems to me to misportray the relationship. Not all speech solicits trust. Indeed, the Nazi is not using speech to solicit trust but to facilitate horrifically evil actions. I believe I would serve my relationship with the Nazi better by preventing him from engaging in his horrific actions. I think he would have much to thank me for; more than if I had walked with him to arrest the Jews in my attic.
Tollefsen and Pruss do not address the key challenge I make:
the challenge that the taking of human life and the taking of property of others is permissible in some circumstances”the circumstances of a postlapsarian world. Indeed, one could kill the Nazi or forcibly take his weapons from him to prevent him from killing Jews. Why is false signification morally impermissible in the same circumstances? The work that needs to be done now is to study why Aquinas thought it moral to kill in self-defense and to take what belongs to others when in dire need. What justifies those actions? Would that justification extend to false signification?
They also do not take on the related claim that Aquinas develops his understanding of the purpose of language in a deductive fashion rather than using the more inductive principle
operatio sequitur esse
. That is, he determines the purpose of language by constructing an analogy between Gods speaking a word that created the universe and mans use of language to replicate that word. Rather, I believe he should have arrived at the purpose of language by observing how in fact man uses language. I think there are all sorts of contexts where those communicating have a strong suspicion they are not receiving the truth and do not expect the truth and sometimes do not want the truth. Indeed, God uses some modes of language in less than straightforward ways. For instance, God asks questions but not with the purpose of gathering information he does not know. He makes threats he does not follow through on. He leads people to believe he wants things from them that he does not.
Those who do not accept Aquinass premises on which his argument is based should not claim him as an ally. Nor should those who do not accept all of his conclusions which follow ineluctably from his premises. (And few do: Tollefsen and Pruss seem to reject his views on ambushes). Those who do not accept Aquinas premises”which include foremost his metaphysical understanding of the purpose of enunciative signification”will need to provide another explanation for either a qualified or an unqualified condemnation of all false enunciative signification.
Tollefsen and Pruss offered a nonThomistic reason for condemning all false enunciative signification. They need to give an argument for their understanding of the purpose of language and they need to deal with the fact that in this postlapsarian world, many virtuous people engage in a great deal of enunciative signification does not involve strict adherence to truth. In the end, my objection to their position is that they, like Aquinas, too narrowly construe the purposes of enunciative signification.
Janet E. Smith is the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
]]>Fig Leaves and Falsehoodshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/06/fig-leaves-and-falsehoods
Wed, 01 Jun 2011 00:00:00 -0400 The exposé of Planned Parenthood engineered by Live Action has not only disclosed some illegal and immoral operations of Planned Parenthood, it has also revealed sharp divergences in the pro-life movement and Catholic community about what counts as lying. Pro-lifers are, of course, thrilled that more of the evildoing of Planned Parenthood has been brought before the public, leading many legislators to vote to cease government funding of the organization. But some ask: By utilizing actors posing as pimps and prostitutes and falsely claiming to employ fourteen- and fifteen-year-old sex workers who need abortions and gynecological services, did Live Action use an evil means to a good end?
The answers vary. For instance, Christopher Tollefsen wrote in the online journal
that intentionally telling falsehoods to anyone is immoral. He holds that people faced with such challenges as protecting Jews from Nazis should resist them by means other than falsehood and volunteer to die with any Jews captured. Peter Kreeft, writing for
, countered with the claim that all decent human beings intuitively know that it is moral to tell falsehoods to protect the lives of the innocent from those threatening serious evil.
Why such differences? Isnt there a clear Catholic teaching on the matter? Isnt lying intrinsically wrong, a manifest violation of the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness? Those who argue that the Catholic Church has a clear and settled teaching on the matter point to the final and authoritative version of
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
: To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. But the first version of the Catechism qualified its condemnation of lying by defining lying as leading someone into error who has the right to know the truth. The clear implication was that it may be right on occasion to speak falsehoods to those who do not have the right to know the truth.
