Know thyself vs. know one another

People often aspire to the ideal of honesty, implicitly including both honesty to themselves and honesty with others. Those who care about it a lot often aim to be as honest as they can bring themselves to be, across circumstances. If the aim is to get correct information to yourself and other people however, I think this approach isn’t the greatest.

There is probably a trade off between being honest with yourself and honest to others, so trying hard to be honest to others only detriments being honest to yourself, which in turn also prevents correct information getting to others.

Why would there be a trade off? Imagine your friend said, ‘I promise that anything you tell me I will repeat to anyone who asks’. How honest would you be with that friend? If you say to yourself that you will report your thoughts to others, why wouldn’t the same effect apply?

Progress in forcing yourself to be honest to others must be somewhat an impediment to being honest to yourself. Being honest with yourself is presumably also a disincentive to your being honest with others later, but that is less of a cost, since if you are dishonest with yourself you are presumably deceiving them about those topics either way.

For example imagine you are wondering what you really think of your friend Errol’s art. If you are committed to truthfully admitting whatever the answer is to Errol or your other friends, it will be pretty tempting to sincerely interpret whatever experience you are having as ‘liking Errol’s art’. This way both you and the others come off deceived. If you were committed to lying in such circumstances, you would at least have the freedom to find out the truth yourself. This seems like the superior option for the truth-loving honesty enthusiast.

This argument relies on the assumptions that you can’t fully consciously control how deluded you are about the contents of your brain, and that the unconscious parts of your mind that control this respond to incentives. These things both seem true to me.

5 responses to “Know thyself vs. know one another

  1. We probably have implicitly applied this. For example, when you say to your friend who you want to realize her mistake, “Please just think about it again. You don’t even have to let me know if you change your mind later on. Or at least you can not give me credit for doing so”.

    Or maybe I’m being weird for this suggestion to even occur to me.

    Like

  2. I think it depends both on about whom and to whom you would like to be honest. If you want to be honest with yourself about how you see your friends, you might be better off having a willingness to lie to them. However, if you plan to be honest with your friends about how you see yourself, you’ve created an incentive to have a bias towards a more flattering view of yourself.

    Like

  3. This is one of the major claims I frequently make.

    Like

  4. Quote: “Why would there be a trade off? Imagine your friend said, ‘I promise that anything you tell me I will repeat to anyone who asks’. How honest would you be with that friend? If you say to yourself that you will report your thoughts to others, why wouldn’t the same effect apply?”

    Aren’t you conflating honesty and openness?

    Like

  5. Caring less about what others think of you facilitates both sorts of honesty.

    Like

Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s