What has happened to the obligation to tell the truth? What consequences are there for asserting an alternative to the truth, something no longer considered a lie but rather another point of view? It seems that the obligation to tell the truth is out of fashion, and speaking falsehoods in our own interest has become acceptable behavior with few consequences.

A few generations ago rules about telling the truth were among the first lessons parents taught their children. They were close in line with other basic rules like those about not running into the street and not hitting your sister. Stealing a cookie from the cookie jar was a small misdemeanor with a small consequence, but lying about it was an offense on a different scale. Parents could understand the temptation to steal the cookie because kids get hungry, and cookies taste good. Telling a lie, on the other hand, was a sign of weak character.

Something has happened to the rules about lying. The Little double-speaks of fibbing have always been part of the social code. Parents of the homeliest babies are told their little ones are darling even if it is only their toes and belly buttons. A bride who is a match for Frankenstein gets called lovely, even if it is only her dress or bouquet. These are social forms we all understand, and the deceit is minimal. What has changed is the permission to tell real honest to goodness lies, and a growing acceptance that everyone has the right to engage in deceit if that is what it takes to defend self interest. Our culture has become cavalier about lying because we’ve become self-centered. The daily news stream is littered with examples.

When public figures tried to boost their prestige by claiming military honors they had not earned, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act, a law that makes it a crime to lie about military service or medals of honor. If this sort of thing were rare it might have been passed off as insignificant, but self-promoting lies are not rare. There are over sixty cases in which individuals have been charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, and over a thousand reported cases are still under review.

Even more shocking than the fact that people lie about valor is the fact that the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided the law prohibiting these falsehoods is unconstitutional because lying about heroism is free speech and protected by the First Amendment. The judge reasoned that if the judicial system did not make allowances for some kinds of deceit, the law would end up “criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age or financial status on Match.com or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke.”

In addition to offering an opinion that counterfeit valor is legal, the judgment of the court also raised doubts about whether these sorts of lies have anything to do with being a good citizen or a good person. Some degree of lying, it seems, is accepted as a legitimate way to serve self-interest, and increasingly the right to serve self-interest has become a high standard for judging behavior. That is quite a shift from the old fashioned view that telling the truth is necessary for getting along with others, and that getting along with others is necessary for having a good life.

False bravado about valor is not the only sort of lie to which we are becoming accustomed. Millions watched as a member of Congress looked into the camera and said he did not know if the crotch shots posted on line were really his. When that lie did not hold up he went on to suggest that a hacker had stolen the shots and posted them. Once he was cornered and out of excuses he was compelled to leave Congress so he could go home and deal with his distressed wife. Despite the fact that politicians in his party moved away from him like rats leaving a sinking ship, there were many supporters in the general public who sympathized with him. As one person commented: “What’s a guy gonna do if he gets caught with his pants down?”

Roger Clemens is another tarnished hero. After winning some of baseball’s highest awards he was accused of using steroids and human growth hormone. When confronted at a Congressional hearing by the testimony of one of his most trusted teammates, Clemens claimed that his accusers had “misremembered.” This time deceit got a hero in trouble, not because he lied in the first place but because he lied again under oath and before Congress.

Liar of the Year award should go to Casey Anthony. The public was outraged that the mother of a missing daughter invented a fictitious babysitter and accused her of kidnapping the child who had been missing for over a month. If those lies were not preposterous enough the public was also treated to the claims of her defense attorney who had the right to present the court with an alternate fiction that incidentally destroyed the reputation of Casey’s mother, father, and brother, who will have no chance to vindicate themselves. The Anthony trial is one of those occasions when ordinary folks who want to trust common sense begin to question whether courts have anything to do with morality and justice.

The need to lie is often defended as a right we each have to protect ourselves from attacks by others who want to make us look bad. The counterfeiters of valor try to level the playing field in a popularity contest. Anthony Weiner tried to defend himself against criticism for “electronic relationships.” Roger Clemens tried not to look bad after looking so good. And Casey Anthony was trying to sidestep an accusation that could send her to death row.

