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Boydstun
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In July 2006, I had written:

"Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic. When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person. Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs."

I've come across a striking parallel in Michael Tomasello's A Natural History of Human Thinking:

"And so, while there is still some way to go to get to truth as an 'objective' feature of human utterances (see chapter 4), if we want to explain the origins of humans' commitment to characterize the world accurately independent of any selfish purpose, then being committed to informing others of things honestly, for their not our benefit, is the starting point. The notion of truth thus entered the human psyche not with the advent of individual intentionality and its focus on accuracy in information acquisition but, rather, with the advent of joint intentionality and its focus on communicating cooperatively with others." (51–52)

In this thread, I'll be examining all that Rand wrote concerning honesty and the coverage by Tara Smith of Rand's picture of the virtue of honesty. And I want to examine the book Honesty: The Philosophy and Psychology of a Neglected Virtue (2021) by Christian B. Miller.

There is another book I began to discuss, last spring, here at Objectivism Online, whose title is On Sacrifice (2012), by Moshe Halbertal. I'll complete discussion of this book first. I came to open Tomasello's book, from which I quoted above, by way of completing the study of On Sacrifice. Halbertal concentrates on development of the idea(s) of sacrifice in the history of Judaism, from those ancient religious rituals to modern sacrifice for the state. It occurred to me that in my discussion I should situate Halbertal's coverage into the wider and farther-past account of human religious rituals set out in Religion in Human Evolution – From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (2011), by Robert N. Bellah, which covers tribal religions (and production of meaning), subsequent archaic religions (meaning and power, god and king), and four cases of religion in the subsequent axial age: Israel, ancient Greece, China [late first millennium BCE], and ancient India. But halfway through that book, I thought of my books by Tomasello, which can fill out the scientific picture of human nature and its origins even farther back, back to separation of our lineage from the lineage of the great apes of today and join comparative capabilities of those two lineages (include Neanderthals with ours) with latest results in early childhood cognitive development.

So, the order of productions will be:

On Sacrifice (completion of that thread)

Honesty (completion of this thread)

Thirdly, an essay I plan to compose titled "A Passage to Reason" comparing Rand's conception from "The Missing Link" ("A certain hypothesis has haunted me for years. . . .") with the picture set out in the preceding readings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

After those, I'll complete the long study "Dewey and Peikoff on Kant's Responsibility" (next year)—I haven't forgotten.

Edited by Boydstun
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1 hour ago, Boydstun said:

"Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic. When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person. Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs."

I've always thought the virtue of honesty in this context was related to avoiding or preventing "evasion" which seemed to be at the root of evil. Was it to "not lie to others"?

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Oh, it was definitely not motivated by or most basically about truth-telling to others. It was about refocussing honesty onto rational self-interest and from those considerations having truth-telling to others as part of what such a refocussed conception of honesty requires. So it was part of the program of rational-egoism replacement of right treatment of others as most basic concern of ethics.

Edited by Boydstun
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Not indulging in mental evasion is an ethical principle that can be justified on rational self interest.  I think Rand succeeded there.  Founding honesty toward others as a political principle is a better way forward because Tomasello's "joint intentionality and its focus on communicating cooperatively with others" is  "two or more people acting toward the same values" which is politics.  

I am apparently on a path of advocating the removal of the "right treatment of others" problem from ethics entirely, and moving that problem to politics.  Being ethically good but politically bad as in a benevolent king or competent Machiavellian politician or even some descriptions of sociopathic behavior is then given a conceptual framework. 

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8 hours ago, Grames said:

I am apparently on a path of advocating the removal of the "right treatment of others" problem from ethics entirely, and moving that problem to politics.

One consideration, however, is that you might be stranded on a desert island where there are too few people for a "political system" per se, but if there is more than one person, "right treatment of others" would still be important.

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33 minutes ago, necrovore said:

One consideration, however, is that you might be stranded on a desert island where there are too few people for a "political system" per se, but if there is more than one person, "right treatment of others" would still be important.

Well, let's not get carried away with discussions here that are tangential to the thread's purpose.  I invite you to review and reply over the thread about "What is the objective basis of politics?" and specifically my post https://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?/topic/37482-what-is-the-objective-basis-of-politics/&page=2#comment-379434

 

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Then the question still comes up: Is the Virtue of honesty in this context refer to one person or more than one person.

