Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why Live Action Did Right

From Dr. Peter Kreeft:
Readers of the Gospels do the very same thing when they meet the Pharisees, who could put up strong arguments for a literalism and legalism about the Sabbath and against Jesus' apparent disregard for it. I think we should have the same reaction to the critics of Live Action. These people are of course far, far better people than either Euthyphro or most of the Pharisees. (But remember Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Gamaliel!). But they are wrong, and wrong not just logically but "you gotta be kidding"ly.

Most of my students, however confused their abstract philosophical and ideological principles may be, are ordinary people of normally sane and fairly healthy consciences (except, of course if it has anything even remotely to do with sex). When they are confronted by a moral legalist like Kant who holds that all lying is morally wrong, they instinctively sense that he is wrong, though they cannot explain why – just as most students, when confronted by St. Anselm's 'ontological argument,' instinctively know it is wrong somehow, though they cannot refute it logically. Similarly, most (though not all) pro-lifers instinctively side with Live Action even if they cannot answer the arguments of its critics. (Is it an accident that its critics are more Kantian than Aristotelian?)

Similarly, when we discuss Kant and the issue of lying, most of my students, even the moral absolutists, are quite certain that the Dutchmen were not wrong to deliberately deceive the Nazis about the locations of the Jews they had promised to hide. They do not know whether this is an example of lying or not. But they know that if it is, than lying is not always wrong, and if lying is always wrong, then this is not lying. Because they know, without any ifs or ands or buts, that such Dutch deception is good, not evil. If anyone is more certain of his philosophical principles than he is that this deception is good, I say he is not functioning as a human being but as a computer, an angel, a Gnostic, or a Kantian. He is a Laputan, like Swift's absent-minded professors who live on an island in the sky in Gulliver's Travels, and who make eye contact with abstractions but not with human beings.
But can't we solve the problem of the Dutchmen and the Nazis by saying that all lying is wrong but the Dutchmen don't have to lie to save the Jews because they could deceive the Nazis without lying by a clever verbal ploy? No, because effective deception by clever verbal ploys cannot usually be done by ordinary people, especially by clumsy Dutchmen. I know; I'm one of them. Our moral obligations depend on abilities that are common, not abilities that are rare.

Besides, the Nazis are not fools. They would suspect clever prevarications and sniff out duplicitous ploys. They could be reliably deceived and deterred from searching every inch of the house only by an answer like "Jews? Those rats? None of them in my house, I hope. Please come in, and if you find any, please give them rat poison. I hate those vermin as much as you do."

You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis. Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It's a good thing to do. If you don't know that, you're morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.

The closest analogy I can think of to Live Action's expose of Planned Parenthood is spying. If Live Action is wrong, then so is all spying, including spying out the Nazis' atomic bomb projects and saving the world from a nuclear holocaust.

If you say that morality changes in wartime, I reply that police 'sting' operations are an example of legitimate peacetime spying. An undercover policeman saves children from becoming drug addicts by pretending to be a drug customer to expose the drug dealer. Is this pretending 'lying' or not? I don't much care, except as a professional philosopher and logician. I do much care that the 'sting' works and my kids are protected. Do you care more about protecting your own moral correctness than protecting your kids' lives?

If lying is always wrong, then it is wrong to lie to a nuclear terrorist (the "ticking time bomb" scenario) to elicit from him where he hid the nuclear bomb that in one hour will kill millions if it is not found and defused. The most reasonable response to the "no lying" legalist here is "You gotta be kidding" – or something less kind than that. Thomas Aquinas said that even torture is sometimes justified; in emergency situations like that; if torture, then a fortiori lying. (Read more.)

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