Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Asserting falsehoods

Because of various difficulties in accounts of lying and related phenomena, I've been drawn to the simple theory on which it's always morally wrong to assert falsehoods, though of course if one is justified in believing the falsehood, one isn't culpable (and it's not lying then). But Heath White's argument which I reference in this comment suggests a pretty decisive argument to the contrary. Suppose that my daughter justifiably asserted to her brother: "Daddy won't play Monopoly with us tonight." It is within my power to make this false by playing Monopoly with the kids. But if I were to make it false, then on the view in question it would be the case that my daughter did something morally wrong. And surely I have a significant moral reason to avoid bringing it about that my child did something wrong, even if it would only be inculpably wrong and my bringing it about would not be intentional.


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Where the heck in this would we find charity towards neighbor? My grandmother lived in Russia during the Russian revolution and the Russian civil war. After the Revolution she was terminated as a school teacher because she was not of the politically correct type. So she got a job in the post office in Siberia. The Russian civil war between the Red and White armies was extremely gruesome. The killings were hideously gruesome by both sides. When day, an officer from the White army hid in her house. Then some members of the Red Army showed up asking her if she knew of his whereabouts. She told them she didn't know because she could not betray a human being to a gruesome death. Now, I had this spiritual director who told me that she was wrong to lie to the Reds. I couldn't convince him that she had prevented a gruesome killing. My spiritual director didn't see this as charity toward neighbor, he saw this as a sin against God. He told me that I valued human life more than God. I asked him what about the people who hid Jews from the Nazis, and he didn't answer my questions. I left my session with him. I remember looking at the pro-life stickers on my truck and thinking that if what my spiritual director told me was true than all this pro-life stuff was a sick joke. I talked to a friend of mine who was a devout Catholic (he is deceased). This person was also a retired Maryland State Trooper. He told me to find another priest. He told me that if you reveal the whereabouts of a person to people intent on killing him you are legally an accessory to murder, though this spiritual director had maintained otherwise when I questioned him. Needless to say, I dropped this spiritual director. I will say this and will say it quite plainly - I am a hunter. In my hunting experience I know that there is no real way to "humanely" kill anything. I do the best I can to minimize the suffering and sometimes I am successful. I try to make one shot one kill my goal and all ethical hunters do though this does not always go as planned. However, there is really no humane way to kill anything short of lethal injection which I personally witnessed with my cat and my Thoroughbred. While goose hunting, the birds are frequently not dead when we shoot them. We kill them by wringing their necks, and I've seen neck wrung to the point where the head is barely attached vertebrae sticking through because the birds are twirled around by the neck. I've had one case where there was goose we thought was dead. It was shot and we wrung up its neck real good to kill it as fast as possible. The bird was next to me in the pit we were hunting out of when it revived and started honking, mangled neck and all.

Am I saying all this to be gross. No. I am saying this to bring some unpleasant realities to light. What my grandmother endured during the Russian revolution, the Russian Civil War and World War II where she lived under both Stalin and Hitler had a marked effect on her that people who don't go through these things just don't have and just can't understand no matter how much you throw this stuff in their faces. I know this from personal experience. I can't be silent about this anymore.

Jamie Cassata said...

I'd say, here we have to make a distinction with respect to what the daughter really means, since it is the logical meaning that is what is true or false, not the grammatical sentence (whose norm is correctness, not truth).

What does she really mean when she says "Daddy won't play Monopoly with us tonight"? In the example she's justified to say it, so the father must have indicated in some way that he will not play Monopoly. So what she really means is, "Daddy has indicated that he will not play Monopoly," which is true regardless of whether he plays or not.

Jamie Cassata said...

Or else throw out that he indicated it. Simply say she has reason to believe it (since she's justified). Hence the real meaning of her affirmation is, "I have reason to believe that daddy will not play tonight"--again, true, regardless of whether or not daddy actually plays.

Alexander R Pruss said...


You obviously should not reveal the whereabouts of people being sought. But the Christian tradition is very, very clear that no matter what the cost, one must not lie. Augustine even says that if the only way to get into a prison to baptize somebody is to lie, that's still wrong. (And baptizing is more important to Augustine than saving a life, of course.)

However, one can still be clever. I love the story about old lady who was hiding a Jew. A Gestapo officer came by to ask if she was hiding any Jews, and she gushed all over him (without ever having seen him before): "Oh, so nice to see you, Frank! How have you been doing? I haven't seen your father for ages. Come in, come in, have some tea." And he thought she was crazy and left in a hurry.

Or there is Athanasius when asked by soldiers if he had seen Athanasius responding that Athanasius is not far off.

The Holy Spirit may give us the cleverness for such moves.

In the specific case of the Nazis, I've argued that to tell the Gestapo "I am not hiding any Jews" is to tell the truth to the Gestapo. For the salient meaning of the word "Jew" to the Gestapo is something like malignant subhumans. But of course one isn't hiding any malignant subhumans. So if one said "I am hiding Jews", one would be telling a falsehood to the Gestapo.

