Lying as part of work

Matt Damon, Danny DeVito.
They sued a large insurance company who routinely denied legitimate claims and forced the workers to lie about coverage. The most famous line is "Mrs. -----, you have appealed your claim eight time, and eight times we have told you that we are not going to cover this procedure . You must be stupid, stupid, stupid. "
Finally, the woman who had to deny claims took the stand to say that she was to lie or lose her job and be blackballed.
Watch it, it’s from several years ago. I’m sure it’s free by now.

Are you lying if you disbelieve what you teach to others? Given that you are fallible, something that you disbelieve – no matter how strongly you disbelieve it – might actually be the truth.

This is very interesting.

It is true that there is an intention to continue to sin, but there is still virtual contrition on account of the sorrow for “all of my sins,” supposing he has such a formal intention. This would of course include those sins which he does not understand as sins. If he knows that these kinds of lies do indeed count as sins, and he does indeed intend to continue in them, does it destroy the validity of the absolution?

My gut says that it would mean that those sins themselves would not be absolved. There is such a thing as a partial absolution - where some sins but not all are absolved, such as in a case where there is a reserved sin… An accomplice in a sin against the 6th Commandment can’t be absolved from that sin, but that does not mean that other sins could not be absolved. It seems something similar would apply here.

Lying is wrong because of what it does to human nature… It perverts the faculty of communication, which is ordered toward conveying truth. It’s like verbal contraception.

Not all falsehoods are lies. If you say what you believe is the truth (although it isn’t), that’s not a sin.

Telling a falsehood in order to save a life almost never comes up . . . except it actually happened to me.

I wrote a short post about it on my blog, which you can read here:

And, just to save you some time, I did take this to confession afterward, and the priest told me I had not sinned.

Lying is immoral by its very nature. It is an example of an intrinsically evil act. Neither intention (or purpose) or circumstances can justify any intrinsically evil act.

The lies told by an undercover police officer would perhaps be venial, but they cannot be justified by a good intention or a difficult circumstance.

Once you justify any lie, as if it were an entirely moral act, you imply that other intrinsically evil acts, much more sinful acts, would also be justifiable with a good intention or a dire circumstance.

What criteria do you apply to determine whether or not a given actual or hypothetical spoken or written communication is an example of lying?

Surely it has something to do with falsehood. However, we need to possess truth before we can determine whether or not some communication conveys falsehood. What description of the alleged truth do we use when we are trying to determine whether or not a given thing is false?

Suppose that anybody who pays taxes for a system of formal education could file a statement of claim in a court of law – without paying any legal fees – to make a specific objection about an alleged lie in a textbook used in that system. Suppose that based on the merits of the issue raised – and without paying any legal fees – it would be possible to begin a trial in court regarding the alleged lie. What do you think would happen?

I think that it would be impossible to confine the issue to the truth or falsehood of specific claims explicitly made.

The following issues might arise:
#1. What tactics are used in the textbook to persuade students?

#2. What is an oversimplification of the truth, and what is an outright falsehood?

#3. When a principle is applied, but the principle isn’t explicitly formulated in the textbook, what topics can be considered when testing the reliability of the principle?

#4. Are there citations of specified sections of text in specific written materials, or is there merely a list of book titles, authors, etc. in a “bibliography”? In other words, does one need to read an entire book and then guess what parts of the book are thought by the writer to support the claims made by the writer, or is it possible to see the links between the references provided by the writer of the textbook and the claims made by the writer of the textbook?

The undercover police officer is not lying. The truth is that a police officer’s job, undercover or not, is to protect and serve. They are doing this job though legitimate undercover work. Furthermore, a criminal has given up his right to know who is and who isn’t a police officer.

The same logic applies to a soldier. The soldier’s legitimate target is also not an innocent, and neither is an undercover police officer’s target an innocent. The truth of a soldier’s or police officer’s position is well known; and their targets, by their nature, are not innocent people. The undercover officer is not lying against the truth of his actions or his position, unless he is a turncoat.

