Classical Theism, Philosophy, and Religion Forum

You are not logged in. Would you like to login?



2/20/2018 10:46 am  #1


Hypothesis on the definition of lying

Prof. Feser has covered the subject of lying in several articles in his blog. One of those articles, which links to previous ones on the subject, is this:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/01/smith-tollefsen-and-pruss-on-lying.html

I'd like to discuss the subject in the context of a real situation that I learned first hand from the people involved. Sixty-year old Tony, heavy smoker since his 20's, went to the hospital because of a mild chest pain. He underwent a couple of studies and spent that night on the hospital. On the next morning, the chief cardiologist entered his room and Tony greeted him saying something like:

"Hi, Doctor, I'm feeling fine now, so I guess I can go home. What have you found?"

To which the cardiologist answered that his cardiovascular state was very delicate, that he was in no condition to leave the hospital as he was, and that they were making the arrangements for performing bypass surgery on him in a couple of days.

While the cardiologist was still speaking, the psychological impact on Tony of hearing the truth about his health triggered a massive heart attack. Doctors were barely able to save his life.

So, what should the cardiologist have said, if he had known Tony's psychology and had been able to infer that Tony would suffer a massive heart attack on learning the truth about his health? Should he have said one or a combination of the following?

"Take now this couple of pills, and in half an hour we can talk about your state."

"Why don't you now have Confession with the hospital's chaplain, who just happens to be here? Then we can talk about your state."

"Let me bring the reanimation equipment next to your bed, and then we can talk about your state."

Had the doctor answered any or all of those, Tony, being a smart guy, would have immediately inferred that his state was really bad if they had to take such precautions before telling him of it. Which would have had the same effect as hearing the truth directly. The point is that, in that situation, the cardiologist was not able to beat about the bush or make a "mental reservation", but had to choose between two options:

- tell a direct lie, and keep Tony well until the surgery, or
- tell the truth, and have Tony suffer a heart attack.

To discern the right way to go in this context, I will start by looking at the biblical commandment:

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (Ex 20:16)

Clearly if the doctor lied in this situation he would not be bearing false witness against Tony (not even at the spiritual level, since Tony's becoming aware of his frailty did not bring about any spiritual benefit, as he passed out right away.) On the contrary, the doctor must choose between

- bearing false witness for the grave good of Tony and against no one, and
- telling the truth gravely against Tony and for the good of no one.

I will next quote the 3 relevant paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), adding my comments after each

"2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray."

In this case, if the doctor knew that Tony's hearing the truth would trigger a heart attack, without giving him time to make even a last pray,

- would telling the truth to him not be "a failure of justice and charity"?
- would there not be any culpability when it is KNOWN that telling the truth "entails the risk of deadly consequences" for him who hears it?

"2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships."

In this case, wasn't telling him the truth which in fact did "real violence" to Tony?

If that was the case (as it seems to me), it was because a lie in that situation did NOT affect Tony's "ability to know", precisely because, at that point in time, Tony lacked the ability to know the truth. As Jack Nicholson's character famously said, "You can't handle the truth!"

Obviously the statement that "Tony lacked the ability to know the truth" must be understood correctly. Just as the statement that a diabetic lacks the ability to eat a pizza does not mean that he cannot chew and swallow it, but that doing that would cause him severe harm, the former statement does not mean that Tony could not understand the truth, but that doing that would cause him severe harm.

"2487 Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another's reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience."

In the situacion under study this whole paragraph is turned upside down, as telling the truth to Tony could have caused him harm which could not have been directly compensated, had he died. The only possible moral satisfaction after that would have been offering Masses for his soul.

Therefore, I submit for the forum's discussion the following hypothesis:

Truthfulness consists in communicating information with the highest degree of agreement with known reality that the receiver of the information is able to process in a way which is conducive to the greater good.

Lying is communicating information with a degree of agreement with known reality which is less than the highest that the receiver of the information is able to process in a way which is conducive to the greater good.

or alternatively

Lying is communicating information with a degree of DISagreement with known reality which is greater than that required for the receiver of the information to be able to process it in a way which is conducive to the greater good.
 

Last edited by Johannes (2/23/2018 12:42 pm)

 

2/20/2018 4:39 pm  #2


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

And then there is Prudence. Truth comes with Prudence, the acting on information. 

