Just lies: Finding Augustine's ethics of public lying in his treatments of lying and killing

Journal of Religious Ethics 38 (4):661-697 (2010)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Augustine famously defends the justice of killing in certain public contexts such as just wars. He also claims that private citizens who intentionally kill are guilty of murder, regardless of their reasons. Just as famously, Augustine seems to prohibit lying categorically. Analyzing these features of his thought and their connections, I argue that Augustine is best understood as endorsing the justice of lying in certain public contexts, even though he does not explicitly do so. Specifically, I show that parallels between his treatments of killing and lying along with his “agent (auctor)–instrument (minister)” distinction, in which God is the true agent or “author” of certain acts and humans are merely God's instruments, together imply that he would regard certain instances of public lying as permissible and even obligatory. I buttress my argument by examining several key but neglected passages and by responding to various objections and rival interpretations. Throughout, I challenge standard interpretations of Augustine's ethics of killing and lying and seek to deepen our overall understanding of these dimensions of his thought. In so doing, I contribute to ongoing discussions of public and private lying and to the task of relating Augustine's thought to contemporary debate and deliberation on war, killing, and lying



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,100

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

To catch a heretic: Augustine on lying.William E. Mann - 2003 - Faith and Philosophy 20 (4):479-495.
Augustine, Aquinas, and the Absolute Norm Against Lying.Christopher Tollefsen - 2012 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 86 (1):111-134.
What Is Lying.Don Fallis - 2009 - Journal of Philosophy 106 (1):29-56.
The definition of lying.Thomas L. Carson - 2006 - Noûs 40 (2):284–306.
Liar Liar.Thomas Carson - 2008 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 22 (2):189-210.
The murderer at the door: What Kant should have said.Michael Cholbi - 2009 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79 (1):17-46.


Added to PP

111 (#160,038)

6 months
10 (#272,213)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

Retracing Augustine's Ethics.Matthew Puffer - 2016 - Journal of Religious Ethics 44 (4):685-720.
Dirty Hands, Supreme Emergencies, and Catholic Moral Theology.Evan Sandsmark - 2021 - Journal of Religious Ethics 49 (4):739-767.

Add more citations

References found in this work

De Doctrina Christiana.St Augustine - 1995 - Oxford University Press UK.
Speaking Falsely and Telling Lies.Kenneth Kemp - 1993 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 67:151-170.
Augustine on Lying and Deception.Thomas D. Feehan - 1988 - Augustinian Studies 19:131-139.

View all 23 references / Add more references