The habit of taking care to give other people an accurate view of the information to which they are entitled.

a.k.a. truthfulness, veracity

There are some good arguments that the “little white lies” or lies told out of kindness (“does this make me look fat?”) are more harmful than people tend to think and that even those of us who think of ourselves as absolutely honest about important things ought to rededicate ourselves to being more straightforward even in the little things. See for example Sissela Bok’s Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life.

There are lots of ways to deceive without saying anything that’s not technically true; beware of getting into that habit.

On-line honesty has its own challenges. It’s hard to be candid when you know “cancel culture” may hold wrongthink against you in the future and the internet never forgets. People are incentivized to put forth online personae that include distortions, embellishments, or fabrications.

(Note: I sometimes see the word “honesty” in older books, such as translations of classic Latin texts, used to mean virtue in general, or integrity, or honor, or something of that sort, rather than to mean specifically a virtue with regard to truth-telling.)

Complementary virtues

Dedication to honesty also means cultivating the various intellectual virtues that help you to know the difference between what is true and what is false.

Contrasting vices

  • dishonesty

Virtues possibly in tension

How to acquire or strengthen it


Notes and links

Mentioned elsewhere

Inspirational quotes

  • William Paley: “a lie may be pernicious in its general tendency, and therefore criminal, though it produce no particular or visible mischief to any one”
  • “Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult…. Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings — much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth.” —George Eliot (Adam Bede)
  • “No feats of heroism are needed to achieve the greatest and most important changes in the existence of humanity…. it is only needful that each individual should say what he really feels or thinks, or at least that he should not say what he does not think. And if only a small body of the people were to do so at once, of their own accord, outworn public opinion would fall off us of itself, and a new, living, real opinion would assert itself. And when public opinion should thus have changed without the slightest effort, the internal condition of men’s lives which so torments them would change likewise of its own accord. One is ashamed to say how little is needed for all men to be delivered from those calamities which now oppress them; it is only needful not to lie.” ―Tolstoy
  • “To tell the truth is the same as to be a good tailor, or to be a good farmer, or to write beautifully. To be good at any activity requires practice: no matter how hard you try, you cannot do naturally what you have not done repeatedly. In order to get accustomed to speaking the truth, you should tell only the truth, even in the smallest of things.” —Tolstoy
  • “If anyone tells me it is an easy thing to speak the truth, I should tell him that he had never tried it.” —George MacDonald
  • “It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.” — Samuel Johnson