I intend to use this blog as a platform for my daily thoughts on a variety of topics. I welcome comments, objections, and questions.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why Should We Be Honest?

So it's been over two months since I've written a post. Perhaps blogging has not been as much of an interest to me lately because I have been very inwardly focused (yes, even more than usual) and not nearly as interested in communicating my thoughts to others. Well at any rate, I do have something that I'd like to comment on at the moment, so here we go.

I have been reading Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith. She's a philosophy professor at the University of Texas, Austin (and yes she's an Objectivist). I actually had the privilege to meet her in New York City after she delivered a lecture. Between her lecturing ability and her very effective writing, I am quite impressed. She does a much better job lending an aura of respectable academic standing than I have seen from some other Objectivist intellectuals in the past. Perhaps that is why this book was published by Cambridge University Press - a very respectable publisher for those in academic philosophy.

Having just completed her chapter on the virtue of honesty within the Objectivist ethics, I found myself desiring to share its uniqueness with others. Typically, honesty is understood as a virtue of action in relation to other people specifically. On this view, there are several possible reasons why dishonesty is immoral: it creates an aura of distrust within society, it unfairly uses other people, and it can harm your reputation. But notice that this line of argument suggests dishonesty is harmful only in relation to others. In fact, as Smith aptly notes, these proposed ill effects of dishonesty suggest that if one were simply a very effective liar (i.e. was never caught) it would not be harmful or immoral.

Contrary to this typical line of thought then, Rand suggests that dishonesty is harmful to the individual outside of any consideration of its effects on others. Rand is working from the premise that because the nature of reality imposes very strict conditions on us (we must eat, create shelter, and a myriad of other actions to live as human beings), we absolutely must use our reason to understand reality. In her perspective, to attempt dishonesty is to attempt to fake reality. And since reality is absolute (that is, it exists outside of our desires and intentions), the attempt to fake reality must inevitably fail. Consider the ramifications of dishonesty then. For example, imagine standing on railroad tracks, trying to deceive yourself into believing that an incoming train was not actually there. Your desire for reality to be different, in itself, imposes no changes on what confronts you. Now extend this principle to any other situation, and the principle is the same. Given this unalterable fact, self-deception is inevitably harmful to our well-being.

It is from this basis that one should not lie to others--because there is no benefit in doing so for yourself. That is, being honest to others is derivative from the fact that one should not lie to oneself.

It being late, I will end this line of thought here, despite there being more to say. But, I'd be interested to hear objections.