The Law of War and Peace (1625)
by Hugo Grotius
General Rules from the Law of Nature Regarding What Is Permissible in War; with a Consideration of Ruses and Falsehood
I. The order of treatment in the discussion which follows.
WE have considered both those who wage war and on what grounds war may be waged. It follows that we should determine what is permissible in war,” also to what extent, and in what ways, it is permissible.
What is permissible in war is viewed either absolutely or in relation to a previous promise. It is viewed absolutely, first from the standpoint of the law of nature, and then from that of the law of nations. Let us see, then, what is permissible by nature.
II. The first rule: In war things which are necessary to attain the end in view are permissible. This is explained.
1. First, as we have previously said on several occasions, in a moral question things which lead to an end receive their intrinsic value from the end itself. In consequence we are understood to have a right to those things which are necessary for the purpose of securing a right, when the necessity is understood not in terms of physical exactitude but in a moral sense. By right I mean that which is strictly so called, denoting the power of acting in respect to society only.
Hence, if otherwise I cannot save my life, I may use any degree of violence to ward off him who assails it, even if he should happen to be free from wrong, as we have pointed out elsewhere. The reason is that this right does not properly arise from another’s wrong, but from the right which nature grants me on my own behalf.
2. Furthermore, I can also take possession of another’s property from which an imminent danger threatens me, without taking account of the other’s guilt; yet not in such a way as to become its owner (for this procedure is not adapted to that end), but in order to guard it until adequate security has been given for my safety. This point also we have treated elsewhere.
Thus I have by nature a right to seize property of mine which another is holding; and if such seizure is too difficult I have the right to seize something else of equal value, as in the case of recovering a debt. From these causes ownership also arises, because the equality which has been disturbed can in no other way be restored.
3. Where therefore the punishment is just, all use of force necessary for the infliction of the penalty is likewise just; and everything which is a part of the penalty, as the destruction of property by fire or by other means, is certainly within the limit of that which is just and befits the crime.
III. The second rule: A right is to be viewed as arising not only from the origin of the war but also from causes which subsequently develop.
In the second place the fact must be recognized that our right to wage war is to be regarded as arising not merely from the origin of the war but also from causes which subsequently develop; just as in lawsuits a new right is often acquired by one party after suit has been brought. Thus those who associate themselves with him who assails me, either as allies or subjects, confer upon me the right to protect myself against them also.
In like manner those who join in a war that is unjust, especially if they can or ought to know that it is unjust, obligate themselves to make good the expenses and losses incurred, because through their guilt they cause the loss. Similarly, those who join in a war that has been undertaken without a cause worthy of approval draw upon themselves the desert of punishment, in a degree proportionate to the injustice which lies in their action. For this reason Plato approves of war ‘until the guilty are compelled, by the guiltless who have suffered, to pay the penalty.’
IV. The third rule: Some things, which are not permissible according to the purpose of a war, may follow therefrom without wrong; a precaution is added.
1. In the third place, it must be observed that in addition to the right of action many things follow indirectly, and beyond the purpose of the doer,’ for which in and of themselves a right would not exist. We have explained elsewhere how this may occur in a case of self-defense. Thus in order to obtain what is ours, if we cannot get that by itself, we have the right to accept more, subject to the obligation, nevertheless, of restoring the value of the excess. Similarly we may bombard a ship full of pirates, or a house full of brigands, even if there are within the same ship or house a few infants, women, or other innocent persons who are thereby endangered. Says Augustine: ‘A man is not guilty of homicide if he has built a wall about his property and another is killed by the fall of it when trying to make use of it.’
2. But, as we have admonished upon many occasions previously, what accords with a strict interpretation of right is not always, or in all respects, permitted. Often, in fact, love for our neighbor prevents us from pressing our right to the utmost limit.
Wherefore we must also beware of what happens, and what we foresee may happen, beyond our purpose, unless the good which our action has in view is much greater than the evil which is feared, or, unless the good and the evil balance, the hope of the good is much greater than the fear of the evil. The decision in such matters must be left to a prudent judgement, but in such a way that when in doubt we should favor that course, as the more safe, which has regard for the interest of another rather than our own. ‘Let the tares grow,’ said the best Teacher, ‘lest haply while ye gather up the tares ye root up the wheat with them.’ Said Seneca: ‘To kill many persons indiscriminately is the work of fire and desolation.’ History teaches us with how deep repentance Theodosius, on the admonition of Ambrose, expiated such an unrestrained vengeance.
3. Further, if at times God does something of this kind, it is not for us to take that as an example, in view of the most perfect right of dominion which He has over us, but which He has not granted to us over one another, as we have noted elsewhere. And yet God Himself, lord of men in His own right, is wont to spare a community of evil men, however large, for the sake of a very few good men; in this He makes manifest His fairness as a judge, as the conference of Abraham with God regarding Sodom clearly teaches us.
From these general rules we may learn how much is by nature permissible against an enemy.
