Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Honesty as a Virtue

An important moral virtue which Aristotle does not discuss in his Nicomachean Ethics is honesty. The moral virtue of honesty would require a man to tell the truth about everything all of the time. His honesty would have to be his prime virtue. Thus, it would have to override all of his other virtues. An honest man would be expected to put everything aside for the sake of his honesty. If he were to even exaggerate the truth, then he could not be considered an honest man. If he considers honesty to be a moral virtue, then for him to lie would be immoral. A man who is honest would then be considered a moral person. Thus, if he is a moral person, he must then be considered to be a good man. Although, even if he is a good man, he would even be required to be completely honest even if his honesty were to cause harm to others.
For example, if a friend were to ask him for advice, he would have to give a completely honest opinion even if he knew what he had to say would hurt his friend. Another example of this would be if he were to find out that a friend had stolen something and the friend was being sought by the authorities. Because he is an honest man, if he were to be questioned about his knowledge of the crime, he would be obligated to tell the truth. Although in these situations, it may seem as though the man should spare his friend’s feelings, or his friend’s freedom, he could not be considered an honest man if he did so.

From this I have gathered that honesty is a complex idea. What does it mean to be honest and how can you go about being honest without being crass? Do you have to sacrifice one for the other? Which is more important, being completely honesty, or being tactful? It's hard to do both because if you're completely honest, many times you can not avoid hurting somebody's feelings, yet, if even if you are tactful, you risk sugar coating the truth.

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