First, you beg the question by simply saying it is “legitimate undercover work.”

Second, you allude to an argument that was explicitly rejected in the final drafting of the Catechism, namely, “giving up the right to knowing” being grounds for lying.

Third, by the soldier analogy you fail to acknowledge the issue is one regarding an intrinsic evil due to the perversion of a faculty rather than being an issue about surrendering rights, which is the exposition of the second point.

What you must show is that speaking a falsehood with the intent to deceive is not occurring in undercover work, namely by being incorporated into a broad mental reservation rather than a narrow one.

Again, the “Nigerian prince” can say that his work is legitimate because his victims are greedy suckers and are benefiting by learning to be wiser, and that he needs the money to support his family.

It doesn’t beg the question. Look the word up if you need to.

The CCC does not offer a definitive definition of lying. The right to know was there to start with, and logic tells me it belongs in a proper definition; however, I understand that it’s use would only beg the sort of question you make in your first point…“who has the right to know?”. However, in the case of undercover work the answer is clear.

Did Jesus commit a falsehood by passing through a hostile crowd by deceiving them? Or hiding his identity on the road to Emmaus? Deception is not, in and of itself, a lie.

The “Nigerian prince”? LOL

Suppose that the soldier was in the US military in 2003 and that the target was employed in the military of Iraq. The challenge created by your choice of the words “legitimate target” is that it’s not clear how a person who had a military career in Iraq would have known that bringing down the government of Iraq had become a legitimate goal, and that maintaining that career would be like quitting the military and becoming an armed bank robber, in the sense that a bank robber is a legitimate target of armed law-enforcement officers.

Were people in the military in Iraq supposed to believe that the government of Iraq was involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001 or that the government of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it wasn’t supposed to have?

What about countries (such as Switzerland!) that have military conscription? If and when there is a military conflict between the government of Switzerland and the government of another country, what makes a soldier in the military of Switzerland a legitimate target?

Closer to current events, what is the justification for providing weapons to so-called “moderate rebels” in Syria who are engaged in active combat against the government of Syria?

In online discussions, people typically oppose ISIS on the grounds of its internal practices, rather than based on it being in violent conflict with the government of Syria. However, we could compare the internal practices of ISIS with the practices of the government of China against adherents of what is known as “Falun Dafa or Falun Gong.” Consider the following hypothetical: people in the government of Japan who are adherents what is known as “Falun Dafa or Falun Gong” provide weapons and training to rebels in mainland China to attack the government of China, such as via hijacking of airplanes and crashing them into large buildings in mainland China.

If the government of China responded by admitting to persecution of Falun Gong, apologizing for it, and releasing Falun Gong practitioners from labor camps, prisons, etc, then the government of China would be setting a precedent to encourage future attacks!

I’m sorry, but you do not seem to be reflecting much or doing your research.

I know what legitimate means. I also know that simply saying something is legitimate when its legitimacy is what is being called into doubt is to beg the question.

You will find the exact definition which I gave in paragraph 2482. It is taken from St. Augustine, who would (and did) argue that lying even to prevent an unjust death is not allowed.

Whether or not one has a right to the truth does not seem at all relevant to the act itself, as described by the CCC, or by Thomas’ definition (“a lie is a statement at variance with the mind”)… What you have to show is that to use the communicative faculty against its proper order is not a violation of human nature. Good luck.

Not all deception is lying. Not all telling of falsehood is lying. It’s when you put the two together.

Legitimate. That’s it. In the truest sense of the word. This is not a real world scenario where the legitimacy of an undercover operation needs to be analyzed.

I don’t care to research the context in which Augustine was speaking. Thomas’ statement is more to the truth of lying, but to philosophical, it doesn’t work without a few paragraphs to follow it.

The ‘truth of the police officer’s mind’ is indeed what I’m pleading to. The truth of his position and legitimate actions are not lies. And it is well established in the US when a person has the right to know, and when they have given up that right by way of the greater right of protection of innocent people.