They aren’t the only ones mixed up about lies. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish the rights of free speech from the moral obligation to speak the truth. Many are willing to argue that if it’s legal it’s moral if we think it is, because morality is an entirely personal and individual matter. And what makes a deceit illegal? Only if it is expressly forbidden by law. When it comes to lying it appears there is a lot of wiggle room.

Alan Dershowitz, an attorney who has made himself famous by defending high profile clients who seemed indefensible, stepped up after the Anthony trial to remind the public that the courts only determine what the law requires. He went on to say that if we are concerned about what is moral we should ask our priests and rabbis. And if we are concerned about how to define justice we should ask philosophers. Of course there are few consequences for disregarding the advice of priests, rabbis, and philosophers. The institutions in which their views are expressed have been fractured by the relativity of conflicting opinions. Their views may be interesting, but do they not make much difference in the real world of human consequences?

It appears that the advice of our parents has long ago been washed under the bridge, and the rules of thumb that used to support our trust of each other have been replaced by new rules better fitted to an age of self-interest. With regard to telling the truth they fall roughly along these lines: If you must lie, measure it against your own self-interest and make sure it is legal, and if at all possible try not to do it under oath. That is what we are left with unless we are willing to recommit ourselves to the belief that conscience matters and that living honestly and speaking truthfully is the better way.


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  1. A few points…

    When there is disagreement as to what is the “truth”, who gets to decide? The loudest side of any debate will tell you they have the truth. Truth becomes relative, varying with one’s values. As is often said, the victors of war decide what “truth” will be in the history books. When does viewpoint advocacy turn into “truth”?

    To whom does one owe the truth? If it is everyone at all times, why do we bother to have people swear an oath or affirmation to tell the truth when testifying in court? Why do we elect politicians whom we know in our hearts are lying to us, and we are happier with those comfortable lies? Why do we listen to the legacy mainstream media as if they have no agenda to push?

    Do we really care what Roger Clemens says, and if so, why? As to the defense’s alternative fiction in the Anthony trial, was it any less a lie than the prosecution’s proposed fiction? Nobody but Casey Anthony knows what really happened. It is the duty of the defense to cast doubt about the prosecution’s version of events. Neither version are likely to be completely true, but it is the job of the jury to decide which one is most probable and to what extent.

    “That is what we are left with unless we are willing to recommit ourselves to the belief that conscience matters and that living honestly and speaking truthfully is the better way.” But is it a better way? Do you want to live in a world where no one softens harsh news? Where brutal honesty is more about the brutality than the honesty? Where we have to openly face that some positive and negative stereotypes are, in fact, statistically significantly true? Where your duty of truthfulness is just as great to some stranger who may wish you harm as it is to your spouse or parent or friend? Do you really have a guilty conscience from lying to a thief? I think this desire for a totally honest world is built on a complete misperception or miscalculation of the world’s inherently hostile nature. Nature uses ambush, deception, and camoflage, so why should we be surprised that humans do as well?

    I would argue that we have degrees of duty of truthfulness to different categories of people, based upon their relationship to us. For friends and family, it is nearly if not totally at 100%. Beyond that, it declines based upon explicit agreement or implicit understanding. I expect complete mathematical truthfulness from my bank or stockbroker, based on contractual agreement. I expect virtually no truthfulness from my elected representatives or other authorities – even if they sometimes are, because I implicitly assume that they are only truthful with me when they feel it is to their advantage to be so. The price for miscalculating who you owe the truth to is called bad reputation.

    Caveat emptor!

  2. “Some degree of lying, it seems, is accepted as a legitimate way to serve self-interest, and increasingly the right to serve self-interest has become a high standard for judging behavior. That is quite a shift from the old fashioned view that telling the truth is necessary for getting along with others, and that getting along with others is necessary for having a good life.”

    Are not both, however, basically consequentialist views of the value of truth-telling? One tells the truth because to do otherwise is to fracture one’s being–it is not that we owe the truth to others, as ruralcounsel would have it, but that we owe it to ourselves. Yes, there are occasions when telling a lie is the lesser evil (as German Quakers found under the Third Reich, lying to protect Jews and others from the Holocaust), but it is nonetheless an evil.

    As for why an oath or affirmation is required in court, well, we Quakers have a long history of questioning that requirement for precisely the reason that it establishes two levels of truth. For myself, I’m not sure that I’d be easy even with affirmation–it still implies a double standard.

