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Is it ever moral to be dishonest?

by Jason on July 28th, 2011

This question was asked on Objectivist Answers. Here is my answer:

No, not if you mean literally dishonest. Honesty is “the refusal to fake reality” (OPAR, p. 267, cited in the Glossary of Objectivist Definitions). Dishonesty thus consists of faking reality in some way, and is never moral.

Dishonesty is not the same as lying or deceit. Not every lie is dishonest, in the sense of faking reality. To lie is “to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive” (Merriam-Webster). Most lies are dishonest—for instance, lying about cheating on one’s wife in order to preserve a marriage, or about one’s qualifications in order to get a job. But there are honest lies—to protect oneself from a criminal, for instance; to deceive the enemy in wartime; even to protect one’s privacy from the prying questions of strangers.

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3 Comments
  1. Tom DeChaine permalink

    I know what you are saying but don’t see the distinction being appropriate. I would say that a lie is an example of dishonesty, but that there are circumstances where lying/being dishonest is moral: when one’s motives are honest and moral; e.g. self-defense.

  2. Jason permalink

    Tom, how can you be “dishonest” for “honest” motives? That seems like a contradiction.

    However, you can lie—that is, make a statement with intent to deceive—for honest motives, in certain rare cases.

    That’s why I make the distinction.

  3. Tom DeChaine permalink

    My fuller article – http://rff-td.blogspot.com/2011/07/honesty.html
    shows that lying is dishonesty – the form that can be moral in a certain context.

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