|Bob Mac wrote, |
Another example is the number of "white" lies people tell is so enormous that it is not logical to conclude that this is damaging. I replied, "Why not? The amount of infidelity in the world is enormous too, but that doesn't mean that it's not damaging." Bob replied,
Well, I don't think it makes any sense to compare small, relatively meaningless lies to a huge one like this. I agree; I was simply challenging the validity of your argument. You argued that it isn't logical to conclude that white lies are damaging, because the number is so enormous, implying that the enormity of an action's frequency is proof that isn't damaging. The point of my rejoinder was that if that were true, then infidelity wouldn't be damaging, because it happens so frequently. In other words, I was arguing that your conclusion is a non-sequitur. In fact, I think that white lies can be damaging, insofar as they undermine trust where it can legitimately be expected. If you can't trust your SO to give you her honest opinion about relatively trivial matters, then how can you trust her to do so on more important issues?
I wrote that lying to people who have no right to the information in order to protect its confidentiality "would not constitute a breach of honesty, because the person has no right to the information." Bob replied,
No no no, you can't willy-nilly redefine what honesty is to suit your purpose. It is simply acceptable to lie in this case or it is not. The definition of honesty and truth remains constant. I can see that I should have been clearer. I was referring to the breach of an appropriate principle of honesty -- to a breach of honesty where honesty can legitimately be expected.
I mentioned Peikoff's position that lying to a caller about your boss's unwillingness to talk to him is not really a breach of honesty, because it is understood that the caller cannot expect a frank response. Bob called Peikoff's view "remarkably stupid," a "really dumb statement" and "pure nonsense." Again, it is important to understand that what Peikoff is referring to is an appropriate principle of honesty -- a breach of honesty where honesty can legitimately be expected. Given that understanding, I certainly wouldn't characterize his position the way you have, even though I'm still not sure it's correct. What I'm unsure about is not that it condones a lie -- of course, it does -- but that it is consistent with an appropriate principle of honesty. An appropriate principle of honesty does not say that you should never lie -- that you should never be dishonest under any circumstances; it says that you should never lie to someone who deserves to be told the truth. I'm not sure that the caller doesn't deserve to be told the truth in this case. Do you think that he does, Bob, or do you agree with Peikoff that he does not?
I think you may have been laboring under the misconception that when Rand advocates "honesty" as a moral principle, she is saying that one should never tell a lie under any circumstances. This is absolutely not her position. Why then does she call her principle "honesty," you ask? Well, what else is she going to call it? There's no other term that's appropriate. I don't think very many people who believe in being "honest" would say that one should NEVER tell a lie, not even to save one's child from being murdered. What people typically mean by the virtue of honesty is honesty under the appropriate circumstances. To be sure, these need to be spelled out, but that doesn't mean that "the virtue of honesty" cannot be used to refer to such a principle, appropriately qualified.