    Finally, I have to say that I agree with the Ninth Court: freedom of speech (in the political sense) doesn’t mean anything without the freedom to lie. I don’t think the government is the right place to enforce honesty, except in very limited areas where there’s an actual tort. The right court for punishing lies such as those described above is the community. Whether we have any such communities left is another matter.

  3. Dave, I’m curious as to why you believe that to “owe the truth to oneself” requires owing it to everyone else. The way I read it, your point about “fracturing one’s being” is that in order to lie to someone, one must also lie to oneself. I couldn’t disagree more.

    We aren’t discussing self-delusion. It seems a basic principle that to be guilty of lying, one must first know the truth. Otherwise, we are talking about mistake or a misinformed source, not lies.

    As for the example about lying to evil authorities (e.g. your Holocaust example), I can’t agree that there is any evil involved in such a lie. If your philosophy leads you to such conclusions, I can only say that I feel it must be fundamentally flawed. It is an unpleasant fact of our combative world that there are others whom we should not wish to get along with and it is our duty to oppose them with all the tools in our toolbox – it is not merely self-interest that drives us, but a higher moral duty to fight oppression or evil.

    The point that lying often serves self-interest is obvious. That self-interest is becoming a high standard for judging behavior seems just incorrect. I don’t see that lying is necessarily being used as a metric of good behavior, but neither do I see that it is necessarily a metric of bad behavior either, unless, as I said, a duty has been breached.

    The dynamics of individuals, societies and cultures, and nation-states and global politics are too complex to be covered by a simple rule that lying is bad, truthfulness is good. While it may be comforting to fall back on the simplistic rule taught by our parents, developing into a mature functioning person requires learning more nuance and complexity. The concepts of duty and allegience and how they play out in a hostile world, for example.

  4. ruralcounsel,

    The consequence of what you are advocating is absolute relativism. Man had better believe that there is objective truth, and a well-ordered society depends entirely on that assumption, before all other things, in my opinion.

    “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anything without the freedom to lie” is ridiculous. I agree that it is not the government’s place to enforce honesty, except (as you implied) in the case that it causes injury (i.e. perjury, slander, libel, etc.). However, freedom of speech is about freedom to assent, freedom to lecture, freedom to disagree, freedom to protest, and freedom to dissent or criticize, not freedom to distort or deceive.

    In the case of Casey Anthony and others, it is not the defense’s duty to distort the truth. The right to self-defense is there for the innocent to defend themselves in trial and, from another angle, for the guilty to explain themselves and appeal for mildness in sentencing. NO ONE has the right to misrepresent the facts, especially under oath, for the sake of self-interest. The guilty who try to cast doubt on the case of the prosecution by means of deception are committing another grave offense against justice, as are the attorneys who willingly collaborate.

  5. Marion,

    I disagree that what I describe has anything to to with absolute relativism. We are talking about truthfulness, not whether or not there are “Truths” with a capital T. In fact, I believe that there are absolute truths. I just don’t believe that is necessarily any one person’s duty to tell any other random person what those truths are, or any more mundane truths for that matter. Truth is a valuable non-fungible commodity, and one should evaluate one’s practical return on investment and especially one’s duty to others before just giving it away willy nilly.

    An example might be a telephone or exit poll … do you owe the truth to some pollster? And if so, why? Does it really benefit you to tell some stranger what you think and what your political views might be? You don’t know to what use they will put such information, or how secure they will keep such data. In most cases, telling these kind of truths to strangers can come to no good.

    I suspect a well-ordered society can exist (and may be actually more likely to exist) on falsehoods than on truths. Our current one (though it is quite the presumption to think of our society as well-ordered), for example, seems to thrive on lies and misdirection, particularly from the authorities and advertisers. Count me as a pragmatic Machiavellian realist.

    As for the issues surrounding criminal trial, you need to realize that what I described never involved deception or misrepresentation of facts. It had to do with competing plausible theories that explain the facts as presented by the prosecution, or any competing (i.e., inconsistent) facts presented by the defense. Realize that in most trials, no one who can be compelled to testify generally knows all the facts, so there is a great deal of “fill in the blank” going on through inference of motive, opportunity, etc.. The prosecution gives their version, the defense tries to offer competing yet consistent versions. The jury decides. We have chosen this imperfect adversarial system because it works more fairly than torture.