This story doesn't apply in all cases. In some cases there will be no good way out, and one simply needs to do the right thing and let come what will, much as the early Christians died with their families rather than lie about the faith. Kant, I think, says that when the murderer is at the door asking if the victim is in the house, one should just fly at the murderer with one's fists, and die unsuccessfully defending the innocent.

The important thing to remember is that there is a crucial difference between intentional wrongdoing and non-intentional harm. Lying is an intentional betrayal of a trust that one has solicited from one's neighbor. Sometimes a failure to lie will result in someone else's death, but that isn't one's intention. Rather, it is a case for the Principle of Double Effect.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Surely that's not what she means. A quick test is that if I offer to play, she should say: "I was wrong."

Brian Cutter said...

Do you see anything wrong with avoiding the problem by saying this: You don't have moral reason to avoid bringing it about that your daughter did (does) something wrong. You only have moral reason to avoid bringing it about that your daughter did (does) something *culpably* wrong. Perhaps a similar move works in the deep-space-nine case.

Alternatively: Maybe we can say that you only have an obligation to avoid bringing it about that your daughter to does something wrong *in the efficient causal sense of "bring about."* In this case, your action of playing monopoly would in some sense (partly) make it the case (partially ground the fact?) that she does something wrong, but would not bring it about (efficient) causally.

Perhaps this is all a bit ad hoc.

Angra Mainyu said...


Briefly, a couple of quick points:

"But the Christian tradition is very, very clear that no matter what the cost, one must not lie."

As a non-Christian, I wouldn't find that persuasive, but I'd like to ask whether that's based on specific and uncontroversial (among Christian philosophers) biblical passages.

"This story doesn't apply in all cases. In some cases there will be no good way out, and one simply needs to do the right thing and let come what will, much as the early Christians died with their families rather than lie about the faith."

I would say that there are cases (possible and some actual) in which there is a moral obligation to lie, e.g., in order to protect one’s family from torturers and murderers, so not lying would be to do the wrong thing.

For instance, let’s say that in Nazi Germany, Gestapo officers tell Angela that they’ve heard a rumor the father of her daughter is Benjamin Goldstein - who was taken to a concentration camp. So, they demand that she tells them whether the father of her daughter is Benjamin Goldstein.
As it happens, he is. And Angela can tell that if she refuses to answer or tells the truth, her daughter will be taken to a concentration camp too, and then very probably killed after a lot of suffering.
In other words, it’s a case in which she properly reckons that lying about her daughter’s father is the only way the Gestapo won’t seize her (if you have objections to the specifics of the scenario, we may adjust it as needed). So, she doesn’t betray her daughter and lies to them. I would say that she did the right thing (why not?).

"Kant, I think, says that when the murderer is at the door asking if the victim is in the house, one should just fly at the murderer with one's fists, and die unsuccessfully defending the innocent. Rather, it is a case for the Principle of Double Effect."

There are of cases in which one has a moral obligation to protect, and not intending a harm is not enough to make a behavior acceptable. Knowingly causing a harm that is not intended is on many occasions immoral.
I can find some of those cases by means of assessing the morality of behaviors in different hypothetical scenarios. But some of them involve failing to lie.
"Lying is an intentional betrayal of a trust that one has solicited from one's neighbor."

1. There are cases in which a person has not solicited any kind of trust from the person one is lying to (e.g., Gestapo officers one has never met), in the usual sense of the word 'solicited’. If you’re using ‘solicited’ in another sense, then maybe so (it depends on the case), but it seems unproblematic.

2. There are cases in which refraining from lying would involve intentional betrayal of a trust that one has solicited from another person (e.g., a covert operative or undercover cop failing to lie when question, betraying her friends and coworkers), or generally betrayal of a person (say, the daughter in the example above), in a way that’s immoral (okay, we disagree on that, it seems).

3. I just said ‘two plus two equals five’, which I know is false. Maybe you don't count cases like that as 'assertions'?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


"Kant, I think, says that when the murderer is at the door asking if the victim is in the house, one should just fly at the murderer with one's fists, and die unsuccessfully defending the innocent."

One should then give thought to what will happen to those innocents after you are dead after failing to successfully defend them with your fists. This is precisely where the Second Amendment to the Constitution will come in and one of the reasons we as citizens have a right to bear arms. Here are the following excerpts from the Catechism:

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.... Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.

2265 LEGITIMATE DEFENSE CAN BE NOT ONLY A RIGHT BUT A GRAVE DUTY FOR SOMEONE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER'S LIFE. PRESERVING THE COMMON GOOD REQUIRES RENDERING THE UNJUST AGGRESSOR UNABLE TO INFLICT HARM. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge. [66]

If you are the head of the house, then you hold legitimate authority within in that house. You are responsible for the protection of your spouse and children. Many states have Castle Doctrines recognizing exactly this. The use of a firearm in this case may be necessary if your aggressor is physically much stronger, is armed, or can physically fight better than you because he is into MMA. If you are killed flying at him with your fists, what do you think this guy will do to your wife and children especially if they are girls?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

"Kant, I think, says that when the murderer is at the door asking if the victim is in the house, one should just fly at the murderer with one's fists, and die unsuccessfully defending the innocent."

