Monday, February 14, 2011
There have been a number of posts recently at Public Discourse on the morality of the tactics employed by "Live Action" to catch Planned Parenthood workers doing and saying bad things on camera. The latest, by Prof. Christopher Tollefsen, is called "Why lying is always wrong", and it is here. He is responding to, inter alia, this piece by Prof. Christopher Kaczor.
There's a lot going on in these essays; I would urge readers and bloggers to read the whole things. Certainly, a number of very learned people have held, and hold, the view that Prof. Tollefsen sets out, namely, that it is always wrong to lie. To make a long story short (again, read the whole things), lying is always wrong because "all lies are unloving. . . . [They] are incompatible in the deepest way with a will towards communion with others, which must always be founded on truth, both generally speaking (for falsehood does indeed bring with it many pernicious consequences for a community), and, more specifically, the truth of persons."
To his credit, Prof. Tollefsen concedes that his position "could not easily be adhered to." Indeed, it could not. As he notes, his view seems to lead to the conclusions that, say, the "practices of undercover work, espionage work, and other forms of journalistic, police, and governmental work that might require lying" are also wrong. (Telling one's child that the present she is opening on Christmas morning was brought by "Santa Claus" is, I guess, also immoral?)
I'm pretty sure I'm not a consequentialist; that is, I do not believe that what renders an act "right" is the fact that it has welfare-enhancing consequences and I agree (I assume) with Tollefsen that an argument is not refuted simply by noting that among the consequences of its being correct are many costs and inconveniences. But, I guess I'm kidding myself, because I don't find myself much moved by Tollefsen's arguments (and, it appears, St. Thomas's and St. Augustine's!) here.
Maybe my reservations are not "consequentialist" ones; maybe, instead, they reflect different judgments on my part about what counts as a "lie" -- I'm not sure. Maybe my head is just too small: the distinction between a military feint (designed to trick the enemy into thinking that one intends to do X with one's forces when one really intends to do Y), which is apparently permissible, and going undercover to buy methamphetamine (and, in the course of so doing, lying about who one is), which is said to be impermissible, is hard for me to grasp.
Anyway, and again: Read the essays, and see what you think.