Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dr. Janet Smith goes public on theology of lying

Janet E. Smith, "Fig Leaves and Falsehoods: Pace Thomas Aquinas, sometimes we need to deceive" (First Things, June/July, 2011).

[Hat tip to Janet Smith]


17 comments:








Alan Aversa

said...

Quite a good article; thank you

I heard somewhere the example of a priest bound by the seal of confession. If someone asks him something that would reveal what someone confessed to him in the confessional, he must unconditionally affirm or deny it even if that involves a lie because saying "I am bound by the seal of confession neither to affirm nor deny that" would itself reveal to the questioner that he has asked the priest something pertaining to a confession, and this would, albeit ever so slightly, violate priest's seal of confession.

This is because we live in a postlapsarian world, as Janet Smith says.

Also, I am not sure why she thinks St. Thomas Aquinas has such a strict view on lying. He mentions in his Summa the examples of Jacob lying that he was Esau and Judith lying to Holofernes, of whom he says: "And yet one might also say that her words contain truth in some mystical sense." (Summa Theologiæ, II-IIae q. 110 a. 3 ad 3). Could the Live Action actors, by dressing up as a pimp and prostitute, "contain truth in some mystical sense," e.g., that Planned Parenthood's immoral actions and their consequences are effectively prostituting good men and women against their wills by contributing to the culture of death which despises virginity and purity?





Chas

said...

What evidence is there that St. Thomas is analyzing the purpose of speech from a "prelapsarian" perspective? And what evidence is there that he analyzes self-defense and capital punishment from a "postlapsarian" perspective?





Dad29

said...

Umnnhhh.....

"Greater Good" theory, anyone?

I'm of mixed mind on the matter, and her essay doesn't help. Although it's nice to have her backing should I tell my wife that "the dress is stunning on you...." as opposed to a more pre-lapsarian "...honey, it makes you look fat."

The greater good is preservation of my life, right? Or not?





Anonymous

said...

I dunno. I haven't got a dog or pony in this race, but Dr. Smith's analysis doesn't look all that unreasonable.





romishgraffiti

said...

What Chas said. I fowarded this article to my favorite Aristotelian-Thomist Ed Feser and hopefully he'll chime in. I only briefly looked at her article and am not all that well-trained in philosophy, but it seems you could take this Pre-Fall/Post-Fall approach and make a hash out of any deontological precept you wanted. "Before the Fall, abortion and contraception were not necessary, but after the Fall, the sex act became tainted by sin just like language became tainted by sin, so in a fallen world, sometimes those things are necessary. Or even, "Before the Fall, theivery was not necessary because everything was held in common, but after the Fall, property became tainted by sin..." and so on.





Alan Aversa

said...

I heard somewhere the example of a priest bound by the seal of confession. If someone asks him something that would reveal what someone confessed to him in the confessional, he must unconditionally affirm or deny it even if that involves a lie because saying "I am bound by the seal of confession neither to affirm nor deny that" would itself reveal to the questioner that he has asked the priest something pertaining to a confession, and this would, albeit ever so slightly, violate priest's seal of confession.

This is because we live in a postlapsarian world, as Janet Smith says.

Also, I am not sure why she thinks St. Thomas Aquinas has such a strict view on lying. He mentions in his Summa the examples of Jacob lying that he was Esau and Judith lying to Holofernes, of whom he says: "And yet one might also say that her words contain truth in some mystical sense." (Summa Theologiæ, II-IIae q. 110 a. 3 ad 3). Could the Live Action posers, by dressing up as a pimp and prostitute, "contain truth in some mystical sense," e.g., that Planned Parenthood's immoral actions and their consequences are effectively prostituting good men and women against their wills by contributing to the culture of death which despises virgins and celibates? Is this unreasonable to say?





I am not Spartacus

said...

Lying is always wrong expect when it isn't. Capiche?

When your wife asks you if the dress she is wearing makes her look fat, just tell her to move a bit to the right because she is blocking all the light coming in through the window.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Just for the record, there are differences on this and many other such issues taken among my closest colleagues at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. I think it would be silly to forget that this is an IN-HOUSE argument among faithful Catholics and Thomists trying to understand what such faithfulness practically means.

Of course, that doesn't prevent any of us from doing the hard work of sorting out the issues for himself.





Chas

said...

I'm sympathetic to Live Action, but I think Dr. Smith's piece is just plain wrong. There is absolutely no evidence for this pre-lapsarian/post-lapsarian divide. Thomas analyzes speech the same way he analyzes anything else: from looking at the object of its acts, he determines the teleological order of the faculty. There's nothing pre-lapsarian about this at all. Further, speech is also a sign of the fact that we are social animals by nature because it enables us to discover together what is right and wrong, just and unjust. If there is going to be a defense of lying for political purposes, the best bet is looking to his treatment of deceptive practices in warfare (flying a false flag in a naval battle for instance).





Dad29

said...

just tell her to move a bit to the right because she is blocking all the light

Maybe if I say "prelapsarian" before I give that answer, she won't mind?





Alan Aversa

said...

Contrary to St. Thomas, St. Augustine, et al., Dr. Smith does not believe all lies are at least a venial sin; this is a problem. If she did she would be forced to say one is bound to sin in certain situations, which is even more problematic.





Anonymous

said...

Curiosity: does anyone here believe a feint by a basketball player, which by definition is intended to deceive, is a venial sin?

I would find it hard to go to Confession and ask for absolution for a feint in basketball. Who wouldn't?





romishgraffiti

said...

Curiosity: does anyone here believe a feint by a basketball player, which by definition is intended to deceive, is a venial sin?

A better analogy would be the basketball player when asked if he took steroids said "no" when he knew the opposite was true.

Saying "I'm a pimp" when I am not isn't a feint, it's a lie.





Anonymous

said...

As a priest, we were taught in moral theology this simple axiom: You may not lie but you need tell the truth.

One can be evasive in one's answer without actually lying. Example: Let's say a chaplain hears the doctor's report that a certain patient is dying. The person asks the chaplain if he is dying. The chaplain tells the patient he needs to speak with his doctor about that since he is not medical professional.





Anonymous

said...

What I have trouble following is how "evasion" or other forms of "dissembling" are permissible if any act of deliberate deception (not telling the truth, communicating an untruth) is forbidden. If I am evasive or withhold information, how am I not deliberately being mendacious?





Roman

said...

A good article outlining the Thomistic perspective by Edward Feser you guys might want to take a look at,

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/live-action-lying-and-natural-law.html

The argument proposed by St. Thomas is telological, such that (ironically enough) the same reasoning Dr. Smith uses can also be used to undermine the Church's teaching on contraception.

She also seems to conflate lying with deception -- the two are not the same thing.





Christopher

said...

On Smith on Lying II - a good response by Brandon Watson who also notes: "Given that Smith is famously a defender of Humanae Vitae and its prohibition of contraception, it is the height of irony that almost every single argument Smith gives here has a corresponding version given by opponents of the Church's position of contraception. And this is so extraordinarily obvious that it is simply mystifying to me that she doesn't see it."