Some argue that the removal of the qualifier from the final edition indicates that the first edition was wrong, but that is not the only possible interpretation. In
, the Apostolic Letter accompanying the authoritative edition, Pope John Paul II never indicated that the earlier version was in error. Rather, the changes allow for a better expression of the Catechisms contents regarding the deposit of the Catholic faith, and the new version faithfully repeats the doctrinal content which I officially presented to the Church and to the world in December 1992. No changes in doctrine took place between the first and final editions.
The doctrinal unity between the two editions of the Catechism is that all lying is wrong. The diversity is in whether all deliberate and voluntary acts of false assertion are immoral. Christopher Kaczor argued in
that it may be that the authoritative version of the Catechism decided to go with the more probable opinion”the one that a greater number of faithful theologians hold but one that is not settled doctrine. It would be wrong to label as dissenters those who continue to argue that the condemnation of lying does not rule out all false signification; theirs is simply the less probable view at this point. Indeed, the failure of the Catechism to condemn explicitly such practices as spying, sting operations, the deceptive missives and maneuvers of warfare, and research that involves deception suggests that the question remains open.
What about Scripture? Doesnt Scripture clearly condemn false signification? Certainly there are many passages that condemn lying, but no clear definition of lying is given. Indeed, there are many stories in Scripture where lying is at least countenanced, if not endorsed: The midwives lie to Pharaoh about why they failed to kill the Hebrew babies. Nathan expects David to believe a made-up story. Jesus himself, after telling his apostles he is not going up to the festival, in fact goes. Those who condemn all false signification find various ways to interpret these passages. They are not wrong, of course, to try to find an interpretation that corresponds with their views, but if some falsehoods are justified, no interpretation is needed and the straightforward meaning stands. Indeed, perhaps God is signaling that on occasion”in particular the occasion of protecting the innocent”we are right to engage in false signification.
The most daunting obstacle to those who defend some false signification is the fact that both Augustine and Aquinas condemned all false (and even misleading) signification. Yet, a close examination of Aquinas reasons, which are largely the same as Augustines, may lead some”as it has led me”to reject both the reasons and the conclusions.
Aquinas evaluation of lying is rooted in his Aristotelian metaphysics, specifically in his view that every thing and every action has a purpose. Aquinas moral theory depends upon things having natures given to them by God; to violate those natures is to do wrong. For instance, Aquinas holds that fornication, homosexual acts, and masturbation are wrong because they violate the end or purpose of sexual intercourse.
Speech and communication fall under the same analysis. Enunciative signification is some action or some speech”any means of communication”that attempts to assert a truth about reality. Aquinas holds that the purpose of all enunciative signification is to convey the concepts in ones mind.
Aquinas analysis of the purpose of signification rests on his larger understanding of the meaning of truth. He holds that everything that exists in the world is a word of God, an expression of what is in the divine mind. Thus when we are thinking about reality we are forming concepts in our minds of the speech that God has truthfully uttered in creation, and when we communicate by word or deed, we are obliged to seek to make our speech true to Gods speech.
Thus, in keeping with his understanding of the truth, Aquinas concludes that to signal by speech or by deed anything contrary to what one holds to be true is to violate the purpose of signification. As he puts it in his analysis of lying in the
: For as words are naturally signs of intellectual acts, it is unnatural and undue for anyone to signify by words something that is not in his mind.
Accordingly, Aquinas has zero tolerance for false signification, even to save an innocent life. According to his principles, it would be wrong to say to a Nazi seeking to kill Jews hiding in an attic: There are no Jews in the attic. He also maintained that it was wrong to cause someone to have a false opinion by telling the truth. Thus I believe that it would violate Aquinas principles to use true speech to mislead Nazis. Someone who had no Jews in his attic, but who answers the door of his neighbors house where Jews in fact are hidden, cannot morally say, There are no Jews in
house, since he would be leading the Nazi to think falsely about reality. Similarly, a soldier can hide in the bushes to ambush his enemy, but he cannot place his empty tent strategically to deceive the enemy about his whereabouts, for that would be to lead another to think falsely about reality.
