Do the ends ever justify the means?

I began thinking about this when someone on this forum was chastised for lying to make a point in an argument. Here are some questions:

  1. Is lying permissible to protect someone from harm, ridicule, embarrassment, etc.?

  2. Is there ever a time in which anger is ok? Righteous anger over an injustice? I even know some people who only respond to anger and vulgarity. Knowing this, I have used anger and vulgar language to lead them out of stupidity.

  3. About vulgar language… This is kind of weird, so please let me explain. I am of Mexican descent, and one of our unique language traits is something called a carino, which translates directly as “an affection.” A carino is a word or phrase to show affection for someone, like “dear” or “sweety.” Well, that’s not unique, right? However, for whatever reason, Mexicans often use words that would be translated in English as being vulgar . Their vulgarity is never recognized and no one ever takes offense, and when it’s said, it’s usually accompanied by a tone and pitch of voice as a parent would have when showing affection to a baby. So, what do you think? Is it wrong? It’s part of Mexican culture, and I don’t think it could ever be changed.

  4. How about violence? In self-defense, I think violence can be permissible. But what if you’re trying to deter someone from doing something awful and you know there is no other thing to stop them at such a short notice? For instance, what about a drunken friend who is about to harm someone?

I could probably come up with many more, but you get the idea. Jesus, I think, didn’t always follow the rules. He did “work” on the Sabbath and was “chastised” for it, and many more examples like this.

What do you think?

  1. Is lying permissible to protect someone from harm, ridicule, embarrassment, etc.?

Lying does not constitute a Mortal Sin if one lacks either Knowlege or Consent. Also, lying does not always constitute a Grave offence. In general, there are three forms of lying, indurious, officious, and jocose lies. (harmful, white, joke). Lying would only constitute a grave matter if it was Officious or Indurious. If it is self-evident that a lie is a joke, or made clear in the event of a lack of realisation; this would not constitute a grave matter. So lying to preserve someone from (just) harm, ridicule, embarresment etc. is a grave matter. This distinction between jollity and induriousness is one drawn by St. Thomas Aquinas.

In accordance with the Teachings of St. Augustine, no lie should be told at all, even if death is imminent for another, or for oneself one should not lie; however one may maintain silence or otherwise avoid the question. Purposefull indurious lying, or purposeful officious lying is always a grave matter.

  1. Is there ever a time in which anger is ok? Righteous anger over an injustice? I even know some people who only respond to anger and vulgarity. Knowing this, I have used anger and vulgar language to lead them out of stupidity.

Anger is undesireable, however we saw that even Jesus was angered at the merchants in the temple. However, as Jesus was divine his anger could be justified; as we are solley human we cannot justify an act of anger, as we cannot justify murder. However, that said; most anger would not meet one of the three conditions of Mortal Sin, that of consent, so in most cases anger is not a Mortal Sin.

  1. About vulgar language… This is kind of weird, so please let me explain. I am of Mexican descent, and one of our unique language traits is something called a carino, which translates directly as “an affection.” A carino is a word or phrase to show affection for someone, like “dear” or “sweety.” Well, that’s not unique, right? However, for whatever reason, Mexicans often use words that would be translated in English as being vulgar . Their vulgarity is never recognized and no one ever takes offense, and when it’s said, it’s usually accompanied by a tone and pitch of voice as a parent would have when showing affection to a baby. So, what do you think? Is it wrong? It’s part of Mexican culture, and I don’t think it could ever be changed.

Vulgar language is only vulgar in the context it is used, to say God in a prayer is different to say God in a damnation of someone. To mention particular elements of anatomy; likewise would depend upon the circumstances they are mentioned in, in a hospital it may be appropriate. Furthermore, even words like the “F” word have their uses, this word being an English word to describe breeding; particularily with regards to farm animals. However, there are certainly words that are particularily and singualrily meant to be offensive. One should refrain from using these words harmfully as much as possible - however, as above; if a word is spoken in anger it likely does not have consent and is not a Mortal Sin.

  1. How about violence? In self-defense, I think violence can be permissible. But what if you’re trying to deter someone from doing something awful and you know there is no other thing to stop them at such a short notice? For instance, what about a drunken friend who is about to harm someone?

Restraint is different to violence. Preventing a drunken man from attacking another is the same as stopping him jumping off a bridge. However, violence used or threatened for the purposes of inflicting suffering or to solicit submissions of the will is a Grave Matter. Like above, consent is required for it to be a Mortal sin.