V. What is permissible against those who furnish supplies to our enemies is explained through distinctions.
1. But there often arises the question, What is permissible against those who are not enemies, or do not want to be called enemies, but who furnish our enemies with supplies? For we know that this subject has been keenly debated in both ancient and modern times, since some champion the relentlessness of warfare and others the freedom of commercial relations.
2. First, we must make distinctions with reference to the things supplied. There are some things, such as weapons, which are useful only in war; other things which are of no use in war, as those which minister to pleasure; and others still which are of use both in time of war and at other times, as money, provisions, ships, and naval equipment.
Regarding the first class of things, the saying of Amalasuntha to Justinian holds true, that he who supplies an enemy with things’ necessary for warfare is on the side of the enemy.
Things of the second sort give rise to no complaint. Thus Seneca says that he will do a favor to a tyrant, if the kindness will not give to the tyrant greater powers for the ruin of all nor strengthen the powers which he has; that is, a kindness which may be done to him without harm to the state. In explaining this Seneca adds:
Money, by means of which a satellite may be kept in service, I shall not supply. If he shall desire marbles and robes, that which his luxurious taste amasses will harm no one; soldiery and arms I shall not furnish. If, as a great favor, he seeks craftsmen of the stage and things which may soften his savagery, I shall gladly proffer them. To him to whom I would not send triremes or ships with bronze rams, I shall send pleasure craft; and sleeping-barges, and other follies of kings who revel on the sea.
In the judgement of Ambrose, to be generous toward him who conspires against his country is not approvable liberality.
3. Regarding things of the third sort, useful in both war and peace, we must take into account the conditions of the war. For, if I am unable to protect myself without intercepting the goods which are being sent to the enemy, necessity, as we have elsewhere said, will give me a right to intercept such goods, but with the obligation to make restitution, unless another cause arises.
If, now, the enforcement of my right shall be hindered by the supplying of these things, and if he who supplied them has been in a position to know this (for example, in case I should be holding a town under siege or keeping ports under blockade, and a surrender or the conclusion of peace should already be in anticipation), then he will be liable to me for injury culpably inflicted, just as one who releases a debtor from prison or secures his escape, to my detriment. As in the case of the infliction of an injury, his goods may be seized, and ownership over them may be sought, for the purpose of recovering, damages.
If he who furnishes supplies has not yet caused me injury, but has wished to do so, I shall have the right, through the retention of his goods, to oblige him to give security for the future, by means of hostages, by pledges, or in some other way.
If, moreover, the injustice of my enemy toward me is palpably evident and the one who furnishes supplies to him strengthens him in a very wicked war, in that case the latter will be responsible for the injury, not only by civil law but also by criminal law, just as one would be who should deliver an obviously guilty party from a judge who is about to inflict punishment. On this ground it will be permissible to pass upon the furnisher of supplies a sentence which suits his crime, in accordance with what we have said regarding punishments; within the limits there indicated he may even be despoiled.
4. For the reasons which have been stated, those who engage in war usually address public proclamations’ to other peoples, with the object of making clear both the justice of their cause and the probable hope of enforcing their right.
5. In this inquiry we have referred back to the law of nature for the reason that in historical narratives we have been unable to find anything established by the volitional law of nations to cover such cases. The Carthaginians sometimes captured Romans who had brought supplies to their enemies; and they surrendered such persons to the Romans who demanded them. When Demetrius was occupying Attica with an army, and had already taken the nearby towns of Eleusis and Rhamnus and was intending to starve Athens into surrender, he hanged both the master and the pilot of a ship that attempted to carry in grain; having in this way deterred others he made himself master of the city.
VI. Whether it is permissible to use a ruse in war.
1. So far as the manner of conducting operations is concerned, violence and frightfulness are particularly suited to wars. The question is often raised, however, whether one may resort to ruses also. Homer, at any rate, said that one must harm his foe
- By ruse or violence, by open ways or hidden.
In Pindar we find:
- And every means must be employed
To bring the foeman low.
In Virgil there is also this:
- Whether craft or valor, who would ask in war?
Soon there follows,
- Ripheus, who among the Trojans was the one most just,
And most observant of the right.
We read that Solon, who had a famous reputation for wisdom, sought to follow this type. Silius [Italicus], narrating the exploits of Fabius Maximus, says:
- Deceit henceforth on valor’s side is placed.
2. In Homer Ulysses, the typical man of wisdom, is at all times full of wiles against the enemy; whence Lucian deduced the rule that those who deceive the foe deserve praise. Xenophon asserted that in war nothing is more useful than deceptions. In Thucydides Brasidas says that the renown won by the stratagems of war is particularly conspicuous; and in Plutarch Agesilaus declares that to deceive an enemy is both just and permissible.
Polybius thinks that what is accomplished by main force in war is to be considered of less importance than what is done by taking advantage of opportunities and by the use of deception. Hence Silius represents Corvinus as saying:
- War must be waged with guile; force brings less fame to the leader.
