Monday, 3 August 2015

The Just War argument

The comment by Ttony on my blog about lying to save lives, seems to me to be the nearest we have yet come to a solution to this dilemma.  He uses the Just War argument as an analogy.

To tease that out a little further, it seems clear to me that just wars were possible before Just War theory was properly articulated.

By the same token, perhaps what we see in the exposure of Planned Parenthood's evil, by way of means involving subterfuge, is a just lie, even though we have not yet been able clearly to argue a Just Lie theory.

Just as it seems clear to most people that the war against the Nazis had to be fought, for to fail to do so would have been collusion with a great evil, so one could argue that exposing the deception of Planned Parenthood had to be done, to avoid colluding with a worse evil.

I'm nearly there.

But I'm not quite.

Interestingly, it seems that in the original draft of the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, the version that was first published in French, it included in its definition of a lie that a lie was committed when one deceived someone who had a right to the truth. That would have settled it.  However, when the official Latin text was released, that clause had been removed. Clearly, in the editing and checking process, it had been found that there was not a sufficient consensus that such a clause accurately reflected Catholic teaching.

So, perhaps a straw in the wind, but on the other hand, one that was rejected...

My moral intuition tells me that no sin was committed in the deception of  Planned Parenthood staff to reveal the evil at the heart of the organisation, but my intellect still isn't sure.  And taking the Just War argument a little further may help to explain why.

The Second World War, I think most would agree, met the criteria for a just war, from the point of view of the Allies. However, that does not mean that all that the Allies did was justified. I think the dropping of the atom bombs was morally illegitimate, as was the blanket bombing of Dresden.

Moreover, there is always the risk, inherent in war, I think, that we demonise the enemy, when our instructions are to love our enemies.

And I further believe that the Allies' damaged themselves by the way in which they conducted some aspects of the war; a moral compromise that has borne bad fruits in Western Europe and the USA ever since. But again, that is more an intuition than something I can make a strong rational case for.

So I remain conflicted: I still feel that lying in this case was probably justifiable, though I cannot quite see how to justify it, theologically. I remain deeply convinced that lying is dangerous and normally damaging to the one who lies, and that any sin, however trivial, is simply wrong. Further, I am very wary of the precedent we set when we lie for a good cause, and the risk of a slippery slope if we erode our fundamental understanding of the natural law. And there is that risk that in order to justify our actions we demonise Planned Parenthood as the enemy...

Let me be quite clear: I am not condemning the actions of those who made the films: I am exploring my own moral understanding and the limitations thereof - and anyone who can help me clarify it further will be very welcome!


Charlesdawson said...

Beware of the philosophy of committing an evil so that a greater good may come. I heard an American expression once which sums it all up; it is somewhat graphic, so please feel free to tone it down:

"Never touch s**t, even with gloves. The gloves become s**ttier, the s**t doesn't become glovier."


Part-time Pilgrim said...

Some oblique thoughts on this:

Rita said...

Does this help provide an answer to your dilemma? An imaginary confession:

Bless me Father for I have sinned, It has been * months since my last confession. I wish to confess that I have obtained information by deception and I have lied. I have published the findings of my deception on the internet. I am truly sorry for any undue hurt I may have caused to innocent family members of the people I secretly filmed. I confess to pride in thinking that my exposé can do good. I make no excuses for my actions and am here as my own prosecution. It is for God to work through my actions and I seek forgiveness for all the actions and thoughts I have had that have impeded His divine plan. It is foolish to think I can do good. I ask for forgiveness in that I desire that no innocent parties suffer on account of my actions. For these sins I have confessed just now and for all my sins, I am truly sorry.

Sitsio said...

The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. (CCC 2488)

The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. (CCC 2484)

I would argue that, in this instance, no truth was deformed, rather, the lie was told in order to elicit the truth and degrade the lie which hid that truth. These were the circumstances: that a known reality; a heinous evil, was being hidden. The "deception" was an attempt to demonstrate something that would never knowingly be made public, was revealed so that it could be known and a rational judgement be made in full knowledge of all the facts.

Sometimes justice and charity require that we are circumspect with what we reveal and what we withhold (Mt 10:16).

St. Augustine wrote the first extensive treatise on lying (De Mendacio). The CCC cites this work in n.2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving”.

One of the stronger philosophical traditions, endorsed by Aquinas and discussed by Augustine, posits that lying is "deliberately speaking against one’s own mind.”

The definition in the Catechism has the virtue of anchoring a lie in objective reality. To be properly termed a lie, a statement must fulfil two conditions: (a) It must be objectively false; (b) It must be spoken with the intention to deceive. This definition also makes it easier to dismiss falsehoods obviously told in jest (though supporters of the other definition have argued that a falsehood told in jest is not in any meaningful way contrary to one’s own mind), but it does not as easily capture the moral failure of the person who intends to lie but, because his understanding is wrong, inadvertently tells the truth. And neither definition appears to address the question of why it is moral to lie to Planned Parenthood.

I think Peter Williams’ position which argues that we are obliged to state the strict truth no matter what the consequences, on the principle that the end does not justify the means, unfortunately, makes a presumption that the only reason to shy away from the truth is fear of unpleasant consequences. In the case of the Planned Parenthood, we must ask whether we are complicit in a grave evil if we know what is really going on but fail to reveal it convincingly? In an example where we are protecting an innocent from some violent interlocutor intent on murder, should we fail to protect the innocents it is worth noting that they could be charged as accomplices under most legal systems.

It seems that most moralists have believed that such a necessary lie is moral, but Catholic thinkers have often found the specific explanation troubling, because it appears to subordinate veracity to justice, when both may be considered incommensurable intrinsic goods. Such moralists, including St. Raymund of Peñafort in the 13th century and St. Alphonsus Liguori in the 18th, have tried to develop a theory of truth-telling which permits legitimate deception without formal falsehood. This theory is called mental reservation, and it has been very widely followed. For example, the Society of Jesus has been especially associated with various doctrines of mental reservation throughout most of its history.

Ultimately I think your instincts are correct on this Ben. I think the deception used to garner the truth in this instance does detract from the integrity of the process, but the truth revealed is so horrendous, it MUST be told. The deception led to the truth, and may lead yet to a great evil being addressed.