This rigorous view extends to the social uses of falsehood as well. Aquinas condemns all false representations of reality, including saying something false for the sake of amusement, ruling out what is known as a jocose lie. The same holds for dissimulation designed to smooth over awkward social situations or designed to calm the immature or deranged. This does not mean that Aquinas holds that all false significations are mortal sins. Lying to the Nazi at the door, exaggerating a story for entertainment, and pretending to enjoy a meal that does not please all fall under the category of a venial sin. Nonetheless, by his way of thinking all false signification is a sin, and as such can never be employed.
Aquinas rigorism about uttering falsehoods is certainly cogent, but hard to reconcile with some of his other positions. Aquinas (and the Church) approve of killing someone for the sake of protecting innocent life as well as commandeering or destroying the property of another to protect other goods. Thus the question: Why shouldnt Aquinas (and the Church) permit false signification uttered in order to protect innocent life and other important goods?
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 anothers 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.
Perhaps, then, the same holds for our words and other communicative actions. Before the Fall, there would have been no reason to engage in false signification. Before the Fall, all communication, all interaction was between innocent and trustworthy human beings. After the Fall, however, all communication is between human beings damaged by sin. Now, language must serve many other purposes besides the conveyance of the concepts on our minds. We need to correct, console, encourage, and deter one another. These actions need not involve falsehoods, but they are a use of language that differs from the fundamental purpose of communicating truth. Indeed, in the postlapsarian world honest communication is a true challenge even among those who trust each other. We find ourselves dissimulating with trustworthy human beings to avoid offending, confusing, or harming them or allowing them to harm themselves or others.
I believe that after the Fall, as is the case with words of consolation and encouragement, certain falsehoods uttered in certain circumstances can be fitting and morally licit uses of language. Certainly, just as in the postlapsarian world we must show great respect for life and property, so too must we continue to show great respect for the truth. We certainly must try to achieve goods without killing or destroying property, and the same holds for our efforts to promote goods without engaging in false signification. But just as destruction of life and property is now sometimes necessary and thus moral for the protection of what is good, false signification is sometimes necessary for the protection of life, property, and even truth itself. Uttering a falsehood to deceive a Nazi in order to save a Jew seems to be just such a case.
I believe that sound reasoning supports the notion that the preservation of harmony, justice, and truth in a postlapsarian world requires a great deal of judicious false signification, from false missives in warfare to the consolation of children and the mentally deranged. In a certain sense, our dissimulations serve as fig leaves, protecting and hiding what others need not know, and in some cases should not know. The use of false signification preserves justice and harmony.
Aquinas and most others who condemn all false signification do so not only because it violates the purpose of signification but also because truth is something we owe our neighbor. We owe them truth for two reasons: 1) Human beings cannot make good decisions unless we know the truth about reality, and 2) we cannot live harmoniously together without trust. False signification, by this way of thinking, violates just relations between members of society.
But is it always a violation of justice in a postlapsarian world to deprive some people of the truth? Does everyone have the right to truth? Evildoers sacrifice many of their rights. For instance, we deprive prisoners of their freedom of movement. When the community is under attack and resources are needed, private property can be taken to defend life and property. And, of course, the person poised to murder forfeits his right to life, which is why a policeman can fire his weapon with the intent to kill. Why, therefore, should we imagine that everyone enjoys an inviolable right to truth in all communications? Isnt giving the truth to a Nazi like returning a loaded weapon to a madman? Does he have any right to the truth?
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 dont 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 innocent.
My disagreement with Aquinas is true to the Aristotelian principles we share. Again, the error I believe he made was not in using the purpose of communication to determine the morality of false signification but in failing to see that the purpose of signification in the postlapsarian world could not remain entirely the same as that in the prelapsarian world. Indeed, I believe the above analysis corresponds to Aquinas methodology for determining the nature or purpose of something. He generally discovered the purpose of something by observing how it operated:
operatio sequitur esse
. We know the essence of something by observing what it does. Thus, we should determine the purpose of signification by observing what it does. As argued above, in this postlapsarian world, people, saints and sinners, in every place and culture, use signification for purposes other than conveying the concepts they hold in their mind. What culture doesnt permit spying, police sting operations, and research programs involving deception, let alone jocose lies and social courtesies involving falsehood? Catholics are generally proud that many priests in the Vatican gave false passports to Jews. Should we revise our evaluation of that action?
