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Saturday, February 19, 2011

You Gotta Be Kidding Me

Peter Kreeft is wroth with Lila Rose's detractors, arguing that anyone who takes Live Action to task is simply daft, engaged in moral legalism, and perhaps not entirely sane.

He begins by saying:
On some other occasion I may take the time to argue logically against the serious arguments of the pro-life critics of Live Action, and about the proper definition of “lying.” But in this short piece I want to appeal to something that I think is prior in importance, in clarity, and in time, namely our immediate, intuitive moral experience.
So, he essentially says he intends to appeal to emotion, and then goes on to do just that. While this is undoubtedly deeply satisfying for him on some level, it is unclear why an emotive argument is supposed to be compelling (it is one of the major logical fallacies, after all).

Keep in mind that I essentially support the idea that Lila Rose and Live Action have not committed moral error in making their videos. I agree with Kreeft's ultimate position. But Peter Kreeft has committed both moral and logical error in attempting Live Action's defense.

Straw Man Argument

He begins by saying :
If we do not begin with experience, we become nominalists, not realists; we have nothing real to argue about, only names and the logical relationships between them—like a computer.
Well, yes. And, for the record, I, too, like motherhood, apple pie and Chevrolet. What I'm not particularly fond of is straw-man arguments.

Can Peter Kreeft really identify any argument made by men which is not somehow grounded in experience? The arguments laid out against Lila Rose and company are grounded in experience, the experience of people who have been exposed to lies, who don't much like them, and who are deeply concerned about the effect of lying on the one who commits the lie and on the larger society as a whole. For Kreeft's argument to hold, he has to demonstrate that the people giving a critique of Live Action are actually engaged in the positions he asserts, and this he manifestly does not do.

Indeed, the very example he brings forward to demonstrate "moral common sense" demonstrates that his "moral common sense" is not quite so common as he makes out.
A good example is Euthyphro, the young man in the Platonic dialog by that name who is impiously prosecuting his own father for murder while professing to be an expert on piety....Until we read Socrates’ arguments, we don’t clearly know why Euthyphro is wrong, but we know that he is wrong.
That's particular logical fallacy is called "assuming the conclusion."

Is Euthyphro wrong? Euthyphro has come to lay manslaughter charges against his father. One of his father's workers killed a slave belonging to the family estate. His father ordered the worker bound and gagged and left in a ditch (3e–4d) while he waited to hear from the expounders of religious law about how to proceed against his worker. Unfortunately, the opinion didn't get back to him in time, and the worker subsequently died of exposure.

Now, according to all the laws of modern society, since the man had the accused murderer bound and gagged, left unable to care for himself, he was responsible for the man's care. That is, he is responsible for the man's death.

Euthyphro's father is absolutely worthy of prosecution in any modern court of law. If Euthyphro's description of events is correct, his father is, indeed, guilty of manslaughter. Thus, Euthyphro is absolutely right to bring charges against his father for manslaughter.

The charges may bring "instinctive astonishment" to a pagan Greek, who holds duty to one's father a much higher obligation than duty to some non-family member, but it is absolutely in keeping with Christian sentiment, which holds that all men are brothers and that even claims of fatherhood do not trump the duty of justice one owes one's fellow man and God.

Far from accomplishing what he intends, Kreeft's first example amply demonstrates why first instincts are often wrong - exactly the reverse of what he claims. For someone who says "I teach Logic, I have written a Logic textbook, and I value logic very highly", Kreeft's is a remarkably bad argument to bring forward.

One might even say Kreeft's first argument is "wrong not just logically but “you gotta be kidding”ly" wrong.

Versus Anselm
As an aside that has nothing to do with this particular post, Kreeft apparently suffers from the impression that Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God is wrong.
...just as most students, when confronted by St. Anselm’s ‘ontological argument,’ instinctively know it is wrong somehow, though they cannot refute it logically.
Unfortunately, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the 20th century, Kurt Godel disagrees with Kreeft. Godel demonstrated that St. Anselm's argument is valid (that doesn't mean it is true, but it means Anselm's argument is at least logically consistent). Given a choice between the two, I think I'll put my money on the brilliant mathematician and the saint, not on the 20th-century Boston college philosopher.

That is, my first instinct is that St. Anselm's argument is correct, even if I would not be able to defend it to Kreeft's satisfaction.