This stuff was not hypothetical or philosophical to these persons:





While having a gun may help, one must realize that a gun is only an equalizer which levels the playing field between you and an attacker. Having a firearm doesn’t always mean you’ll survive the encounter:


Before he became a Passionist, Saint Gabriel Possenti was into things like hunting, shooting, and riding. Here is an example of Saint Gabriel Possenti's handiness with a handgun:

“In 1860, a band of soldiers from the army of Garibaldi entered the mountain village of Isola, Italy. They began to burn and pillage the town, terrorizing its inhabitants.

Possenti, with his seminary rector's permission, walked into the center of town, unarmed, to face the terrorists. One of the soldiers was dragging off a young woman he intended to rape when he saw Possenti and made a snickering remark about such a young monk being all alone.

Possenti quickly grabbed the soldier's revolver from his belt and ordered the marauder to release the woman. The startled soldier complied, as Possenti grabbed the revolver of another soldier who came by. Hearing the commotion, the rest of the soldiers came running in Possenti's direction, determined to overcome the rebellious monk.

At that moment a small lizard ran across the road between Possenti and the soldiers. When the lizard briefly paused, Possenti took careful aim and struck the lizard with one shot. Turning his two handguns on the approaching soldiers, Possenti commanded them to drop their weapons. Having seen his handiwork with a pistol, the soldiers complied. Possenti ordered them to put out the fires they had set, and upon finishing, marched the whole lot out of town, ordering them never to return. The grateful townspeople escorted Possenti in triumphant procession back to the seminary, thereafter referring to him as ‘the Savior of Isola’.”

The above excerpt comes from the web site of the Saint Gabriel Possenti Society.


Saint Gabriel Possenti is one of my favorite saints.

On another case about lying to protect a life. Several years ago I came across a string on a Catholic forum that went this way. A woman was being stalked by a man who was a stranger at the place of her employment and he would not get the hint to leave her alone. She was considering lying to him to get rid of him. While many commentators quickly went to the “We must not lie no matter what” response, only one commentator brought up an important point. Lying to a stalker might prove more dangerous if he sensed he was being lied to and could therefore become provoked. Some posters where bringing up the martyrdom of Saint Maria Goretti and advised this woman to submit to similar martyrdom. The nature of this sort of advice and how it was given I found to be a bit disturbing. Certainly it would be seen by most self-defense experts and law enforcement officers as nothing but dangerous dreck. (Saint Maria Goretti refused to submit to her attacker’s request for sex. Maria was only 12. Her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli, was 16, physically much stronger and armed with a knife. Maria died after being stabbed 14 times by an enraged Serenelli.) Finally one priest had the commons sense to post that the woman should recognize her potentially dangerous situation and go to the police.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I take the solicitation of trust to be a constitutive part of assertion. We could imagine all assertions as starting with: "Trust me that it's true that..."

The person lying to the Gestapo certainly hopes that the Gestapo will trust her. If the Gestapo doesn't trust her, her lie is in vain.

I agree that if lying is sometimes permissible, then refraining from lying can be a betrayal of trust. But it is not a betrayal of trust to refrain from doing the wrong thing. Not every action that goes against a trust is a betrayal of trust. Only actions that go against an appropriate trust are betrayals of trust. And a trust that someone would do the wrong thing is inappropriate.

It is, by the way, an interesting empirical question whether adopting a rule of absolutely never lying results in better consequences for those one loves than adopting a rule of not lying unless the stakes are really high. For instance, adopting the stricter rule makes one a more believable witness if, say, one's friend is incorrectly accused of murder. (Since if one is willing to lie when the stakes are really high, then one will be willing to lie to save one's friend from an accusation of murder when one takes that accusation to be incorrect.) On the other hand, adopting the laxer rule may make it possible to save the innocent from wicked regimes--though only if one is good at lying.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Here are some very important points to consider. I have drawn these both from the Catechism and from actual actions of Catholic religious who were hiding Jews from Nazis. In these discussions we shouldn’t just think in terms of Jews and Nazis though. Jews are not the only people who have suffered and who had to be hidden away from people bent on destroying them. The pattern repeats itself throughout different parts of the world and we can say the same thing of Communists and persons who disagree with them such as the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian intelligentsia they tried to annihilate in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A good book on this subject matter is Haing Ngor’s “A Cambodian Odyssey”. Getting back to how much truth should be revealed when asked if harboring a refugee. I have the following excerpts from the Catechism:

2268 The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance. [68]
Infanticide, [69] fratricide, parricide, and the murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural bonds which they break. CONCERN FOR EUGENICS OR PUBLIC HEALTH CANNOT JUSTIFY ANY MURDER, EVEN IF COMMANDED BY PUBLIC AUTHORITY.

2269 The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person's death. THE MORAL LAW PROHIBITS EXPOSING SOMEONE TO MORTAL DANGER WITHOUT GRAVE REASON, AS WELL AS REFUSING ASSISTANCE TO A PERSON IN DANGER.

