Sr Simplice?s dilemma: When is a lie a lie?

William Newton

This article explores the moral issues that surround the legitimacy of deception and lying in extreme situations, concluding that the natural law approach to the question of what constitutes a lie seems most plausible and comes closest to what common sense indicates. William Newton is Professor of Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Austria.

In his epic work Les Mis?rables, Victor Hugo says of the character Sr Simplice that ?she was a person ? we dare not say a woman ? who was gentle, austere, well bred, cold, and who had never lied.? However, the moment comes when she is put to the test. Seeking to protect a fleeing Jean Valjean, she answers ?no? to Inspector Javert?s question, ?is anyone else here with you in the room?? The fact is that Javert?s prey is hiding behind the door. The reader?s sympathy is certainly on the side of Valjean and the good Sister at this moment and many readers will have the strong intuition that Sr Simplice did well.

Login for more...