Chapter 5

The act itself

You would think at this point that I have said all that could be said about morality without talking about our relations with others. I have mentioned the metaphysical aspect of ourselves as finite, the physical aspect of ourselves as bodies, the biological aspect of ourselves as living, and the fact that we have faculties and the control over our acts. The only thing left would be the act in itself; and how could an act contradict itself in its very activity? Wouldn't this always be a contradiction between the act and its faculty?

Not always, because some acts we perform don't have a faculty to perform them, precisely; there isn't some part of the body that was built by nature to perform the act, even though obviously a part of the body which can perform the act is used to do it.

The only example I know of of this is that of linguistic communication. We don't have a "faculty of speech" as such, as I implied in what I said under Conclusion 6 of Section 3 of the third part, where I was discussing why most languages consisted of sounds. We do have the ability to make complicated noises, and since adopting this as our linguistic "organ" allows us to be able to use our hands and eyes for other functions while we are talking, it is most convenient to use our vocal cords for communicating rather than our hands or some other organ. But clearly the vocal cords were not constructed for this function, as the sex organ was constructed for reproduction or the eye for seeing, or animals that can't think (and so can't communicate linguistically) wouldn't have vocal cords; and they do.

So in the first place we haven't got a "faculty of speech" as such. In the second place, since this is so, I think it useful to make the following distinction:

Linguistic expression is the representation in sensible ways of mental acts.

Linguistic communication is the representation to others in sensible ways of one's mental acts.

Factual communication is the representation to others in sensible ways of what one thinks the facts are.

Conclusion 8a: It is not morally wrong to talk to yourself or to animals which cannot understand what you are saying.

If we had a faculty of communication (i.e. one built to enable transmitting to others mental acts as understood, as discussed in Chapter 5 of Section 3 of the third part) 3.3.5, then talking to yourself would be analogous to masturbating, since you would be "communicating" something that obviously you already understood, and so would be communicating without communicating. Similarly, if we had a faculty of communicating, talking to your dog would be the equivalent of homosexual sex, because, though your dog can react to the sounds and (especially) the tone of your voice, he can't understand the meaning of what you are saying; and so you are using understandable symbols in a context where you know they can't be understood. If your "faculty of speech" produced understandable symbols as such, then it would be contrary to its nature to use it in such a way that understanding could not occur.

This is another subtle distinction, and the fact that everyone recognizes that there's nothing morally wrong in talking to yourself or to your dog has led those who don't think clearly to assume that therefore masturbation and homosexual sex (and bestiality and all non-reproductive forms of sex) are all right. But the analogy unfortunately does not hold in the relevant respect, and so is worthless as an argument. Sex would be analogous to (and is, in a certain sense) a "faculty of communication," since it is reproductive and goes beyond itself into another and results in a child.

But precisely because we have no faculty of speech as such, there isn't anything that automatically has any function with respect to expressing or communicating mental acts linguistically. Therefore, the part of the body in question (the vocal cords, or, as is the case with me now, the fingers tapping on a keyboard) can morally be used either for expression or communication or, of course, simply for roaring inarticulately or drumming on the table.

And this, of course, is why it is all right to talk to yourself. You are simply expressing your ideas and clarifying them, without any intention of communicating them to anyone. And if you talk to your dog, you are "communicating" in the sense that the sounds of the words make the dog's instinct react in various ways by training and empathy; but you know that he can't understand, and you aren't trying to make him understand in that sense. The meaning of the words is for your own sake, not his, and you realize it; it's easier to command a dog to lie down by saying "Lie down!" rather than by saying "Horp!"

But this does not mean that there are no moral implications involved in linguistic expression.

Conclusion 8b: If you are expressing yourself linguistically to someone who can understand you, it is morally wrong to communicate as a fact what you think is not a fact.

This, of course, is what a lie is, as we saw in Chapter 5 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.5.

The first thing to note is that if you are speaking in the presence of someone, the presumption is that you are communicating linguistically with him, not just "talking at" him. I say "the presumption is," because it is quite possible that he might be in the vicinity and not be listening to you. This often happens at parties, where you might actually be closer to the person whose back is to you than to the one you are talking to; but you are only communicating with the one you are talking to.

The second point here is that if you are communicating what is going on in your mind to someone else, it directly contradicts the act as communicating to communicate something which is not the case as if it were the case. The hearer is going to understand what you say as if it expressed your judgment of the facts or your attitude toward something or some other mental state you have; and so your act contradicts itself if what you say communicates the opposite of that mental state.