  6. ruralcounsel,

    If you’re worried about what use a particular person may make of the information you give to them, then don’t speak. You are under no moral or civic compulsion to participate in an exit poll. Sometimes a lie is a necessary evil and even a moral duty: lying to the Nazis about the Jews in your attic, for example. The difference between these two types of lies is abundantly clear and needs no further explanation.

    I fail to comprehend your philosophy concerning “giving away” objective truth. Most people who believe in the existence of Truth also believe that it is their moral duty to spread it, as is possible according to their state and their ability, to the four corners of the earth.

    You need to explain how a well-ordered society is more likely to thrive based on falsehoods than on truths.

    Rest assured that I “understand” the gamesmanship between the prosecution and the defense in criminal trial proceedings. When you get down to bolts and screws, this is what matters: is the person guilty or not guilty of what he is being accused? If he is guilty, then he is compelled by justice to admit his guilt and accept punishment. He is free to explain the circumstances and plea for a milder sentence, but that is all. The fact that human nature tends toward self-preservation, even at the expense of truth or justice, is the reason that we must try a person before a jury of non-interested parties and determine objectively, the best we can, whether or not he is in fact guilty. The only point I’m trying to make here is about the duty of the accused – the truth is the truth is the truth, and he knows it, absolutely regardless of the future verdict of judge or jury.

  7. True, silence is always an option. But surely in the circumstances I just described, not the most entertaining one. When strangers who are not in peril take it upon themselves to be intrusive and occupy some of your valuable time and any benefit is solely theirs, I see no reason to provide them with honest answers. I am free to cooperate or not, as I choose based upon the circumstances. Silence lets them free to go on to chose another victim, but lying to them allow me to occupy their time and corrupt the validity of their work product. A fitting end, I think. I don’t believe I am under any compulsion to take your alternative choice of silence as a mandate, just as you under no requirement to accept mine of misleading them. To each his or her own.

    There are, of course, circumstances that morally mandate the truth. Just as, I believe, there are circumstances that morally mandate dishonesty. The world is not a simple place, and simple people are often at a disadvantage.

    “I fail to comprehend your philosophy concerning “giving away” objective truth. Most people who believe in the existence of Truth also believe that it is their moral duty to spread it, as is possible according to their state and their ability, to the four corners of the earth.”

    Well, I fail to comprehend this philosphy of proselytizing what one believes to be the “Truth” like some kind of missionary. IMO, that smacks of conceit and condescension, if not pride and arrogance. Ah, the stench of moral certitude and busybodyness. I think it far wiser to believe that is one’s moral duty to mind one’s own business and leave others in peace. For that is the only way one can legitimately demand the same curtesy in return.

    As for how a well-ordered society is more likely to thrive on falsehoods, I think I need point no further than our own, as I believe I suggested. Perhaps not 100% falsehoods, but surely a large portion. But then, I am cynical.

    As for the situation of legal trial, I am so glad your understand the “gamesmanship”, as you put it. However, I would caution that this “gamesmanship” is likely the only way of coming to some degree of finality and approximation of fair verdict, absent an omnipotent judge and omniscient jury. The criminal legal system may aspire to truth, but it often falls short. It is not for lack of trying. The duty of the accused, in our system, is virtually nonexistant, regardless if the truth is they are guilty or not. That is becasue the system is gamed in favor of defendents – presumption of innocence, and all. That is deliberate, as our (thriving well-ordered) society has made a value judgement that it is better to let more guilty people go than condemn innocents.

  8. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let this go …

    “When you get down to bolts and screws, this is what matters: is the person guilty or not guilty of what he is being accused? If he is guilty, then he is compelled by justice to admit his guilt and accept punishment.”