Similar, according to Plutarch, was the view even of the stern Spartans: he observes that a larger victim was sacrificed by the one who had gained a victory through a ruse than by him who had won by open, fighting. The same writer thinks highly of Lysander for ‘varying’ with ruses most of the operations of war.’ Plutarch counts it among, the merits of Philopoemen that, having been trained in the Cretan system, he combined the straightforward and honorable method of fighting with craft and ruses. It is a saying of Ammianus that ‘All successful issues of war are to be praised without distinction of valor or guile.’
3. The Roman jurists call it a good ruse ‘whenever any one lays a plot against the enemy’; and again, they say that it makes no difference whether any one escapes from the power of the enemy by force or by trickery. This is’ deception which cannot be censured, such as that of a general,’ as Eustathius notes in his commentary on the fifteenth book of the Iliad. Among the theologians, Augustine. declares: ‘When one undertakes a righteous war, it makes no difference, in respect to justness, whether he fights openly or by ambuscades.’ Chrysostom says that generals who have won a victory by a ruse receive the highest praise.
4. However, there is no lack of opinions which seem to advocate the opposite view, and some of these we shall present below. The final conclusion will depend upon the answer to the question whether deceit belongs to the class of things that are always evil, in regard to which the saying is true that one must not do evil that good may come; or whether it is in the category of things which from their very nature are not at all times vicious but which may even happen to be good.
VII. In a negative action, deceit is not in itself unpermissible.
It must be observed, then, that deceit is of one sort in a negative action, of another sort in a positive action. The word deceit I extend, on the authority of Labeo, even to those things which occur in a negative action; he classes it as deceit, but not harmful deceit, when any one’ protects his own or another’s possessions through dissimulation.’ It cannot be doubted that Cicero spoke too sweepingly when he said: ‘Pretense and dissimulation must be removed from every phase of life.’ For since you are not required to reveal to others all that you know or desire, it follows that it is right to dissimulate, that is to conceal and hide some things from some persons. ‘One may,’ said Augustine, ‘conceal the truth wisely, by the use of dissimulation in some degree.’ Cicero himself in more than one place admits that such dissimulation is absolutely necessary and unavoidable,’ especially for those to whom the care of the state is entrusted.
The narrative of Jeremiah (Jeremiah, chap. xxxviii) offers a notable example touching this point. The prophet had been questioned by the king as to the outcome of the siege, but in the presence of the princes, at the king’s request, he wisely concealed that fact, assigning another and yet not untrue reason for the conference. With this, again, we may class the action of Abraham in concealing his marriage and calling Sarah his sister, that is, according to the usage of the time, a near relative.
VIII. Deceit in a positive action falls under two heads: deceit exhibited in actions not limited in significance, and that exhibited in actions the significance of which is, as it were, fixed by agreement; it is shown that deceit of the former sort is permissible.
1. Deceit which consists in a positive action, if it is exhibited in acts, is called pretense; if in words, falsehood. Some persons establish this distinction between the two terms, because they say that words are naturally the signs of thoughts, while acts are not. But the contrary is true, that words by their very nature and apart from the human will have no significance, unless perchance a word is confused and ‘inarticulate,’ such as is uttered by a person in grief, when it comes rather under the term act than speech.
If now the assertion is made that the nature of man possesses superiority over that of other living creatures in this, that it can convey to others the ideas of the mind and that words were invented for this purpose, that is true. But it must be added that such conveying of thought is accomplished not by means of words alone but also by signs, as among dumb persons, whether these signs naturally have something in common with the thing signified or whether they possess significance merely by agreement.
Similar to these signs are those characters which, as Paul the jurist says, do not express words formed by the tongue but objects themselves, either from some resemblance, as in the case of hieroglyphic signs, or by mere arbitrary convention, as among the Chinese.
2. At this point then we must introduce another distinction, such as we employed to remove the ambiguity in the term law of nations. For we said that the term law of nations includes both what is approved by separate nations without mutual obligation and what contains a mutual obligation in itself. Words, then, and signs, and the written characters we have mentioned, were invented as a means’ of expression under a mutual obligation; as Aristotle called it, ‘by convention.’ This is not the case with other things. Hence it comes about that we may avail ourselves of other things, even if we foresee that another person will derive therefrom a false impression: I am speaking of what is intrinsic, not of what is incidental: And so we must give an example, in which no harm follows as a consequence, or in which the harm itself, without consideration of the deceit, is permissible.
3. An example of the former case is found in Christ, who in the presence of His companions on the way to Emmaus ‘made as though He would’ go further, that is, gave the impression of intending to go further; unless we prefer truly to believe that He wished to go further, on condition, nevertheless, that He should not be detained, by a great effort. Thus God is said to will many things which do not come to pass, and in another place Christ is said to have intended to pass by the Apostles who were in a ship, that is had He not been urgently entreated to embark.
