Questions Answered – April 2021

Evils and Euphemisms

Question: In public statements and debate with the promoters of the killing of unborn human beings, shouldn’t the euphemisms “abort, abortion” be avoided? It understates the horror of elective child murder. It sanitizes the crime. “Abortion” and “sodomy” seem too delicate terms to express the evils which these acts represent. The acts themselves should be described and not left vague. Do you agree?

Answer: Much of the terminology used in contemporary discussions of any truth is imprecise and illogical. The nonsense over politically correct and inclusive language has exacerbated this. Academics cooperated in this politically correct agenda by refusing to accept papers which used terms like “man” as substantives to express human nature. Political correctness is one of the great afflictions of any discussion today. What makes this standard for rational and human discourse so insidious is that no one seems to know who invented these standards and how far they go. For some, almost every statement which means anything can be racist, sexist or exclusive language.

In his book written in the 80s, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom stated that academia today is afflicted by a complete lack of interest in objective truth. When this trend is applied the morality, the results are especially disastrous. The example you use is an example. Abortion should be referred to as infanticide or child murder. Preachers should not be afraid to express it this way. Sodomy is also a term that expresses the evil of homosexual acts which has been sanitized to placate the homosexual lobby.

Euphemisms may even demonstrate a desire to propagandize or trick people into thinking something is much more benign than it is. Interestingly, Margaret Sanger founded what later became known as Planned Parenthood to weed out the unfit from society in a eugenics which would have rivaled Nazi Germany. She promoted the “American Baby Code,” in which she sought to “protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit.” When the name of this organization was changed to Planned Parenthood, she left it because she thought that was an untrue euphemism of what she was actually promoting. Some say she opposed abortion. Yet in her interview with the BBC in 1947, she stated that the solution to the socio-economic problems of Europe after World War II was that for ten years no one should have any children. When questioned she answered: “No More Babies!”

Having said this, however, one must also be aware that if one wants to change someone’s mind, it normally is not helpful to be too graphic in the way one presents the truth. If this would lead a person to cease listening because of an emotionally negative reaction, it would be counterproductive. Some activists are rude and belittle others as people instead of showing a respect for the person and trying to instruct them in the truth by gentle and logical persuasion. Beating people over the head with the truth like a club rarely convinces someone to change his mind. Sometimes the approach which is used is too off-putting. There is an old saying: Convince a man against his will, he will hold the same opinion still.

One should remember that Thomas Aquinas maintained that, when trying to convince someone else of the truth, one should try to distinguish the truth and the falsity in their reasoning. One has to adapt what one is saying to the people who are receiving what one is saying. This does not determine the truth. But whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. If the receiver is going to react emotionally to certain language, then one will not get through. The speaker must consider how to open his audience to hearing the truth of what he is saying.

It is interesting that in Aristotle, the passions are not treated in Ethics but in his Rhetoric. This is because, in presenting the truth, one must consider how another receives it. Presenting it involves not inflaming the passions by what one says, which will lead the listener to dismiss it out of hand. Rhetoric does not determine the truth, but opens another to be willing to hear it and consider it. Though one can certainly fail in the terms one uses to express the truth, one must also temper how the presentation of the truth is done so as to keep people listening and thinking.

Advertisements and Honesty

Question: A new advertising ploy is that several thousand companies, some mom-and-pop, offer monthly “boxes” of various consumer goods, a kind of monthly “surprise package” for those who subscribe. It seems to me to be the ultimate consumerism trick to separate people from their money, and get them to surrender their free will. It seems unscriptural and a fuel for avarice. What do you think?

Answer: I am not really certain why you find this so difficult or an unjust use of advertising. Advertising is basically a decision on how to present the desirability and use of a given product so that others will purchase it. Presumably most sellers think their product will benefit the buyer and can present it as such. Though there is no specific product described in the monthly box you mention, it would seem to me that the buyer wants to be surprised.

Morality in advertising falls under the seventh and eighth commandments concerning the nature of theft and truth in the exchange of goods.

It is instructive to remember what the purpose of material goods is to begin with and then moral rules for selling them. Material goods are a necessary part of human life because we have bodies. We must possess them so that our bodies may be a fit means by which we can pursue virtue in our souls. Commerce is based on the need for physical goods. Before the Original Sin, this would not have involved property or money. Everyone will be given according to their need. After the sin, though, property enters and so buying and selling enters. The general characteristic of human nature is to manipulate and control others in various ways and economy is one way to do it. Making a product or service attractive is not necessarily encouraging avarice or fraud.

Generally one could say that as long as sellers do not intend to exploit others by deception, ignorance and taking advantage of their fears or lusts, then what they do is not unethical. If the seller does not cause the inability of buyers to make correct judgments about a product or take advantage of them, then they are not responsible if the buyer’s desire to purchase the goods is disordered.

For the buyer to participate in producing any disorder in the exchange of goods would involve the sins of fraud, lying and deception. Fraud is the deliberate attempt to deceive someone about a material fact. This fact would affect whether someone purchases a product and must be about something relatively serious. This is compounded by lying when one represents a thing as good though they know it is not. Fraud leads to deception. To avoid deception one must represent the product as truthfully as possible. If the seller thinks what they are selling is good, then one can use every reasonable argument to convince the other. One must not cause deception. The necessity of considering the seller is important morally here. If the buyer is careless, that is one thing, but what may be a good explanation to people in the industry may be confusing to an ordinary consumer. So the seller has an obligation to explain the goods and negatives of the product, but the buyer’s right to know is not unlimited.

A special problem in this regard is the tendency to get people to purchase products beyond their means. Many sellers have conscience qualms about getting people to spend beyond their needs. There are situations in which people often spend beyond their means. Funerals are a good example. Deaths of loved one are times when people are especially vulnerable because of sorrow and perhaps guilt. They want to prove they loved the person who died. The survivors often buy something which puts their own future in jeopardy. Though funeral directors are guilty at times of taking advantage of this, the buyer often rejects attempts to limit their expenses. As a young priest, I was in a parish with its own cemetery. Since we did not want to make a profit from providing people with burial, we always encouraged people to buy the least expensive grave liner which was permitted by the state and the least expensive coffin. Yet the priests were rarely successful in this because the survivor wanted to show their love by spending a lot of money, to ridiculous extremes in some instances.

With regard to the question you ask, this seems to me to be neither fraudulent nor deceptive. It seems to be more a problem of packaging. There can be an immoral means of packaging — for example, when large economy sizes actually cost more than smaller sizes. One ethics textbook applies the moral principles presented here: “Is the package intended to deceive or exploit? If there is no intention to deceive, is there a proportionate reason for permitting or risking deception?” (Business Ethics, Thomas M. Garrett and Richard J. Klonoski, 96) The fact that people are enticed by this advertising does not seem to be based on any deception on the part of the seller, but rather on the curiosity or the lack of interest of the buyer in what they are actually purchasing.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, "Questions Answered".

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Comments

  1. Avatar Tom Showerman says:

    Again, thank you Father for your faithful service to Christ and his Church.