The ongoing LiveAction debate

Previous “Links roundups” (here and here) have taken up the debate about LiveAction and whether its deceptive methods (pretending to be pimps and child prostitutes) in revealing despicable Planned Parenthood practices were morally justifiable. The debate continues to rage in the Catholic blogosphere.

In one sense, there is little debate from the point of view of Catholic moral theology. It is a well established principle that you cannot do evil for the sake of good. An intrinsic evil is an evil that cannot be justified in any case. “Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.” (CCC 1754) “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC 1756).
And the Catechism pretty clearly identifies lying as an intrinsic evil (“By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” CCC 2485). Worth noting that Augustine and Aquinas both teach the same thing.

But it is not so simple as that, of course. Distinctions can be made, and not every false utterance is a lie. The Catechism defines a lie as speech or act against the truth that is done in order to lead someone into error. Once you make this move, it gets a little muddier to sort out the status of the LiveAction deception.

For those interested in the debate, I thought I would provide a series of important articles that have taken up the issue.

Francis Beckwith gives a nice overview here.

Christopher Tollefsen’s Public Discourse articles have provided the most absolutist account, arguing that lying is not justified in any case – not even the ubiquitous hiding Jews in the attic from Nazis case. His first piece is here. Christopher Kaczor responds to Tollefson here. Tollefson then responds here.

Hadley Arkes chimed in, explaining why not all false utterances are lies here. Tollefson responded again here.

One worry, expressed here by my mentor Peter Kreeft, is that those condemning the deception are falling into an indefensible moral legalism. But there are reservations about this approach. Kreeft’s article would have been stronger had it explicitly considered Magisterial teachings on the moral object.

All of this, of course, comes at a time when there is a real prospect that Planned Parenthood will lose federal funding. Here is Representative Smith providing a compelling argument that the UNFPA be defunded because of its ongoing support for the China one child policy that has resulted in what Smith calls a “gendercide” of some 40 million unborn girls.

About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
This entry was posted in Catholic thought/religion/culture, Polis (politics, culture). Bookmark the permalink.

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