    Actually, in a criminal trial, what matters is how certain are you (or is the jury) that someone is guilty or not, because you’ll probably never really know for certain. I can’t emphasize that last part, about the imperfection of knowledge, enough. We often never know for sure. Even confessions are suspect. Legal guilt is not the same as moral guilt, and many a person has been legally convicted (“found guilty”) and in fact been quite innocent. They are under no duty, legally or morally to admit guilt nor to accept punishment. They’ll be punished, make no mistake, but I assure you it is not because they “accepted” it like it were a UPS delivery. If you know the joke about the chicken and the pig vis a vis eggs and bacon and involvment and commitment, I guess you could say that judges and juries are involved, but the convicted is “committed”. I don’t think that really translates to acceptance.

    True, we like to extort admissions of guilt and remorse from the accused in exchange for more lenient sentences. I think this is more to assuage society’s collective conscience with a potential falsehood than for any real penal goal. The man dragged out of the court screaming “But I’m innocent” is likely to be dealt with more harshly. How does our society square that, in the cases that he is truly innocent? The answer is: it doesn’t. But we like that little white lie that we tell ourselves. There is a whole utilitarian theory of punishment that even insists that it doesn’t really matter if the right person is punished for a crime, so long as society gets the social benefit of the deterrence effect of punishing someone. I personally find that rather abhorrant.

    My point is this. The accused has no duty – not even to testify. The State must put forward a compelling enough case to convict. If they fail, the accused goes free. In theory, at least.

    If you want to really know the truth, do what a grand jury does, and give a grant of immunity.

  9. Please do let it go, because that entire second post was irrelevant. We must be talking about two completely different things.

    “The only point I’m trying to make here is about the duty of the accused” – that’s what I said. Certitude as to the person’s guilt or innocence is the goal of the jury, and because human nature tends toward self-preservation and self-interest, we need a jury to try and determine guilt/innocence, because it is quite likely that someone is lying. I’m not disputing that; in fact, I already said it. That’s not the issue I’m arguing. One who is guilty DOES have the moral duty to confess and accept punishment. Just because human beings don’t usually act in this way doesn’t change anything. And for the record, the law states that “silence implies consent.” You go ahead and refuse to testify and see what happens. Refusal to defend oneself against charges of wrongdoing amounts to an admission of guilt, and if you go to prison innocent as a result of your contempt for the court, then you deserve it.

    Truth (capital “T”) means nothing if it is not universal; further, if Truth is universal (as it must be), it makes the same demands on all of humanity. Keeping Truth to oneself, as far as one knows it, is, frankly, selfish. Why deprive persons of that which they are made for?

    You still need to explain how a well-ordered society is more likely to thrive based on falsehoods than on truths. “Look at this” means nothing. Even if you were to prove that our society is primarily based on falsehoods (which I doubt you would be able to do), you would still have not explained why this would be a more realistic or desirable model than the alternative.

  10. Marion,
    “You go ahead and refuse to testify and see what happens. Refusal to defend oneself against charges of wrongdoing amounts to an admission of guilt, and if you go to prison innocent as a result of your contempt for the court, then you deserve it.”

    This is actually 180 degrees opposite of what the law says. The principle is that silence is NOT an admission of guilt. It underlies invocation of the Fifth Amendment. It is NEVER a grounds for contempt of court. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_silence , which states that it is an underlying principle of many legal systems.

    You are correct that on a practical level, juries are usually unable to comprehend or accept this. So that rule of law becomes another inherent lie embedded in our social legal structure. Thank you for pointing out yet another lie underlying our “well-ordered” society.

    As for the second post, I think you fail to appreciate the difference between believing one knows the truth, and actually knowing the truth. Juries operate in the realm of the first. You had stated that the goal of a criminal trial is to know if someone is guilty or not guilty of a crime (in the nonlegal sense). My point is that juries almost never achieve this – in fact they are asked merely to to use their best judgment as to a subjective standard of proof, such as beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, every juror has a different idea on what is reasonable. They, in essence, are weighing whose story they believe the most, and how plausible that story sounds to them. They operate on emotional resonance and empathy, not logic. A far cry from “knowing” if the defendent is guilty.

    “Keeping Truth to oneself, as far as one knows it, is, frankly, selfish. Why deprive persons of that which they are made for?”

    Well, some of us think that the individual’s search for Truth is just as important as the act of receiving it. Thus just handing it over is not necessarily doing the other person any favor. It is literally impossible to share self-enlightenment. You aren’t teaching someone math by handing them the answer, only by allowing them to work the problem for themselves.

