Truth and Honesty: Don’t Get ‘Em Twisted!

In an era of authoritarian leaders, fake news, extremism, etc …, its worth pointing out that truth and honesty are two different things because we often mix them up. In a nutshell, someone who is honest is not necessarily a truthful person. Honesty requires nothing other than a will to divulge what one knows, thinks, feels, or intends. We can spew honesty all day and all night. Say, for instance, if someone feels that the majority of Hispanic immigrants to the US are rapists, or thinks that thousands of Muslims celebrated 9/11 in New Jersey. Then they might say that, in their honest opinion, such things are true. Such things could be patently false (and often are), and as false as a belief that the Sun orbits the Earth, but may be views that are sincerely held.

Since these opinions are merely subjective, honesty doesn’t cost anything, in a sense. One could feel that the government is out to get you, women are liberated by abortion services, progress is always a good thing, the neighbour next door is up to something evil, and so on. From one’s mind or heart to one’s mouth there is a short distance, but such ‘free speech’ is corrosive. Imagine a court system run on the basis of the jury being honest. In all likelihood, it would be efficient at prosecuting people, (“I don’t like the look of him, he musta dunnit!!), but unsatisfactory.

Truth, on the other hand, asks of us that we constantly search out facts, that we weigh up those facts when we get them, that we analyze, that our beliefs about things are as sound as we can make them, that we listen to both sides, wait to pass judgement, etc … To be a truth-seeker is a difficult thing. Apart from the difficulty, truth may again run counter to honesty; one may feel or think a certain way, but may ‘dishonestly’ mislead others as to their true thoughts and feelings either because they simply don’t have all the relevant information to hand, or else haven’t processed the relevant information, in order to make a judgement based on truth.

Of course, if a truth-seeker does divulge what they are storing subjectively, then their honesty has more of a right to be heeded than an honest person who eschews the quest for truth. Because of their different natures, truth is an inherently difficult state to attain, whereas honesty comes a lot easier. There are situations where it is appropriate to be honest, especially with regard to personal taste. If someone honestly likes blue instead of red, then there is no question of truth involved. But when it comes to non-aesthetic judgements, we simply can’t just be honest and forget about it. And, with respect to current political discourse, is it such a good thing if someone throws out their opinions, and is it such a bad thing if someone bides their time until they come closer to the truth?

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