You likely are familiar with the cliche, which declares:
Honesty is the best policy.
With the cliche in tow, honesty appears an unconditional virtue. Well, let us explore this notion of Honesty as an unconditional virtue.
First, let us consider context of Events. Within context of events, when a person is honest, inclusive of their very own actions, they recount what already has happened exactly as it transpired.
It is straightforward to see Honesty has nothing to do with the quality of an event, only with accuracy of rendition of an event. We have then that a recount of a murder by a murderer can be as honest as a recount of how a stranger jumped into a raging river for saving of a child. Regardless of the quality of the two events, there is feasibility of an honest recount of the event.
But which honest recount is appealing to society? The honest recount of saving of a child, or that of a grisly murder? We can go further, assert that society would be satisfied with proof of guilt, would eschew arrival at a honest recount of all of the grisly details of the murder.
Absent prior knowledge of quality of an event, the assertion that there was arrival at an honest account of the event does not induce deduction of the quality of the event.
There exist contexts within which a honest recount of details of an event is abhorrent to society.
It would appear that Honesty is not an Unconditional Virtue.
In context of a response to others, people who are honest state exactly what is in their minds. If they deem their wives fat, they state so, and damn the consequences. Suppose the deeming of a wife to be fat is in fact consistent with the evidence, meaning persons who are objective and who respond to an anonymous third party unanimously agree that a honest person’s wife indeed is fat.
Consider that the declaration by the honest person that his wife is fat merely acknowledges a status, does not embed any response from the honest person. Now, which should we consider to be more cognitive, mere assent to a fact (the ‘Honest’ response), or words that embed a cognitive response from a husband, such as, “Darling, I think it is time we picked up an exercise regimen,” — the ‘Darling’ response.
The Darling response is not honest or dishonest, yet embeds a response to a fact, as such rather than arrival at mere characterization of a wife, alongside introduction of a marital project or objective, embeds individuality of an husband.
In the Honest response, the husband attempts to dissociate himself from his wife’s circumstances. In the Darling response, the husband transforms his wife’s circumstances into a marital objective, and simultaneously reveals individuality, that is, capacity for arrival at a personalized interpretation of facts that pertain to his wife.
Clearly, when it comes to human interactions, a cognitive response that affirms another always trumps a honest response. Absent an honest confronting of the facts, however, there is incapacity for arrival at a contextually cognitive response to facts. We see then that honesty has value when it facilitates a cognitive response to facts.
Consistent with all of the foregoing, Jesus, the greatest of all teachers of spirituality — spirituality, not religion, declared that kindness is a virtue; declared that He desires the earth be filled with reciprocity of kindness.
“Happy the kind,” He declared, “because they shall find kindness (Matthew 5:7).”
Teachings on spirituality are targeted at individuals, not at empowerment of practice of liturgies. Teachings whose intent are arrival at formation of a religion focus on liturgies, which, absent a cadre of priests, cannot be practiced.
It is normative that kindness is somewhat inimical to honesty. Typically, it is difficult to be both honest and kind.
By it’s very characterization, kindness involves a recognition of facts, and interpretation of facts for arrival at the best possible casting of the facts in relation to another person.
When the husband in the preceding analogy chooses the Darling response, he chooses kindness to his wife over honesty of assertion of the fact that she had allowed herself to grow fat. As already highlighted, the Darling response embeds demonstration of cognition, and relative to another person, casting of a fact in the best possible light.
It is better to be known to demonstrate cognition in matters, than to be known to be a source of exact recount of events, or of status quo of others.
If society is to make the most of honesty, honesty is incorporated into searches for truth, as such derives it’s value, in entirety, from facilitation of truth.
It is normative that facts do not always equate to truth.
Suppose Mr. A kills Mr. B. Killing of Mr. B by Mr. A is fact. What, however, is the truth of the situation? Well, it could be that Mr. A is guiltless (self defense); or guilty of any of Manslaughter through Murder One. If Mr. A is found guiltless, killing of Mr. B does not translate into any accusations of murder — intentional or unintentional; Mr. A goes back to his home, resumes his normal life.
The fact of a killing does not, in of itself, reveal the truth about the killing.
We arrive then at loftiness of the teaching of Jesus Christ encapsulated in these words (words in brackets mine for arrival at an amplified reading of the Scripture).
If you continue in my word (teachings), you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth (arrive at a cognitive interpretation of the teachings as they relate to your individual context), and the truth will make you (a specific person who believes in me) free — John 8:31–32.
A society cannot value truth, yet eschew honesty; yet honesty that is not valued primarily for enablement of arrival at truth does not translate into a virtue.
If Honesty is to yield any pragmatic value for society, it becomes a component of desire for arrival at cognitive, contextualized knowledge of truth.
In the Darling Response, the truth — my wife needs to embark on an exercise regimen, and it is my responsibility, via promises exchanged, to provide her with support — is a higher order of cognition than mere statement of fact of arrival at a fat body.
Once love of truth is stated to be a virtue, honesty, which is required for arrival at love of truth, ceases to have any value in of itself, serves only for actualization of searches for truth. Since truth is a higher order of attainment in relation to mere knowledge of facts, societies that seek to incentivize meaningful honesty, practice searches for, and love of truth.
One additional illustration serves for demonstration of superiority of searches for truth over delineation of facts.
Whenever there is accusation of rape, the goal of society is a determination as to whether the sex was in fact consensual, but a woman felt slighted subsequently, or whether a man did indeed force himself on a woman. In the acceptance of the fact that a sexual tryst did indeed transpire, there is arrival at honesty.
But the fact — occurrence of a sexual tryst — does not, in of itself, reveal the truth of the matter that transpired between a man and a woman. Women who initially accused men of rape have been known to take the accusation back, meaning they were acting on a slight that transpired subsequent to sex that was consensual. In other instances, men have been found guilty of rape.
Relative to Truth, Facts, which require honesty for their establishment, are a lower order of attainment.
Absent desire for arrival at truth, it is impossible for legal systems to function, for facts do not, in of themselves, reveal the truth of any matter. Searches for, and Love of Truth, not Honesty are safeguards of any system of Justice anywhere in the world.
Honesty is a virtue only when it’s value is conditioned on Searches for, and Love of Truth.