    The other concern, of course, is how do you know that what you believe is the Truth? What if you’re mistaken? What if you’re just unbalanced and are spreading some deranged babbling? There was a time the Catholic Church was certain that the sun revolved around the earth – and denounced those who thought otherwise to the Roman Inquisition. Mankind has a knack for thinking they know the “Truth” even in the depths of their deepest ignorance. This certainty that what oneself believes is the Truth and must be “shared” with everyone else is one of the most evil and destructive impulses humans have been able to generate. It causes more hate and conflict than anything else I can think of. It is often noted that the most intelligent people are humble because they realize how much they don’t know.

    And what of those situations where there are multiple Truths, each of which is somewhat contradictory. Sounds impossible, I’ll grant you, but it explains the current attitude of most western Christianity-based religions towards other major religions. It is one of tolerance, and that these other religions are not any less the Truth than Christianity. So which Truth is right? And what gives anyone the right to stir up hatred by trying to impose their Christian “Truth” on Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Jews?

    Unless your Truth involves Maxwell’s Equations, the gravitational constant, closed form solutions to quadratic equations, and how semiconductors work, I think it is very difficult to mandate Truth to others. Truth must be open and amenable to support from data and facts, it cannot be based on faith. Unfortunately, what most people seem to call universal “Truth” is nothing but faith. There is nothing wrong with offering it to those who are willing to inquire, but to actively seek to force it on others is, from my point of view, one of the most evil sins one can commit.

  11. ruralcounsel,

    I used the term “contempt for the court” in a loose sense; I did not mean for it to be interpreted as, expressly, “contempt of court,” but I can understand why you might think I did. My apologies for the confusion.

    The Fifth Amendment certainly gives you the right to refuse to testify in court procedure in order to avoid self-incrimination, and has its roots even earlier in English common law. “Silence implies consent” is an old legal maxim that today is only binding, according to the law, in particular circumstances. Pleading “no contest,” for example, which is pure refusal to defend oneself while not admitting guilt, will be treated in practice as an admission of guilt. If you refuse to object to assertions made by the prosecution throughout the course of a trial, this also implies consent on your part, according to the law. You are correct, though, in saying that a person’s refusal to testify based on his right to silence is not to be taken as an inference to guilt in the case as a whole. This won’t score you any points with the jury, however.

    “The right against self-incrimination is sometimes referred to as the right to remain silent. The Self-Incrimination Clause affords defendants the right not to answer particular questions during a criminal trial or to refuse to take the witness stand altogether…

    “However, the prosecution may assert during closing argument that its case is “unrefuted” or “uncontradicted” when the defendant refuses to testify (Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 98 S. Ct. 2954, 57 L. Ed. 2d 973 [1978]).” (West’s Encyclopedia of American Law: http://www.answers.com/topic/self-incrimination.)

    A guilty party is still morally bound, by justice, to confess guilt and accept punishment.

    I still want to hear an explanation on how a well-ordered society is more likely to thrive based on falsehoods than on truths.

    In regard to Truth, the Catholic Church, for its part, has never bound the faithful to believe in one scientific theory or another. Catholics are bound to obey the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals, and if a pope is mistaken in his beliefs about science, baseball, or climate change, no one is obligated to agree with him. I’m not going into any more detail on evangelization and the spread of Truth; it’s going to be like banging my head against the wall. Your statements in this regard have been utterly agnostic in nature; you seem to hold that Truth is effectively unknowable.

