Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Rhetorical Response to Dr. Kreeft

In my previous post, I outlined some distinctions about how moral intuition is only one step of the moral reasoning process.

Dr. Kreeft, I believe, does recognize this; but his essay leads to confusion by dismissing reasoned discourse over situations - which is what discernment in conscience is all about - as less important than the intuitive "sense" about right and wrong. But what about our "growing inability to discern right from wrong"?

A red flag in Kreeft's essay - and one that attests to the problem of using intuitive reasoning in this way - is in the argument he makes about the "ticking time bomb" scenario with regard to lying. To quote:
If lying is always wrong, then it is wrong to lie to a nuclear terrorist... 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.
Now, most of us will remember a while back the debate about this ticking time bomb scenario on the exact subject of torture. Back then, there were those who argued from Aquinas's allowance of it. There were also those who argued that it just seems obvious that, if the only way to "elicit from him where he hid the nuclear bomb that in one hour will kill millions if it is not found and defused" is to torture him, then of course this must be allowed. They continued to argue that "the most reasonable response to the 'no torture' legalist here is "You gotta be kidding'." We just know that torture isn't always wrong. It's moral intuition. And Aquinas said so too.

How did we respond in that debate? We responded that John Paul II and the Catechism had included torture under the list of sins which were "intrinsically evil" - evil "by their very nature." These sins, sua natura, are wrong and can never be justified.

Such a sin is lying. But here, proponents of Dr. Kreeft try to waffle on the point and say it's apples and oranges. That the moral intuition of those who thought torture was right was in error. But that with lying, it's different, because now we feel that way. And besides, okay, we're not saying that this means lying isn't always wrong, because, yeah, the Catechism says it is; and that's just a singular moment of imprecision in Dr. Kreeft - after all, he says above that "if lying is always wrong, then this isn't lying." So it's not lying. It's something else, because this is right and not wrong - we just know it is. And, as to torture, well, that's a whole other matter, because yeah, Aquinas was wrong there, torture is intrinsically evil.

But I repeat: lying is intrinsically evil too. That is not to say all lies are culpable sins, much less all mortal sins. But lying is, according to the Catechism, "by it's vary nature" an evil.

Call this something else other than lying? Fine, then I'll call waterboarding "enhanced interrogation." In fact, as a good friend of mine has pointed out, in this scenario lying must be "enhanced interrogation", too. And this is no red herring of argument: by relating torture and lying, Dr. Kreeft has invited my objection. For if you're going to make this argument of association between two sins that are "sua natura" wrong, then you mustn't put much stake in the distinction that lying is "always" wrong. The avenue of reasoning, remember, is a fortiori: something which is "always" evil can sometimes be allowed, like Aquinas said torture is, and therefore this - even if it is lying - isn't wrong, because torture isn't and torture is worse. So if torture can be sometimes allowed, then how much more should lying be sometimes allowed!

So, allow that a lie is sometimes okay despite being intrinsically evil, and you must allow that torture is, too. Reconcile matters with the Catechism from there - but don't try to get out of the relation. Otherwise, admit that if what seems to be lying is allowed, then it is not really lying - but recognize that you are making the same rhetorical move that the proponents of torture made which so frustrated us who argued against it: to demand that we enumerate all the things that torture could ever possibly be, to show why waterboarding counts.

And if you don't see how this all constitutes the same line of reasoning; if you answer me by falling back on moral intuition and the fact that you just know this is different: then I can offer only one reply.

I just know it's the same. Try to argue with that...

1 comment:

  1. If I understand St. Thomas, (and St. Alphonsus Liguori as well) he argues that torture can be licit because Capital Punishment is licit and as torture is the State inflicting a lesser punishment then that which we know it has a right to inflict then it must be licit. That being said, since soon-to-be-blessed John Paul II would question the state's right to the death penalty it is no wonder that he would question also the state's right to torture.

    That being said, you and I are of like minds on the argument offered by Dr. Kreeft.


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