Trying to be a backseat driver is not a good habit. I believe that the Doctor did was right. The Doctor practiced prudence. Another thing, Doctors are very busy. Second, Doctors ain't god. They are humans. The Doctor did approach Tony with prudence in "easing" the patient to a course of events. We can NOT know every particular in a patient especially in psychology department. There one has to be telepathic, god, and omniscient. No human is that way. If the Doctor was Jesus Christ, it would still be hard to do it. 

I don't know Tony's case if it was genetics, or his diet, or his lack of exercise, or a combination of those things but two of those later things is Tony's fault. He may have brought that all on himself.  So don't go complaining about the doctor who didn't quite get it right. If you are worried that he was close to death due to the Doctor---Methinks Tony has the greater responsibility if it was a lack of exercise and or his unhealthy eating habits. 


"We are not in the world to give the laws...but in order to obey the commands of the gods".
~ Plutarch, priest of Apollo at the Doric Temple of Delphi.
 

2/20/2018 8:56 pm  #3


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

Clinias, the post is not about the moral evaluation of the Doc's actual behaviour. It's clear that he acted right, because he could not suspect beforehand that telling Tony the truth would trigger a heart attack. Nor is the post about Tony's fault in not taking care of his health in the past (BTW, he quit smoking and has been living healthily for years now.)

The post is about discerning the right course of action for the Doc IF he had known beforehand that telling Tony the truth about his health would trigger a heart attack.

 

     Thread Starter
 

2/20/2018 9:58 pm  #4


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

I would emphasize how in any actual case, the doctor does not have the knowledge in question. No one has such detailed knowledge, which licenses such predictions, of another person's body and psychology. In assessing the case, we should not lose sight of just how much knowledge we are being asked to imagine the doctor having.

My first response is that the doctor should be especially careful in passing on the information to Tony. Again, in any normal case where one knew someone were prone to, say, panic in threatening situations and heart attacks as a result, this would be all that the doctor would be committed to; there's no normal case in which a doctor can think it likely that there is no way to inform his patient of his condition.

It may be replied that this is not a normal case. Not only does the doctor know that the usual way of informing Tony would cause Tony to have a heart attack. He knows that every way of informing Tony would cause a heart attack. This is an even more extreme possibility we are being asked to imagine, I observe.

Clearly this is a world very different from our own. How does the doctor know this? They must have very impressive medical technology. Presumably their technology is good enough that a doctor could have a team on standby to revive Tony, since the doctor is, we are imagining, certain that the heart attack will result.

Or perhaps, since this world is so different from ours, hospitals have different policies. If this sort of situation could arise, and the doctors have genuine certainty, then it might be reasonable for hospitals simply to have the means at hand to knock patients out so they can perform the surgery removing the threatening condition, without the patient ever learning of their risk. This wouldn't be intrinsically immoral. We would worry about paternalism. But this is a world in which medical science is so advanced that the concern might not be warranted.

In any case, the doctor shouldn't lie to Tony. It is incorrect that Tony lacked the ability to know the truth; indeed he had to know the truth if knowing the truth was to cause his heart attack.

 

2/20/2018 10:30 pm  #5


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

Greg, the point is not "How does the doctor know this?", but "Assuming that he knows it, what would be the right course of action for him?"

And the whole hypothetical case of the doctor knowing beforehand the harm that would result of his telling the truth is just an example to facilitate the discussion of the issue.

     Thread Starter
 

2/20/2018 11:01 pm  #6


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

Johannes wrote:

Greg, the point is not "How does the doctor know this?", but "Assuming that he knows it, what would be the right course of action for him?"

Yes, I assumed that he knows it, and drew various inferences about what sort of world he must live in if that hypothesis is to be true, so that I could decide what sort of actions he might take.

 

2/21/2018 1:00 am  #7


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

Truthfulness consists in communicating information with the highest degree of agreement with known reality that the receptor of the communication is able to process in a way which is conducive to the greater good.

Good God man, do you have nothing better to do than to create legalese in the manner of the way we talk to people?  My God, talk about anal-retentiveness. Haven't you heard, "Keep it simple, *****". 

Alright, we all have to be mind-readers to accomplish this task. What next, you're going to pass out crystal balls?
 