From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among WHICH IS THE INVIOLABLE RIGHT OF EVERY INNOCENT BEING TO LIFE. [71]

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard EVERY HUMAN BEING'S RIGHT TO LIFE AND PHYSICAL INTEGRITY FROM THE MOMENT OF CONCEPTION UNTIL DEATH.” [79]

2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. THUS THE EXTERMINATION OF A PEOPLE, NATION, OR ETHNIC MINORITY MUST BE CONDEMNED AS A MORTAL SIN. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.

In other words innocent persons have an inalienable and inviolable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death. Human life must be respected and protected absolutely. These rights are either inalienable and inviolable and absolutely protected or they are not. If some thugs bent on murdering Mr. Stein come knocking on the door and ask you if Mr. Stein is under your roof, does Mr. Stein’s inalienable and inviolable right to life become secondary? If they now become secondary to our not sinning, then they are not really inalienable and inviolable. The problem is that under the Nazis or Communists or any other totalitarian system we no longer have a “civil society”.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Now let us take a look at the part of the Catechism that deal with truth, lying and confidentiality:

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. TO LIE IS TO SPEAK OR ACT AGAINST THE TRUTH IN ORDER TO LEAD INTO ERROR SOMEONE WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO KNOW THE TRUTH. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.


2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known OR FOR MAKING USE OF A DISCREET LANGUAGE. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. NO ONE IS BOUND TO REVEAL THE TRUTH TO SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW IT. [282]

First off the Gestapo has no right to know about Mr. Stein’s whereabouts. If we tell the Gestapo “No, he’s not here”, we must ask ourselves have we lead the Gestapo into error if the Gestapo’s intent is to kill Mr. Stein for eugenic and genocidal reasons? Who is in error, us or the Gestapo? Have we now done any grave injury to justice and charity? In this case according to CCC 2484 the most we would be guilty of is a venial sin, not a mortal one.

Let me give another case. Joe Blow has just robbed a bank and shot some people making his getaway. Joe Blow is your friend from high school. Somehow you turned out OK, somehow Joe went another way. Joe tells you he is in trouble and needs to stay with you. The next morning the police knock on the door and ask for Joe Blow. Do the police have a right to know where Joe Blow is? Of course they do. Would lying to the police about Joe Blow’s whereabouts be wrong? Of course it would. One is deliberately leading the police who have a right to know where Joe Blow is into error. It would do grave injury to the virtue of justice. In this case the sin would be mortal.

Finally here is this:

2491 Professional secrets - for example, those of political office holders, soldiers, physicians, and lawyers - or confidential information given under the seal of secrecy must be kept, save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth. Even if not confided under the seal of secrecy, private information prejudicial to another is not to be divulged without a grave and proportionate reason.

We must ask ourselves about telling the truth at all times and some professions where secrecy is a must. Such as undercover police work. Police working undercover to bust drug dealers, human traffickers and such like protect us. Also police posing on line as 14 year olds to infiltrate pedophile rings protect our children. All this involves deception of the bad guys. Yes, posing as a 14 year old on line can be seen as a form of lying, but how many of us would like to see a pedophile ring continue in operation?

Angra Mainyu said...


While the person lying to the Gestapo (usually) hopes that the Gestapo will trust her, it seems to me that in many cases she did not solicit as much, at least as I would usually understand ‘solicit’. But as I said, if you’re using ‘solicited’ in another sense, then maybe so (it depends on the case; i.e., it depends on what you mean by ’solicit’), but it seems unproblematic anyway, since whether one calls it ‘soliciting’ does not have an impact on the morality of behavior in a given situation.

Essentially, what I’m trying to do is test the hypothesis that all instances of lying (by a person) are immoral in the way we normally test general moral claims about a certain category of actions, namely by coming up with specific situations in the category and see (by means of an intuitive moral assessment, which I would say is very clear in the Gestapo example I gave above) whether the behavior in question is immoral.

I would say that whether it’s never a betrayal of trust to refrain from doing the wrong thing is a matter of the semantics of 'betrayal’. As I understand the terms, refraining from doing the wrong thing may well be a betrayal of trust, though of course not an immoral one, and even if the word ‘betrayal’ is usually negatively loaded, I don’t think it’s necessary that a betrayal of trust is immoral.

In any case, that’s not the crux of the issue, so assuming that it’s never a betrayal of trust to refrain from doing the wrong thing, then I would take issue with the claim that lying is an intentional betrayal of trust that one has solicited from one’s neighbor, because even if the trust is solicited (even in the way I would usually understand ‘solicited’), that would not entail that it would not be wrong to act in accordance to said trust, as far as I can tell; and in the case of lying to the Gestapo, my take on this is that it would be wrong to tell them the truth.

Still, I think the matter of betrayal of trust is not crucial here, either. A betrayal of trust would plausibly make not lying even wronger all other things equal, but if (say) Jack knows that Adolph will torture Alice to death for fun, if he finds her, and Jack knows that he can prevent Adolph from finding Alice by lying to him (Adolph is asking, so no cost contacting Adolph, etc.) about her whereabouts (which would not place Jack at risk, or anyone else), and knows of no other way of preventing Adolph from finding her (for instance) then I would say that failure to lie would be immoral even if Alice doesn’t know Jack and never put her trust in him.

