Ho, Ho, Hoax: The Case against Santa Claus

1. The Question Refined
Is it wrong for parents and other adults to lie to children b telling the! Santa Claus exists" The fre#uenc with which it is raised b itself shows this is an i!portant #uestion. $lthough !ost parents in the %nited States continue to tell children about St. &ic', no Christ!as passes without public #uestions about doing so. Indeed, the intuiti(e case against telling children about Santa is strong. ) ing is generall wrong. 1 Telling children there is a Santa Claus is l ing. Therefore, telling children there is a Santa Claus is wrong. The #uestion would ha(e an eas answer if l ing is alwa s wrong. $lthough I!!anuel *ant fa!ousl e!braced this extre!e position +1,-./, few other philosophers ha(e been able to sto!ach it. Children, in fact, are a!ong the pri!e candidates to be (icti!s of per!issible l ing. $ oung child !a be lied to about the exact extent of her se(ere illness0 she !a be lied to about the se(erit of her parents1 financial troubles0 and for !an other reasons. If l ing to children about Santa Claus is wrong it is not because l ing is alwa s wrong. There !ust be so!e further argu!ent that telling children about Santa falls in the categor of the i!per!issible rather than the per!issible lie. The #uestion, to be clear, is not what parents and other adults should do vis a vis the child1s prospecti(e belief in Santa Claus. Should parents specificall discourage belief" Should the atte!pt to persuade the child one wa or another" I do not propose to exa!ine all of the (arious alternati(es and deter!ine which is !orall best. 2ur
1

In section 3.4, I explain what I !ean b this.

#uestion is onl whether leading4 children to belie(e in Santa is !orall appropriate. $nd to do so one need onl deter!ine whether there is so!e alternati(e that is superior to deceit. $ccordingl , alternati(es to telling children about Santa will be i!portant insofar as, in general, one can onl reasonabl deter!ine whether a certain course of action is 5ustified when co!pared with other a(ailable courses of action. In considering whether it is per!issible to tell children about Santa Claus, I will be weighing the ad(antages and disad(antages of that choice as co!pared with the ad(antages and disad(antages of the alternati(es. $lternati(es are also i!portant since, if it is wrong to tell children about Santa it is natural to as' what children should be told, in light of the fact that !ost oung children in the %nited States do belie(e in hi!. 6hat, for exa!ple, are non7belie(ing children to sa to their belie(ing peers" If the !oral conse#uences of not telling one1s children are pernicious enough as the relate to other children, then of course one1s children should be told. Since there is e(identl a great deal of (ariet in the circu!stances in which parents and children find the!sel(es, differences a!ong which are often !orall significant, it is not to be expected that telling children about Santa Claus would be always !orall wrong or always per!issible. 2ur #uestion is whether telling children about Santa Claus in the t pical $!erican circu!stances is !orall per!issible. The #uestion !a be further refined b considering who it is telling the child about Santa Claus. 8 !ain concern will be with parents. The reason for this is that parents are the ones who t picall tell children about Santa Claus in the first instance. It !ust be noted that b focusing on parents the !oral bar is altered so!ewhat. 2n the one hand, parents are felt to ha(e a special obligation to pro(ide for their children1s
8ost parents do not in so !an words tell their children Santa is real, but the do and sa !an other things9e.g., gi(ing gifts :fro! Santa;9that are intended to lead the child to belief.
4

4

8urder is morally objectionable 'illing. the !eaning of :is a lie. wisdo!. It is worth explaining first wh it is not #uestion7begging. wise.. To see this. This !ight suggest a wea'er presu!ption against l ing to their children. The #uestion is whether suggesting belief in Santa Claus is a wa to pro!ote (irtue. 4. 3 That is. This is in contrast to the concept of !urder. note that the concept of a white lie is perfectl intelligible. roughl . <eception and 8a'e =elie(e Isn1t it a bit harsh. it is not a conceptual truth that l ing is wrong. Still./ Indeed. our #uestion !a be understood as as'ing whether the Santa Claus stor is a white lie. It would be #uestion7begging to describe the Santa stor as a lie if it were an anal tic truth that l ing is wrong. 2n the other hand.3 Then to sa that the Santa Claus stor is a lie would anal ticall i!pl that it is wrong. and disposed to do the right thing. would include :is wrong. =ut it is neither false nor #uestion7begging to call it a lie. and happiness in children. parents appear to ha(e special authorit to deter!ine their children1s beha(ior and belief s ste!. =ut e(en though l ing is generall wrong. since l ing is not alwa s wrong. there are such things as white lies.welfare. In fact. to characteri>e the Santa Claus stor as a :hoax. the do!ain of a parent1s authorit is restricted b the ai! of raising children who are. intelligent. since l ing is not anal ticall wrong. +$lthough ob(iousl it not incoherent to suppose so!ething is a per!issible killing. if not outright #uestion begging. has at least a negati(e !oral connotation. ?art of the concept of a !urderous act is that it is wrong. a!ong other things. $nd I would be i!plicitl clai!ing that telling children there is a Santa is wrong in describing doing so as l ing. It would be incoherent to suppose so!ething was a per!issible !urder. or lie" The word :lie. 3 . This !ight suggest a particularl strong presu!ption against l ing to the!.