The third point is significant enough so that it deserves being made a definition:

A linguistic expression communicates what could reasonably be expected to be understood from it.

The reason I say this is that we very often communicate something quite different from what the words say, depending on the tone of voice or the context. A great deal of casuistry has gone on unnecessarily in this, agonizing over the secretary's "lie" when she says to the client, "Mr. Jones is in conference at the moment," when she knows perfectly well that he's taking a nap.

But look at the situation. When the client says, "Is Mr. Jones in?" he's obviously not interested in the physical position of Mr. Jones; it's a way of asking "May I speak to Mr. Jones now?" And this is what he communicates, because everyone understands that if the secretary said, "Yes," he would answer, "Oh, good!" and walk to the door, at which she would have to add, "But you can't talk to him," which would be an insult, and if she added "Because he's taking a nap," this would be derogatory to Mr. Jones, and isn't any of the client's business anyway.

So the client says, "Is Mr. Jones in," communicating, "I would like to speak to Mr. Jones now, if possible," and the secretary answers, "I'm sorry, he's in conference at the moment," communicating what everyone understands by this conventional expression, "Unfortunately, you can't," but in a way that doesn't give the impression that the client is unworthy to talk to Mr. Jones. This expression communicates no more than this, because everyone understands that this is all it means, not that there's a real conference going on.

Similarly, when a person goes out in the rain and says, "What a beautiful day!" and his tone of voice makes it clear that he thinks it is a perfectly rotten day, he communicates exactly the opposite of what the words say. Or when a person says, "How are you?" he isn't really asking for a list of woes, but stating, "You are more than just somebody I pass by; I am interested in you." You can see what an insult it would be for the other person to reply, "What do you care?" That would be the same as saying, "I want nothing to do with you!" And if he takes the statement of interest as a factual question and then tells of his symptoms as he got up, he is presuming more of an interest than the question warrants. You have to be pretty intimate with another person for him to be anything but bored when you recite all your aches and pains.

One final example that bothers people. You go into a hospital room to visit your friend, and he looks ghastly. You say, "You look fine," to cheer him up, and have qualms of conscience about lying to him.(1)

But you can't go into his room and say, "I sympathize with you," or he'd throw the bedpan at you, coming in healthy and happy and condescendingly pitying him like that. But he wants your sympathy and encouragement; it's just that it can't be expressed baldly, or it is condescending. So what is communicated by "you look fine" and such expressions is, "I sympathize with you" without its invidious overtones. And that it's really what the words could be expected to mean in the context is clear from the fact that it often happens that after a while your friend may ask you, "Tell me now; how do I really look?"

At this point, he's asking you the question as to your actual evaluation of his appearance, and you now cannot use the statement as a way of establishing your relationship with him. But what he is asking is for an evaluation, and evaluations, as I said, are subjective, and depend on the standards you adopt. So if you say, "Actually, you look pretty good," this can be true according to your standards of the way you would expect him to appear given the condition he is in. There's no law that says you can't adjust your standards to meet the situation, and if he looks ghastly by the standard of how he looks when he's healthy, then by the standard of the way a person looks when he's in his death-agony, he looks wonderful. It's possible, but very difficult, to lie when you're evaluating, precisely because standards are so flexible.

I should remark that, unless you are a teacher who has to grade someone's performance in relation to others', adjusting your standards so that what you say is encouraging is much kinder and more helpful to progress than using the highest standards and saying something that shows how far the person has to go to meet them. For some reason we are very concerned about others' growing too conceited and thinking too highly of themselves, and want to be sure we poke their balloon so that they don't commit the sin of pride--while at the same time, we ourselves recognize that our own shows of self-confidence are brave fronts that we put on over our quivering hearts, and what we need more than anything is someone else thinking that what we have done is acceptable. All too often this world of ours is the place where never is heard an encouraging word. You aren't lying if you encourage someone. Do it.

The upshot of all of this is that what is communicated is subtle and depends on the context and the tone in which something is said as well as on the words; and a lie is an attempt to communicate the opposite of what is the case, not the act of making a statement that, taken literally, is not the case.

I think a counter-example is in order. A fairly common medical practice is that of giving a placebo (which is the Latin word for "I will please [you]."), something that looks like a pill, but is actually something harmless and medically inert like sugar. The doctor prescribes the pills, saying, "You take these four times a day, and you'll feel better within a week." Since the human body tends to heal itself, what is called the "placebo effect" very often brings it about that because the person believes that he will be cured, he actually gets cured, and the doctor's statement comes true.

Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the patient was lied to. Not by the statement itself; but the act of giving the pills as if they were medicine when they are not communicates that they are medicine and will do the curing, when in fact it isn't the pills that do it, but the belief that the pills will do it, that effects the cure.

It is well known that if the patient suspects what is going on or doubts whether the "medicine" will work, there's no cure. It is therefore by means of his deception that the cure occurs. If the physician were to say, "You take these pills, which are neutral, but if you believe that they'll cure you, you'll get cured," there would be no cure, because the patient wouldn't believe he could believe fervently enough.

Hence, the physician's statement is true; but the physician also is communicating, by giving the pills, that the "medicine" will do the curing when in fact it won't and he knows it. What he does could reasonably be expected to be understood falsely by the patient, who then is cured by the deception. The physician is lying, and that's morally wrong, even if it works, and even if it's the only thing that will actually cure the patient. The end never justifies the means.

Note, by the way, that what are called "faith healers" are not lying. They make no secret about the fact that it's the faith of the person that cures him; all they claim to do is bolster that faith so that it can do its job. The fact that they "drag God into the picture" isn't false either, because in fact God has to enter into any causality that happens, and certainly can cure anyone if he wants to.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with the use of placebos in procedures like testing drugs, where there is a control group, as long as the person knows he might be getting a placebo and not the medicine and is willing to enter the test on those conditions. No deception is involved here. In fact, the idea of this is precisely to eliminate the "placebo effect" by having everyone suspect that he might not actually be getting the medicine, and so eliminate the cures that are due to expectation of being cured rather than the physical effect of the medicine.

A third point that can be made is that it is possible to tell an esthetic lie. Some people think you can't lie in fiction; but if you go back to Chapter 3 of Section 5 of the fourth part 4.5.3, you will recall that fiction, like all art, expresses a fact understood through the emotional overtones of something. I waxed eloquent about Robert Mapplethorpe's depiction of sado-masochistic acts as "the perfect moment," when in fact they violate the humanity of the people. He may not have understood this (though how someone could think that forcing the handle of a bullwhip into your body doesn't involve some kind of violation of yourself is a little hard to see), and so may have been mistaken; but the presentation of the result as something desirable or neutral because of the way it was photographed is an esthetic falsehood; and if deliberate, is an esthetic lie.(2) Hence, if your fiction is such that people understand esthetically what is not in fact the case, then it is a lie. This is what artists in general object to when they talk about "prostitution" of art by saying in their art what someone wants to hear rather than what is true.

The fourth point to make is that you can lie by communicating that you have a certain attitude when in fact you don't have it. Lies don't deal just with deliberately misstating judgments. If you answer the phone and say, "Roy! How are you?" you are communicating how pleased you are to hear from him; and if you are not pleased to hear from him, then of course you are lying, even though as far as the words are concerned, you have asked a question and not made a statement at all.

A. J. Ayer misses the point of this when in his discussion of ethical statements like, "You did wrong to steal" he says that the only fact involved is "you stole," and the "wrongness" only expresses an attitude, and so is like, "You stole!" spoken in a tone of horror, and therefore can't be a lie. As I said in the preceding section, he is simply mistaken in thinking that there is no factual content in "you did wrong," because what "you did wrong" actually means is that "the act in question is objectively inconsistent with you as its agent." But even if it were true that it was just an expression of an attitude, it would be understood by others that you in fact had that attitude; and if you didn't have it, you would be lying.(3)

This is basically the difference between communication and "talking." Now,

do we have to communicate what we know?

Conclusion 8c: A person has no moral obligation to communicate anything to another person, unless the other has a specific right to know it.

That is, if some damage would come to another if he were left ignorant of something you know, or if he could not fulfill some obligation he had without this information, then obviously he has a right to know it. He doesn't necessarily always have a right against you to be informed of it, even if you happen to know what he needs to know. For instance, if you are just anybody who happens to know some fact that, let us say, the President needs to know to make some decision, and if you happen to know that his advisors also know this fact, then he has no particular right to have you inform him of what you know--unless the Double Effect applies, of course, and damage could come from his advisors' concealment of the information.