When a college philosopher goes up against a pair like Kurt Godel and St. Anselm, he needs to bring more ammunition than just a passing swipe. The statement does nothing but detract from Kreeft's credibility.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Kreeft then makes a couple of short statements that sound like they could be developed into credible arguments (passing references to the role of spying, investigative undercover work, and Aquinas on the moral acceptability of torture), but instead of actually doing that, he immediately abandons them in order to continue to drum up emotional frenzy:
If you were watching your son or daughter being raped while you were disarmed and tied up and had only words as weapons, and if there was some lie you could tell to the rapist that would stop him, do you really mean to tell me that you would not tell that lie? If so, I thank God that you were not my father.
Oh, for Pete's sake... Let's make it a little more simple.

Let's say all I have is words for weapons, and it was not a question of my son or daughter being raped, but rather, it is the case that my son or daughter were simply being asked to eat a Bacon Lettus and Tomato sandwich (where the lettuce is really crunchy, and the tomato is garden-fresh, with a little mayo - I love those) or be immediately killed.

Should I encourage my son to eat the sandwich? Or should I encourage him to defy the man trying to force him to eat it, knowing full well that the man would kill my son and myself?

Be careful how you answer, for the answer has already been given. A mother trapped into exactly that situation encouraged not one son, but all seven of them to die rather than eat the pork. Every one, from the eldest to the youngest, and the mother with them, all died rather than transgress God's laws.

It's Scripture, Peter - 2 Maccabees 6:18–7:42.
This family is held up as an example of pre-Christian sanctity by the Church.
They are considered martyrs for the Faith.
In the above horrible scenario, if the rapist could be deterred only by watching you rape or murder some other victim, or defecate on a crucifix, you should not do it—and your child, his victim, would probably understand that. But your child would certainly not understand why you could not save him by lying to the rapist.
Is the mortal sin of lying somehow not as likely to send you to hell as defecating on a crucifix (which action is NOT necessarily a mortal sin, by the way, and you would think an orthodox Catholic professor would know that). Is a lie not a mortal sin?

Look, I know full well that there are different degrees of mortal sin, just like there are different degrees of venial sin. Fornication is not as bad a mortal sin as adultery, which is not as bad as masturbation or homosexuality, which is not as bad as necrophilia or bestiality.


But every one of those sins is you choosing hell over salvation.

What kind of idiot is my child if he thinks lying is ok?

Worse, what kind of an idiot am I
to teach my child that committing one mortal sin is acceptable in order to avoid committing a different mortal sin? WTF?

Dr. Kreeft, I have great admiration for you, your endorsement sits on the front cover of one of my books, but your essay here is not just wrong, it's stupid-wrong.

"You gotta be kidding me" wrong.

If you really wrote this, and it wasn't promulgated under your name by someone just pretending to be you (i.e., a liar), then I think you've been at Boston College a little too long.

If this is the kind of crap you intend to continue writing, I think you should retire now, while your reputation is still intact.

There is no question that experience is a foundation for moral argument, but as Kreeft rightly points out, while experience may be foundational, it is not complete, it is not sufficient.

God gave us minds not only so we could feel, but also so we could think. As Kreeft himself points out, our intuition is often wrong, which is why we must marry logic to it. Simply spewing emotion without attempting to reconcile what we feel to what we know leads us to the kinds of morally stupid arguments that Kreeft uses in his summation in this essay.

The people who are concerned with Live Action's methods have real, valid concerns, concerns that are not just experiential but also and simultaneously logical. Kreeft's hand-waving to the contrary is a long non sequitor.

If you want a decent defense of Lila Rose and Live Action, read Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller. She actually deals with the issues raised, instead of going on an emotional rant and coming to a morally erroneous conclusion.

Dr. Kreeft, if you have a scintilla of orthodoxy in you, pull your essay.


There's a piece at the New Liturgical Movement which attempts to refute Dr. Miller's essay based on her failure to discuss broad versus strict mental reservation (the first is permitted, the second is not).

I highly recommend it for the clarity of the distinctions it draws between the two kinds of mental reservation, but I cannot recommend it's conclusion.

To see why, consider the following statement.
Is it a lie?

"I am lying"

I would say no.
It is broad mental reservation, a statement that could be interpreted as either the truth or a lie, since it is self-referential and its meaning is therefore ambiguous due to the problems inherent in the English language.

Is Lila Rose saying "I am a prostitute" a lie?
By the same reasoning, it is not.
After all, you can "prostitute" many different things.
If the listener assumes Lila means she gives sex in exchange for money, so much the worse for her. After all, Lila's statement would really be identical to the statement "I am prostituting the truth" which is identical to the statement "I am lying."