Another example may be found in Paul’s circumcision of Timothy, when he was well aware that the Jews would interpret this as though the injunction of circumcision, which had in fact already been done away with, was still binding upon the children of Israel, and as though Paul and Timothy themselves thought so. However, Paul did not have this in view, but merely sought to obtain for himself and Timothy the opportunity of associating with the Jews on more intimate terms. After the removal of the divine law circumcision no longer implied such an obligation by agreement; and the evil arising from the error, which followed for the time being, and was later to be corrected, was not of so great importance as the good which Paul sought, that is the introduction of the truth of the Gospel.
This sort of pretense the Greek fathers often call ‘management.’ In regard to it there is a notable opinion of Clement of Alexandria, who in a discussion of the good man speaks thus: ‘For the benefit of his neighbor he will do things which otherwise he would .not do of his own accord and original purpose.’ Of this nature was the act of the Romans who threw bread from the Capitol into the posts of the enemy that they might not be believed to be distressed by famine.
4. An example illustrating the latter case is found in a pretended flight, such as Joshua ordered his men to make so as to take Ai by storm, and such as other commanders have frequently ordered. For in this instance we regard the injury which follows as legitimate according to the justice of war. Moreover, flight itself has no significance by agreement, although an enemy may interpret it as a sign of fear; such interpretation the other party is not obliged to guard against in his use of his freedom to go hither and thither, more or less rapidly, and with this or that gesture or outward appearance. In the same category we may class the actions of those of whom we read that they made use of the weapons, standards, uniforms, and tents of their enemies.
5. All these things are in fact of such a sort that they may be employed by any one at his discretion, even contrary to custom; for the custom itself was introduced by the choice of individuals, not as .’it were by universal consent, and such a custom constrains no one.
IX. The difficulty of the inquiry in respect to the second sort of deceit is indicated.
1. Of greater difficulty is the discussion with respect to those types of deceit which, if I may so say, are in common use among men in commerce and in which falsehood in the true sense is found.
There are many injunctions against falsehood in Holy Writ. ‘A righteous man,’ that is the good man, ‘hateth lying’ (Proverbs 13:5);’ Remove far from me falsehood and lies’ (Proverbs 30:8); ‘Thou wilt destroy them that speak lies’ (Psalms 5:6); ‘Lie not one to another’ (Colossians 3:9).
This point of view is rigidly maintained by Augustine; and even among the philosophers and poets there are those who are seen to be in sympathy with it. Well known is this saying of Homer:
- To me as hateful as the jaws of Hell is he
Whose mind thinks other than his tongue reveals.
- What is foreign to truth it is never fitting to utter.
Yet, if the telling of truth will bring sure doom to another,
Pardon to him must be granted who does that which is not fitting.
Cleobulus has this line:
- Falsehood is hateful to him who in his heart is wise.
Aristotle said: ‘Falsehood in itself is base and worthy of censure, but truth is noble and deserving of praise.’
2. Nevertheless authority is not lacking in support of the opposite view also. In the first place in Holy Writ there are examples of men cited without a mark of censure; and, in the second place, there are the declarations of the early Christians, Origen, Clement,’ Tertullian, Lactantius, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Cassian, indeed of nearly all, as Augustine himself acknowledges. Although disagreeing with them, he nevertheless recognizes that it is ‘a great problem,’ ‘a discussion full of dark places,’ ‘a dispute in which the learned are at variance,’ to use words that are all his own.
3. Among the philosophers there stand openly on this side Socrates and his pupils Plato and Xenophon; at times, Cicero; if we may trust Plutarch and Quintilian, also the Stoics, who among the endowments of the wise man include ability to lie in the proper place and manner. In some places Aristotle too seems to agree with them, for his phrase’ in itself,’ which we have quoted, may be interpreted generally, that is, considering the thing without regard to attendant circumstances. The commentator upon Aristotle, Andronicus of Rhodes, thus speaks of the physician who lies to a sick man: ‘He deceives indeed, but he is not a deceiver,’ adding the reason: ‘for his aim is not the deception of the sick man, but his cure.’
4. Quintilian, whom I have mentioned, in defending this same view says that there are many things which are made honorable or base, not so much by the nature of the facts as by their causes. Says Diphilus:
- The falsehood told for safety’s sake,
If I may judge, can cause no detriment.
In Sophocles, when Neoptolemus asks:
- Do you not think a lie is base?
- If safety from the lie arise, I do not.
Similar views may be cited from Pisander and Euripides. In Quintilian, again, I read: ‘For to tell a lie is sometimes permissible even for the wise man.’ Eustathius, Metropolitan of Thessalonica, commenting On the Odyssey, II, writes: ‘The wise man will lie when occasion demands ‘; and on this point he adduces evidence from Herodotus and Isocrates.
X. Not every use of an expression, which is known to be taken in another sense, is unpermissible.
1. Perhaps we may find some way of reconciling such divergent views in a wider or more strict interpretation of the meaning of falsehood.