Ask an Apologist Response to Lying

Because this question inevitably leads to homicide

[quote=Michelle Arnold](In Response to if murder was ever justifiable)

No, because, in the realm of morality, murder is the unjustifiable killing of another human being. If someone legitimately kills a human being in self-defense or in the defense of another human being, it is not murder. Of course, whether or not a particular act of killing is legitimate self-defense or unjustifiable murder is a much more complicated question.
[/quote]

If we can stop somebody from being hurt then we should, using all necessary force

In response to the title: the ends can NEVER justify the means, but we must not be complacent or lazy in our duty to care for and protect thouse around us and the weak of the world. I remember a quote, it went something like this: “all evil requires to triumph is for the good people of the world to do nothing”

What the “end does not justify the means” actually means is that you cannot do an evil even if the intent is to achieve a good.
I can’t see evil in the examples you have given us.

I don’t think lying is ever a good practice to justify, and it may become easy to indulge lying for whatever purpose we consider a better cause for doing it. We may count on the gifts of the Spirit to help us in these situations. (Mt. 10:19, Don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time.}

The best way to handle it is to find ways to evade the truth with a masked statement. For instance, if you are a teen at home alone and someone at your door wants to know if your father is there, it would not be a lie to say “He is occupied at this moment and can’t come to the door.” Occupied can mean {interiorly} that he is at work on the job, and that would not be an untruth.

This is something that people who are unilingual can’t seem to understand. I find the same problem with some Polish being translated to English. In fact there are movies with English subtitles that can turn a comedy into a drama. My step brother who translates for a living also tells me it’s a major problem in courtrooms. Some translations are worse than lies.

This also is one of my argument for keeping the Latin in the Mass. The vernacular is indeed vulgar.

Some people claim diplomacy is lying. Maybe a careful and tactful spin can avoid lying. :slight_smile:

Any rise in the adrenalin level can be called anger. It is a normal reaction to something that’s usually a threat to your well-being or comfort zone. It can be sinful if there is no attempt to control it.

As St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26)

When confessing the "little white lies " I had told in order not to hurt someones feelings my priest explained to me that not all people are due the full truth . That is in answer to the question “isnt my baby the cutest you have EVER seen ??” the truth was no … not by a long shot … the answer instead of lieing ? “he sure is a sweetie huh ?” having explained this to me , he said " the truth leaves a clean wound " . he then sent me out after absolving me to look upon the cross and see how far Jesus went for the Truth … hope this helps you decide , it sure made alot of things easier for me :slight_smile:

Jesus made a whip at one stage and belted hell out of the money changers. Nor was He soft on the Pharisees, at least not verbally.

I wouldn’t be worried about your Mexican ‘carino’. It’s not so common now, but Australians would often greet each other with “G’day, yer old ‘b…d’! How yer goin’?”
Obviously it wasn’t meant in the literal sense.

Sometimes there’s no other option but violence, unfortunately. Christ commended a centurion on his faith, but He did not tell him to give up his military trade. We live in a fallen world, and very often the only decision we can make is the lesser of two evils.

Incidentally the sort of “work” Christ did on the Sabbath was not for personal pecuniary gain. The specific “work” for which he was criticised was “healing” people. He wasn’t flogging real estate or washing machines.

Situational ethics has it’s place. It’s not relevant to all situations, but it has a role to play.

newadvent.org/cathen/09469a.htm

Thank you, everyone.I am quite relived to know that our peculiar affections of speech are not sinful. :smiley:

However, I am not too clear on the sinful nature of lying. We’ve all been in situations, I’m sure, where the truth would be inappropriate and/or hurtful:

“Am I too fat?”

“How old do you think I am?”

“How much do you weigh?”

“Why are you breaking up with me?”

I mean, come on, if I gave honest answers to above and other questions, I would have no friends, and many of family members would not talk to me! Some of you have suggested giving non-answers. I suppose this is an option, but I’m not really good at that, I think it’s a skill! Doesn’t charity come into this? And how about intentions and conscience? Aren’t those deciding factors in culpability and the sinful nature of lying?

I appreciate this, but others have pointed out that lying, even to protect someone from harm, embarrassment, and ridicule, constitutes a grave sin. What do you think about that?

The ends never justify the means, even if the whole world is at stake. However some means which are supposed to be evil, are in fact not, and vice versa.

There is sinful anger and there is good anger. :slight_smile:

'Only the person who becomes irate without reason, sins. Whoever becomes irate for a just reason is not guilty. Because, if ire were lacking, the science of God would not progress, judgments would not be sound, and crimes would not be repressed.

Further, the person who does not become irate when he has cause to be, sins. For an unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices: it fosters negligence, and stimulates not only the wicked, but above all the good, to do wrong. ’

St. John Chrysostom, Father and Doctor of the Church

‘There is an anger which is engendered of evil, and there is an anger engendered of good. Hastiness of temper is the cause of the evil, divine principle is the cause of the good, such as that which Phinees felt when he allayed God’s anger by the use of his own sword.’

