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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and denotes positive, virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness along with the absence of lying, cheating, or theft[1].



In discourse a statement can be strictly true and still be dishonest if the intention of the statement is to deceive its audience. Similarly, a falsehood can be spoken honestly if the speaker actually believes it to be true, assuming the speaker doesn't unfairly reject or suppress evidence. Conversely, dishonesty can be defined simply as behavior that is performed with intent to deceive or to manipulate the truth.


While there are a great many moral systems, generally speaking, honesty is considered moral and dishonesty is considered immoral. There are several exceptions, such as hedonism, which values honesty only insofar as it improves ones own sense of pleasure, and moral nihilism, which denies the existence of objective morality outright. Honesty may also be challenged in various social systems with ideological stakes in self-preservation (many religious and national formations might be so characterized, but so too might be many family structures, and other small social collectives). In these cases honesty is frequently encouraged publicly, but may be retroactively forbidden and punished in an ex post facto manner if those invested in preserving the system perceive it as a threat. Depending on the social system, these breaches might be characterized as heresy, treason, or impoliteness. So ultimately, there are a great number of opinions about honesty. Even in moral systems which approve in general of honesty over dishonesty, some people think there are situations in which dishonesty may be preferable. Others would not define preferable behaviors as dishonest by reasoning that they are not intended to deceive others for personal gain, but the intent is more noble in character, for example sparing people of opinions that will upset them. Rather than dishonesty, that behavior is often viewed as self sacrifice - giving up one's voice for the happiness of others. But it can hardly be a universal approach to either determining honesty or morality. In many circumstances, with-holding one's opinions can legitimately be viewed as cowardly, dishonest and a betrayal to those who will be hurt, discriminated against and unfairly judged due to false beliefs that are left unchallenged. For this reason, many people insist that an objective approach to the truth is a necessary component of honesty as opposed to an ideological or idealistic approach.


Two theories of honesty exist.[2] First, the ‘‘Will’’ hypothesis in which honesty comes from the active resistance of temptation and links to the controlled cognitive processes that enable delay in regard to reward. Second, the ‘‘Grace’’ hypothesis in which honesty comes from the absence of temptation and links to research upon the presence or absence of automatic processes in determining behavior. Most people tend to favor the Will hypothesis.[2] However, functional imaging and reaction time research supports the latter hypothesis since individuals that are honest in a situation in which they can lie showed no sign of engaging additional controlled cognitive processes.[2]


  1. ^ "Oxford English Dictionary honesty". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  2. ^ a b c Greene JD, Paxton JM. (2009). Patterns of neural activity associated with honest and dishonest moral decisions. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 106:12506–12511 PMID 19622733 doi:10.1073/pnas.0900152106


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Quotations about honesty.


  • "All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of goodness."
  • "But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons."
  • "Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you."
  • "Honesty is the best policy."
    • English proverb, 16th century
  • "When men cease to be faithful to their God, he who expects to find them so to each other will be much disappointed."
    • Bishop Horne, A Commentary on the Book of Psalm, psalm XII
  • "No man is bound to be rich or great, no, nor to be wise; but every man is bound to be honest."
    • Sir Benjamin Rudyard, Hansard's Parliamentary History p. 235, March 1627
  • "Let honesty be as the breath of thy soul, and never forget to have a penny, when all thy expenses are enumerated and paid: then shalt thou reach the point of happiness, and independence shall be thy shield and buckler, thy helmet and crown; then shall thy soul walk upright nor stoop to the silken wretch because he hath riches, nor pocket an abuse because the hand which offers it wears a ring set with diamonds."
  • "The man who is so conscious of the rectitude of his intentions as to be willing to open his bosom to the inspection of the world, is already in possession of one of the strongest pillars of a decided character. The course of such a man will be firm and steady, because he has nothing to fear from the world, and is sure of the approbation and support of Heaven."
    • William Wirt, An Address delivered Before the Peithessophian and Philoclean Societies of Rutgers College 20 July 1830
  • "Honesty is the best policy;" but he who acts on that principle is not an honest man.
    • Richard Whately, On Some Obstacles to the Attainment of Truth, and to its Progress in the World
  • "The leading idea is, nothing really succeeds which is not based on reality; the sham, in a large sense, is never successful; that in the life of the individual, as in the more comprehensive life of the state, pretension is nothing and power is everything."


  • "Honesty is the moral conscience of the great."
    • William D’Avenant
  • "No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar."
  • "We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger."
    • Tad Williams
  • "Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest we have no right to keep him in public life, it matters not how brilliant his capacity, it hardly matters how great his power of doing good service on certain lines may be."
  • "A half truth is a whole lie."
    • Yiddish Proverb
  • "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."
  • "The first step toward greatness is to be honest, says the proverb; but the proverb fails to state the case strong enough. Honesty is not only "the first step toward greatness,"—it is greatness itself."
    • Bovee
  • "The man who pauses in his honesty wants little of a villain."
    • H. Martyn
  • "Honesty is the best poetry."
    • Gregory Alan Elliott
  • "The more honesty a man has, the less he affects the air of a saint."
  • "There are people who think that honesty is always the best policy. This is a superstition; there are times when the appearance of it is worth six of it."
  • "What is becoming is honest, and whatever is honest must always be becoming.”
  • "Fire is the spirit of candle and honesty is the spirit of man. Without spirit, there shall be no light but darkness."
  • “If you act like an honest person, you won't get very far like that."
    • Swami Raj
  • “Honesty: The most important thing in life. Unless you really know how to fake it, you'll never really make it.”
    • Bernard Rosenberg
  • “It's easier to be dishonest for two than for one.”
  • "Prefer loss before dishonest gain; for that brings grief but once; this forever."
    • Chilo
  • "A straight line is the shortest in morals as well as in geometry."
    • Rahel
  • "The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be in reality what we should appear to be."
  • "Money dishonestly acquired is never worth its cost, while a good conscience never costs as much as it is worth."
    • J. P. Senn
  • "He who says that there is no such thing as an honest man is himself a knave."
    • Berkeley

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Hymn XII. Honesty
by Christopher Smart
From the Hymns for the Amusement of Children (1771).

                     HYMN XII.                     


I have a house, the house of prayer,
      (No spy beneath my eaves)
And purring gratitude is there,[1]
      And he that frights the thieves.

5 If I of honesty suspend
      My judgment, making doubt,
I have a good domestic friend,[2]
      That soon shall point it out.

'Tis to be faithful to my charge,
10      And thankful for my place,
And pray that God my pow'rs enlarge,
      To act with greater grace.

To give my brother more than due,
      In talent or in name;
15Nor e'en mine enemy pursue,
      To hurt, or to defame.

Nay, more to bless him and to pray,
      Mine anger to controul;
And give the wages of the day
20      To him, that hunts my soul.[3]



  1. 3. In "Jubilate Agno" (B726) Smart describes his Cat Jeoffrey as follows: "For he purrs in thankfulness? when God tells him he's good Cat".
  2. 7. "a good domestic friend" Karina Williamson thinks that this is presumable the conscience. She also notes that Abraham called his wife "my fair domestic friend" (Abimelech i. 64)
  3. 19-20. Karina Williamson notes that "wages of the day" are intended in merciful, not retributive, sense. In line 20 there is an echo of David's words to Saul: "I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it!" (Samuel 1, 24:11)

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


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