Same goes for the pimp.
Many different things can be "pimped."
When he says "I am a pimp" he may mean "I am pimping out the truth."

So, although it may be mistaken for strict mental reservation, which is prohibited, it is arguably broad mental reservation, which is permissible, because the self-identification of the actors depends on ambiguities in the English language peculiar to those words.

As an interesting juxtaposition to this story, we have the example of doctors giving out fake medical excuses to Wisconsin teachers protesting against the government.

If we get upset about the doctors, how do we distinguish what they are doing from what Lila Rose is doing?

By not revealing who she is, Lila Rose gives Planned Parenthood an opportunity to explain who they really are.
By not revealing what they are doing, Wisconsin doctors are giving Wisconsin teachers an opportunity to not explain who they really are.


Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Hey Steve

Worse, what kind of an idiot am I to teach my child that committing one mortal sin is acceptable in order to avoid committing a different mortal sin? WTF?

I'm with you here and while I've never read anything by Kreeft, what I had the opportunity to hear from him as a speaker/panelist didn't left much of a good impression; and I recognize not being very much informed about this affair since somehow I didn't even feel like bothering to check all the facts about it, but I don't quite follow wht you wrote above.

Do you mean that lying to your child's rapist would be a mortal sin, while suddenly being able to put your hands on a 12-gauge shotgun and blow up his brains would be kosher? Or would it be a mortal sin too?

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Lest there be any confusion, I meant to refer to both hypothetical actions above as means to prevent the raping from happening (same way as Kreeft, I think), not as revenge or anything like that.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Ah, excellent question.

The basic problem with Kreeft's argument is that he commits the worst logical fallacy a logician can commit: he assumes the consequent.

That is, he assumes that a lie is not a mortal sin.

If someone says they will rape my child unless I defecate on a cross, then I can defecate on a cross, because that's not desecration in that instance. I'm not intending to defame Christ's image.

Part of the initiation of the Knights Templar was precisely to step on a crucifix, because Muslims would require that if the Knight was captured, so the Knight had to be prepared to do whatever was morally licit, even if it was emotionally repugnant, in order to save their lives.

On the other hand, if I'm asked to rape or kill someone in order to avoid having my child raped, I CANNOT do it, because I cannot commit a mortal sin in order to prevent another mortal sin.

Kreeft ASSUMES the very thing he is trying to prove. He ASSUMES that lying is permitted in order to prevent a mortal sin, so he has to ASSUME the lie is not a mortal sin - but since that's the very point he's trying to prove, he's arguing in a circle.

Self-defense is ALWAYS licit.
Self-defense includes defending those you have a duty to defend, those who are given to you to defend.

So, it is licit to blow someone away with a shotgun ASSUMING you could not stop the attack any other way. That's not a mortal sin.

On the other hand, if there is another way to stop the attack, then I am morally obligated to use the alternative method. If I can hit him with the butt of the shotgun and stop the attack, I'm not allowed to blow him away with the shotgun.

So, you wouldn't necessarily be committing a sin to blow the guy away.

Kreeft's argument wouldn't pass muster in an undergrad logic course. I can't see why he posed it publicly.

Sandy O'Seay said...

What I have learned in this entire discussion is that there is a radical right wing to the Catholic Church. I am a convert and this is distressing, to say the least.

Patrick said...


Right wing? What are you talking about exactly? There are of course more or less conservative and liberal groups within any organization, however right wing has connotations of reactionary political movements that doesn't appear supported in this article.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Is Sandy talking about us here? If it is, weird to be called a modernist sissy on one day and a right-wing radical on another :)

Estase said...

I think what Steve represents is the Ciceronian wing of the Catholic Church--there are moral standards beyond what benefits the pro-life movement. I can't figure out what Sandy means by "extreme right-wing." Does she mean to say that opposing the deliberate use of lying is "extreme right-wing?" Just curious.

Gabriel Austin said...

The style gives away the shallowness of the argument. "You gotta be kidding me" belongs to late night bull sessions in the frat.

For the fallacy of the ontological argument, check the SUMMA THEOLOGIAE Part 1, Question 2, Article 1.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I don't get why Kreeft takes a swipe at Anselm. After all, in the Christian Apologetics Handbook from about 20 years ago, he and Tacelli list it as one of the proofs for the existence of God.

