My fellow Colorado neo-Objectivist-type friend Diana Hsieh has a new blog (well, I'm more post-Randian than neo-Objectivist, but you get the picture). Lots of content on the ethics of honesty there, which is a hot topic for her right now given that she's using that as the topic of her paper for admission to the philosophy program at the University of Colorado Boulder.
I attended an informal talk she gave on the topic about a week ago, and it was pretty interesting, even though I thought the small audience in attendance (and Diana herself) skirted some of the tough issues and hard cases. Personally it is one of my policies in life to be scrupulously honest, so I'm not in favor of lying, dissembling, or deceipt (I always distrust people who begin any sentence with "To be honest with you..."). Yet I do think there are times when other values trump honesty. The standard Randian example (actually it comes from her slavish disciple Leonard Peikoff) is that one has no obligation to be honest when the Nazi storm troopers ask if you're hiding Jews in the attic. But I think there are situations other than being on the receiving end of the initiation of force when honesty is not necessary or advisable. The example I brought up at Diana's talk was that of a good friend who is rushing in to give a presentation to the board of the company and asks me quickly how she looks. Now, the 100%-honest reply is something along the lines of "You've got bags under your eyes and look like you haven't slept in three days, and actually now that you mention it you could definitely stand to lose a few pounds, have you thought about starting an exercise program?". Is that a helpful or caring thing for me to say? No. But it is "honest". In this situation one could argue that my friend is not actually asking me for information about her appearance, but rather for support and encouragement -- which is what I'll give her when instead of being fully honest I say something like "You look great, knock 'em dead!"
Ayn Rand once said that "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." If you ask me, those under her influence would do well to reflect on that insight.
BTW, it seems that Diana's husband Paul has resurrected their old GeekPress site -- back then it was something of a smarter Slashdot, now it is Paul's weblog. How many dual-blog couples exist out there, I wonder? :-)
Peter Saint-Andre > Journal