  12. My thanks to ruralcounsel, Dave, and Marion for your responses to my short essay on the right to lie. Your responses demonstrate well the complexity of the issue in a society that has challenged whether we can know the truth and whether knowing the truth has anything to do with acting righteously. Views of truth’s relativity, freedom of speech, accountability to anything outside of ourselves, and our basic human nature all surface in a discussion of this sort.
    Ruralcounsel has articulated the position of radical individualism, i.e. watch out for yourself, the world is hostile, and you owe no one anything unless you have contracted or negotiated some form of cooperation. A striking feature of self-focused individualism is the implication that degrees of separation (how close or distant someone or something is to us) might determine our responsibility to speak or act truthfully.
    Dave’s response surfaces concerns about what happens in community when we cannot trust each other to act and speak truthfully. When we are forced to the extreme of lying to protect the innocent, we choose to distort the truth knowingly in order to honor another principle (such as justice). That the principle of truth telling and the principle of justice could be in such opposition itself indicates that community has fractured.
    If we return to the original question of the right to tell lies, we are faced with acknowledging that in the vast pool of daily lies few are in the service of a higher principle. (Thus the comment above about BS.) Far more often lies reveal that convenience has trumped integrity, or that laziness is preferable to the hard work of resolving confusion or misunderstanding. The deceits that seem most troublesome, in my opinion, are those in the service of narcissism because ultimately moral narcissism sets each one of us over against our neighbors in the pursuit of self interest. Dave’s closing comment about what sort of communities we have left for holding each other accountable is a very salient point.
    Marion’s response is a good reminder that certain freedom’s protected by the government establish our right to pursue the truth under certain circumstances, but that the government itself is not an optimal agent for establishing what is true. Unfortunately the institutions and influences of society that are significant in helping us form our convictions have been seriously weakened. They have lost their persuasive power because they have lost their credibility in a context that encourages us to question every truth – and here we are talking about Truth with a capital T. In our infatuation with the possibilities of personal freedom we are easily persuaded that we do not need them. So telling the truth and honoring Truth probably do have something to do with each other.
    Finally, I think there is an additional consideration that deserves its moment in this discussion. It is the matter of character and virtue. What does my attitude about speaking the truth (the best I know it) say about how I understand my relationship to others and the consequences I create by my own actions?
    After I tease apart whether others have an obligation to speak the truth to me, after I make my guesses about whether they will speak the truth, after I consider again whether the institutions of society and the powers of government can regulate the speaking of truth, after I clarify the extreme circumstances under which not telling a lie would invite a grave evil, I am left with the matter of my own personal responsibility for my own actions. Speech is a powerful action: it has consequences. It is one of the ways each of us individually exercises our own power. In this context the fact of my responsibility weighs more heavily than the entitlements of my freedom.

  13. Suffice to say that you keep mistaking the act of being a missionary for a universal Truth, which I reject, with the ability to know a universal Truth, which I accept. Thus your last sentence is comparing apples and oranges, making your conclusion a non sequitur.

    As for the discussion about right of silence, it appears we are finally in agreement. Our “well-ordered” society lives the lie that the accused have that right, but in practice it is held against them.

    “A guilty party is still morally bound, by justice, to confess guilt and accept punishment.” If this were literally true, we would have no need for a criminal trial system, so I suppose it means we live in an immoral society. Or at least amoral. I suppose that the validity of the assertion depends on what you consider moral. Forcing someone to testify against themselves has proven itself to be so fraught with dangers of abuse, civilized legal systems have abandoned it. In essence, it tends to make the rest of us act immorally. So I think this moral mea culpa only makes sense in the conscience of the accused/guilty, and not in the courtroom. It is a trial of the confessional and conscience, and not the court. I think you are conflating the two locations.

    Even then, accepting the official punishment is not necessarily a logical conclusion of admitting guilt. We have so many examples where sentence and crime are horribly mismatched. A guilty party may believe they have earned some punishment, but are under no compulsion to believe that the punishment they receive is commensurate with their crime. One need look no further than three-strike laws, or the leniency of white collar crime sentences. So I still disagree with your statement about the duty of the guilty.

    As for why my aversion to coercion and proselytizing makes me agnostic I leave for you to mull. Labeling me agnostic seems immaterial and irrelevant. Yes, it is clear we are unlikely to agree and are both stubbornly entrenched. I commend you on not playing the missionary for your Truth on this issue any further, though I suspect it is born out of frustration more than moral restraint.

    As for our quasi-hypothetical “well-ordered” society, I think I’ve pointed out a sufficiency of examples with respect to our current society to make my point. To go further, perhaps you’ll need to explain to me what you mean by a “well-ordered” society. The phrase is inherently ambiguous. A prison? A reeducation camp? A Gulag? Washington D.C.?