the parent lies. there is a Santa Claus. This attitude. the parent does intend that the child will belie(e there is a 5oll ./ that there is a Santa Claus +Clar' 1. B . Dirginia.. The parent who tells a child about Santa Claus also does not belie(e in Santa Claus. The parent who tells the child about Red Riding Hood does not belie(e Red Riding Hood is wal'ing through the forest.=ut is telling children about Santa a lie" Tales fro! fiction.A/. $ fictional stor in(ol(es pretending that so!ething is the case: i!agining that Red Riding Hood is wal'ing through the forest. !ost ro!anticall expressed in the fa!ous editorial b @rancis Church. the audience does not belie(e that Red Riding Hood is wal'ing through so!e forest. The assertion of ? is a lie when the person who asserts ? intends for her audience to belie(e what is being said. unli'e the case of Red Riding Hood.. $dults +t picall / do not lie in telling children about Red Riding Hood or Huc'leberr @inn.B calls into #uestion whether telling children about Santa Claus constitutes l ing in all cases. There are so!e adults who purport to belie(e +:in a sense. in the sense that t pical descriptions of Red Riding Hood are. fat. The difference between a fictional stor and a lie is in the intention of the spea'er. e(en though the spea'er does not belie(e ? herself. are not lies. but to get her beliefs to wor'. Since the parent does not belie(e what she sa s et intends for the child to belie(e. If the intention is successfull recogni>ed. The audience !erel i!agines this. The intention of a person who lies is not to get the hearer1s i!agination to wor'. ad!ittedl . =ut the descriptions of Santa Claus are not fiction. =ut the parent does not lie since she has no intention that the child will co!e to belie(e this either. bearded !an who will be co!ing with presents. Those adults who belie(e there is a Santa Claus would B ?opularl 'nown b its !ost fa!ous line: :Ces. =ut in the case of Santa. or !a'ing belie(e that Huc'leberr @inn is riding down the 8ississippi.

which A . ?retending is a sophisticated cogniti(e attitude onl (er rarel found a!ong e(en intelligent ani!als.. and so forth. These adults do not thin' of hi! as being fat. do lie about these things. 5oll . I will not consider the #uestion whether it is per!issible to tell such credulous children about Santa Claus. research suggests that their attitudes toward Santa Claus are significantl different fro! their attitudes toward stor boo' entities +6oole and Sharon 4EEB/. This suggests that children pic' up on the difference between adults1 attitudes toward Santa Claus and other stor boo' entities. =ut the (ast !a5orit of the adults who belie(e in Santa Claus certainl do not thin' of hi! as ha(ing the t pical properties often associated with hi! b children. Returning to the t pical parent who denies the existence of Santa Claus. Children apparentl notice that their parents do not lea(e coo'ies and !il' out for Red Riding Hood or the Teenage 8utant &in5a Turtles. perhaps the :spirit of generosit . Santa Claus and Red Riding Hood !ust ha(e the sa!e doxastic status. and still lead their children to belie(e Santa has such properties as being fat. the difference between her intentions in describing Santa and creatures of fiction is borne out b the beliefs of children. The thin' of hi! as so!e !ore ethereal being. 5oll . etc. bearded. I restrict ! self to those children who can distinguish realit and !a'e belie(e.see! not to lie to their children when telling the! about his existence and acti(ities. Coung children disco(er the truth about the unrealit of Super!an !ore #uic'l than the do the truth about Santa Claus. e(en if the do not lie to their children in affir!ing Santa1s existence. $t a (er oung ageFcertainl before the are oneFchildren are capable of belie(ing but not pretending. =ecause of this. $lthough oung children generall ha(e a difficult ti!e distinguishing real things fro! !a'e belie(e. To that child. ?arents who belie(e Santa is the :spirit of generosit ..

The 8oral Status of ) ing to Children In this section. It !ight be argued that it is appropriate to tell the child about Santa because it is good for the child to belie(e. It would not in general be wrong for a parent to re#uire her oung children to eat their broccoli. It would be generall wrong to re#uire an adult to go to school. while it would not in general be wrong to re#uire the sa!e of a oung child. It would be generall wrong to re#uire of an adult9a guest to one1s ho!e. whether the child or adult consents or not. G(en if the decei(ers had their (icti!s1 best interests in !ind. $nd it does see! it would be !ore clearl wrong to perpetrate the Santa Claus lie on adults than children. it would be difficult to 5ustif such a lie. sa 9that she eat her broccoli.includes !ost children in an case. 3. That is. =ut what are the differences between adults and H . it is thought to be !ore t picall !orall 5ustified to act in a wa that is thought to be good for the child or adult. Then I outline the theoretical fra!ewor' I will use in deter!ining the per!issibilit of l ing to children about Santa Claus.1 $utono! So!e things that are generall wrong to do to adults are not generall wrong to do to children. I first consider and re5ect an argu!ent that l ing to children is alwa s per!issible. Children are certainl capable of discerning real and !a'e7belie(e beings b fi(e or six ears of age. 2ne !ight infer that e(en if l ing to adults is generall wrong. The co!!on thread a!ong these actions is that it is thought to be !ore t picall appropriate to act paternalisticall toward children than toward adults. 3. ?aternalis! is indeed a li'el 5ustification for the Santa Claus lie. l ing to children !a not be.

. It see!s clear that those who ha(e these capacities to a lesser degree9ani!als. he insists that children are not entirel be ond the scope of !oralit . $!ong the #ualities that see! to be re#uired to engage in !oral +or i!!oral/ action are the capacit to propose ends to oneself !ore or less independentl . The are :special agents. is a ter! of art that has co!e to be used in a large (ariet of different wa s. and.A $utono! has e(en been fingered as the feature that !a'es l ing to people !orall proble!atic. significantl . it would be a !ista'e to suppose the lac' of autono! is a !oral blan' chec'.children that 5ustif the different !oral re#uire!ents of our relationship toward the !e!bers of each group" 2ne popular suggestion is that adults +generall / ha(e while children +generall / lac' autono! . :$utono! . - .. the insane. G(en if the degree of autono! !a'es a difference to the degree of !oral consideration deser(ed. who are :pro(isional and probationar . Der broadl spea'ing. children9are understood not to re#uire of others the sa!e !oral treat!ent as those who ha(e these capacities to a greater degree./. and the capacit to act and choose freel . the capacit to choose rationall a!ong a(ailable options. the co!!unit of indi(iduals acting in according with !oral principles +4EE4/. autono! is the capacit in (irtue of which so!eone is a !oral agent. So far fro! being an excuse for otherwise A 8 co!!ents here are influenced b =eaucha!p and Childress +1. Robert &oggle argues that children generall lac' the capacities that are supposedl necessar for full !e!bership in the :!oral co!!unit . Still. $nd it see!s that it is generall !ore per!issible to act paternalisticall toward those who ha(e lesser degrees of autono! than those who ha(e greater degrees.: H. !e!bers and applicants for full !e!bership in the !oral co!!unit ..

