American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 86, Issue 1, Winter 2012

Christopher Tollefsen
Pages 111-134

Augustine, Aquinas, and the Absolute Norm Against Lying

Recent events concerning the guerilla journalism group Live Action created controversy over the morality of lying for a good cause. In that controversy, I defended the absolutist view about lying, the view that lying, understood as assertion contrary to one’s belief, is always wrong. In this essay, I step back from the specifics of the Live Action case to look more closely at what St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, had to say in defense of the absolute view. Their approaches, while rather different, are nevertheless, I believe, complementary, and cast light on both practical and principled reasons for thinking that lying is wrong, even for a good cause. In the final section of the paper, I discuss some of the challenges that a further defense of the absolute view would need to meet.