Beware, by the way, of this business of someone's having a "right to know" some fact. A woman's husband is cheating on her. Does she have a right to know this? You could establish the right if you could show that her not knowing involves some damage to her; but it is quite possible that her knowing could prove even more damaging. Suppose you talk to the husband and persuade him to reform. If the wife had an absolute "right to know" beforehand, she still has it; and yet if you tell her, this might ruin the marriage, which might otherwise be stronger and more loving because of her husband's realizing what he had done and trying to make up for it. Marriage, as we will see, does not confer upon the partners the right to know everything about the other partner.

Another example. Once, as I mentioned in passing, there was a to-do in Cincinnati over the fact that the Bengals' coach excluded a woman reporter from the locker room, because a number of his players didn't want to be interviewed naked by a woman. An understandable reaction, to my mind. But why should any reporter be allowed in the locker room? Because the "public has a right to know" their immediate reactions as they come off the field. Really? What damage is done to the likes of you and me if we miss out on what Boomer Esiason feels about the game as he takes off his cleats and gets under the hot water? Baloney! The public (excluding me, I guess) wants to know these things, and it sells papers; but the public still has absolutely no right to know these things. And it strikes me that if, as I think Solzhenitsyn says, one of the forms of degradation in the Gulag was to be interrogated when you were naked and the interrogator was clothed, the football players have the right not to have to submit to this sort of thing. "Well, let them wrap themselves in a towel," someone said. It's the reporters who are invading the players' privacy; why should the players have to accommodate themselves to the reporters?

The point is that the claim of a right to know doesn't really mean that a person has one; the desire to know does not establish a right to know. And if a person has no real right to know some fact, then you don't have to inform him of it--even if it might be a good thing if he knew it.

Conclusion 8d: A person may have an obligation to conceal some information from the person he is communicating with.

If, for instance, you happen to know something that would be damaging to another person's reputation, or if you have been told something having given the promise of keeping it secret, or if you as a member of your firm have information which, if revealed, could give competitors an advantage, then you have a moral obligation not to reveal this information.

Always supposing that the person you are communicating with does not have a right to know which invalidates the secret (as, for example, a detective investigating a crime has a right to know information which might be damaging to the party he is investigating), then you have to keep the information concealed from your hearer. How can you morally do this?

Conclusion 8e: It is morally wrong to conceal information from another by lying to him.

That is, if the means by which you conceal information is by communicating the opposite of what is the case, then the very first rule of the Double Effect is violated (the act contradicts itself as a communication that opposes what communication is), and so the good purpose doesn't matter.

But note that the act has to be an actual communication of something as the case when that something is not the case. You have to say something that would reasonably be expected to be understood in a sense opposite to what is the case.

In any case, you can't lie to conceal the information. But suppose you are asked about it. What can you do?

Obviously, the first way to conceal the information is to keep your mouth shut. That is, if simple silence on the matter or saying something like "No comment" or "I'm not going to talk about that" actually communicates no information, then this is what must be done.

But it's not always that straightforward. Very often silence or the equivalent of "No comment" or changing the subject in response to a question tends to communicate the worst possible answer to the question. Let us say that Mary came to your house in the middle of the night last night to discuss a serious problem. Everything was perfectly innocent, but if it were known that Mary was visiting you at three in the morning, it would look as if there was something untoward going on between you. If you are asked, "Didn't I see Mary coming out of your house last night at three in the morning?" and you answer, "Let's change the subject," you have as much as told the person, "Yes, she did, but I don't want to talk about it," and the fact that you don't want to talk about it seems to imply that you were in fact engaged in amorous dalliance with her. So in this case the refusal to answer or evasion of the question is the equivalent, not only of communicating something, but of communicating something false, because it is what could be reasonably expected to be understood from the refusal to answer.

So in that case, by not saying anything, you communicate what you had to conceal. Then how do you conceal it under these conditions?

Here is where the Jesuits with their "equivocation" or "mental reservation" have historically come in--and come in for some rather hard knocks, too. Their idea is that you can conceal the fact you need to conceal by saying something that has two meanings, one of which is true, but the hearer doesn't know which one, and takes the wrong one to be true.

One of the early saints was, as I remember the story, being chased by "pursuivants," as they called them in those days. He ran around the corner and saw some clothes hanging on a rack. He quickly picked up a cloak and hat and put it on and walked back in the direction he came, and when the "pursuivants" came up to him, they asked, "Have you seen Athanasius?" (or whoever it was), and he answered, "He isn't far from you," and they ran on.