again./. autono! is not li'el to be the onl purpose of treating children paternalisticall . the #uestion of what paternalis! allows for the! is so!ewhat easier than the sa!e #uestion concerning the insane or infir!. Thus part of the purpose of paternalistic interference of children is to !a'e the! into beings who are not fit sub5ects of paternalistic interference. their interests in(ol(e present food and children. the !ention of food and shelter !a'es clear. =ut.i!!oral beha(ior.. a satisf ing and co!fortable life. Since the cannot deter!ine on their own a principle to go(ern their actions. the abilit to propose an end to oneself. $lthough a good parent ought to ai! to raise children who are capable of the sophisticated capacities in(ol(ed in !oral agenc . rather than a blan' chec' for paternalistic beha(ior of an sort. In the case of children. and lo(e. In a si!ilar (ein. Therefore. . the also want to raise children who eat. =ut. according to &oggle. deter!ining whether l ing to children about Santa Claus is . ha(e children.. a!ong !an others. the difference between the !oral status of adults and children i!plies a dut on the part of careta'ers to help children ac#uire those deliberati(e and other characteristics that are necessar for belonging to the !oral co!!unit . and free choice. The (er point of paternalistic action is to do things that are in the interests of the ob5ect of the action. Shapiro e!phasi>es that the !oral purpose of our beha(ior toward children should be to create beings who ha(e the rational capacities in(ol(ed in !oral agenc . =ut their interests certainl also include the future possession of such capacities as rational deliberation on alternati(es. Ta!ar Shapiro has argued that it is prima facie !ore appropriate to beha(e paternalisticall toward children because the lac' the capacities associated with autono! +1. and 5ust plain en5o the!sel(es. children do not warrant the sa!e deference as adults. =ecause children will in the natural course of things ac#uire autono! .

the rightness or wrongness of an action is deter!ined entirel b its conse#uences. $n act conse#uentialist holds that rightness and wrongness appl in the first instance to particular.4 ?ri!a @acie <uties and $ct Conse#uentialis! In this sub7section. ) ing is a 'ind of action of which all lies are instances. S. act conse#uentialists often follow I. $ccording to conse#uentialists. $nd it re#uires !ore than 5ust ascertaining whether l ing to the child is conduci(e to her future autono! . I turn accordingl to two ethical theories that ta'e such considerations into account. . concrete actions. . To capture this sense. This or that lie is right or wrong. 2ne (iew about the wrongness of l ing is that it is wrong as a rule of thu!b. $ rule of thu!b is a prescription or proscription that applies in !ost but not all circu!stances. =ut there is a sense in which l ingFa 'ind of action77in general is wrong. the rightness or wrongness of an action is not deter!ined entirel b its conse#uences. It re#uires a consideration of all the factors that are rele(ant to appropriate interaction with a child. 8ill in describing the wrongness of l ing in general as a :rule of thu!b.!orall appropriate re#uires !ore than 5ust ascertaining whether the child is autono!ous. 3. It should not co!e as a surprise that the #uestion of the per!issibilit of l ing to children about Santa Claus cannot be settled on the basis of the single #uestion whether children are autono!ous. I clarif what I !ean in sa ing that l ing is generall wrong.. $ccording to non7conse#uentialists. 6hether the Santa Claus ritual is per!issible surel depends to so!e extent on the conse#uences for those in(ol(ed. The !oral fra!ewor's I describe for deter!ining the !oral status of l ing to children about Santa Claus ha(e the benefit of being congenial to the idea that autono! has so!e !oral (alue.

I will note those contexts where the choice of intrinsicall (aluable properties !a'es a difference. since it see!s clear that in the t pical situation 'nowledge is li'el to be conduci(e to other (aluable states. entering a con(ersation in(ol(es an i!plicit pro!ise not to lie. the conse#uentialist weighs the positi(e and negati(e (alue of the conse#uences of the action. Conse#uentialists also differ significantl a!ong the!sel(es on what 'inds of states are (aluable. $nother wa to understand the general wrongness of l ing is with the concept of a prima facie dut . <. 2n conse#uentialis!. So!e include onl pleasure as intrinsicall good and onl pain as intrinsicall bad. 41. each person has a prima facie dut not to lie. the originator of this conception. 2ne has a prima facie dut to do J when. @or the !ost part. Ross. the wa to deter!ine whether l ing to children about Santa Claus is per!issible is to co!pare the o(erall (alue of the conse#uences of the Santa stor as opposed to that of plausible alternati(es. To deter!ine whether l ing is wrong in a certain circu!stance. @or exa!ple. other things being e#ual. This is because.H The prima facie dut not to lie !ust be weighed against all the other prima facie duties that characteri>e an specific action. the (alue of 'nowledge on the (iew that it is intrinsicall (aluable is li'el to be si!ilar to that on which it is onl instru!entall so. H 1E . in other words. the choice of intrinsicall (aluable states will not !atter for the consideration of our #uestion.Conse#uentialists hold that whether an action is !orall appropriate is deter!ined b the (alue of the conse#uences of the action. So!ething is a prima facie dut . The prima facie dut of beneficence re#uires that we do things that pro!ote the o(erall The Right and the Good. 2thers include beaut and 'nowledge as intrinsicall (aluable features. as Ross sees it. one has a dut to do J. when it tends to !a'e our action a dut . Ross belie(es the dut not to lie falls under the !ore general categor of the dut not to brea' pro!ises. $ccording to 6.