Adopting the point of view of Gellius when he distinguishes between telling an untruth and lying, we do not understand as a falsehood what an ignorant person happens to say; but we are concerned with that which is consciously uttered with a meaning that is at variance with the idea in the mind, whether in understanding or in an act of will. For ideas of the mind are what are primarily ‘and immediately’ indicated by words and similar signs; so he does not lie who says something untrue which he believes to be true, but he lies who says that which is indeed true but which he believes to be false. Falsity of meaning, therefore, is that which we need to exemplify the general nature of falsehood.
From this it follows that, when any term or phrase has ‘several meanings,’ that is, may be understood in more than one way, either from common usage, or the practice of an art, or some figure of, speech easily understood, then, if the idea in mind fits one of these meanings, it is not held to be a lie, even if it is thought that he who hears it will understand it in another way.’
2. It is indeed true that the rash employment of such a mode of speech is not to be approved. It may nevertheless be justified by incidental causes, as, for instance, if thereby aid is rendered in the instruction of one who has been entrusted to our care, or in avoiding an unfair question.
Christ Himself gave an example of the former sort, when He, said: ‘Lazarus our friend is fallen asleep,’ which the Apostles understood as though it were said of the sleep of the living. Again, what He had said about rebuilding the Temple, meaning it in regard to His own body, He knew the Jews took with reference to the actual Temple. Similarly when He promised to the Apostles twelve exalted seats next to the King, like judges of the tribes among the Jews, and elsewhere that they should drink of a new wine in His, Father’s kingdom, He seems to have been fully aware that they took this to refer to none other than some kingdom in this life, with the expectation of which they were filled until the very moment when Christ was about to ascend up into heaven. On another occasion also He spoke to the people through the indirectness of parables, that those who heard Him might not understand, unless, that is, they should bring thereto such earnestness of mind and readiness to be taught as were required.
An example of the latter use may be given from profane history; in the case of Lucius Vitellius, whom Narcissus pressed to explain his ambiguities and reveal the truth fully, but whom he could not force to refrain from giving replies that were dubious and capable of varied interpretation. Here applies a saying of the Jews: ‘If any one knows how to use ambiguous language, it is well: but if not, let him remain silent.’
3. On the other hand, a case may arise when it is not only not praiseworthy but even wicked to employ such a mode of speech; as when the glory of God, or the love due to our neighbor, or reverence toward a superior, or the nature of the thing in question requires that everything which is thought in the mind shall be completely revealed. Just so in the case of contracts, we said that that must be made known which the nature of the contract is understood to demand; and in this sense we may not inaptly interpret the rule of Cicero, ‘All falsehood must be removed from matters of contract,’ which is taken from the ancient Athenian law prohibiting’ the uttering of falsehoods in the market-place.’ In these passages apparently the word falsehood receives so broad a meaning that it covers even an obscure statement. But this, strictly speaking, we have already excluded from the idea of a falsehood.
XI. The character of falsehood, in so far as it is unpermissible, consists in its conflict with the right of another; this is explained.
1. In order to exemplify the general idea of falsehood, it is necessary that what is spoken, or written, or indicated by signs or gestures, cannot be understood otherwise than in a sense which differs from the thought of him who uses the means of expression.
Upon this broader signification, however, a stricter meaning of falsehood must be imposed, carrying some characteristic distinction. This distinction, if we regard the matter aright, at least according to the common view of nations, can be described, we think, as nothing else than a conflict with the existing and continuing right of him to whom the speech or sign is addressed; for it is sufficiently clear that no one lies to himself, however false his statement may be.
By right in this connection I do not mean every right without relation to the matter in question, but that which is peculiar to it and connected with it. Now that right is nothing else than the liberty of judgement which, as if by some tacit agreement, men who speak are understood to owe to those with whom they converse. For this is merely that mutual obligation which men had willed to introduce at the time when they determined to make use of speech and similar signs; for without such an obligation the invention of speech would have been void of result.
2. We require, moreover, that this right be valid and continuing at the time the statement is made; for it may happen that the right has indeed existed, but has been taken away, or will be annulled by another right which supervenes, just as a debt is cancelled celled by an acceptance or by the cessation of the condition. Then, further, it is required that the right which is infringed belong to him with whom we converse, and not to another, just as in the case of contracts also injustice arises only from the infringement of a right of the contracting parties.
Perhaps you would do well to recall here that Plato, following Simonides, refers truth-speaking to justice; that falsehood, at least: the type of falsehood which is forbidden, is often described in Holy Writ as bearing false witness or speaking against one’s neighbor; and that Augustine himself in determining the nature of falsehood, regards the will to deceive as essential. Cicero, too, wishes that, inquiry in regard to speaking the truth be referred to the fundamental principles of justice.
