JS Tip 158: From the Ethics Workshops: The Case for Honesty

The classic argument against absolute honesty is called “The Dutch Partisan” argument:

You’re a Dutch partisan hiding Jews in your basement during World War II. The pounding of rifle stocks on your front door terrifies everyone in the house.

You open the door and a squad of Nazi soldiers confronts you. “Do you have Jews in this house?”

And you answer . . . .

You answer “No,” because it’s the right and moral thing to do. The lives of the innocent are more important than the honesty of your answer.

So, the argument goes, honesty isn’t always the best policy.

Wait a minute.

Waitwaitwaitwaitwait. Back the truck up.

Sure, it’s a valid argument. But it’s not an applicable argument. Given these circumstances, it’s okay to lie. But when have you ever been given these circumstances?

Honesty is the best policy.

If you’re not comfortable answering a question, be honest and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable answering that question.”     

If you have questions, comments, or arguments, let us know. We’ve said this before: We love this stuff.    

An anniversary: Three years ago, on Friday, April 10th, 2009, we published our first Tip. It’s been a great adventure. It continues to be. Thank you for your support.