    “In regard to Truth, the Catholic Church, for its part, has never bound the faithful to believe in one scientific theory or another. Catholics are bound to obey the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals, and if a pope is mistaken in his beliefs about science, baseball, or climate change, no one is obligated to agree with him.”

    Hmm, never? Absent some sophistry in the statement, I think the obvious falseness is only worth noting and not detailing. That may be the current position, but it certainly has not been historically true. Is this another one of those lies that the Faithful tell themselves in order to be more comfortable with the history of their Church? How is whitewashing history any different than a lie?

  14. Ooops. Sorry Mary. That last post was a response to Marion’s last post, not yours. Timing is eeverything.

  15. Sorry to have been so frustrating to converse with Marion. Honestly.

    “…the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as “false and contrary to Scripture”, and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it—which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

    Oh, and BTW, making a false statement to the United States government is a criminal offense. Lying to a federal agent can be grounds for prosecution under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001. Federal law also has a false claims statute at 18 USC 287. This statute prohibits knowingly making a false claim against the US government or any department thereof. Conspiracy to defraud the US is a charge that is likely to accompany tax evasion charges under 26 USC 7201.
    Tax evasion (eg, not reporting income, or misrepresenting income or property). So, you don’t have to be under oath in a courtroom.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion!

  16. First of all, I don’t think that you have any notion of what “Inquisition” actually meant in the usual circumstances.

    Secondly, if you’d like an honest article concerning Galileo, I’d recommend this one. New Advent is a Catholic website, but I believe that you’ll quite ready recognize its forthrightness after reading this article. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06342b.htm).

    “It was a churchman, Nicholas Copernicus, who first advanced the contrary doctrine that the sun and not the earth is the centre of our system, round which our planet revolves, rotating on its own axis. His great work, “De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium”, was published at the earnest solicitation of two distinguished churchmen, Cardinal Schömberg and Tiedemann Giese, Bishop of Culm. It was dedicated by permission to Pope Paul III in order, as Copernicus explained, that it might be thus protected from the attacks which it was sure to encounter on the part of the “mathematicians” (i.e. philosophers) for its apparent contradiction of the evidence of our senses, and even of common sense. He added that he made no account of objections which might be brought by ignorant wiseacres on Scriptural grounds. Indeed, for nearly three quarters of a century no such difficulties were raised on the Catholic side, although Luther and Melanchthon condemned the work of Copernicus in unmeasured terms. Neither Paul III, nor any of the nine popes who followed him, nor the Roman Congregations raised any alarm, and, as has been seen, Galileo himself in 1597, speaking of the risks he might run by an advocacy of Copernicanism, mentioned ridicule only and said nothing of persecution. Even when he had made his famous discoveries, no change occurred in this respect. On the contrary, coming to Rome in 1611, he was received in triumph; all the world, clerical and lay, flocked to see him, and, setting up his telescope in the Quirinal Garden belonging to Cardinal Bandim, he exhibited the sunspots and other objects to an admiring throng.”

    “[Also], it must not be forgotten that, while there was as yet no sufficient proof of the Copernican system, no objection was made to its being taught as an hypothesis which explained all phenomena in a simpler manner than the Ptolemaic, and might for all practical purposes be adopted by astronomers. What was objected to was the assertion that Copernicanism was in fact true, “which appears to contradict Scripture”. It is clear, moreover, that the authors of the judgment themselves did not consider it to be absolutely final and irreversible, for Cardinal Bellarmine, the most influential member of the Sacred College, writing to Foscarini, after urging that he and Galileo should be content to show that their system explains all celestial phenomena — an unexceptional proposition, and one sufficient for all practical purposes — but should not categorically assert what seemed to contradict the Bible, thus continued:

    ‘I say that if a real proof be found that the sun is fixed and does not revolve round the earth, but the earth round the sun, then it will be necessary, very carefully, to proceed to the explanation of the passages of Scripture which appear to be contrary, and we should rather say that we have misunderstood these than pronounce that to be false which is demonstrated.'”

    Your ‘Oh and BTW’ comment is unrelated to anything previously discussed, and your long dissertations in earlier posts have been equally irrelevant. I still don’t know what you’re trying to prove.

    In any event, I’ve finished. Take good care of yourself.

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