Angra Mainyu said...

Regarding a rule of strictly not lying no matter what, the members of a jury or a judge (depending on the jurisdiction) would not know that a person would never lie. Even if the person has an excellent track record of telling the truth, they probably would not expect that person to refrain from lying on all circumstances, even if say, lying is the only way that person could expect to save her daughter innocent person from a horrible fate, like being kidnapped, raped and/or murdered.

That aside, it’s clear that in some cases at least, such a rule would result in worse consequences for those one loves. Let’s say, for instance, that Aaron is being tortured by the Nazis, who want to know where his wife, daughter and son are. He realizes (because of some things his interrogators say) that they’re close to catch his family. But he manages to lie convincingly (pretending to have been already broken by the torture), sending them on the wrong trail, and that gives his family time to escape.

If the question is whether on average a policy of never lying is better to one’s loved ones, I find that implausible (the policy seems way too extreme), but in any case, even if that were on average, it would be clear that that is not the case in some specific circumstances (it would be clear even to many people in those circumstances).

There are present-day examples too. Let’s say that Juan is a police officer working undercover in a Mexican cartel. If he decides (right now) to adopt the policy of not lying (anymore), then he will be tortured and then killed, and his family will probably be targeted as well; f they survive, they’ll be worse off because he’s been tortured to death.

Generally, a person whose undercover/spy/etc. job requires her to lie all the time (even about her own name) and whose life depends on that would very probably make it worse for her loved ones if she stops lying right away.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

As an engineer I prefer real world data as opposed to abstract arguments. Now let’s look at what happened in the real world when push came to shove between Nazis and Jews.

From this article:


“In remembering these times, one should keep in mind the conditions created by the Nazi occupation of Poland. Poland was the only place where German law rendered any assistance to Jews punishable by death. That punishment was severe and collective: It was meted out not only to the rescuer but also to his entire family and to anyone else who knew about such activities and did not report them. Almost 1,000 Poles were killed this way, including entire families whose children were not spared. Homes that sheltered Jews were burned.
Every sister in a convent sheltering a Jew was deemed personally responsible. It should be remembered that, at that time, there were often several dozen Jewish children who might be in schools or other institutions run by nuns. In order to keep secret any effort to hide a Jew, it was the sister superior who made the rescue decision. Oftentimes, a Jew captured by the Germans, hoping to save himself, would reveal where he had been hidden. The nuns knew of this risk; nevertheless, they not only hid Jews, but they often transported Semitic-looking faces under bandages along the way.
Boys were particularly at risk because of circumcision and therefore, required special hiding places. NUNS OBTAINED FALSE PAPERS FOR CHILDREN INCLUDING BAPTISMAL CERTIFICATES. INSTANCES OF THE BAPTISM OF JEWISH CHILDREN WERE FREQUENT SO AS TO FACILITATE THEIR CONCEALMENT AMONG CHRISTIAN CHILDREN. Although there were some charges of proselytism by the parents of children rescued in this way, those children had total freedom after the war to return to their own faith. . . .

‘'It was easiest to help assimilated Jews who spoke Polish and knew Polish customs. Many, despite a Jewish presence in Poland that dated back centuries, knew neither. FURTHERMORE, SOMEONE PRETENDING BE A CHRISTIAN HAD TO KNOW SOME PRAYERS, THE BASIC TRUTHS OF THE FAITH, AND HAD TO GO TO CHURCH. NUNS THUS HAD A DIFFICULT TASK BEFORE THEM, MAKING SURE THAT A JEW COULD HIDE NOT ONLY FROM THE GERMANS BUT ALSO FROM GOSSIPS AND SZMALCOWNICI. The latter blackmailed Jews, sometimes exposing them in the hope of material gain.”

From this article:

‘In a confidential rescript sent to Croatian clergy in 1941, Archbishop Stepinac wrote: "THE ROLE AND TASK OF CHRISTIANS IS ON THE FIRST PLACE TO SAVE PEOPLE. When this time of madness and wildness is over, only those will remain in our Church who converted out of their own conviction, while others, when the danger is over, will return to their faith." Archbishop Stepinac also gave another instruction to his clergy to issue the certificate of baptism to endangered Jews and Serbs whenever they asked for. This was done with all procedures maximally simplified, often with false names. To our knowledge, these efforts are unique in the occupied part of Europe.”’

Here is an in depth academic paper on the subject:


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

From this article:


“Rescue activities took many forms and included hiding people, helping them escape, AND PROVIDING FALSE IDENTITIES, food and shelter. These activities had to be carried out in secret, there was always the risk of being discovered. The rescues that took place are a tribute to the power of goodness over evil. Rescuers who were caught were arrested and sent to concentration camps and prisons and many were killed. The stories of the heroic priests and nuns who risked their lives to rescue Jewish people have been documented, THEY HAVE BEEN HONORED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH and the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Documentation Center in Israel, but they are not as well known as they deserve to be. They must never be forgotten. This article is based on documented accounts and briefly summarizes the rescue activities of courageous priests and nuns.” . . . .

