Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

To Tell the Truth

Hadley Arkes (here) and Peter Kreeft (here) have now joined the debate over the morality of Live Action’s video recordings of Planned Parenthood workers who, in numerous instances, appear to ignore not only the law but the plight of underage girls involved in prostitution and suggesting ways in which statutory rape reporting laws and parental consent laws can be avoided.

Robby George and Rick Garnett have already blogged on this topic at MOJ here and here.

Live Action’s website is available here and the full, unedited footage of the tapes is available here.

To obtain the videos, a woman and a man from Live Action pretended to be something they are not.  They visited various Planned Parenthood clinics posing as a prostitute and a pimp seeking testing for STDs and abortions for teenage girls working as prostitutes and present in this country illegally.

 

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Here's a roundup, with commentary by Brandon Watson, of the major articles so far:
http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-recent-dispute-about-lying.html

When reading a number of the defenses of lying (or saying what is not true in order to deceive someone), but particularly that of Peter Kreeft, I kept thinking of the Phoenix abortion case. As I said over on Vox Nova, I think it is probably the "intuition" of the majority that it would not be wrong to save the life of the mother in a life-threatening pregnancy rather than to let both mother and unborn infant die. I'm not saying the majority would be right, but from reading blogs and talking to people about the Phoenix abortion case, the thought of letting both the mother and the unborn child die not merely seems intuitively wrong. It seems cold-blooded and evil.

To "adapt" what Kreeft said, "The most reasonable response to the “no abortion” legalist here is “You gotta be kidding”—or something less kind than that.

If I did not know Kreeft was Catholic, based on his article, I would have assumed he was from some other tradition.

Kreeft says, "Thomas Aquinas said that even torture is sometimes justified; in emergency situations like that; if torture, then a fortiori lying." But it is my understanding that Aquinas's position was that lying is always wrong. So Kreeft seems to draw a conclusion from the work of Aquinas that Aquinas didn't draw himself.

This thought occurred to me. If torture and lying are sometimes permitted, suppose a French woman during World War II as part of the Resistance cultivated a sexual relationship with a Nazi general whom she in fact found physically and morally repugnant, and by means of that relationship, obtained invaluable intelligence. Would we condemn her? If not, does it mean that sex outside of marriage is not always wrong?

Those who see abortion as an intrinsic evil, never to be permitted, use examples like, "Would it be permitted to kill an innocent man to prevent a nuclear war?" The answer they give is no. That certainly goes against my moral intuition, and particularly if the innocent man would die in the nuclear war that taking his life would have prevented.

I do think all kinds of problems arise from taking an absolutist position that speaking any falsehood in order to deceive someone is impermissible. But the Catholic Church has many hard teachings. Jesus had a few himself.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 20, 2011 5:25:59 PM

I just read Hadley Arkes piece. I am beginning to wonder if there are any intrinsic evils besides direct abortion and all the various sex acts either outside of marriage or, if in marriage, not open to the transmission of life. Lying, torture, and killing are only wrong depending on the circumstances. If there's good lying and bad lying, good torture and bad torture, and good killing and bad killing, we don't know that anything is intrinsically wrong. A murder is an "unjustified killing." Murder is wrong by definition—it's wrongful killing. It does not help very much to be told that wrongful killing is wrong. In my Catholic education, lying was one of those things that was always wrong—even to save the whole world. Now we are being told that only wrongful lying is wrong, and wrongful torture is wrong. But wrongful ANYTHING is wrong.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 20, 2011 6:59:32 PM

The Tollefsen view would have us condemn the message of the film Casablanca.

Rick would have no alternative when "of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" -- clearly he should not have tried to deceive Major Strasser about Laszlo.

But I wonder if any viewer or any moralist has reached this conclusion or even had second thoughts about this kind of siituation.

Posted by: Patrick Molloy | Feb 21, 2011 7:17:58 AM

What is striking about both the Arkes and the Kreeft articles is how both of them avoid actually giving much of a theoretical account of why lying (or whatever they want to call it) in this case is okay. Their methodologies are essentially the same: "We generally seem okay with lying in these kinds of cases, so clearly any theory that says it's wrong (or that it constitutes 'lying') must be incorrect." But this is a very bad methodology. Leaving aside foundational issues, Peter Kreeft nicely clarifies why for us: he says that his students have perfectly fine consciences, except when it comes to matters of sex. But, of course, if you were to ask many college students today whether, say, masturbation is immoral, they would find it bizarre that people even continue to advance that argument--at least as bizarre, if not more, as Kreeft finds Tollefsen's criticism of Live Action. It takes a lot of theoretical work and argumentation to render such an argument even comprehensible for people who have grown up within a certain culture of attitudes toward sex.

Intuitions about concrete applied cases in ethics are usually deeply intertwined with the presuppositions we bring to the table, both about the case and about morality generally. Kreeft especially seems to want them to play the role that experiments do in science, as a sort of external objective test of the theories we develop, but this won't do: intuitions vary across people, they certainly vary across cultures, and most importantly, they can be changed with training and thinking. When I was in elementary school, it was "obvious" to me that the concept of an irrational number was incoherent. But as my understanding of mathematics grew, I realized the problems with that "intuition": I had brought into it false presuppositions about how numbers and spatial proportions "must" work.

