Monday, April 20, 2015

Thornwell and the proverbial Nazis at the door

Taken from Whatsoever Things are True (yes, I realize he wrote before the Nazis)

What is truth in terms of practice--in terms of telling the truth?  Is it a sin to not tell the whole truth, say, to the proverbial Nazis at the door?  Thornwell (and Hodge) would say, “No.”  Thornwell makes the astute point that there is a difference between “deception” and “concealment.”  He writes, “There are things which men have a right to keep secret, and if a prurient curiosity prompts other officiously to pry into them, there is nothing criminal or dishonest in refusing to minister to such a spirit” (80).

But the moralist will respond, “You still have to tell the truth to the Nazis at the door.”  Perhaps, let’s flesh this out.  Let’s say the Nazis ask if there are Jews upstairs (which there are for this scenario)

(1) Is it a “good” to tell the truth and surrender the Jews?

Only the most officious moralist will say yes.  They will define the ethically right thing as “satisfying” one’s duty to truth. (How many are closet Kantians without realizing it?)

(1*) Is it a good to mislead the Nazis and save the Jews?

(1’) Is it a good to save the Jews?

Unless you think a young girl getting tortured by Eichmann is a result of doing “good,” you have to answer “yes” to (1’).

With knowledge of (1’) as affirmative, can we then affirm the entirety of (1*)?  I think we can but the officious moralist still has doubts.  Therefore, we take Thornwell’s statement:

(2) There are things which men have a right to keep secret...spirit.

(2) satisfies the conditions in (1*a), but will it satisfy the moralist?  Maybe not, but at this point the moralist must justify a new proposition:

(~2):  All men are obligated to exhaustive truth statements.

This is absurd and impossible to justify.  Therefore, (2) is warranted.  

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