@or the non7conse#uentialist in #uestion. So the factors I consider with regard to the Santa Claus stor are congenial to either a Rossian or a conse#uentialist wa of thin'ing about the wrongness of l ing. albeit a weight that can be tru!ped b other !oral considerations. There is no research. l ing is generall wrong insofar as there is a negati(e weight associated with each lie.welfare. The prima facie dut of non7!aleficence re#uires that we a(oid har!ing others. This is one difference between the conse#uentialist and non7conse#uentialist conceptions of the wrongness of l ing. e(en if !an lies are all things considered !orall wrong. a lie is wrong when the presu!ption against it is not outweighed b the prima facie duties of beneficence and non7!aleficence. e(en if a certain lie is !orall acceptable or obligator . @ro! the conse#uentialist perspecti(e. =efore in(estigating these factors. @or the +t pical/ conse#uentialist. there is still so!e negati(e !oral weight attached to the act si!pl in (irtue of being a lie. $ccording to this conception. on such crucial #uestions as how Santa7belie(ing children co!pare with non7 11 . l ing as such has no negati(e !oral (alue. $lthough I ha(e referenced research on the conse#uences of Santa beliefs abo(e. and continue to do so below. one !ore theoretical issue !ust be addressed. a lie is wrong when it leads to distrust. @ro! the Rossian perspecti(e. such studies are rather li!ited. The 'inds of considerations that are rele(ant to deter!ining whether a particular lie is per!issible fro! a Rossian or conse#uentialist perspecti(e are largel the sa!e. for exa!ple. or disappoint!ent. $ lie !a be per!issible fro! the Rossian perspecti(e because it tends to pro!ote the o(erall welfare or pre(ents so!e har!. suffering. The !oral presu!ption against l ing can be9and so!eti!es is9outweighed b the !oral significance of these other prima facie duties.

G(en in the absence of scientific research.Santa7belie(ing children +of (arious sorts/ with respect to a nu!ber of interesting characteristics: trust0 deceitfulness0 critical reasoning. )et us stipulate. e(en if that e(idence does not include scientificall respectable data. It cannot be plausibl !aintained that there is so!ething illegiti!ate about acting on the basis of the best a(ailable e(idence. 6here there are e!pirical factors that ha(e not been ade#uatel scientificall tested.th centur . =ut the e(idential bar is set far too high if it is re#uired that !orall per!issible action or illu!inating !oral ad(ice be based onl on scientific research. since it is !ainl concerned with the li'el conse#uences of belief in Santa Claus. that scientificall respectable research has been a(ailable since the 1. the agent !ust base her decision on the best infor!ation a(ailable. the parent !ust either encourage or not encourage her child to belie(e. &or is there an e!pirical research on the a!ount of happiness experienced b belie(ing children as co!pared with the a!ount of happiness experienced b children who do not belie(e but pretend Santa exists. This would see! to be a significant handicap to our argu!ent. This 14 . It cannot be de!anded that the parent do nothing. since no action was based on infor!ation arising fro! scientificall respectable research" Is it to be clai!ed that e(en since then all actions not based on such infor!ation ha(e been !orall suspect" The rightness of an action has so!ething to do with the #ualit of one1s e(idence concerning the circu!stances and the conse#uences. but also about what action if an an agent ought to choose. Is it to be clai!ed that no action before that ti!e was !orall acceptable. 6hat is to be done in circu!stances where the li'el conse#uences of so!e course of action ha(e not been the sub5ect of scientific research" This is a #uestion not onl about what course of action if an a theorist ought to reco!!end. charitabl .

$n parent who adopts a non7traditional stance toward Santa Claus !ust grapple with the ine(itable prospect that her children will interact with others who belie(e Santa is real. This is of course a fallible !ethod since our beliefs about these principles are corrigible and the inferences are underdeter!ined b the e(idence. and plausible inferences fro! these. whether the Santa Claus tale is per!issible depends on the (alue of the plausible alternati(es.infor!ation will in(ol(e ordinar obser(ation. there are further #uestions to consider. =ut there is no plausible alternati(e to acting and reco!!ending !oral action in light of the best infor!ation a(ailable in the absence of rigorous e!pirical research. since the for!er group is as lac'ing in s ste!atic scientific research concerning the effects of their reco!!endation as the latter is about its reco!!endation. In the face of such a li'el scenario. B. It !ust be 13 . The 2ptions $s I !entioned. 2ne !ust si!pl adopt a health !odest about one1s conclusions. the parent !a choose <isbelief. In choosing <isbelief. in the 'nowledge that the inferences fro! obser(ed patterns !a not hold in the cases to be discussed. the co!!on sense principles of hu!an ps cholog . $nd e(identl those who ad(ocate the per!issibilit of telling children about Santa are no better off than those who ad(ocate its i!per!issibilit . There are a nu!ber of +co!patible/ alternati(es open to a parent who decides not to encourage belief in Santa: <isbelief: The parent tells the child Santa Claus is not real &eutralit : The parent does not infor! the child one wa or the other and ?retense: The parent in(ites the child to pretend there is a Santa Claus.

2ne !a . It is aw'ward to co!bine &eutralit with the i!portant infor!ation that other children belie(e. I !aintan that in(iting to pretend there is a Santa Claus is !orall superior to encouraging to belie(e. 2ne !a thereb discourage children fro! spoiling the fun for other children. tell a child that other parents encourage their children to belie(e and that these children en5o the ritual. she !a also be told that !an other fa!ilies encourage their children to belie(e Santa is real. The pretend Santa !a be held to include whate(er characteristics of the traditional Santa one feels to be attracti(e. Short7Ter! ?leasure and ?ain )et1s begin our in(estigation of the costs and benefits of the Santa Claus lie b considering the short7ter! pain and pleasure in(ol(ed in the experience for the rele(ant parties. This is a ha>ardous option because of the li'elihood that the child will be exposed to belief a!ong other children. The short7ter! includes the ti!e during which children belie(e until 5ust after 1B . It see!s one can !ini!i>e the li'elihood of the child1s spoiling the fun for others b encouraging the child to respect the differing beliefs of other fa!ilies and therefore not challenge their beliefs. The option I consider in !ost detail is ?retense. for exa!ple. The thought is that the parent in(ites the child to pretend that there is a Santa Claus. pending a child1s in#uiries. the parent neither affir!s nor denies the existence of Santa Claus. = &eutralit I !ean a polic whereb . $s the child is in(ited to pretend there is a Santa Claus. A. one !a co!pare Santa to other exa!ples of fictional beings in the child1s experience. @or children who ha(e a clear grasp of the distinction.deter!ined 5ust how !uch further infor!ation to di(ulge. The child will ine(itabl want to 'now whether the other children belie(e accuratel or not. &eutralit is li'el to lea(e the child at a loss in the face of other children1s belief.