Same here. People intuitively find the "lying to the Nazis" case morally obvious in the wrong direction because people find consequentialism intuitively powerful in cases where the moral wrong seems weak and the consequences seem especially tragic. But if you properly understand why consequentialism is wrong, you understand also why it's always wrong: it doesn't matter whether you are committing a small intrinsic evil or a large intrinsic evil, or whether you seek to prevent minor inconvenience to yourself or the deaths of large numbers of innocent people. And if you recognize and resist the consequentialist urge in this case, the question becomes instead, "Is lying (or 'intentionally deceiving through a breach of trust') to the Nazis or to Planned Parenthood (the cases, incidentally, are not necessarily comparable) an inherent wrong?" I don't claim that the answer to THAT question is obvious, though I think Tollefsen has much the better argument, and that we should lie in neither case. But it is a question that must be engaged, through a good response to the sort of argument Tollefsen advances on its own terms. Mere invocation of intuitions or appeals to consequences do not suffice.

Posted by: WJH | Feb 21, 2011 8:38:18 AM

Esther became the unwilling mistress of the Assyrian general so that she could betray him to the Israelis and cause the defeat of his army, and even kill him herself. On account of that, we have the Book of Esther. I don't think the moral of that book is what a terrible person Esther was.

If a thief demands to know the combination of your safe, it's Okay to lie and give him a phony number. That's because he has no right or need to know the combination. That, based on a citation posted on this thread, is what the catechism says.

The Live Action team undertook measures that were successful in revealing the truth of what Planned PArenthood is willing to do, and that they are probably already engaged in. In what crimes they are willing to engage in. To reveal the truth is to tell the truth.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 21, 2011 10:10:19 AM

"Hadley Arkes (here) and Peter Kreeft (here) have now joined the debate over the morality of Live Action’s video recordings of Planned Parenthood workers..."

Of course I continue to be amazed, but not surprised, that the focus has been put on the morality of the individuals who uncovered the abuse and not the people who aided and abetted the pimping of 14 yr. olds.

Posted by: Don Altobello | Feb 21, 2011 10:30:11 AM

Joel,

As has been mentioned a number of times, the first and second editions of the Catechism differ in their definition of lying. The changes for the second edition were made at the time the official Latin version was approved, and it was then Cardinal Ratzinger himself who changed the definition of lying to eliminate the "loophole" that says lying is deceiving those who have a right to know the truth. Other references to keeping information from people who do not have the right to know the truth are not about lying. They are about withholding information. I don't think it is legitimate to pick the edition of the Catechism that best suits your view. The second edition is the official version.

Taking Bible stories, particularly from the Old Testament, and drawing moral conclusions from them is a very tricky business and in my opinion illegitimate. God himself lies to Abraham when he tells him he wants him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham lies to Isaac to keep him in the dark about what is going on. Abraham's wife Sarah is his half-sister. There is no hint that incest in this case is wrong. Lot's daughters get him drunk and conceive children by him. There is once again no hint that they are doing anything wrong. And of course if we interpret the story of Adam and Eve literally or the story of Noah and the Ark literally, the human race could have begin (with Adam) or continued (with Noah) only by incestuous marriages. And of course there is God, through Samuel, telling Saul to kill all men, women, children, and cattle of the Amalekites, which would seem to indicate it is not wrong to kill civilians in wartime. The list of lessons we should *not* learn from the Old Testament is endless, and I think it is a misuse of scripture to argue that when a good person committed an immoral action in scripture and was not punished for it, that means the action wasn't immoral.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 21, 2011 10:48:37 AM

Don,

Not to defend what some of the PP workers said on camera, but of course they didn't aid and abet the pimping of 14-year-olds, because there were no 14-year-olds.

I was shocked when the PP worker in the first video I saw made suggestions to the "pimp" about how he could put the underage "prostitutes" to work during the two weeks after an abortion that they were not permitted to have intercourse. But when I watched the second video and saw that the "pimp" was clearly trying to get PP workers to give advice about how to use underage girls who had just had abortions, I was shocked that LiveAction would do such a thing. LiveAction didn't just try to expose what they felt PP was doing wrong. They tried to get the PP workers to answer questions no PP worker had probably ever answered before. I am sure you have a lower opinion of Planned Parenthood than I do, but I really doubt that as an institution Planned Parenthood believes it is in the business of telling pimps how they can make money off of prostitutes in the two weeks they cannot have sexual intercourse after an abortion.

Germain Grisez said: “Catholics should regard such activity as morally and legally unacceptable,” he told CNA in a written statement on Feb. 11. From a moral point of view, I would call it scandal in the strict sense – that is, leading another to commit a sin. From a legal point of view, I would call it suborning agreement to cooperate in criminal activities.”

