The Wisdom in Honesty

Honesty is saying what we know or suspect to be real, even when we don’t like the consequences. It is also much more.

Because most deception is actually self deception, true honesty requires that we recognize our natural human penchant for fooling ourselves. In particular, honesty requires that we guard against self-serving biases: our tendency to seek confirmation for what we already believe while ignoring contradictory evidence; our tendency to put blame on others and take credit for ourselves; our tendency to think that what is good for us is good for the world and even to make the gods themselves in our own image.

Honesty is a lifetime process of catching ourselves in falsehood and, however reluctantly, turning away from it.

Our normal view of ideas is also a normative view: it embodies a canon or an ideal about which ideas we ought to accept or admire or approve of. In brief, we ought to accept the true and the beautiful. According to the normal view, the following are virtual tautologies–trivial truths not worth the ink to write them down:Idea X was believed by the people because X was deemed true.People approved of X because people found X to be beautiful.These norms are not just dead obvious, they are constitutive: they set the rules whereby we think about ideas. We require explanations only when there are deviations from these norms. Nobody has to explain why a book purports to be full of true sentences, or why an artist might strive to make something beautiful–it just “stands to reason.” The constitutive status of these norms grounds the air of paradox in such aberrations as “The Metropolitan Museum of Banalities” or ” The Encyclopedia of Falsehoods.” What requires special explanation in the normal view are the cases in which despite the truth or beauty of an idea it is not accepted, or despite its ugliness or falsehood it is.