As in: Is it virtuous to be honest with others, or oneself? It is easily demonstrable that sometimes you must say a lie. But avoiding evasion is a requirement of survival.

9 hours ago, Grames said:

I am apparently on a path of advocating the removal of the "right treatment of others" problem from ethics entirely, and moving that problem to politics.  Being ethically good but politically bad as in a benevolent king or competent Machiavellian politician or even some descriptions of sociopathic behavior is then given a conceptual framework. 

I wonder if this is referring the the evil of "fraud" rather than lack of honesty. Although fraud has a requirement that honesty does not in that it requires an agreement that there will be honesty. Politically bad or good has to include for whom? Good for the ruler or the subject or both.

But I could see that "good politics" or "a good political system" would include a high frequency of honesty between members, for it to function well for everyone.

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On 10/28/2022 at 10:05 AM, Boydstun said:

It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person.

Could it be argued that it is against a person's self-interest to treat someone else rottenly?

On 10/28/2022 at 10:05 AM, Boydstun said:

Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs."

Could it be argued that it is in a person's self-interest to have some concern for the interest of others?

14 hours ago, Grames said:

I am apparently on a path of advocating the removal of the "right treatment of others" problem from ethics entirely, and moving that problem to politics.  Being ethically good but politically bad as in a benevolent king or competent Machiavellian politician or even some descriptions of sociopathic behavior is then given a conceptual framework. 

Isn't politics a branch of ethics?

 

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22 hours ago, Doug Morris said:
On 10/28/2022 at 11:42 PM, Grames said:

I am apparently on a path of advocating the removal of the "right treatment of others" problem from ethics entirely, and moving that problem to politics.  Being ethically good but politically bad as in a benevolent king or competent Machiavellian politician or even some descriptions of sociopathic behavior is then given a conceptual framework. 

Isn't politics a branch of ethics?

Implication being that you can't separate the right treatment of others from ethics. But it can be a political problem to solve rather than a non political one. I tend to categorize it as "societal" vs. "individual/personal", rather than political vs ethical.

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On 10/29/2022 at 5:13 PM, Doug Morris said:

. . .

Could it be argued that it is against a person's self-interest to treat someone else rottenly?

. . .

Could it be argued that it is in a person's self-interest to have some concern for the interest of others?

. . .

Yes and Yes. Those affirmations have been strongly argued. However, here the questions become the couple of corresponding questions:

Is voluntarily not treating someone rottenly properly only on account of one's self-interest?

Is voluntary concern for the interests of others properly only on account of one's self-interest?

My thesis has been No and No. If those negatives can be sustained against all counters to them, then an ethical theory upholding honesty as among the virtues it defends is not a theory in which honesty is successfully defended purely from self-interest. Failure at defending all the virtues upheld in an ethical theory purely by resort to self-interest is then, strictly speaking, failure to have an ethical theory that succeeds in being one of pure ethical egoism.

I'll not be able to deliver this year any of the productions I listed at the end of the initial post in this thread. That is because I need now to revise that paper I submitted for journal publication next April, in response to fine substantive comments now back to me from the editor.

I'll be back.

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7 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Is voluntarily not treating someone rottenly properly only on account of one's self-interest?

Is voluntary concern for the interests of others properly only on account of one's self-interest?

My thesis has been No and No.

Self-interest covers a lot of territory.  It is to at least some extent in my self-interest for the people around me to be happy as long as this does not come at too high a price, even if there are many of them I am unlikely to interact with and even if some of them are Nazis.  I was just looking at a news feed including pictures of some plants and horses on the other side of the country from me, and not all that close to anyone in my family; it is probably to at least some extent in my self-interest for those plants and horses to flourish as long as this does not come at too high a price, even if I never see or hear anything of them again.

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On 10/29/2022 at 5:13 PM, Doug Morris said:

Isn't politics a branch of ethics?

Yes.  So what that do?  It means the conclusions of ethics are the premises of politics when it comes to behavioral norms.

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 10/28/2022 at 9:05 AM, Boydstun said:

 

"Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic. When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person. Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs."

This is an interesting topic.  I look forward to exploring it a bit more.

 

On 10/29/2022 at 4:13 PM, Doug Morris said:

Could it be argued that it is against a person's self-interest to treat someone else rottenly?

