In order to ensure that we are honest with regard to the right objects, we need to have some understanding of what these objects are and how we can identify which objects are right. Objects, when it comes to honesty, are propositions, or a form of linguistic currency. If we strip down honesty to the basic idea of truth-telling, we are immediately faced by the question of what “truth” is. How are we to identify it, or rather, how do we measure it? If we have a statement “this x is y”, we need a standard by which to determine whether or not the x in question is indeed y. As part of determining this we must also consider that if person A communicates this statement to person B, there is generally the assumption that both A and B have the same understanding of what x and y are. And this is where things start to get a bit shaky. Assumptions can often be wrong, so if we have one statement which has a different meaning to two different agents, we then need a standard to determine which agent (if either) is right
So far we need to determine: whether or not x is indeed y; what x is; and what y is. But on what basis can we come to any conclusions here? Say standard 1 tells us that yes, x is indeed y and A’s understanding of x and y are correct; standard 2 tells us that x is not y, and B’s understanding of x and y are correct (making A incorrect in this matter); standard 3 tells us that A’s understanding of y is correct after all, but their understanding of x is wrong and they were wrong in that x is not y; and standard 4 says that no, it was B who understood y correctly, but not x, and x is still not y, and so on… the concepts of anything being correct, true, factual, or anything of the like quickly start to lose their meaning.
Let me illustrate this with an example. Alice says to Beth that “homosexuality is unnatural”. Alice understands “homosexuality” to be the conscious choice to have sex with someone of the same sex, whereas Beth understands the term to refer to the (geneticallybased) sexual orientation of someone who experiences romantic/sexual attraction only towards members of the same sex/gender. Alice understands “unnatural” to refer to something that goes against the natural order ordained by God, whereas Beth’s concept of it is of something not found in nature.
Standard 1 is conservative religious orthodoxy, based in Alice’s interpretation of her sacred text and that of her religious leader, according to which Alice’s understanding of “homosexuality” and “unnatural” are correct, and that based on that the statement “homosexuality is unnatural” is correct. Standard 2 is a school of thought supported by various psychologists, according to which Beth’s understanding of both terms is correct, and that genes are the building blocks of all that is natural, making the statement “homosexuality is unnatural” incorrect. Standard 3 is liberal religious teaching, this time based on a different religious leader’s interpretation of Alice’s sacred text, stating that homosexuality is just the way God made some people, so these people must be part of the natural order ordained by God, making the statement “homosexuality is unnatural” incorrect. Standard 4 is another school of thought supported by various other psychologists, which makes Beth’s understanding of “unnatural” correct, but according to which homosexuality is a learned behaviour which can be observed in most other animals, making the statement “homosexuality is unnatural” incorrect.
Looking at this table, we could say that Alice’s statement that “homosexuality is unnatural” is both true and false. Or that, based on the four standards considered here (there could no doubt be many more), her statement is 35% true and 65% false. Or more vaguely, that the truth of 5 By “nature” and “nurture” I refer to the debate regarding whether a certain behaviour is hereditary or learned
due to the influence of one’s environment. this statement depends on your perspective. Then again, talking about the truth of a statement in such a vague or indecisive way is not very useful from a practical point of view.
I hope two things have become clear by now. Firstly, without an established standard by which to determine what is “true” and what is not, it can be practically impossible to get a usable grasp on these objects. This should illustrate what it is that we are up against: a cacophony of objects with a distinct lack of a common standard for unanimously identifying the ‘right’ ones. Secondly, any standard we may wish to use would need to apply to everyone, ensuring that we are all on the same page. After all, if Alice and Beth each rely on different standards on which to base their concepts they can use the same words but talk past each other, unable to engage in any effective form of communication.
1) The Right Objects
i) Making Assumptions
ii) Identifying Truth
iii) The Hinge Propositions
iv) Hinge Propositions and the Right Objects
v) Developing Honesty with a View to Perfection
2) The Right Way
i) Differentiating Between Facts and Beliefs
ii) Communicating with Fallibility in Mind
iii) Predictions and Intentions
iv) Manners of Communication
3) The Right Time
ii) Disjoint Spheres and Unified Virtues
iii) Age-appropriate Communication
iv) The Santa Claus Myth
4) The Right People
i) The Honest Lie
5) The Right Motive
i) The Motives of Honest Agents
ii) Truth, Biases, and Reality
iii) Other Realities
6) Virtue Ethics, Moral Development and Phronesis
i) Moral Development
iii) Perfect Virtue as an Unattainable Ideal
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
Honesty in Virtue Ethics