Why list a proof that you don't think is valid? So, either Kreeft changed his mind on the validity of that argument in the last couple of decades or he was less than honest when he allowed it to be listed in his co-authored book.

Thomas affirms the worth of Anselm's argument in the Summa P1 Q1 A2 - he just points out that not everyone is going to "get" it.

Suzanne said...

Following the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not right-wing. It's just Catholic. This is what the Catechism says.

Gabriel Austin said...

Thomas does not agree with Anselm [tempting as is Anselm's proof. Even Russell liked it]. Rather he writes ST 1.2.1:

Reply to Objection 2: Perhaps not everyone who hears this word "God" understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body. Yet, granted that everyone understands that by this word "God" is signified something than which nothing greater can be thought, nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally. Nor can it be argued that it actually exists, unless it be admitted that there actually exists something than which nothing greater can be thought; and this precisely is not admitted by those who hold that God does not exist.

Reply to Objection 3: The existence of truth in general is self-evident but the existence of a Primal Truth is not self-evident to us".

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally"

In other words, Thomas points out that this argument is not going to work with those who are invincibly ignorant via a defect in their understanding.

He isn't ruling out the argument entirely, he just points out that it has limitations.

As is common with Thomas, this particular reply is just an application of a principle he describes in the summation section above (the "I answer that" section): "Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: "Whether all that is, is good"), "that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space."

In short, Thomas agrees Anselm's argument can work for the learned, but points out that the ignorant won't necessarily be convinced by it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Oh, and just to be clear, I agree with you about the phrase "You gotta be kidding me."

That's why I parodied Kreeft's use of it. He does, indeed, present a shallow argument.

Jordanes551 said...

So, he essentially says he intends to appeal to emotion, and then goes on to do just that. While this is undoubtedly deeply satisfying for him on some level, it is unclear why an emotive argument is supposed to be compelling (it is one of the major logical fallacies, after all).

On the contrary, this would be where you deploy a Straw Man Argument. Dr. Kreeft anticipated your objection when he said in his essay:

"We moderns have narrowed ‘intuition’ as we have narrowed ‘reason,’ so that ‘intuition’ now means ‘irrational feeling.’ ‘Intuitive reason’ or ‘rational intuition’ sounds to us like an oxymoron. When we read Pascal’s famous saying that ‘the heart has its reasons, that the reason does not know,’ we think he is exalting something else against reason, when he is saying exactly the opposite: that the heart, the faculty of immediate intuition, has reasons. It sees. It has eyes. It is a crucial part of ‘reason.’"

I think you also miss the point of his citing the example of Euthyphro's hypocrisy. For Dr. Kreeft's purposes, it doesn't matter that centuries later Jesus would give a teaching that shows that Euthyphro was right to seek justice for someone not his kin regardless of the fact that it was his own father who was guilty, and that the pagan Greeks of old had an imperfect grasp of piety: the point is that Euthyphro hypocritically presented himself as a paragon of the pagan Greek notions of filial piety while committing a serious offense against those very notions of filial piety. It's the hypocrisy of Euthyphro that's the offense, not the bringing charges against his father. It would be different if Euthyphro didn't purport to uphold as good the notion that (as you put it) duty to one's father is a much higher obligation than duty to some non-family member -- but he claimed to uphold that (faulty) idea, to be the go-to expert in it, all the while acting contrary to it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


I did NOT say emotion is not rational, nor did I say it is not important - both of which arguments Kreeft rightly repudiates. I merely point out that it is not by itself logically compelling.

This is merely a statement of fact, a fact which Kreeft himself goes on to affirm when he points out that emotional reaction is but a foundation and not the whole story.

As for Euthyphro, Kreeft's point only holds if you don't accept the idea that natural law is written on the heart. Euthyphro reacted according to the natural law written in his heart, an aspect of natural law which Socrates was unable to comprehend.

Kreeft and I would readily agree that the inability to explain something via Socratic method does not necessarily make that something false.

So, if Kreeft was making the argument you seem to think he is making, Kreeft should have held up Socrates for ridicule.

After all, it is Socrates who insists on the need to explicate Euthyphro's motivations logically. He is the one who engages in the intellectual fallacy of thinking emotions have no place, that we should be computers who do not follow an action unless we can completely explain it in words.

But that's exactly what Kreeft did NOT do. He did quite the reverse.

No matter how you slice it, Kreeft's argument doesn't work.

Tony Host said...
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