. . . “Monsignor Quadraroli, and Father Calliste Lopinot urged convents in Rome to open their doors to Jewish people. Refugees were given shelter at the convent on Via Cicerone. MONSIGNOR QUADROLI, SECRETARY AT THE VATICAN PROVIDED THEM WITH FALSE IDENTIFICATION PAPERS. Sister Maria Pucci hid Jewish people in the convent on Via Caboto. During the frequent air raids, the sisters took the refugees to the cellar or to the trap door under the stage. With bombs falling around them, they prayed and wept together.”

. . .”In 1942, the Germans occupied southern France. Father Benoit moved the Capuchin monastery back to Rome where he worked with the Jewish service agency, Delasem ( Delegazione Assistenza Ebrei) to save Jewish people. He became the president of Delasem when the Jewish president was arrested. FATHER BENOIT BROUGHT A PRINTING PRESS TO THE BASEMENT OF THE MONASTERY SO THAT FALSE BAPTISMAL CERTIFICATES COULD BE PRINTED AND OBTAINED RATION CARDS FROM THE POLICE ON THE PRETEXT THEY WERE INTENDED FOR NON-JEWISH REFUGEES. Under his leadership, Jewish people were hidden in private homes and churches.”. . . .

. . . . .“Father Joseph Andre also worked with the Jewish Defense Organization. He had to be very careful, his parish office was located across the street from the German military headquarters. The parish door was always open, he never refused anyone. Father Andre traveled from place to place looking for monasteries and convents willing to hide Jewish children. Father Andre did not hesitate to move a child, if he thought the child was not safe. ONE SMALL BOY IN HIS CARE BECAME VERY ILL AND FATHER ANDRE BROUGHT HIM TO THE HOSPITAL UNDER A FALSE IDENTITY. As soon as the boy recovered, Father Andre brought him to his own parish. His activities were discovered and in 1944, he had to go into hiding.”….

...“In Poland, assistance to Jews was made a crime punishable by death. Yet nuns in more than 300 institutions sheltered Jews in convents and schools. Rescue had to take place under the strictest secrecy. The few cases that have been documented represent only a fraction of the rescue efforts that did take place. FALSE BAPTISMAL CERTIFICATES HAD TO BE OBTAINED FOR EVERY CHILD, THEIR NAMES HAD TO BE CHANGED. In Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania, similar conditions prevailed.”

From this article:


“But both know now that Sister Anthony Antoniazzi was a woman of immense bravery. She risked her own life many times to help Jews find sanctuary from the Germans, who had invaded Italy after the fall of their wobbly ally Mussolini in 1943.

Although she wouldn't speak of it, her work, WHICH INVOLVED PROVIDING THE JEWS WITH FALSE DOCUMENTS and safe havens, was made known to the Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs' Remembrance Authority.”

Angra Mainyu said...

Another quick scenario: Alice, Bob and their children have been "house-jacked": thugs are in their home, armed and clearly violent, demanding money.

A neighbor hears some noises and knocks on the door, asking what's going on, and if everything is okay (because he heard some noises).

One of the thugs points a gun at their daughter, and another one points a gun at the neighbor, and their leader tells Alice to tell the neighbor that everything is fine, that Bob was trying to repair some furniture and things didn't work out, but there is no problem.

So, Alice, in order to save the lives of his daughter and the neighbor, does as the thug demands and lies to the neighbor in question.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am afraid you're quoting the unofficial edition of the catechism. The final official version does not have the qualifier about the right to the truth. I assume this was removed because it was unacceptable to Rome.
However, one also has to remember that the Catholic tradition allows for various equivocations that make the teaching rather laxer than it seems at first sight.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

From this very thorough article:


From Paul O’Schea’s critical analysis of the above article:

“On the question of lying in general, let's take a look at what Aquinas has to say. The Angelic Doctor affirms the scriptural precept found in the Ten Commandments, "You shall not bear false witness". He explores what this means in the Summa Theologica II:2, Question 110 Whether lying is always opposed to truth. Aquinas argues that there are three things necessary to determine the moral character of lying. Is the substance of the lie clearly false, ie is the material something other than truth? Does the person lie with the intention to lie, ie to deceive or manifest an untruth? Does the person lie with full consent of their will. ie do they lie with no internal or external pressures? If the answer to all three parts is "yes", Aquinas argues there is no doubt a falsehood has been expressed. In the following discussion Aquinas sets out conditions, contexts and circumstances whereby the extent of the lie is to be judged. In the case of Pius XII "lies" expressed to an evil power, the Germans, in order to save life, is a vastly different situation to the Nazi's claiming that Jews were being "resettled" in the East in family camps.”

I think from how I’ve understood Aquinas on this subject is this: You are hiding Isaac Stein, a Jew, in your house. Herr Komandant knocks on your door and asks “Is Isaac Stein in your house?” Your say “No.” Even though Isaac Stein is in some attic closet sweating bullets at the moment. At most you are guilty of a venial sin in this case. My question to all the readers, who among us will actually say “yes” in such a situation?

