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 1981.
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