Re: On honesty

Jan de Koning (
Mon, 02 Feb 1998 11:44:15 -0500

At 02:07 PM 31/01/98 -0600, Tom Pearson wrote in reply to:
John W Burgeson:
> Two comments and a question.
> First, anyone who subscribes to a deontological ethics (Kantian,
>respect for persons, or natural law) would normally be very hesitant to say
>that "the right thing to do is to be dishonest." Dishonesty is never a
>viable option for the deontologist. They might say it is in fact the
>Gestapo who are putting the Jewish neighbors in jeopardy, and lying to
>protect them simply compounds the moral failure. Your answer suggests that
>you are, instead, a consequentialist (in this case, a utilitarian). Your
>response to the deontologist here may be something like, "Nonsense! If I
>tell the Gestapo where my neighbors are, I am just as responsible for
>sending them to their deaths as are those German agents." If that's what
>you would say, then you are pointing to the ultimate consequence of your
>action: it would be bad for your Jewish neighbors. Thus, dishonesty would
>be the best policy. But a deontologist is morally indifferent to
>consequences, arguing that those cannot be controlled. What counts is the
>moral quality of the specific action itself, and lying is always immoral.
>(Unless, I suppose, you didn't regard the Gestapo at the door as rational
>moral agents, in which case lying to them is neither moral nor immoral).
>The upshot is that only those who adhere to some form of ethical
>consequentialism would find your final paragraph above to be the obvious
> Second, even for the consequentialist, it is not a matter of
>devaluing the virtue of honesty in favor of some other virtue, even in the
>Gestapo example you offered. In this case, honesty is, pragmatically, less
>effective in securing the end result you desire -- saving the lives of your
>neighbors -- than is relying on the virtue of, say, compassion. But that
>doesn't mean honesty is of lesser importance, just that it wasn't the best
>modus operandi in this particular case, given the specific consequence you
>wish to achieve.
> Finally, a question. I haven't read Stephen Carter's book, but I'm
>puzzled that "integrity" would be regarded as a virtue. In fact, I'm not
>sure I know what kind of thing "integrity" is. I would have thought
>integrity was a capacity for integrating and balancing the many virtues we
>may acquire, and not equivalent to a virtue itself. Or is it the same thing
>as "consistency in moral behavior"? Can you briefly describe the way
>Carter defines "integrity"? And can you say why you offered it in the first
>place as a superior replacement for "honesty"?
>Tom Pearson

During the war, and before I spent three years in hiding myself, I heard
sermons telling us, that "truth" meant "faithfullness" in the Bible.
Consequence of that was that, when one was asked if someone was hiding in
your house your answer was to be "no." These pastors risked their own life
in order to save others. Just imagine, that the man in whose house I was
hiding had said "Yes" to any Gestapo agent. What would happen? Either he
or I would be killed. That was the reality. So being "faithfull" = true
to one's neighbour required to speak the "truth" even when the majority of
people would call it a lie. Think of instances in the Bible where these
situations are told. Jericho and Rahab in Joshua 2, for example.

Jan de Koning
Willowdale, Ont.