From this article:


“Father Marie Benoit used his connections with border guides, the French underground, and diverse religious organizations to obtain asylum documents and hiding places and to smuggle refugees into Spain and Switzerland. THE PRINTING PRESS IN THE BASEMENT OF HIS CAPUCHIN MONASTERY IN MARSEILLES CREATED THOUSANDS OF FALSE BAPTISMAL CERTIFICATES FOR DISTRIBUTION TO JEWS, and he persuaded the Italian commissioner of Jewish affairs to refrain from action against the 30,000 Jews who lived in and around Nice.
Undaunted after the Gestapo’s discovery of his activities forced him to move from France, Benoit transformed his new monastery in Rome into a way station and rescue center to aid hundreds of Jewish and anti-Nazi refugees. He worked with Delasem (Delegazione Assistenza Emigranti Ebrei), the Jewish welfare organization in Italy, which would use Benoit’s monastery to store archives, hold meetings, and provide food and shelter to refugees. He reached out to neutral and friendly embassies TO PROCURE ASYLUM DOCUMENTS ENABLING JEWS TO CIRCULATE FREELY UNDER FALSE NAMES, AND FROM THE POLICE HE EXTRACTED RATION CARDS THAT HE PRETENDED WERE FOR NON-JEWISH EMIGRANTS.

While the Vatican has been criticized for its silence during the Nazi deportation of Jews, the actions of a large number of clergy, including Benoit, can be remembered and honored as moral examples for all to emulate and learn from, even in the face of great evil. His actions demonstrate civic courage, solidarity, and compassion regardless of religion or ethnicity—timeless values upon which peace depends.”

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


The Catechism I have at home for personal use is the "Catechism of the Catholic Church - Second Edition." The cover says "revised in accordance with the official Latin text promulgated by Pope John Paul II" The Imprimi Potest is Joseph Ratzinger. I have been cutting and pasting from an online Catechism because it save me a lot of typing. I'll double check to see if the texts are the same though.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


You're right on this one. I checked my edition. It has the "right to know" removed from all except CCC 2489.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Your last example is very interesting, because if it works, it's also a counterexample to views on which lying is permitted, but only when one is lying to a malefactor.

One thing I wonder about this case is whether there is actually an assertion being made. If someone holds a gun to my head and tells me to promise that p, then I literally can't promise that p. I can utter the words "I promise that p", but those words won't be a promise--they just won't have the normative effect of a promise, since any "promise" made under compulsion is null and void. Perhaps something similar is true in the case of assertion when the content is explicitly dictated to one. You can modify the case to get around this, though.

I also want to emphasize that my "salient meaning" story has a fair amount of flexibility. Maybe, it could be that the salient meaning of what one says in this case is: We won't benefit from your help. Which is true.

I am inclined to think that the solutions I offer in the previous paragraphs are off-base. But I am not sure. If either solution works, no lie is uttered. But if there is a lie, it's wrong.

One of the things that drives my thinking here is that I reduce all agential normativity to moral normativity. This means that if we take the moral rule regarding lying to be: "Tell the truth (or what you believe, or what you know, vel caetera) unless there is such-and-such cost", then I will also take this to be the norm of assertion. But a speech act with ostensible content that p and norm "Tell the truth unless there is such-and-such cost" is not an assertion that p. It is, rather, an assertion that: (p or there is such-and-such cost).

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

To see the Protestant side of the effort to hide Jews from Nazis and should a Christian lie or not under some these situations one should read “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom who was a very devout Bible believing Protestant. (She has passed away.) It is a very gripping first-hand account of a devout Dutch Protestant family saving the lives of as many Jews as possible during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Like their Catholic counterparts, rescuers Corrie Ten Boom and her family worked with also provide false identification papers to Jews.

The question of how far to go when it comes to telling the truth had been debated by the Ten Boom family. On one occasion, the Nazis show up at the Ten Boom’s house to take away young men for forced labor on behalf of the Reich. The men are hidden under a trap door in the floor over which a rug and a table are placed. After giving evasive vague responses to the Nazis who are asking for the men, one of the women final says “Why they’re under the table.” The Nazis look under the table and see only the rug. They don’t bother to look further as the women break out in nervous laughter. Thinking they are being laughed at and toyed with, the Nazis leave in disgust. The hidden men emerge quite shaken. A debate breaks out among the family on the telling the truth or sinning by telling a lie. What Corrie’s family brings up was that while they were debating the sinfulness of speaking a lie, they were doing a lie with the false identification papers.

There is an incident where a Jewish woman being harbored by Corrie’s sister is caught by the Nazi’s. The Nazis ask Corrie’s sister if this woman is a Jew. Corrie’s sister, refusing to sin, answers truthfully that yes the woman is a Jew. Corrie is deeply distressed at this betrayal of another human being. However, a series of events happens, and the Jewish woman is able to escape.

The Ten Booms had constructed a hidden room in their house to conceal Jewish refugees. Then came the moment everyone was dreading. The Nazis showed up asking if there were any Jews in the house. Corrie’s response was that there were no Jews there. The Nazis didn’t believe her and thoroughly searched the house. For some reason they failed to find the hiding place. The Ten Boom family was arrested. The elderly father dies in prison. Corrie and her sister are sent to a concentration camp.