In an ordinary context, this statement does not imply, "He's right here talking to you." The question really was, "Is Athanasius far behind you?" because the people were trying to catch him; and so the reply would normally be taken to communicate, "No, not far behind."

On the other hand, in the context in which someone is trying to escape capture, those asking the question might be expected to be suspicious of people trying to help Athanasius. In this case, if the statement can also mean "He's right here," then an astute hearer could have picked this up and realized that the speaker didn't really tell him where Athanasius was. Hence, he didn't really communicate what was false; he communicated no more than that Athanasius was in the vicinity, which was true.

This is legitimate, using the Double Effect. The statement itself is amoral, because if no one understands it it is simply a linguistic expression, not communication at all. It has a good effect: the information is concealed. The false interpretation (the deception) is not the means of achieving the good effect, because the good effect can be achieved if the hearer is simply puzzled or left in the dark as to what was meant. The intention is not to deceive the other person, but simply to conceal the information that (a) he has no right to have, and (b) needs to be concealed; and finally, the damage done by revealing it has to be at least as great as the damage done by concealing it.

So equivocation's intention can't be to mislead the hearer; it is to leave him uninformed. In a context where you need to conceal information, you can take it that the hearer is clever and will realize that you communicated something ambiguous, and therefore didn't tell him anything. If he takes the wrong interpretation, this is an unfortunate side-effect of his not being clever enough to see the ambiguity, and is not necessary to achieve the concealment, and not intended.

I should point out here that equivocation is not moral in a court of law, where you have sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." That oath precisely commits you not to equivocate; though it doesn't say that you have to volunteer information that you are not specifically asked for (though it might sound as if it does; but the legal interpretation of the oath is not that, and so the legal interpretation is what it is to be taken to mean). The intent of the oath is to make it not morally possible for you to deceive by equivocation, or even convey no information by equivocation; if you are asked about the facts, then you must tell them as you know them.

Of course, if the secret you know is serious enough (such as if you are a priest and heard something in confession, or a doctor who heard something from a client), then morally you must refuse to answer the question, even if you go to jail for it (or in the case of the priest, even if you are killed for it). Of course, as our laws are constituted, you can't be forced to give evidence in a case like this; but if the laws should change, you still can't morally give the testimony, because the damage done by such a revelation would be worse than the damage done by the concealment in this case.

The idea here is that doctors need to know intimate details of the patient's lives to make proper diagnoses; and these details can be exceedingly damaging to the patient if they are revealed. If patients have the least suspicion that what they are telling their doctor (or lawyer or priest) will be revealed, then they will not tell him when the damage from revelation would be extremely great, and the doctors and so on will not be able to do their jobs. As soon as it is known that any doctor has revealed some damaging fact about a patient, this is apt to happen; and so it must never be done under any circumstances, even to save an innocent life from a gross miscarriage of justice. The wrong effect of doing it would be the deaths of thousands who wouldn't tell the truth to their physicians.

The case of the priest is even more serious, because, as Catholics believe, unless the penitent reveals each and every serious sin to the priest (or at least has the intention of doing so), he can't get forgiven by the priest, and so that aid toward erasure of his sins by God and his change of heart that I spoke of in footnotes in the fourth part is unavailable to him, and he is in grave danger of damnation. Clearly, to tempt people not to confess their sins by putting the obstacle before them that the sin might be told outside the confessional is to put them in far more serious jeopardy than death. A priest must not by any act whatever give the slightest hint that he knows anything a penitent has said to him in confession. Even if the penitent confesses that he intends to kill the priest as he walks in his garden that night (as he is in the habit of doing), the priest cannot avoid walking in the garden or take any precaution that he would not have habitually taken.(4)

As long as I have brought up law courts, let me say that the plea a person makes does not mean what the words say. If a person pleads not guilty, for instance, he is not saying (as a fact), "I didn't do it," but "You must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I did it." If he pleads guilty, he is saying, "I am willing to accept the penalty for the crime I am charged with." This is why a person who makes a "plea bargain" can plead guilty to a lesser charge than the one originally made, even though he did not do what he was finally charged with. Finally, if a person pleads "no contest" (nolo contendere), he is actually saying, "I am not going to fight this, but for one reason or another I don't agree with the charge as stated." His legal position is that the bill of particulars against him stands, but he is asking to be treated in the same way as a person who did the crime but did not realize that it was a crime.