$nd. =ut this fact cuts both wa s. This ad(antage !ust also be weighed against their suffering upon disco(ering the truth. =oth scientific research +$nderson and ?rentice 1. as I ha(e argued. It supports the per!issibilit of the stor because it suggests the stor does not threaten suffering for the child. !an of the e!otions e(o'ed b an ob5ect belie(ed to be real are also e(o'ed b ob5ects supposed to be fictional. =ut it also under!ines the case for its per!issibilit . ?arents en5o their roles in the Santa Claus ritual and 'nowing that their children are going through such a pleasant experience +$nderson and ?rentice 1. The extent to which the pleasure of children and adults 5ustifies the Santa Claus lie depends on the a!ount of pleasure a(ailable fro! non7deceitful alternati(es.the cease belie(ing. Children who are old enough to 1A . as witnessed b the large crowds at !o(ie theaters.B/.B/ and co!!on sense show that children also en5o the Santa Claus experience. since it at least suggests that children are not (er attached to the stor in the first place. Children and adults deri(e great pleasure fro! creatures of their i!aginations.. The child cannot be a !ere instru!ent for her parents1 happiness. the parties to the Santa Claus tale do en5o it. =ut the benefit of their en5o !ent !ust be balanced against the disappoint!ent the also report when their children disco(er the truth. !ore i!portantl . 2nl a s!all nu!ber of children report being disappointed on disco(ering the truth +$nderson and ?rentice 1.. whate(er she gets out of it. <ecepti(e though it !a be..B/. The alternati(e that !ost closel replicates telling children there is a Santa Claus in(ol(es in(iting children to pretend there is one. $lthough pretending so!ething is real is funda!entall different fro! belie(ing it is. it see!s clear that no good parent would endorse Santa Claus if she was con(inced the experience was not in the interests of the child.

there is a!ple experience of the pleasures of pretending. which is surel a significant factor in the child1s en5o !ent. it would see! that telling children there is a Santa Claus is !orall superior to the strongest alternati(e. &onetheless. $nd. it is eas to replicate the gift7gi(ing aspect of the Santa experience. I concede that there is no si!ilarl co!pelling argu!ent for the conclusion that pretending is li'el to lead to the sa!e or a larger a!ount of pleasure for children and parents. other things being e#ual. and thus satisfies the prima facie dut of beneficence. $nd there is a!ple reason to belie(e that these pleasures are li'el to be associated with Santa Claus. - 1H . Therefore. in(iting children to pretend there is one. It is not 'nown whether encouraging children to pretend there is a Santa Claus leads to significant satisfaction for children and parents.=ut it see!s that it is 'nown that pretending there is a Santa Claus leads to significant satisfaction for children and parents. l ing about Santa Claus !a et be wrong. In the short ter!. It is 'nown that encouraging children to belie(e there is a Santa Claus leads to a significant a!ount of satisfaction for children and parents. as concerns onl pain and pleasure.'now she is fictional still deri(e great en5o !ent fro! the pretense that Cinderella is a real person with real hopes. Still. although there is so!e testi!onial e(idence. the right thing to do is to continue with the deceitful tradition. Since far fewer fa!ilies ha(e atte!pted the experi!ent of pretending. G(en if it leads to !ore happiness than the best co!peting alternati(e. Is it li'el to bring about happiness for children and parents in the case of Santa Claus" $nd is it li'el that whate(er happiness is brought about will e#ual the en5o !ent associated with belie(ing in hi!" In the absence of e!pirical research. it !a see! that the reasonable choice between pretense and deceit is the safe choice. This is because there is still the presu!ption against l ing. 6e 'now that pretending can bring about pleasure. This does not follow fro! the Rossian perspecti(e. there is !uch less actual experience of the conse#uences.

It is often clai!ed that the Santa Claus stor is beneficial for children because it enhances their i!agination and their abilit to engage in fantas +for exa!ple. it is clear that the per!issibilit of the Santa Claus lie cannot be accounted for solel in ter!s of the en5o !ent children and parents experience while children belie(e. There is no doubt so!e benefit in i!pro(ing a child1s capacit to i!agine. but it is #uestionable whether parents encourage it through the Santa Claus experience.&onetheless. 2ne reason the 5ustification of the lie cannot be a !atter of the short ter! pleasure is that the purpose of parenting is not onl or e(en pri!aril to !axi!i>e children1s happiness and !ini!i>e their suffering. Children do go on to fill in further characteristics of Santa Claus not contained in the original stor . 8agic and I!agination 2ne supposed cogniti(e benefit can be dis!issed #uic'l . the are belie(ed to be. $ !a5or purpose of proper parenting is to foster the child1s !oral and cogniti(e de(elop!ent. It is fairl eas to get children en5o !ent0 cand . $s I ha(e argued. but this is no !ore an 1- . there is a funda!ental distinction between belie(ing so!ething is the case and i!agining it is. and hide7 and7see' please the! easil enough. 8uch !ore i!portant than whether Santa belief is conduci(e to happiness in the short ter! is the #uestion whether it is conduci(e to a child1s !oral and cogniti(e de(elop!ent. cartoons. The a!ount of pleasure a child gets fro! belie(ing in Santa Claus could li'el be replicated b using the ti!e presentl de(oted to Santa to pla ing innocent ga!es the child en5o s. H. =reen 4EEB/. not i!agination. The features children suppose to characteri>e Santa Claus are not i!agined to be true of hi!. 6hen parents tell their children about Santa Claus the encourage belief.