3. Moreover, the right of which we have spoken may be abrogated by the express consent of him with whom we are dealing, as when one says that he will speak falsely and the other permits it. In like manner it may be cancelled by tacit consent, or consent’ assumed on reasonable grounds, or by the opposition of another right, which, in the common judgement of all men, is much more cogent.
The right understanding of these points will supply to us many inferences, which will be of no small help in reconciling the differences in the views which have been cited above.
XII. The view is maintained that it is permissible to say what is false before infants and insane persons.
The first inference is that even if something which has a false, significance is said to an infant or insane person no blame for falsehood attaches thereto. For it seems to be permitted by the common opinion of mankind that:
- The unsuspecting age of childhood may be mocked.
Quintilian, speaking of boys, said: ‘For their profit we employ many fictions.’ The reason is by no means far to seek; since infants and insane persons do not have liberty of judgement, it is impossible for wrong to be done them in respect to such liberty.
XIII. It is permissible to say what is false when he to whom the conversation is not addressed is deceived, and when it would be permissible to deceive him if not sharing in it.
1. The second inference is that, so long as the person to whom the talk is addressed is not deceived, if a third party draws a false impression therefrom there is no falsehood.
There is no falsehood in relation to him to whom the utterance is directed because his liberty remains unimpaired. His case is like that of persons to whom a fable is told when they are aware of its character, or those to whom figurative language is used in ‘irony,’ or in ‘hyperbole,’ a figure which, as Seneca says, reaches the truth by means of falsehood,’ while Quintilian calls it a lying exaggeration. There is no falsehood, again, in respect to him who chances to hear what is said; the conversation is not being held with him, consequently there is no obligation toward him. Indeed if he forms for himself an opinion from what is said not to him, but to another, he has something which he can credit to himself, not to another. In fine, if, so far as he is concerned, we wish to form a correct judgement, the conversation is not a conversation, but something that may mean anything at all.
2. Cato the censor therefore committed no wrong in falsely promising aid to his allies, nor did Flaccus, who said to others that a city of the enemy had been stormed by Aemilius, although in both cases the enemy was deceived. A similar ruse is told of Agesilaus by Plutarch. Nothing in fact was said to the enemy; the harm, moreover, which followed was something foreign to the statement, and of itself not unpermissible to desire or to accomplish.
To this category Chrysostom and Jerome refer Paul’s speech, in which at Antioch he rebuked Peter for being too zealous a Jew. They think that Peter was well aware that this was not done in earnest; at the same time the weakness of those present was humored.
XIV. It is permissible to say what is false when the conversation is directed to him who wishes to be deceived in this way.
1. The third inference is that, whenever it is certain that ‘he to whom the conversation is addressed will not be annoyed at ‘the infringement of his liberty in judging, or rather will be grateful therefor, because of some advantage which will follow, in this case also a falsehood in the strict sense, that is a harmful falsehood, is not perpetrated; just so a man does not commit theft who with the presumed consent of the owner uses up some trifling thing in order that he may thereby secure for the owner a great advantage.
In these matters which are so certain, a presumed wish is taken as one that is expressed. Besides, in such cases it is evident that no wrong is done to one who desires it. It seems, therefore, that he does not do wrong who comforts a sick friend by persuading him of what is not true, as Arria did by saying what was not true to Paetus after the death of their son; the story is told in the Letters of Pliny.’ Similar is the case of the man who brings courage by a false report to one who is wavering in battle, so that, encouraged thereby, he wins victory and safety for himself, and is thus ‘beguiled but not betrayed,’ as Lucretius says.
2. Democritus says: ‘We must speak the truth, wherever that is the better course.’ Xenophon writes: ‘It is right to deceive our friends, if it is for their good.’ Clement of Alexandria concedes ‘the use of lying as a curative measure.’ Maximus of Tyre says: ‘A physician deceives a sick man, a general deceives his army, and a pilot the sailors; and in such deception there is no wrong.’ The reason is given by Proclus in commenting on Plato: ‘For that which is good, is better than the truth.’
To this class of untruths belong the statement reported by Xenophon, that the allies would presently arrive; that of Tullus Hostilius, that the army from Alba was making a flank movement by, his order; what histories term the’ salutary lie’ of the consul, Quinctius, that the enemy were in flight on the other wing; and similar incidents found in abundance in the writings of the historians. However, it is to be observed that in this sort of falsehood the infringement upon the judgement is of less account because it is usually’ confined to the moment, and the truth is revealed a little later.
XV. It is permissible to say what is false when the speaker makes use of a superior right over one subject to himself.
1. A fourth inference, akin to the foregoing, applies to the case when one who has a right that is superior to all the rights of another makes use of this right either for his own or for the public good. This especially Plato seems to have had in mind when he conceded the right of saying what is false to those having authority. Since the same author seems now to grant this privilege to physicians,’ and again to deny it to them, apparently we ought to make the distinction that in the former passage he means physicians publicly appointed to this responsibility, and in the latter those who privately claim it for themselves. Yet Plato also rightly recognizes that falsehood is not becoming to deity, although deity has a supreme right over men, because it is a mark of weakness to take refuge in such devices.