Someone on a battlefield with a weapon is a legitimate target. This is common practice since the beginning of time. Put down the weapon and run if one doesn’t want to fight.

How would I know the answer to your Syrian question?

Your starting to get into practices of States, which I cannot possibly provide answers for.

I simply don’t understand. What isn’t a real world scenario?

I meant researching the CCC… You said there wasn’t a definitive definition, but there is. It’s right there.

The clause, “to philosophical” makes no sense to me.

What do you mean by “truth of the police officer’s mind”? It sounds either like relativism or narrow mental reservation. One is a faulty world view, the other is an illicit kind of attempt to use deception.

You are implying an infallibility of US law, which is laughable. The appeal to civil law is strange anyway, since we are concerned here with natural law.

The same questions remain.

I gave an example - “a legitimate undercover operation” in order to avoid this discussion about begging the question, “what is a valid undercover operation?” I’m presuming the undercover operations is legitimate, hence I threw in the word legitimate.

The definition can change or be expound, as evidenced by your citations of different points of view in the past. The definition is not infallible.

Thomas’ view plays on the conscience, it is indeed more subjective than Augustine’s view. But I would not take it to a position of relativism.

The US law is Judeo-Christian based and has been refined through the point of view of states and a federal Congress for over two hundred years. It’s not bad. My point is, in citing US law, that ‘the right to know’ portion that was initially in the CCC had merit to be there.

The following might be helpful:

One of the stronger philosophical traditions, endorsed by Aquinas and discussed by Augustine, posits that lying is “deliberately speaking against one’s own mind.” (Throughout this discussion, “speaking” means any sort of communication.) This was the most common definition among the scholastics, and it became a staple of theological manuals by the first part of the 20th century. As Fr. John Hardon puts it in the Modern Catholic Dictionary, “When a person tells a lie, he or she deliberately says something that is contrary to what is on that person’s mind; there is a real opposition between what one says and what one thinks” (an opposition that cannot be merely apparent, explained by ignorance or misstatement).

The first thing to notice is that this definition emphasizes the moral intentionality of lying; the truth itself is not necessarily contradicted. If a person thinks something is true and deliberately states something to the contrary, he has incurred the moral guilt of lying. While this may be so subjectively,** it leaves open the possibility that such a person, believing a falsehood, could actually speak the truth by speaking against his own mind.

Because this definition is divorced from the objective truth or falsity of the statement, many philosophers and theologians have sought an alternative definition. Some have proposed that the proper definition of “lying” is “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” In the early 20th century, the article on “Lying” in the highly-regarded Catholic Encyclopedia dismissed this definition (also traceable to Augustine) as a new and minor opinion which raised more problems than it solved. By the late 20th century, however, it was precisely this definition that made it into the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see CCC 2482).


I too am having some difficulty understanding “a legitimate undercover operation.” What makes it legitimate in your view, it seems to me, is that it is legal, official, and “common-sense.” In the same way, we can say abortion is legitimate. It’s legal, carried out in clinics, and makes sense to lots of people. That doesn’t make it morally acceptable. Similarly I do not believe (or I remain unconvinced) that undercover police operations are morally acceptable. I also don’t think they reduce crime or promote the common good, but that would be the subject of another discussion.

You don’t think anything undercover is morally acceptable? Examples-

  1. slaves in the US pretended they were ignorant, but taught each other to read and write secretly
  2. detectives acting to prevent crime, such as trafficking of humans, drugs, smuggling, gangs, murders, other high crimes
  3. missionaries acting to spread the faith in hostile territories, while working legal jobs
  4. hiding innocents from murders by lying to immoral people for a greater good

I have to concur with SyroMalankara. Undercover work is not immoral, or illegitimate in and of itself. Deception, in and of itself, is not immoral.

I specifically said undercover police operations. Your 4 examples are not morally equivalent.

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