One last thing on this topic, and I promise I am done with it for a while.
Just in case you have not seen it, Dr. Peter Kreeft tackles this subject over at CatholicVote.org.
Dr. Kreeft agrees with me, but he is able to use all the smarty-pants stuff at his disposal of which I am bereft. That said, I think I got the philosophy right, but Dr. Kreeft explains why.
Please go read the entire article, but for those who will not. Here is a little take-away.
Similarly, when we discuss Kant and the issue of lying, most of my students, even the moral absolutists, are quite certain that the Dutchmen were not wrong to deliberately deceive the Nazis about the locations of the Jews they had promised to hide. They do not know whether this is an example of lying or not. But they know that if it is, than lying is not always wrong, and if lying is always wrong, then this is not lying. Because they know, without any ifs or ands or buts, that such Dutch deception is good, not evil. If anyone is more certain of his philosophical principles than he is that this deception is good, I say he is not functioning as a human being but as a computer, an angel, a Gnostic, or a Kantian. He is a Laputan, like Swift’s absent-minded professors who live on an island in the sky in Gulliver’s Travels, and who make eye contact with abstractions but not with human beings.
But can’t we solve the problem of the Dutchmen and the Nazis by saying that all lying is wrong but the Dutchmen don’t have to lie to save the Jews because they could deceive the Nazis without lying by a clever verbal ploy? No, because effective deception by clever verbal ploys cannot usually be done by ordinary people, especially by clumsy Dutchmen. I know; I’m one of them. Our moral obligations depend on abilities that are common, not abilities that are rare
Besides, the Nazis are not fools. They would suspect clever prevarications and sniff out duplicitous ploys. They could be reliably deceived and deterred from searching every inch of the house only by an answer like “Jews? Those rats? None of them in my house, I hope. Please come in, and if you find any, please give them rat poison. I hate those vermin as much as you do.”
You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis. Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It’s a good thing to do. If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.
Yeah, what he said.