2. An instance of blameless mendacity, of which even Philo approves, may perhaps be found in Joseph, who, when ruling in the king’s stead, accused his brothers first of being spies, and then of being thieves, pretending, but not really believing, that they were such. Another instance is that of Solomon, who gave an example of wisdom inspired by God, when to the women who were disputing over the child he uttered the words which indicated his purpose to slay it, although his real intent was the furthest possible from such a course, and his desire was to assign to the true mother her own offspring. There is a saying of Quintilian: ‘Sometimes the common good requires that even falsehoods should be upheld.’
XVI. It is perhaps permissible to say what is false when we are unable in any other way to save the life of an innocent person, or something else of equal importance.
A fifth inference may be applicable to cases where the life of an innocent person, or something else of equal importance, cannot be saved without falsehood, and another person can in no other way be diverted from the accomplishment of a wicked crime. Such was the deed of Hypermnestra, who is often lauded for this reason:
- Nobly false and for all time
A maiden famed.
XVII. The authors who have judged that falsehood spoken in the presence of enemies is permissible.
1. The principle which the learned generally lay down, that it is permissible to speak falsely to an enemy, goes beyond what we have’ just said. Accordingly, to the rule forbidding a lie the exception, unless against enemies, is added by Plato and Xenophon; also by Philo among the Jews, and by Chrysostom among the Christians.’ To this exception you would perhaps refer the lie of the men of Jabesh when under siege, as recorded in Holy Writ, and the similar deception on the part of the prophet Elisha; also that of Valerius’ Laevinus, who boasted that he had slain Pyrrhus.
2. To the third, fourth, and fifth of the conclusions which we have stated, applies the passage of Eustratius, Metropolitan of Nicaea, On Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI [VI. ix]:
He who gives good counsel does not necessarily speak the truth. It can in fact happen that he who plans aright makes falsehood itself a part of his plan, that he may lie intentionally, either to an enemy, in order to deceive him, or to a friend, to deliver the friend from evil; historical narratives are full of instances of this sort.
Quintilian says that, if a footpad must be deterred from killing a man, or if an enemy must be deceived to save the country, we shall find it necessary to praise in the wise man himself conduct that otherwise we should have to censure in slaves.
3. These doctrines do not meet with the approval of the, school of writers of recent times, since in almost all matters they have chosen to follow Augustine alone of the teachers of antiquity. But; the same school admits of unspoken interpretations, which are so repugnant to all practice that one may question whether it would not be more satisfactory to admit to certain persons the use of falsehoods in the cases we have mentioned, or in some of them (for I assume that nothing has been settled here), than so indiscriminately to exempt such interpretations from the definition of falsehood. Thus when they say ‘I do not know,’ it may be understood as ‘I do not know so as to tell you;’ and when they say ‘I have not’ it may be understood as ‘so as to give you;’ and other things of this sort which the common sense of mankind repudiates, and which, if admitted, will offer no obstacle to our saying that whoever affirms anything denies it himself, and whoever denies affirms.
4. It is assuredly quite true that in general there is no word which may not have a doubtful meaning; for all words, in addition to the significance which is called that of the first notion, have another of a second notion, and this significance varies in the different arts; moreover, words have different meanings also in metaphor and other figures of speech.
Again, I do not approve of the view of those who apply the term jokes to falsehoods which are uttered with a particularly serious expression and tone, as if they shrank from the word rather than the thing.
XVIII. The use of falsehood is not to be extended to statements containing a promise.
We must, however, bear in mind that what we have said regarding falsehood is to be applied to assertions, and such indeed as injure no one but a public enemy, but not to promises. For by a promise, as we have just begun to say, a new and particular right is conferred upon him to whom the promise is made.
This holds true even among enemies, without any exception arising from the hostility existing at the time. It holds true not only in the case of promises actually expressed, but also in the case of those that are implied, as we shall show in discussing the demand for a parley when we come to the part that deals with the observing of good faith in warfare.
XIX. The use of falsehood is not to be extended to oaths.
This also must be repeated from the portion of our foregoing discussion which dealt with the subject of oaths, that whether the oath is assertive or promissory it has the force to exclude all exceptions which might be sought in the person of him with whom we are dealing. The reason is that an oath establishes a relation not only with a man, but also with God, to whom we are bound by the oath, even if no right arises for the man.
In the same place we have furthermore stated that in an oath we do not, as we do in other speech, admit that interpretations not wholly without warrant may be put upon words, in order to absolve us from falsehood; but we do require that the truth be spoken with the meaning which a man listening is supposed to understand in perfect good faith. Obviously, then, we must abhor the impiety of those who did not hesitate to assert that it is proper to deceive men by oaths just as boys do by means of dice.