Corrie and her sister minister to the inmates. The camp conditions so weaken Corrie’s sister that she dies in the camp. Corrie asks God’s forgiveness as she tells the camp personnel a few lies so that she could remain with her dying sister.

Angra Mainyu said...


While I don’t find what the Cathecism says relevant to assessing whether lying is immoral, the version posted on the Vatican website states:

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

Source: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P8K.HTM

While ‘To lie’ does not mean 'to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.’, it seems to me that the Cathecism intends the moral condemnation of that particular kind of lying (i.e., lying to someone who has a right to know the truth), not of lying in general.

That is the official version as far as I can tell. I’m not sure what other version you’re referring to. Do you have a link?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yeah, that's not the official version. I have no idea why their online English version is the first edition, not the official second which has been in print for well over a decade.
Here is a list of the revisions:
including the one on lying.
Basically what happened is that there was a French version that got published in preliminary form, before the official Latin edition. Then there was an English translation of the French edition. Then finally the official Latin came out and the English editions had to be changed to fit with it. The revision on lying was the most substantial one that I know.

Angra Mainyu said...


I’m not sure why promises need to have a normative effect, as in creating an obligation. If Joe freely promises Adolph to hand over Alice for $100, so that Adolph tortures her to death for fun (or promises to murder her, etc.), that does not mean that Joe is morally obligated to comply (he isn’t), yet he made a promise, at least as I understand the word ‘promise’. Generally, promises to behave immorally are still promises, yet it’s not morally obligatory to keep them.

Still, if you use the word ‘promise’ in a different manner, then perhaps we also use ‘assertion’ in a different manner as well. But in any case, I’m not sure why there would be an assertion in the case of Angela, who tells the Gestapo that her daughter is not Goldstein’s daughter, since she too is under compulsion (the gun in the thugs scenario is pointed at the neighbor and at Alice’s daughter, not directly at Alice).

Regarding the ‘salient meaning’, Alice said that Bob was trying to fix a piece of furniture, etc., which was not true, even if it’s true that they won’t benefit from the neighbor’s help.

On the issue of agential normativity and moral normativity, I don’t know the reasons why you make that reduction. By the way, do you think that necessarily, all agents capable of making assertions are moral agents?

In any case, going by your reasoning regarding assertion (if I get it correctly), maybe there was no lie in the case of the Gestapo, either (though as I understand the words, there was a lie in both cases).

Angra Mainyu said...

Thanks for the info on the Catechism. I'll take a look.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I find the idea of non-moral agential normativity incomprehensible. It's like the idea of non-moral reasons. This is definitely a minority position on my part.

It may matter how content-determining the compulsion is whether it affects the status as an assertion. If Fred points a gun at you and asks you to tell me what time it is, and you do, that's clearly an assertion as the content was up to you. But if he tells you to tell me it's 9 pm, that's less clear to me. I still think it's probably an assertion, but I am not sure.

Promises are like marriages: they need not come off, even though all the right words are said.

Angra Mainyu said...

That seems like a substantial modification indeed.

I guess it might be argued that (based on 2508) the definition demands an intent to deceive a neighbor, and perhaps 'neighbor' does not include all humans, but other articles do not say that, so the general condemnation of lying (in the usual sense of the words) seems to me like the most likely interpretation at this point (and if so, I disagree with the Catechism).

Angra Mainyu said...


On the issue of promises, I’m not sure I get your marriage analogy. Are you saying that those
cases do not qualify as promises? (if so, I’m definitely not using the word ‘promise’ in that way).
As for whether content-determining the compulsion is, at least as I understand ‘assertion’ it seems clear to me that they’re all assertions. But in any case, there are alternative scenarios. What if the thugs tell Alice to come up with some lie so that the neighbor goes away, else they kill both the neighbor and Alice’s daughter?
Generally, one can come up with more scenarios in which the threat is to tell a lie or else something bad (horribly bad) will be done to an innocent on the spot.

Regarding non-moral agents (normativity aside), how about the following scenarios?

Let’s say that some intelligent aliens (species 1) evolved on a different planet, and do not have a sense of right and wrong.
They value different things of course (so do lions, dogs, etc., for that matter), but they don’t have something akin to our sense of right and wrong (e.g., they experience no guilt, etc.).

Species 2 (from another planet) is also intelligent, etc., and has something akin to a sense of right and wrong, as they have something akin to, say, color vision. But just as their visual system does not track colors but, say, species-2 colors (e.g., they experience something like seeing red, green, etc., but associated with very different frequencies/wavelengths), the thing that they have and that is akin to a moral sense actually tracks different behaviors, perhaps of different entities.

Species 3 is mentally similar to species 1, but didn’t evolve. Instead, it was genetically engineered by another advanced species, which may or may not have a moral sense (even by future humans or genetically modified post-humans).

Adults of all 3 species typically are capable of communicating verbally, with languages as complex as human languages.

The scenarios seem comprehensible to me, and it seems to me that such entities, if they existed, would be able to make assertions. It’s not clear to me whether they would be moral agents. Can they behave immorally without a moral sense?