There is plenty of anti-PP publicity and sentiment, and I think probably a relatively small number of people are following the debate about lying going on among Catholic ethicists and those who are reading what they say. It would be a fascinating debate even if LiveAction and Planned Parenthood didn't exist. The Catholic Church and the pro-life movement are capable of discussing more than one issue at a time.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 21, 2011 11:08:58 AM

David,

Are you intimating that Esther's actions are to be understood as wrongful? There is no doubt that 1. the gist of the story is that she is a heroic defender of Israel and that 2. this story is the inspired message of the Holy Spirit. I don't think the story of Lot' daughter is about how wonderful she was. It is about how God works in the most mysterious ways his wonders to perform. About how he deals with the ordinary and sometimes shameful realities of life, as he used David's killing of riah the Hittite.

Did Cardinal Ratsinger actually believe then, or now, that if a thief asks you for the combination to your safe, it is a sin to mislead him by giving a false answer?

Another hypothetical. Suppose the Live Action investigaters had made the tape, as they did, but after making it and viewing it, they concluded that it showed them caught in a lie, and so they burned the tape without releasing it. Would it be reasonable to conclude that in burying the tape they were complicit in the crimes of Planned PArenthood, by virtue of acting to hide their crimes from the public and from the police?

Does Planned Parenthood have the right to hide their crimes from the public? So absolute a right that they have the right to demand that everyone else help them to do it? Criminals do not have a right to secrecy. Far from it. The public has a right to know, especially when the crimes are being financed from the public treasiry.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 21, 2011 3:08:51 PM

David,

Are you intimating that Esther's actions are to be understood as wrongful? There is no doubt that 1. the gist of the story is that she is a heroic defender of Israel and that 2. this story is the inspired message of the Holy Spirit. I don't think the story of Lot's daughter is about how wonderful she was. It is about how God works in the most mysterious ways his wonders to perform. About how he deals with the ordinary and sometimes shameful realities of life, as he used David's killing of Uriah the Hittite.

Did Cardinal Ratsinger actually believe then, or now, that if a thief asks you for the combination to your safe, it is a sin to mislead him by giving a false answer?

Another hypothetical. Suppose the Live Action investigaters had made the tape, as they did, but after making it and viewing it, they concluded that it showed them caught in a lie, and so they burned the tape without releasing it. Would it be reasonable to conclude that in burying the tape they were complicit in the crimes of Planned PArenthood, by virtue of acting to hide their crimes from the public and from the police?

Does Planned Parenthood have the right to hide their crimes from the public? So absolute a right that they have the right to demand that everyone else help them to do it? Criminals do not have a right to secrecy. Far from it. The public has a right to know, especially when the crimes are being financed from the public treasiry.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 21, 2011 3:11:55 PM

David,

You mention a possible parallel with torture. I am no fan of torture, but I can see instances where flogging would be licit. Suppose we have a prison teeming with men who had been sentenced to life without parole. The warden would not have an easy time preventing the inmates from killing each other wholesale. David Lukenbill of the Lampstand Foundation can shed some light on this. Anyway, the warden needs some sanctions short of execution, and only two present themselves to me: a sentence to some period of solitary or some form of corporal punishment. Since these are measures undertaken to preserve the lives of the inmates, they could hardly be necessarily forbidden.

It would be imperative to frame this authority in a legal context to prevent abuse. So for instance no one could be flogged except as ordered by a prison tribunal whose deliberations were open public record. For any guard to abuse an inmate except on that authority would of course be aggravated battery.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 21, 2011 4:50:54 PM

On the other hand, for those out there who chronically doubt the deterrent value of punishment, I suppose we could just skip these samctions and leave the inmates do what the state is unwilling to do.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 21, 2011 4:53:35 PM

On the other hand, for those out there who chronically doubt the deterrent value of punishment, I suppose we could just skip these samctions and leave the inmates do what the state is unwilling to do.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 21, 2011 4:53:54 PM

Joel,

You say: "Are you intimating that Esther's actions are to be understood as wrongful?"

From Dictionary of the Bible, by John L. McKenzie, S. J.: "The religious significance and value of the book have always been difficult for readers to appreciate. This is especially true of the Hebrew text, which omits any mention of God. Modern Christian ethical standards are offended by the attitude toward their enemies shown by the Jews of the book, no matter how odious the enemies may be; and the bloody revenge which Esther obtains for the Jews is not edifying. The religious value of the book, however, does not lie in the models of conduct furnished by Esther or Mordecai. Rather the whole story exhibits the providence of God which preserves His people from annihilation. The means by which His providence operates in this book are human plans and action; the divine action is hidden, and no marvels are related. Yet the Jews escape."

Regarding the story of Lot and his daughters, McKenzie says: "The meaning of the story of the incestuous origin of the peoples of Moab and Ammon may not be as repulsive in its origin as it is to modern taste; to a more primitive people the daughters of Lot could be heroines who against all hope found a way to fulfill their destiny as women."

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 22, 2011 6:55:07 AM