XX. Nevertheless it is more noble, and more becoming to Christian simplicity, to refrain from falsehood even toward an enemy; this view is illustrated by comparisons.
1. We know, too, that certain types of fraud, which we have said were naturally permitted, have been rejected by some peoples and persons. But this does not happen because they view such means of deception as unjust, but because of a remarkable loftiness of mind, and, in some cases, because of confidence in their strength. There is in Aelian a saying of Pythagoras, that in two things man comes very close to God, in speaking the truth at all times and in doing good to others; and in Iamblichus veracity is called a guide to all good things, divine and human. For Aristotle ‘the magnanimous man is a lover of free speech and of the truth.’ For Plutarch, ‘to lie is worthy of a slave.’
Arrian says of Ptolemy: ‘And for him, who was a king, it was more disgraceful to lie than for another.’ In the same author, Alexander declares: ‘The king must speak nothing but the truth to his subjects.’ Mamertinus says of Julian: ‘In our emperor there is a marvelous agreement between mind and tongue. He knows that lying is not only a mark of a low and mean spirit, but also a slavish vice; and in truth, since want or fear makes men liars, the emperor who lies is ignorant of the greatness of his fortune.’ In Plutarch, praise is given to Aristides’ ‘character rooted in firm morality and tenacious of justice, not even resorting to falsehood in any kind of sport.’ Of Epaminondas Probus says that he was ‘so devoted to truth that he did not lie even in jest.’
2. This point of view assuredly is all the more to be insisted on by Christians; for not only is simplicity enjoined upon them (Matthew 10:16), but vain speaking is forbidden (Matthew 12:36); and He is set for their example in whose mouth no guile was found. Lactantius says: ‘And so the true and upright traveler will not quote that saying of Lucilius:
I lie not to a man who is my friend and intimate.
But he will think that he should not lie even to an enemy and a stranger; nor will he ever consent that his tongue, the interpreter of his mind, shall disagree with his meaning and thought.’
Of like opinion is Neoptolemus in the Philoctetus of Sophocles ‘excelling in simplicity and nobleness,’ as Dio of Prusa rightly observes, for to Ulysses, who urges him to practice deception, he thus replies:
- Child of Laertes, what plans with grief I hear
With far more loathing would I carry out;
For to devise deceits I was not born, nor he
Of by-gone days, my sire, as men relate;
But by main force, not wiles, the captive to bear off,
Prepared am I.
Euripides in the Rhesus says:
- Upon the foe a noble soul cannot inflict
A guileful death.
3. Thus Alexander declared that he would not steal a victory. Polybius relates that the Achaeans shrank from all deceit against the enemy, because they considered that the only sure victory which, if I may express his meaning in the words of Claudian,
- Conquers foes whose minds have been subdued.
Such was the attitude of the Romans almost to the close of the second Punic War. Aelian records that ‘The Romans know that they are brave, and that they have not overcome their foes by artifice … and trickery.’ Hence when Perseus, king of Macedon, was deceived by hopes of peace, the elder senators declared that they did not recognize the methods of the Romans, that the ancestors of these never boasted that they had waged war more by craft than by courage; that it had been the Roman method to wage war not by the ruses of the Carthaginians, nor by the subtlety of the Greeks, who would esteem it more glorious to outwit an enemy than to overcome him by force. Then they added the following:
In some cases, for the moment, more is accomplished by deceit than by valor, but only his mind is forever conquered from whom the confession has been extorted that he has been conquered not by artifice, nor by chance, but after joining forces in battle in a just and righteous war.
Later we read also in Tacitus: ‘The Roman people takes vengeance on its enemies, not by fraud, nor in secret, but openly with arms in hand.’ Such men were the Tibareans also, who even agreed upon the place and time of battle. In Herodotus Mardonius makes a similar assertion regarding the Greeks of his time.
XXI. It is not permissible for us to force any one to do what is right for us but not for him.
To the conduct of operations this principle also applies, that it is not permissible to force or to entice any one to anything which, may not be permissible for him to do.’ The following may serve as examples. It is not permissible for a subject to slay his king, nor to surrender towns without public consent, nor to despoil his fellow citizens. Therefore it is not permissible to influence a subject, who remains such, to do these things. For he who gives to another cause: to sin always sins himself as well.
It is not enough to urge in reply that for him who forces such a man to a crime an act of this kind, as the killing of an enemy is, legitimate. The deed it is in fact permissible for him to compass, but not in this way. Augustine well says: ‘It makes no difference whether you yourself commit the crime, or whether you wish another to commit it for you.’
XXII. Nevertheless we may make use of assistance voluntarily offered.
The case is different when for a thing which is permissible for him a person avails himself of the help of one who does wrong! voluntarily and not at his instigation. That this is not wicked we have proved elsewhere by the example of God Himself.’ ‘We: receive a deserter by the law of war,’ says Celsus; that is, it is not contrary to the law of war for us to receive him who abandons the side of the enemy and chooses our own.