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Author Topic: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?  (Read 979 times)

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Offline Cryptinox

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  • I am curious as to what moral theology has to say about people saying statements that are technically true but meant to be deceptive. An example would be telling someone "I am off at work at 10" when your shift ends at 8. It is technically true you are off at 10 but you are giving the other person the impression your shift ends at 10 and your intent when wording it was to tell the truth but make them not want to bug you in light of the way you said it.

    Online DigitalLogos

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #1 on: June 17, 2022, 08:50:01 AM »
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  • Sounds like a lie to me. Why not just tell them the truth that you don't want to do anything?
    "For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears:" [2 Tim. 4:3]

    "Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." [Matt. 6:34]


    Offline SimpleMan

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #2 on: June 17, 2022, 09:01:49 AM »
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  • I am curious as to what moral theology has to say about people saying statements that are technically true but meant to be deceptive. An example would be telling someone "I am off at work at 10" when your shift ends at 8. It is technically true you are off at 10 but you are giving the other person the impression your shift ends at 10 and your intent when wording it was to tell the truth but make them not want to bug you in light of the way you said it.

    "Technically true but meant to be deceptive" is a thumbnail definition of a mental reservation.   Sometimes it's necessary, when the person has no right to "the whole picture" or "all the facts", or when telling the bald truth would cause grave harm to oneself, the other person, or a third party.

    It's hard to see how a mental reservation would be justified in the scenario you describe, but I suppose it's possible. 

    If one struggles regularly with all sorts of moral dilemmas, this could be a sign of scrupulosity (though this particular question doesn't strike me that way), and the appropriate thing is to consult a traditional Catholic priest, not asking strangers online.

    Offline In Principio

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #3 on: June 17, 2022, 10:20:45 AM »
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  • Just search archive.org or Google Books with the words "Catholic" "moral" "Theology," and you'll find pre-Vatican II Catholic moral theology books that help answer questions like these.  When I have questions, I usually start with Rev. Thomas Slater's "A Manual of Moral Theology" (1925), by going to archive.org and searching "slater" "moral" "theology".  It's a two volume set that I've found to be very helpful.  You'll also find a few other moral theology books he's written (e.g. "Questions of Moral Theology", "A Short History of Moral Theology", and "Cases of Conscience"). 

    Here's his section on mental reservations from p.292-293 of "A Manual of Moral Theology", Vol.I:
    https://archive.org/details/MN5034ucmf_1/page/n305/mode/2up


    Quote
    3. If it is never lawful to tell a lie, if the lie of necessity cannot be allowed, what means have we of safeguarding a secret?

    Catholic theologians answer this question by propounding their doctrine of mental reservation. Mental reservations are either strictly or widely so called. The former is the restriction of one's meaning in making an assertion to the proposition as modified by some addition made to it within the mind of the speaker. As if on being asked "Are you going to town?" one were to answer "Yes" meaning "in imagination." In wide mental reservations the words used are capable of being understood in different senses, either because they are ambiguous in themselves, or because they have a special sense derived from the circuмstances of time, place, or person in which they are spoken. Thus, when a servant says that her master is not in, the words may mean either that he is absent, or that he does not wish to see the visitor. The servant's real meaning is restricted to one of these senses. In the same way a defendant on his trial in an English court of justice pleads not guilty i.e., until the charge be proved. A lawyer or a doctor questioned about professional secrets replies, "I don't know" i.e., I have no knowledge which I can communicate.

    Although strict mental reservations are lies, and therefore sinful, yet wide mental reservations are in common use; they are necessary, and they are not lies. They are necessary because justice and charity require that secrets should be kept, and frequently there is no other way of keeping them. They are not lies because, as we saw above, words take their meaning not only from their grammatical signification, but from the circuмstances in which they are used. When a priest is asked about a sin which a penitent has confessed to him, and he answers, " I never heard of it," he speaks as a man, not as a confessor who holds the place of God in the tribunal of Penance. All are aware that he is a priest, and to all his words mean, " I never heard of it outside of the confessional." He never speaks of what he has heard inside the confessional, and nothing can, or should, be gathered about what he has heard there from the words which he uses. Although these wide mental reservations are not lies, yet they must not be employed without just cause, for the good of society requires that we should speak our mind with frankness and sincerity in the sense in which we are understood by our hearers, unless there be a good reason for permitting their self-deception when they take our words in a sense that we do not mean.

    Truth requires not only that we should say nothing that we know to be false, but also that we should weigh our statements and not make rash and unconsidered assertions. There are some people whose talk runs babbling along like a stream in a fresh, and with as little meaning. A man with a love for truth will be more sparing of his words, and will weigh them before giving them currency.

     "The faithful should obey the apostolic advice not to know more than is necessary, but to know in moderation." - Pope Clement XIII, In Dominico Agro (1761) 

    Offline Cryptinox

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #4 on: June 17, 2022, 11:04:56 AM »
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  • "Technically true but meant to be deceptive" is a thumbnail definition of a mental reservation.  Sometimes it's necessary, when the person has no right to "the whole picture" or "all the facts", or when telling the bald truth would cause grave harm to oneself, the other person, or a third party.

    It's hard to see how a mental reservation would be justified in the scenario you describe, but I suppose it's possible. 

    If one struggles regularly with all sorts of moral dilemmas, this could be a sign of scrupulosity (though this particular question doesn't strike me that way), and the appropriate thing is to consult a traditional Catholic priest, not asking strangers online.
    This is due to a guy I know online


    Online Ladislaus

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #5 on: June 17, 2022, 01:19:05 PM »
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  • Sounds like a lie to me. Why not just tell them the truth that you don't want to do anything?

    No, it's a mental reservation.  "I am off at 10" is a factually true statement.  Now, the deciding factor where mental reservation is permitted has to do with whether the person has a right to that information.  If the person has nefarious intent, for instance, such as, "hey, let's go to a strip club at 8" and you responded "I am off at 10", that would be perfectly permissible.  If your parents ask you to do some chores at 8PM and you say "I am off at 10," then that's a sin because they have a right to know the truth of the matter.  There's some ambiguity about when someone has the right to know something.

    There's the classic example of would-be murderers seeking an innocent person in your home.  Quite a few theologians hold that it is perfectly permissible to say, "[that guy] is not in my house." ... with the withheld completion of "as far as you're permitted to know" or "as far as your concerned."  I agree with them.  Remaining silent would give the guy away, since they would immediately suspect that the person was there, or saying "I refuse to tell you" ... leading to them perhaps making a thorough search of the property.  They have no right to that information since they intend to do evil with it.

    Online Ladislaus

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #6 on: June 17, 2022, 01:22:12 PM »
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  • This is due to a guy I know online

    Guy you know online does not really have any right to the information.  I'd have no issue just saying "I am off at 10" in order to avoid being bugged or annoyed by him.  For all you know, some guy online might want to know your schedule to set up a robbery, but even if there's no intent of that sort, he's not in a position to require knowing, and the simple fact of not wanting to be bugged or harassed about it is significant justification ... IMO.

    Offline SolHero

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    Re: What does moral theology say about statements of this kind?
    « Reply #7 on: June 17, 2022, 02:10:31 PM »
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  • Or say "I'm available after 10", no need to explain what you are doing between 8 and 10.