one !ust separate it fro! the belief in a bene(olent being responsible for these happenings. These tales are !agical fro! the child1s perspecti(e. +=reen 4EEB/. insofar as increased i!agination is supposed to be what is gained through the Santa Claus experience. and enor!ousl bene(olent. 6h should it be beneficial for a child to belie(e that there are things that wor' in unheard of wa s" That belie(ing in !agic as such has no benefit for the child !a be seen b i!agining the child is told about so!e (alue7neutral re!ar'able entit . G(identl . To see whether belief in !agical happenings is as such beneficial. @l ing around the planet on Christ!as night deli(ering gifts to each and e(er child easil #ualifies as (iolating the laws of ordinar realit . in the sense in #uestion. Santa !a see! to the child all7 powerful. Santa Claus is a being #uite unli'e an other the child encounters in her life. rather than belie(e he is. . would see! to be one which (iolates the laws of ordinar realit . since the (iolate what 1. 2ne !ight tell a child for exa!ple of the co!pletel non7bene(olent photons. thought.exercise of their i!agination than their efforts at filling in characteristics of China that are un'nown to the!. $ !agical occurrence. G(identl . 2r one !ight tell a child about the re!ar'able but (alue7neutral fact that whether two e(ents are si!ultaneous depends on one1s fra!e of reference. . and :!agical . . this can be !uch !ore effecti(el pursued b ha(ing the child pretend that Santa is real. all7'nowing. It is doubtful whether the belief in a !agical occurrence is beneficial when se(ered fro! the connection with so!e bene(olent purpose. ?erhaps belief in Santa Claus is beneficial in that it fosters a :sense of !agic. two of which can be in exactl the sa!e place at the sa!e ti!e. Santa1s !agical acti(ities are carried out in the ser(ice of an end that is percei(ed to be worthwhile.

<oes encouraging belief in Santa assist in the raising of episte!icall (irtuous 1. $n occurrence is !agical when it does not fit ordinar experience. I turn next to these suggestions. it !a be that so!e !agical beliefs are. So!e people9the !orall (irtuous ones9are !ore li'el to perfor! !orall appropriate actions than others.the child ta'es to be the laws that go(ern realit . This is of a piece with the suggestion that belief in Santa is beneficial because it is belief in the absence of e(idence. G(en if belief in !agical beings or occurrences is not as such beneficial. . Still setting aside the bene(olence of the central !agical entit . Si!ilarl . =ut it is clear that if Santa Claus and the reindeer were not supposed to ha(e so!e i!pact on the li(es of hu!an beingsFand especiall on the child hi!selfFthe belief would not be held to ha(e an beneficial i!pact. -. ?erhaps it is precisel this lac' of fit with ordinar experience that !a'es belief in Santa cogniti(el worthwhile. 6hat could be the cogniti(e benefit of belie(ing that reindeer fl " 2ne !ight co!plain that I ha(e been focusing on the wrong aspect of !agical belief. so!e people9call the! episte!icall (irtuous9are !ore li'el to for! episte!icall 5ustified beliefs than others. Gpiste!ic Character 2ne of the pri!ar goals of proper parenting is to so!ehow induce children to be episte!icall (irtuous adults. it !a be that belief in li(ing beings that do not age and reindeer who fl is beneficial. Cet belief in the unusual character of protons or ti!e is not li'el to be held to ha(e cogniti(e benefits for children.

is the rele(ant !ental experience. +1. the child1s attitude toward Santa Claus does not count an wa .: A-/. so!e children #uestion the existence of Kod as well.A: A3/. which is doubtful. and practicall e(er one else.. teachers. The si!ilarit between the child1s belief in Santa and adult religious belief has been widel ac'nowledged. =ut 4E . not reasoned s'epticis!. The child has a!ple testi!onial e(idence for the existence of Santa Claus fro! her parents. If an thing is 5ustified. li'e all religious belief. these disputes can be a(oided because I belie(e the tendencies I discuss are uni(ersall accepted to either encourage or under!ine episte!ic (irtue. Clar' e!phasi>es this aspect and connects it with the supposed lac' of e(idence for belief in Santa. belief in Santa Claus a!ounts to an act of faith re#uiring a suspension of disbelief on the part of the belie(ing sub5ect. +ibid.children" In the sa!e wa as there is doubt about 5ust what dispositions count as (irtues. to the extent that upon disco(ering the truth about Santa. She sa s :@aith. $nthropologist Cind <ell Clar' writes that :)i'e belief in Kod. re#uires a :capacit to cogniti(el suspend disbelief. Children often thin' of Santa as ha(ing !an of the sa!e characteristics as Kod. The rese!blance between the child1s attitude toward Santa and religious belief is onl an ad(antage of belief if encouraging this sort of religious belief is beneficial. @ortunatel . 2ne purported episte!ic ad(antage of belief in Santa in(ol(es the thought that it is belief in the absence of e(idence. surel it is a belief that has such uni(ersal support fro! the adult world. weather!en. neighbors.: 1E4/. in a child1s belief in Santa +ibid. a conception of the belief cha!pioned e(en b scientists. =elief in Santa Claus. G(en if belief in the absence of e(idence were cogniti(el beneficial. so there is disagree!ent about what tendencies count as episte!ic (irtues.

rather than an ine(itable conse#uence of his nature. the author of :Ces. ?art of the benefit of belief in Santa is supposed to in(ol(e the fact that he is :unseen and unseeable. on the other hand. If religious con(iction is essentiall belief in the absence of e(idence. $ plausible inference for the child to draw fro! the entire experience is a certain s'epticis! about clai!s of the existence of unseen things: once bitten. twice sh . $nd insofar as encouraging belief in Santa encourages belief in the absence of and contrar to perceptual e(idence. The fact that people do not see Santa see!s a !atter of cos!ic accident. who is not held to be obser(able in e(er da life. The reason Kod is not t picall seen. $gain. the child has a!ple testi!onial and other e(idence for the existence of Santa. see!s to follow fro! the fact that he is not concei(ed to ha(e ordinar ph sical properties. If belief in things unseen is episte!icall beneficial. Dirginia.again the rese!blance between the episte!ic character of faith and the child1s attitude toward Santa is li!ited. belief in Santa would be to that extent worthwhile. =ut the tendenc of belief in Santa to encourage belief in things unseen in general is counteracted b children1s disco(er that this particular unseen thing is unreal. The final (erdict on the cogniti(e !erit of belief in Santa Claus !ust include both the ti!e during which children belie(e and the ti!e when the disco(er the truth.. +Recall the coo'ies and glasses of !il' Santa apparentl consu!es during the night. In this he does rese!ble the t pical supernatural entit . e!phasi>es these religious aspects of Santa belief.. Santa differs fro! the t pical supernatural entit in being apparentl flesh and blood li'e other ordinar things. the supposed ad(antage !ust be weighed against the tendenc of 41 ./ @rancis Church. then the child1s attitude toward Santa is not religious con(iction.