Moreover, Aquinas recognized that there are purposes to speech other than asserting truth, such as asking questions and giving commands. Even some speech that appears enunciative, is not. For instance, actors make assertions to an audience who knows they are not attempting to directly convey the truth about reality. In this postlapsarian world, our audiences”spouses, children, guests, strangers, enemies, and so on”know that our signification has other purposes than directly conveying the truth. Context, audience, makes all the difference in the world. Saying Im fine in response to the greeting How are you? signifies virtually nothing and is heard as a generic pleasantry. By contrast, the same response to the same query from a worried and concerned spouse or psychiatrist could be a serious lie. In a postlapsarian world, people know very well not to expect the truth in many situations and in fact are not asking for the truth with many of their questions. They enjoy being amused by exaggerations; they are grateful for falsehoods told to console and encourage them. In wartime enemies do not expect the truth from one another. The Nazi seeking to kill innocent Jews should not expect truth.
Confusing the application of principles suitable to the prelapsarian world with those fitting for the postlapsarian world may be a mistake to which Aristotelian/Thomists are prone. Pope Pius XII was an adamant opponent of all organ donations from living donors on the basis of the principle of finality. He maintained that our bodily parts are ordained only to our own well-being and that it is immoral to donate them to anyone else. Eventually ethicists succeeded in arguing that the approval of the donation of skin grafts and blood indicates that some of our bodily elements do have an ordination beyond ourselves and that the principle of charity justifies the donation of nonvital organs from living donors. In the prelapsarian world, our bodily parts would have been only for our benefit, but in a postlapsarian world there are needs that those bodily parts can serve, and the donation of them does not harm our nature but ennobles it. By my analysis, something analogous holds for communication. In a sinless world our words and gestures serve only to convey the truth, but in a fallen world they promote civility, encourage, console, and on some occasions stymie the evildoer and protect the innocent.
Some argue that the principles I articulate are too difficult to apply and too open to abuse. The fact that moral reasoning can be difficult does not render it impossible or unnecessary. Consider the Catholic Churchs teaching on stealing: It says it is not theft to take anothers property if, as the Catechism says, consent [of the owner] can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. Surely it takes some discernment to determine when consent can be presumed. Consider as well how much discernment is necessary to determine how much force to use in self-defense and when self-defense is truly warranted. Yes, it will on occasion be difficult to determine when it is moral to tell falsehoods, of what kind, and to whom, but the difficulty of acting upon moral principles does not negate their truth.
So does the above analysis justify the practices of Live Action? Not necessarily. Establishing the morality of some false signification does not in itself justify their action; other matters of principle are involved, such as who has the authority to frustrate or counter the actions of evildoers. There is also the need to scrutinize the specifics of each instance. At this point I am not prepared to do the full analysis needed; rather, I simply want to show that a strong case can be made, using natural law principles and affirming the absolute condemnation of lying, that not all false signification is wrong.
It is with trepidation and, I hope, with due humility that I disagree with Aquinas and go on record as defending a practice that many moralists I respect think always wrong. Nonetheless, I also respect the practices of cultures, the intuitions of nearly everyone, and what seems to me to be sound reasoning about the postlapsarian nature of signification. Much is at stake here: not only the morality of behavior in which most of us engage daily (the jocose lie and so forth), but also the morality of telling lies to protect innocent life. We scholars and philosophers owe it to our fellow men and women to get this straight.
Janet E. Smith is the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
]]>Good History, Bad Argumenthttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/08/good-history-bad-argument
Mon, 01 Aug 2005 00:00:00 -0400 Catholics and Contraception: An American History
by Leslie Woodcock Tentler
Cornell University Press 335 pp. $29.95