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Father and Doctor of the Church

‘It is unlawful to desire vengeance considered as evil to the man who is to be punished, but it is praiseworthy to desire vengeance as a corrective of vice and for the good of justice; and to this the sensitive appetite can tend, in so far as it is moved thereto by the reason: and when revenge is taken in accordance with the order of judgment, it is God’s work, since he who has power to punish “is God’s minister,” as stated in Romans 13:4.’

St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church

‘The incensive power usually troubles and confuses the soul more than any other passion, yet there are times when it greatly benefits the soul. For when with inward calm we direct it against blasphemers or other sinners in order to induce them to mend their ways or at least feel some shame, we make our soul more gentle. In this way we put ourselves completely in harmony with the purposes of God’s justice and goodness. In addition, through becoming deeply angered by sin we often overcome weaknesses in our soul. Thus there is no doubt that if, when deeply depressed, we become indignant in spirit against the demon of corruption, this gives us the strength to despise even the presumptuousness of death. In order to make this clear, the Lord twice became indignant against death and troubled in spirit (cf. John 12:27, 13:21); and despite the fact that, untroubled, He could by a simple act of will do all that He wished, none the less when He restored Lazarus’ soul to his body He was indignant and troubled in spirit (cf. John 11:33) - which seems to me to show that a controlled incensive power is a weapon implanted in our nature by God when He creates us.’

St. Diadochos of Photiki

Hi Windfish,

Just a couple thoughts about your questions. What do you think is the purpose of someone putting this to you? Isn’t it possibly to hear you “lie” and tell them what they want to hear in order to avoid what their heart is telling them?

“Am I too fat?”
Nah, honey, you look just fine to me. (This could be really true)
Hidden truth: (S)he’s way too heavy and needs to gently be encouraged to lose a few pounds, not for vanity’s sake, but for health’s sake and discipline in nutritional eating habits.

“How old do you think I am?”
To the fifty-year old who is fearful of losing her looks, “Thirty-five?”
Hidden truth: Aging will come to every person, and the dignity becoming the aged is perfectly beautiful when accepted with wisdom and serenity.

“How much do you weigh?”
See first question.

“Why are you breaking up with me?”
I was given a wonderful lesson when my beau told me the truth about myself. It set me on a wonderful path of correction, even though I lost the relationship.

Think carefully before you answer, and you may find truth to be the best possible way of loving thy neighbor!

Sticking to this one, I can think of several answers, depending on context.

If the person is grossly obese, they need to be informed that their health is at risk. eg. “To be honest, I think that if you don’t lose some weight, you’re heading for a problem with your health”.

But if it’s a wife angling for a complement, hubby needs to be a bit diplomatic.

If she’s got bulimia, and looks like a stand-in for a stick insect, then again the issue of health needs to be raised.

Which reminds me. I used to work in a government department and they had this dead stick insect on top of the coffee mixer. It must have been a foot long and about an inch thick. One day the internal courier was standing there making himself a coffee, and for the first time saw it (how he missed it for so long is a mystery to me.). He just about dropped dead with fright.

Hold on a second, here… surely, this is too much of a general statement. I may be mistaken, but the Catholic view is not JUST about the action and the consequence, but about the actor’s state of being, conscience, intentions, knowledge, pressures, etc.

I remember reading a WWII story in which a family of Jews were lined up outside their home by the Nazis. The patriarch of the family was asked by one of the soldiers if he believed in God. He told the patriarch that if he answered yes, he would shoot him. If he answered no, he would let him live. This isn’t quite the “end of the world,” but I would say that this person does no wrong in lying (which he did).

Above all, charity. This is what my Catechism says in its first few pages, and I really do take it to heart.

Maybe I just need to work at it, but I speak off the cuff most of the time and it’s really hard to think up non-answers like that on the spot. Question: is lying in those circumstances a grave sin?

Lying isn’t a mortal sin to begin with, so in those instances it would not be gravely sinful.

However, it would be a venial sin. You wouldn’t go to Hell if you died with it on your soul, but the problem with venial sins is that they end up predisposing us to mortal ones. Lying to spare someone’s feelings will slowly condition you to believe that it’s OK to do a little wrong so that a greater good may be apparently achieved, but it’s always better to be honest; if someone gets all offended because you told them your honest opinions, those people might need to get their egos in check or learn not to be hyper-sensitive - you see?

Meanwhile, you did no moral wrong because you were honest. Hurting feelings may not be considerate, yet it is not sinful, but lying is sinful - you make the call.

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