I will not consider the practice further. one of the few aspects of the tradition that has earned the conde!nation of childhood ps chologists. Santa Claus and 8oral Character $!ong the pri!ar goals of proper parenting is to induce a child to beco!e a (irtuous adult. interestingl . This is. Hardl an $!erican child in the last twent ears has found a lu!p of coal in his stoc'ing fro! Santa Claus. Since it pla s so little role in the conte!porar tradition. i!portantl . this acti(it is rarel e!phasi>ed. 6hat (irtuous tendencies is the Santa experience supposed to induce in the child" 6hat !orall significant lessons is the child !eant to learn" )et !e begin b setting aside an aspect of the tradition that li'el once had a significant !oral i!pact but which is #uite rare toda . Santa Claus is single7!indedl co!!itted to fulfilling the child1s wishes0 Santa Claus is ad!ired0 therefore. 2ne thing children are supposed to learn through the Santa experience is the i!portance of generosit . the child herself will beco!e !ore concerned with i!pro(ing the welfare of others.. it is extre!el rare for parents to follow through on the traditional threat that Santa will not gi(e presents to naught children. $nd. How !uch this 5ustifies the Santa lie depends on the 44 . )et1s grant for the !o!ent that children do gain an increased tendenc to generosit through the ritual.the child who disco(ers the truth to infer that belie(ing in things in the absence of e(idence is a ha>ardous affair. . $lthough Santa is still supposed to obser(e whether children are naught or nice. 2ur #uestion in this section is whether the Santa Claus ritual increases the li'elihood that the child will be (irtuous.

a child who !ight otherwise feel inclined to do a generous deed for other children is apt to thin' that Santa will ta'e care of their needs. efforts to find a connection between belief in Santa Claus and generosit ha(e pro(ed fruitless. 2ne !ight encourage the child to gi(e things to others. $ child sees adults as still (er !uch li'e herself. Indeed. The child1s pri!ar role in the ritual is as recipient. appl ing as it does onl to so!eone who has done (er nice things for the child. &othing in the beha(ior points to the i!portance of being generous to people in general. such encourage!ent is 'nown to lead to greater degrees of the tendenc encouraged.extent to which one is li'el to achie(e the sa!e increase through non7deceitful !eans. 2ne non7deceitful thing that !ight be done to encourage the child to be generous is to tell the child about the i!portance of generosit . In the right circu!stances. Indeed. 6h should one expect a child to beco!e !ore generous as a result of the Santa Claus experience" &othing in the experience encourages the child to gi(e. 8oreo(er. $ child sees other children as (er !uch li'e herself. 2ne !ight reward the child for doing generous things. The tradition does include the coo'ies and !il' for Santa. The beha(ior of a supernatural entit such as Santa is !uch !ore li'el to be seen as 43 . The beha(ior of fellow children and adults is li'el to be seen as a plausible !odel for a child1s own actions. The fact that Santa Claus is a not7#uite7natural being would see! to further under!ine an tendenc to encourage the child to be !ore generous. $ child who sees an adult perfor! generous acts !ight well infer that such actions are possible for her as well. =ut this is a rather li!ited generosit . $ child who sees generous acts perfor!ed b another child !ight well infer that such actions are possible for her as well. such a direct !ethod pro!ises a !uch higher li'elihood of success than the roundabout !ethod of encouraging the child to adopt Santa as a role !odel.

be ond the child1s reach. e(en before the child disco(ers the truth about Santa Claus. !ust under!ine the child1s !oti(ation to be generous. and e(en b decei(ing those children. The child !ust then exhibit so!e concern for the welfare of others b not telling belie(ing children the truth. Children who are not told there is a Santa can easil be told that other children are told and that it is i!portant not to ruin their fun b den ing his existence. )et1s sa that while the are under Santa1s spell children do !a'e significant progress toward beco!ing !ore generous. then it is si!ilarl possible to teach children who ne(er belie(e the i!portance of discretion concerning belie(ers. The association of such generosit with these co!pletel fantastical perfor!ances !ight well ha(e the pernicious effect of !a'ing a uni(ersal generosit see! co!pletel unrealistic. 4B . disco(ering9abruptl and without an explanation9that there is no such being after all. 2nce the child disco(ers there is no Santa Claus. Indeed. Santa perfor!s his generous deeds in wa sFfl ing to e(er corner of the earth in one nightFthat are entirel be ond the child1s reach. she is t picall encouraged to go along with the deception. 6hat happens when the find out that there is no Santa Claus" How does that i!pact their progress" It certainl cannot help. If belie(ing that there is an ad!irable generous being is supposed to encourage the child to be generous herself. $gain how !uch this counts toward the per!issibilit of the Santa Claus lie depends on the extent to which this supposed benefit can be replicated without decei(ing the child in the first place. $nother (irtue the child !ight be thought to ac#uire is discretion. If it is possible to teach for!erl belie(ing children the i!portance of discretion concerning Santa belief. $n parent who decides not to encourage belief in Santa faces the #uestion of how the child ought to discuss the issue with children who belie(e.