That would depend on the particular "someone" we're talking about.

 

Treating a James Taggart or an Ellsworth Toohey rottenly is justice.  One shouldn't go out of one's way to inflict it, of course, but if some aspect of the pursuit of one's own happiness also happens to cause the suffering of the evil then so much the better - they are EVIL!

Since the interests of good and rational men do not conflict, one's pursuit of one's own happiness usually should not cause good people to suffer.  If it ever appears to then one should check whether they are, in fact, being good about the subject at hand and whether one is actually pursuing one's own happiness properly.

The only times when it is in one's self-interest to treat someone else rottenly are exclusively when that "someone" is an unmitigated douche canoe.

 

When it comes to telling the truth there is an added element of relative danger or safety involved.  Since knowledge is a guide to action and other people can act on what we tell them, telling true information to an evil person can endanger the good (as in the old cliché of whether or not one should honestly inform the Nazis of where the Jews are hiding).  This element primarily depends, not simply on that person's prior history, but on your own prediction of what they'll do in the future; do you think they WILL BE a douche canoe tomorrow, even if they weren't all that bad yesterday?

 

Two things to note, though:

Firstly, the fact that it is occasionally necessary to lie does not make lying good for one's own mental health.  Lying sucks; it feels bad, it fills your brain up with lots of useless tedium (and the amount of useless tedium grows in direct proportion to how long one must maintain the lie) and in the long-term it is very bad for your own happiness.

Secondly, because it is only in your own self-interest to lie when you believe someone would do something evil with the truth, to say "I can't tell this man the truth" is also to say "this is a bad man and an enemy of the good".  Anytime you ever find yourself thinking that you SHOULD lie to someone you should stop and think carefully about whether they truly are that bad, or whether you should just tell them the truth.  After a great deal of time and thought about this latter point I now conceive of lying as the first act of any war, great or small, past or future.

 

In principle, though, I disagree with the OP.  I think.

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On 10/28/2022 at 9:05 AM, Boydstun said:

"Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic. When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person. Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs."

If honesty was something we practiced for the sake of others (and lying were not harmful to one's own mental health) then why would it be a matter of rational self-interest to be honest?  Unless you're rejecting Rand's fundamental basis for ethics you seem to be trying to prove only that honesty versus dishonesty is not a matter of self-interest.

 

I think what we say to strangers is probably the most clean-cut way of analyzing it.

When I say something to a total stranger, I'm not rationally interested in whatever the content of his brain may be.  He's a stranger; he's not a friend, enemy, lover or mortal nemesis; he's just some dude who can think whatever he wants to think.  If he asks me for my opinion, should I tell him the truth because I TRULY give a shit what he thinks?  Or should I give him my actual opinion because there's no good reason for me to go to the effort of deceiving anybody, and my precious time and effort can better be spent on other things?

 

If it's not the latter then why is it in my rational self-interest to care what the content of anybody else's brain is?

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7 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

If honesty was something we practiced for the sake of others (and lying were not harmful to one's own mental health) then why would it be a matter of rational self-interest to be honest?  Unless you're rejecting Rand's fundamental basis for ethics you seem to be trying to prove only that honesty versus dishonesty is not a matter of self-interest.

 

I think what we say to strangers is probably the most clean-cut way of analyzing it.

When I say something to a total stranger, I'm not rationally interested in whatever the content of his brain may be.  He's a stranger; he's not a friend, enemy, lover or mortal nemesis; he's just some dude who can think whatever he wants to think.  If he asks me for my opinion, should I tell him the truth because I TRULY give a shit what he thinks?  Or should I give him my actual opinion because there's no good reason for me to go to the effort of deceiving anybody, and my precious time and effort can better be spent on other things?

 

If it's not the latter then why is it in my rational self-interest to care what the content of anybody else's brain is?

Good to see you again HD.

What happens when one looks at conversation as transactional?  That in a real sense when we offer statements as true we are offering in a market of interactions something potentially of value and in a real conversation, it is in exchange with other statements.

If a sort of trader principle applies… then wouldn’t offering up something worthless (a false statement) be kind of rotten?  I’m not talking about trading with criminals but innocent citizens.  Should not your offer and your exchange be genuine rather than fraudulent?  Now, it is in your rational self interest not to be rotten for the same reason you want to be a good trader in the world… but in the moment isn’t your immediate concern with the trade going well? 

