[OPE-L] honesty

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sat Oct 28 2006 - 05:46:27 EDT

Honesty refers to the internal (intellectual and  emotional) human quality of 
communication and action. It is closely related to  such cognate concepts as 
motivation, truthfulness, trust and impartiality. Taken  in its broad sense, 
honesty points also to the quality of human relations in a  given society. 
Given that all human relations are in one way or another  inter-subjective, aiming 
at a mutual (common) goal, no human action can take  place without relying on 
the concept of honesty, that is, without supposing  others’ truthfulness and 
trustworthiness. In that respect honesty implies  respect for oneself and for 
others. Thus it is one of the most important virtues  – as well as in domestic 
social relations and in international relations, though  it has been 
marginalized in the mainstream moral discourse as may be seen from  the list of the 
cardinal virtues. 
The concept of honesty applies to all human behaviors. The core idea of  
honesty is impartiality as distinct from benevolence. The concept of benevolence  
refers to the concept of altruism and gift, whereas the concept of 
impartiality  points to the concept of judgment of rightness or wrongness of one’s and 
others’  judgments and actions. In  their relation to one another human beings 
permanently and continually exchange  information, knowledge, ideas and 
believes, and express their intentions. To be  true to oneself and to others honesty 
requires that they are considered in a  unbiased manner – without any regard 
to loss and gain. This is to say that the  concept of honesty clearly opposes 
to any form of manipulation from egoistic  motives. If information and 
knowledge are merely arranged on the basis of what  one’s own desires are, that is, 
without any regard as to what the consequences  might be for others, such an 
instrumental approach is usually qualified as  biased and dishonest. 
This indicates the opposing nature of honesty to  the lie. As to the question 
whether the concept of honesty allows lying there  are traditionally two 
major positions. From a rigorous moral point of view it is  argued that telling 
lies is always vice and should moraly be condemned. In  modern times Immanuel 
Kant is, for example, proponent of this rigorous statement. He rejects any form 
of lie however good  intended. It is however often hold against such a 
rigorous position that this is  a too strict statement and suggested that in certain 
situations lie may be  allowed. In that connection the reoccurring example 
given is whether one should  be allowed to lie if s/he hides somebody from Nazis. 
Bernhard Mandeville’s  ethical maxim of private vice public virtue and 
Nietzsche’s ethic of the will to power may be seen as  allowing telling lies without 
any restrains. According to these ethics private  gains and succeeding to 
power is more important than any moral value. A more  moderate statement comes 
from Adam Smith. His less rigorous ethic tends to allow  lying in certain 
(exceptional) situations based on case to case judgment. In his  ontological 
sympathy ethic Smith suggests that ethical judgments should be made in  the 
contextual situations of the agent. In certain situations therefore  self-deceit as 
well as lie may be more appropriate than telling the  truth. 
In the  debates on business ethics the concept of honesty plays a central 
role. There  two major question that are under dispute. The one concerns the 
question whether  private property is a theft. The other points to the debate as 
to whether  commercial exchange relations may be honest at  all. 
As to the first: it is suggested that private  property is the monopolization 
of the goods satisfying human needs. How should  this monopolization be 
judged? Is it a theft? There two classical statements on  this. John Locke, for 
example, claims that if something,  say, a piece of land, is common to all, then, 
it belongs to nobody. It is  therefore not a theft if someone appropriates it 
and calls it his or her.  According to Locke no consent whatsoever was 
required and one’s  labor would provide sufficient ground to exclude others from its 
use. Locke has been criticized for this narrow concept of  labor. For the 
critics of Locke labor is not an individual physical activity that  occurs 
between men and nature. According to them labor is necessarily a social  activity 
and implies also some kind of social resposibility. Jean Jacques  Rousseau, on 
the contrary, claims that it is a theft to appropriate a piece of  common land 
or any other common good without common consent. Rousseau’s statement is 
echoed in the popular saying:  property is theft. Rousseau sees a close 
relationship between the institution  of private property and civil society. His direct 
linkage of private property  and the concept of civil society has far reaching 
implications about the nature  of civil society. 
As to the second: the question whether commercial  exchange relations can be 
honest gave rise to a number of debates, which is  still current in the 
debates on fair trade for example. There are mainly two  positions on this in moral 
philosophy: utilitarian and non-utilitarian concepts  of ethics. Utilitarian 
concepts of ethics prior to John Stuart Mill were not so much concerned about 
honesty. Jeremy  Bentham's exclusion of the concept of sympathy from the 
considerations on ethics  is a classical statement of utilitarian ethics. Mill 
endeavored to integrate all  sorts of ethical principles into the concept of 
utility. Kant’s statement that  tradesmen’s supplying others with goods is not only 
derived from the principle  of the satisfaction of human needs but also from 
making profit and that  therefore their motivation cannot be qualified as 
honest is classical statement  from a non-utilitarian point of view. 
Adam Smith saw in utilitarian human relations the  source of moral corruption 
and analyzed commercial exchange relations in terms  of power relations. Smith
’s assessment of commercial exchange relations gave  rise to a number of 
debates in the 19th century, which is still  current in debates on business 
ethics. Proudhon suggested that trade can be organized based on  the principle of 
just exchange. Charles Fourier, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx hold against 
Proudhon that commerce was about enriching oneself and the  trade is a legal fraud 
and can never be honest. Honesty, according to them,  requires an open 
society. A society, however, which is dominated by power  relations as in commercial 
exchange relations cannot be qualified honest.  Contemporary debates in 
business ethics is an outflow and continuation of this  debate between Proudhon, on 
the one hand, and Fourier, Engels and Marx on the  other. 
Doğan  Göçmen 
Further reading 
Bentham, J., The Principles of Morals and  Legislation, With an introduction 
by L. J. Lafleur, Hafner Publishing  Company, New York  1948. 
Fourier, Ch., Selections from the Works of Fourier,  With an Introduction by 
Ch. Gide, translated by J. Franklin, George Allen &  Unwin LTD, London  1901. 
Kant, I., Groundwork for the Metaphysics of  Morals, ed. L. Denis, Broadview 
Press,  2005. 
Marx, K. and Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto, with an  introduction by E. 
Hobsbawm, Verso, London  1998. 
Locke, J., Two Treatises of Government, ed. P.  Laslett, Cambridge University 
Press, Cambridge  1993. 
Mandeville, B., The Fable of the Bees, ed and with a  commentary by F. B. 
Kaye, 2 volume, Liberty Fund, Indiana Polis  1988. 
Proudhon, P.-J., What is Property, eds. D. Kelley and B.  Smith, Cambridge 
University Press, Cambridge  1994. 
Smith, A., The  Theory of Moral Sentiments, eds. D. D Raphael and A. L. 
Macfie, Liberty  Fund, Indiana Polis 1984. 
Smith, A., An  inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 
eds. R. H.  Campbell, A. S. Skinner and W. B. Todd, Liberty Fund, Indiana Polis 

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