08-Nov-2005

>Honesty

In a great book “Ayn Rand and Business”, the authors, Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni, write about Ayn Rand’s concept of honesty.

“The word "honesty" is commonly used to describe the action of telling the truth in our dealings with other people, of not lying to them. In Objectivism, however, it has a broader meaning. The virtue of honesty, explained Rand, means "that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner."

While the typical enjoinder against lying warns of the harm the liar does to others, Rand turned that conclusion on its head and rejected dishonesty because it harms the liar. By lying or otherwise behaving dishonestly, she reasoned, we put ourselves in opposition to reality. Dishonest people end up trying to gain value by evading reality and convincing others that the pretend is real. In essence, the dishonest per­son is forced to gain value from other people, a course of ac­tion that Rand repeatedly showed to be disastrous.

Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, took a simi­lar view of dishonest behavior when he articulated his per­sonal philosophy for living in his 1957 business biography, Be Our Guest. "Once you start it," he warned readers, "there's no place that deception can stop-and of course it has to start with self-deception, even if it's only the self-deception of be­lieving we can get away with it. True, sometimes we are not ‘discovered.' But all of modern psychology and psychiatry is based on the belief that our self-deceptions drive things into our subconscious where they make all kinds of trouble..." Rand would surely have agreed with Hilton's conclusion: “Be honest.”

So, Objectivists oppose dishonesty primarily for the im­pact it has on the individual who practices it. They define the virtue of honesty, like all of the virtues, as a selfish practice and, therefore, a legitimate one.

For all of the Objectivist emphasis on honesty in relation to reality, Rand's followers before that honesty among people is a virtue that depends on the context in which it will be ap­plied. In a world that conforms to Objectivist values, hon­esty is the best policy. But the world that we live in is not al­ways rational, and our obligation to behave honestly is not an absolute obligation.

"Lying is absolutely wrong-under certain circum­stances," explained Leonard Peikoff. "It is wrong when a man does it in an attempt to obtain a value. But, to take a dif­ferent kind of case, lying to protect one's values from crimi­nals is not wrong."

We have no obligation to be honest with those who are behaving dishonestly, nor do we have an obligation to be honest in our relations with an organization or government that is dishonest. The pirate hero of Atlas Shrugged, Ragnar Danneskjold, provides Rand's most flamboyant illustration of the point.

Danneskjold is one striker who is not content to let the world grind to a halt on its own. He commits criminal acts - sinking ships, destroying factories, and stealing gold-against the looters, who have been dishonestly seizing the property of the world's few productive minds. An odd version of Robin Hood, Danneskjold is stealing gold and re­turning it to the rich producers from whom it was taken. He answers the looters with looting, the dishonest with dishon­esty, and, in doing so, hastens their collapse.

In Rand's first published novel, we the Living, the heroine Kira Agrounova dishonestly initiates a love affair with a So­viet officer in order to obtain food and medicine to save the man she loves. In Randian terms, the girl's actions are justified by the evils of the political system that she is forced to live under. As we'll see in the next chapter and in an interest­ing contrast to Rand's robber pirate, Agrounova's dishonesty does not lead to any happy end.

The virtue of honesty can be applied to an individual's in­ternal and external communication.
=> First, Objectivists are internally honest in the relationship between their own minds and reality.
=>They are intellectually honest, refusing to either deceive themselves or to be dishonest in their own thinking.
=>Objectivists strive to be externally honest in their relationships with other people (except, as noted above, when honesty threatens the maintenance of more fundamental values).”

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