"We are not in the world to give the laws...but in order to obey the commands of the gods".
~ Plutarch, priest of Apollo at the Doric Temple of Delphi.
 

2/22/2018 5:05 pm  #8


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

The Orthodox theologian and philospher, Apostolos Makrakis, had a better definition of truth, short and quick. Definitions need to be short and quick. The one proposed is too long, complicated. 

Makrakis said, "Truth is the faithful representation of reality". Simple. Quick. Thorough. And the definition doesn't rely on second or third parties. It defines it to itself. Res ipsa loquitur ("The thing itself speaks")
Next, the idea of the "greater good" is directed to natural organic groups such as racial clans, tribes, nations. That is where the "greater good" exists. It doesn't exist in the medical office. The practice of medicine is in the Business field. There is a doctor, and a patient. What is entailed here is Business ethics, first, medical ethics second, and then bedside manner. This has nothing to do with the "greater good". Bedside manners is a very large and difficult field and is quite subjective, I would think. Not everybody has the grace or eloquence of a refined psychological speaker. 


"We are not in the world to give the laws...but in order to obey the commands of the gods".
~ Plutarch, priest of Apollo at the Doric Temple of Delphi.
 

2/23/2018 8:16 am  #9


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

Clinias wrote:

Good God man, do you have nothing better to do than to create legalese in the manner of the way we talk to people?  My God, talk about anal-retentiveness. Haven't you heard, "Keep it simple, *****". 

Alright, we all have to be mind-readers to accomplish this task. What next, you're going to pass out crystal balls?[/color]
 

 
For someone who invokes Socrates every chance he gets, you do have a most remarkably unsocratic manner (and philosophical method).


Noli turbare circulos meos.
 

2/23/2018 12:35 pm  #10


Re: Hypothesis on the definition of lying

I'll try to clarify the case which I presented as the starting point for discussion.

First, the hypothetical case does not pressupose a different world than the one we live in. In this world, it is wholly possible that a person D (Doctor) knows the psychology of a person T (Tony) without D having mind-reading powers. Rather, it may be the case that D is a direct acquaintance of T, or that D knows T's psychology indirectly, through a common acquaintance. And it may be the case that T is well-known among his acquaintances for not having precisely a cold, calm personality.

Therefore, it is wholly possible that a normal person D in this world, when he has all the pieces, is able to put them together and infer:

T's cardiovascular state + T's psychological profile + T's learning about his state = highly probable heart attack.

The second assumption, namely that D was able to put all the pieces together only when he entered T's room and was asked by him "Hi, Doctor, I'm feeling fine now, so I guess I can go home. What have the studies found?", is also wholly possible. E.g., it may be the case that D, not being the doctor who had conducted the study and had written the report, was learning of its contents at that very moment, or that D recognized T only when he saw him ("Oh, it's that guy"!).

At that moment the Doctor, having just put all the pieces together, has before him 2 options:

1. Avoid placing Tony's life at risk

He answers: "There doesn't seem to be anything serious, although you should quit smoking. But we need to make an additional study to be sure, and you'll have to take a couple of pills in preparation for that study." And he gives Tony a vasodilator plus an anxiolitic (or whatever pills are suitable to condition Tony's heart and mind to receive the news without risk of a heart attack). An hour later, when the pills have made their effect, he enters Tony's room again and tells him: "Actually, your cardiovascular state is extremely delicate and requires urgent bypass surgery, which we will perform tomorrow."

2. Let the truth be told though the heavens fall

He answers: "Your cardiovascular state is extremely delicate and requires urgent bypass surgery, which we will perform tomorrow."

Now, those who hold the basic (*) definitions of truthfulness and lie will say that the double lie by the Doctor in option 1, namely that Tony's condition was not very serious and that the two pills were to prepare him for a further study, was a venial sin, and that the optimal course of action from the moral viewpoint was 2.

(*) By "basic" I mean the definitions of truthfulness and lie that disregard any consideration of the capacity of the receiver of the information to process it in a way which is conducive to the greater good.

As a last note, it is clear that this discussion does not apply to truths about God and his designs for us, but only to purely temporal truths. Telling faithfully the truth about God and his designs is always conducive to the greater good, for any person in any circumstance.

Last edited by Johannes (2/23/2018 2:04 pm)

     Thread Starter
 

Board footera

 

Powered by Boardhost. Create a Free Forum