I’m not sure but I might disagree with both of you.  

Not being rotten is both rationally in your self interest AND shows your concern includes others.  In fact your immediate concern for others can be self AND other interested when you are cooperatively building something.  building wealth or knowledge according to the trader principle seems pretty much win win.

We do not need another false dichotomy here.

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The case against willful deception has been clearly made.
But there is another element of honesty which is the act of revealing.
As in "excessively revealing" can also mean "honesty".

Evasion, deception, revealing (or transparency) muddy the water when identifying the virtue or the vice. And of course the societal version vs. the personal version
 

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5 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

The case against willful deception has been clearly made.
But there is another element of honesty which is the act of revealing.
As in "excessively revealing" can also mean "honesty".

Evasion, deception, revealing (or transparency) muddy the water when identifying the virtue or the vice. And of course the societal version vs. the personal version
 

These can easily be remedied, although perhaps with the cost of relationship norms.  A refusal to "deal" in a transaction has the analogue of refusing to answer and also refusing to excessively reveal.  The trader principle does not say one MUST always trade (in fact one must not trade if it cannot be one's benefit) primarily it deals with how one trades and why.

 

Transactionally, "evasion" does not exist, but refusal does.  IF an otherwise innocent person asks you point blank for an answer you do not believe is appropriate for you to give, you do not pretend to transact (tell him something, evade and deceive) you refuse to transact.  "I'm sorry but that is private" or "I'm sorry but that is not my secret to tell" or "I'm sorry I do not trust you with that information"

Deception should be morally exercised to prevent someone from immorally gaining a value or causing harm etc.  it would be like fraud if perpetrated on an innocent.   You should deceive the confessed killer out to murder your wife, but not lie to your neighbor for no good reason.

As for revealing or transparency... this seems to be equivalent to your obtaining possession of something which really belongs to someone else.  Private information, ill-gotten secrets, something someone said...

there you can take the side of justice ... or you can choose to take the side of a person.  This is where integrity and courage come in... what is rational should almost always side with what is just.

And information which is simply not someone's business... well they have no business asking, nor you answering.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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22 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

why is it in my rational self-interest to care what the content of anybody else's brain is?

The contents of their brain can spread to others; there's no telling how far this will go.  The contents of anyone's brain may well affect their actions; there's no telling how far the consequences will go.  There's an open-ended potential for this to come around and affect our interests.

 

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Harrison, a general good will towards people might be among the reasons for not wanting to put falsehoods in anyone's head unless you've specific good reason to do so. Therefore, one might form a habit to that effect, which does not require rethinking the whole issue every time someone asks you for information. 

Harrison, in the link from which I quoted in the first paragraph of the OP, I was indeed disputing the correctness of Rand's egoism in its beneficiary aspect. She recognized, in the intro to VOS, that this part of her ethical egoism required argument beyond her basic theory of value and her agent-egoism (the parts of her ethical theory I agree with).

I have stated many times that because ethical egoism is an essential part of Rand's philosophy Objectivism and I reject her full egoism package, I am not an Objectivist, notwithstanding all I agree with of it in many fundamental things. (If there's an essential of the philosophy you disagree with, you're not of that school; by the way, nothing conceived by Rand or her associates later that was not already in Galt's speech could possibly be an essential of the philosophy.) I have come around to a conjecture as to why so many readers, whether friends of Rand or opponents, cannot let it sink in that this writer and thinker (me) is a no-go on Rand's ethical egoism (which is the best one in the history of philosophy), and so I'm not an Objectivist in ethical theory. My conjecture is that people are so used to opponents of Rand distorting her views, which I do not. I think people who do those distortions have reached a tired stage of making dead their own minds. They don't really expect to be doing any new thinking or rethinking anything from seriously, accurately engaging with what Rand actually wrote.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This fall I needed to return to working on (a final draft of) a scholarly paper on Kant for a publication. That is why I have not yet returned to what I promised for this thread nor the thread on sacrifice. In the interim, I came across more recent thoughts from the Aristotelian scholar Richard Kraut concerning ethical egoism, more recent than I had written about in the piece "A Rejection of Egoism."* So I'll try to convey his more recent and more elaborate thoughts on that also when I can come back to serious posting.

Edited by Boydstun
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