published on February 3, 2017
Catholics and Hugo Grotius’s Definition of Lying
Among Catholic philosophers, Saint Augustine was the first boldly to propose and defend the absolute view that all lies are wrong. Under no circumstances can a lie be licit. This absolute view held sway among Catholics until the sixteenth century with the introduction of the doctrine of mental reservation. In the seventeenth century, Hugo Grotius introduced another way to uphold the absolute view by changing the definition of lying: If the right of another is not violated, then there is no lie. One could thus tell the murderer at the door “Nobody is home” without lying, as he has no right to know the whereabouts of his potential victim. By the late nineteenth century, Grotius’s definition of lying began gaining a following among Catholic philosophers and theologians, and continues to be held today by some Catholic philosophers. This article argues that adopting the Grotian definition of lying is a mistake.