If l ing is prima facie wrong. The encourage!ent happens because children ine(itabl disco(er that there is no Santa Claus. where it see!ed unreasonable to belie(e that pretending Santa is real would lead to the sa!e degree of pleasure for parents and children as belie(ing. It !a see! that I ha(e onl undercut the case for l ing to children. the reasonabl infer that such l ing is held to be per!issible b their parents and other adults whose opinion the hold in high regard. $lso when children disco(er that the ha(e been lied to. In responding to those argu!ents. The !ain proble! with l ing to children about Santa Claus is that it encourages children to lie. 4A . The Case against Santa So far I ha(e #uestioned a nu!ber of reasons often offered in support of the per!issibilit of l ing to children about Santa Claus. $s latel noted.. I ha(e shown that insofar as it is plausible to suppose that the Santa deceit is beneficial. the benefit can in al!ost e(er case be achie(ed to the sa!e or greater degree through non7deceitful alternati(es. then in showing that a non7deceitful alternati(e is 5ust as beneficent as the deceitful alternati(e. rather than arguing against it. I ha(e ipso facto shown that the non7 deceitful alternati(e is superior. e(entuall children disco(er that the ha(e been decei(ed. when the disco(er the truth children are encouraged not to di(ulge the truth to other children and also to lie to the!. The one di!ension where I conceded deceit had the ad(antage was with respect to pleasure. $nd although apparentl so!e children at first belie(e that parents are si!ilarl under the !isi!pression that there is a Santa Claus.. 6hat reason is there to thin' telling children there is a Santa is wrong" In fact I ha(e done !ore than 5ust respond to pro7Santa argu!ents.

their parents +and !an other adults/ belie(e that it is !orall appropriate to lie. The parent herself. @irst. Children therefore beco!e aware of two facts. the parents do not belie(e there is a Santa Claus. The first step in(ol(es the child1s disco(er that the parent has lied. It cannot be seriousl !aintained that children do not disco(er that deceit has ta'en place. =ut it1s eas to see wh it would be aw'ward for the decei(ing parent to reco!!end an course of action other than l ing. or an nu!ber of other things. Since the obser(e and are aware of their parents l ing.It !ight be co!plained that encouraging post7belief children to lie to other children is no part of decei(ing children about Santa Claus. The parent could tell the child who disco(ers the truth to be honest with other children. The !ere disco(er b the child that she has been decei(ed b her parents and the rest of the adult world b itself encourages a child to lie. but the undoubtedl i!itate their parents. 6hat 5ustification could such a parent gi(e for reco!!ending the child ta'e so!e different course of action fro! the parent1s own" It would be scandalousl h pocritical for the parent to discourage the child fro! l ing about Santa while continuing to do so herself. 6hether children i!itate Santa Claus is #uestionable. It is e(ident to the child that the parent belie(es so decei(ing the child was !orall appropriate. 4H . after all. Second. their parents +and !an other adults/ lie. both of which tend to encourage the child to lie. Children notice that their parents feel no !oral #ual! about ha(ing decei(ed the children about Santa Claus. the are !ore li'el to lie the!sel(es. Children of se(en or eight understand what is in(ol(ed in l ing. $nd e(entuall children understand that although their parents told the! otherwise. has 5ust concluded so!e ears of l ing to the child about the (er sa!e issue in the (er sa!e situation. or to exercise her own 5udg!ent.

the costs of l ing about Santa Claus !ust be co!pared to the costs of the alternati(es. being the two !ain other culprits. since that is the option with the successful trac' record. &ot l ing to the child about so!ething has no tendenc to encourage t he child to lie in areas be ond the !ere Santa Claus case.It !ight be ob5ected that the child1s increased tendenc to lie extends onl to the existence of Santa Claus hi!self. It therefore has no danger of leading the child to lie !ore 4- . notice that the deceit about Santa Claus is part of a larger pattern: the Gaster =unn and the Tooth @air . This would be to argue that l ing about Santa Claus is wrong because it has tendenc to !a'e children lie about Santa Claus. It would be #uestion7begging to clai! that an increased tendenc on the part of the child to lie about Santa Claus is what !a'es l ing about Santa Claus wrong. and therefore co!es to ha(e a greater tendenc to lie about Santa Claus. &otice first that in the usual practice no effort is !ade to ensure that the child draws onl the narrower inference about l ing about Santa Claus rather than the !ore general one about l ing. Together with these other incidents. and therefore co!e to belie(e herself that l ing about Santa Claus is per!issible. Second. @inall . 2ur #uestion then is whether l ing to children about Santa pro!otes l ing b children in other areas. Garlier I conceded that the safe option with respect to producing pleasure is to lie about Santa Claus. the child is li'el to draw the inference that l ing is thought to be per!issible in !an cases be ond the Santa Claus situation. $nd si!ilarl the child beco!es aware of the fact that her parents lie about Santa Claus. The child !ight be thought to infer onl that her parents belie(e l ing about Santa Claus is per!issible. Here I would argue that the safe option is to not lie about Santa Claus. In(iting the child to pretend there is a Santa Claus in(ol(es no ele!ent of deceit whatsoe(er.

it would be wrong to ta'e the chance of increasing the tendenc of a child to lie when another option is a(ailable without this tendenc and with !an of the sa!e ad(antages. 4. Since l ing in general is wrong.fre#uentl in other areas. .

Tan a and 6oole . 6. :<o 8onsters <rea!" Coung Children1s %nderstanding of the @antas LRealit <istinction. in Child Psychiatry and Human evelopment (ol. $%+3/./. =reen. *ant.. Psychiatric !ulletin +4EEB/ 4.. 4. )ewis. :6hat If Santa <ied" Childhood 8 ths and <e(elop!ent. Sharon. B3. :Gncounter with Realit : Children1s Reactions on <isco(ering the Santa Claus 8 th. M Sulli(an. 8. .: BAA7BAH.. C. in "ying b Sissela =o' 1.7BB3. 8. :2n a Supposed Right to )ie fro! $ltruistic 8oti(es.. <eception in three7 ear7olds. Iac#ueline...-. 4A+4/ 1.3731E.References: $nderson. !ritish #ournal of evelopmental Psychology 44 +4EEB/: 4. Carl and ?rentice. +1. I!!anuel.B. &ew Cor' Rando! House. ) nda.. &or!an.B: H-7.. evelopmental Psychology. Stanger..

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful