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White Lies Black Lies — Diana Mertz Hsieh — Thursday, July 4, 2002 — 13 th Annual Summer Seminar of The Objectivist Center —

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Presentation on theme: "White Lies Black Lies — Diana Mertz Hsieh — Thursday, July 4, 2002 — 13 th Annual Summer Seminar of The Objectivist Center —"— Presentation transcript:

1 White Lies Black Lies — Diana Mertz Hsieh — Thursday, July 4, 2002 — 13 th Annual Summer Seminar of The Objectivist Center —

2 Traditional Honesty  Traditional honesty is the virtue of always telling the truth (as believed) to others  Form: Absolutist, acontextual rule  Content: Telling truth to others  Justification: Altruism, collectivism

3 Traditional Form  Traditional honesty is the virtue of always telling the truth (as believed) to others  The virtue is of the form of an absolutist, acontextual rule  The growing problem: –Aiding evildoers –Acceptable to lie to protect others –Expanding notions of protecting others

4 Traditional Content  Traditional honesty is the virtue of always telling the truth (as believed) to others  The content of the virtue focuses on telling the truth (as believed) to others  Three problems: –Mere technical truth is permitted –Honesty with oneself ignored –Silence is overlooked as a moral option

5 Traditional Justification  Traditional honesty is the virtue of always telling the truth (as believed) to others  Virtue presumed or justified with altruistic- collectivistic arguments  The justification: –Honesty is necessary for trust in relationships –Those relationships are necessary to society

6 Traditional Honesty Recap  Traditional honesty is the virtue of always telling the truth (as believed) to others  Form: Absolutist, acontextual rule  Content: Telling truth to others  Justification: Altruism, collectivism  Recommended reading: Sissela Bok’s Lying and David Nyberg’s The Varnished Truth

7 Honesty in Objectivism  Honesty is the virtue of refusing to fake the facts of reality  Form: Contextually absolute principle  Content: Refusing to fake reality  Justification: Egoistic knowledge and trade  Recommended Reading: Tara Smith’s Viable Values

8 Dishonesty with Ourselves  Two basic forms of dishonesty with ourselves –Evasion: Refusing to think about what you know or suspect to be true –Self-Deception: Persuading yourself of what you know or suspect to be false  Self-deception requires evasion

9 Dishonesty with Others  Two forms of dishonesty with others –Lies of omission: Misleading by avoiding what you know or suspect to be true –Lies of commission: Misleading by asserting what you know or suspect to be false  Lies of commission require lies of omission

10  To be dishonest is to fake the facts of reality  Two axes of faking reality: –To whom? –By what method? DishonestyBy avoiding truthsBy telling falsehoods With oneselfEvasionSelf-deception With othersLies of omissionLies of commission Forms of Dishonesty

11 Why Be Honest?  Establishing honesty as a virtue involves two distinct questions: –Why should we be honest with ourselves? To gain the value of knowledge –Why should we be honest with others? To gain the values of profitable trade

12  Why should we be honest with ourselves? –Maintaining and promoting life and happiness requires that we conform ourselves to the facts –Knowledge of the facts requires honesty with ourselves –Dishonesty does not change the facts, just unable to deal with them rationally Honesty with Ourselves

13 Honesty with Others  Why should we be honest with other people? –Are there rational values that can only be generally gained through honesty with others? –Are there rational values that will likely be lost through dishonesty with others? –Yes! All the material and spiritual values that can be gained through trade with others

14 The Arguments  Why should we be honest with other people? –The values of honesty  Profitable trading relationships with others  Cultivated habits of honesty –The disvalues of dishonesty  Slippery slope of lies  Distraction from important matters  Self-deception and evasion

15 Major Value: Trade  Profitable trading relationships with others require the trust and reputation that comes only with honesty  Trust in present relationships  Reputation within the broader community  The role of discovery of dishonesty

16 The Relevant Truth  The traditional choice between the whole truth, mere technical truth, and lies is a false alternative  Trade requires the contextually-relevant truth  If wish to have a particular sort of relationship with a person, then we ought to be sharing certain types of information at certain times in certain ways

17 Determining Relevant Truth  Primary considerations of relevance: –Intimacy of the relationship –Privacy of the information –Usefulness of the information  Secondary considerations of relevance: –Necessary background information –Information sought –Finding the right time –Benign expectations of dishonesty

18 Honesty and Force  Must we be honest with someone initiating force? No.  The easy question: Must we be dishonest with someone initiating force? No.  The hard question: When should we be honest and when should we be dishonest with someone initiating force?

19 Honesty and Irrationality  We generally do not need to preserve the trust of irrational people  But we do not wish to muddle the issues for others and thereby damage our reputation within the larger community  Dishonesty to irrational people can undermine the habits of honesty

20 The Habits of Honesty  Consistent honesty helps cultivate the habits of honesty necessary for resolving apparent conflicts between honesty and other values  The necessity of forethought in creating habits  Recommended Reading: Judith Martin’s The Right Thing to Say (Miss Manners)

21 Honesty and Benevolence  Honesty does not require us to be mean and nasty to other people!  Mean truths are often irrelevant truths  But we ought not appease the irrationality or promote the self-deception of others

22 Honesty and Privacy  Honesty does not require us to violate our own privacy!  We can always refuse to answer intrusive questions (directly or indirectly)  We can cultivate a habitual zone of privacy  Privacy versus concealing immorality

23 Honesty with Others  The benefits of honesty with others: –Profitable trade with others –Cultivated habits of honesty  The risks of dishonesty with others: –Slippery slope of lies –Distraction from important matters –Self-deception and evasion

24 Cost: Slippery Slope  Every lie risks the necessity of more lies in order to maintain the original lie, where each new lie increases the risk of exposure  Success in deceiving others often creates the slippery slope  We cannot know in advance which lies will create slippery slopes

25 Cost: Distraction  Constructing and maintaining lies requires time and effort that could be better spent on more productive and pleasurable pursuits  It is difficult to create and maintain an alternate reality  We have better things to do!

26 Cost: Dishonesty with Self  Dishonesty with others may promote dishonesty with oneself through guilt and cognitive trailblazing  Guilt over a misdeed or a lie to others  Biased viewpoint to others supports own bias  Acceptance of lie by others as evidence

27 Honesty with Others  The benefits of honesty with others: –Profitable trade with others –Cultivated habits of honesty  The risks of dishonesty with others: –Slippery slope of lies –Distraction from important matters –Self-deception and evasion

28 Values of Honesty  Values gained by honesty with oneself: knowledge of reality  Values gained by honesty with others: the values of profitable trade

29 The Honesty Challenge  For those of you inclined to tell little white lies or even big black lies…Try being fully and completely and relevantly honest with others for one month


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