But to return to equivocation, some have objected to it as requiring too much intelligence to be usable by anybody but the most sophisticated. But I had an interesting experience dealing with it when I was in graduate school, and teaching the very topic. It was a restaurant I frequented, and on the day in question, the waitress had a terrible cold. I told her, "You should be home in bed." "You're as bad as John" (her husband), she answered. "He told me to be sure and not come to work today. So after he left I did the dishes and the wash and vacuumed the house; and so when he comes home, he's going to ask me did I go to work, and I'll say, 'Listen! I did the dishes and here's the laundry and I vacuumed the whole house! What d'ya think?'" In some, the talent for equivocation seems to be innate, the way Mozart had the talent for music.

But of course, not all of us are that ingenious; and the fact is that the information must be concealed, and to refuse to answer communicates it. What do we do?

Most of the time a false statement communicates no information in such a context. I am sure that the waitress's husband would have had enough experience of her so that when he asked her if she went to work, then he wouldn't believe her if she said "No."(5)

If she could reasonably have expected that he wouldn't believe her, then obviously her "no" would have communicated nothing; because if she said it, he would realize that it would either mean that she hadn't gone to work or that she was trying to make him think that she hadn't when she actually had--and he would have no idea which it was.

And this sort of thing can happen in more serious contexts. If, for example, the Prime Minister of Israel had been having secret talks with the Palestinians (who at the moment are mortal enemies) then it would not only destroy his reputation with the Israelis but probably annihilate any chance of peace if it were known; and if he was asked by a reporter, "Is it true that you have been in communication with Palestinian leaders?" the reporter would know that he couldn't say he was; and if he said, "No comment," he would be admitting it; and in fact the only thing he could say in answer to the question would be to deny it. So when the Prime Minister says, "There's no truth to that at all," he is saying what everybody realizes is the only thing he could say. That is, if he weren't in communication with them, he would say it; and if he was in communication with them, he would have to deny it or destroy any purpose to the communication. Hence, the reporter is just as uninformed as he was before he asked the question; and the Prime Minister has communicated nothing by making the false statement.

So he didn't lie, because he had reason to think that his answer would not be believed; he simply concealed information. That sounds like Jesuitism raised to the nth power; but it's either valid, or you have to say that the literal meaning of what you say is what in fact you communicate, in which case ironic speech (in which you say the opposite of what you mean in order more forcefully to communicate it) is a lie. And I'm sure you're going to agree that it is (he said ironically).

Well, then, finally we have sketched out a good many of the ways you can do what is morally wrong just by yourself; so it obviously isn't true that immorality always involves some injustice to someone else. But we will leave these other moral implications to the next part. Right now, what I want to do is say a few words about religion.



1. Mark Twain had a short story on something like this, as I recall, where his esthetic point was that lying is a virtue. He couldn't make the distinction I am making, that's all.

2. Shortly after the time I wrote the chapter I am referring to, the museum was acquitted of charges of pandering obscenity, on the grounds that Art is protected by the First Amendment, and what's shown in a museum is by definition Art. Art it may be; but false it is nonetheless; and even the jurors admitted that it was obscene.

3. My own theory, by the way, would allow saying that "It was wrong of you to steal" and simultaneously feeling approval of the action; because it's quite possible that the person making the statement could recognize that it was beneficial to the thief to have stolen, and yet the theft was still inconsistent with him as human. Not everyone straightens out this conundrum. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, when the daughter confesses to her mother that she wanted to have sex with her fiancé before he left for the war, the mother says words to the effect, "You were right not to do it, but it would have been beautiful."

4. By the way, the case of the Catholic who out of fear cannot bring himself to confess some sin of his is not as bleak as I have made it out to be. The act of confessing the sin is a help toward his change of attitude, which is brought about by God, not himself. A deliberate refusal to confess the sin would be to say to God, "I wish I hadn't done that, and I'm going to change heart and admit that I'm your slave again--but only on my own terms." That's obviously not being willing to change heart. But a person can be emotionally incapable of actually carrying out his intention of confessing his sin; in which case, of course, his will is in the right direction, and he has a psychological disorder; and I am certain that God is astute enough to figure this out and take it into account. There is never anything to worry about as far as your relationship with God is concerned; confession is to assure yourself that you are serious; God already knows.

5. Actually, the vacuuming and so on was in all probability her way of providing evidence that the denial was factually the case (in which case, it was a lie, of course) rather than, as I interpreted it at the time, a case of equivocation to avoid saying what was false. The point I am making is not her moral position, but that she knew well enough how to say what was literally true without divulging some information she wanted to conceal.