Meta Honesty

"Yes your butt looks fat in that. Hey, I’m just being honest."

In this quote, the first sentence may be honest, but the second seems not.   We do not just randomly choose when to be "honest," and to call attention to this honesty.   A quick survey of the practice of "radical honesty" suggests that we are more likely to be honest with criticism of others, and with praise of ourselves.   

Yes, you may think you honestly believe what you say, and you may see you have resisted social pressures to not say it.  But before you call yourself "honest", take a moment to ponder under what sorts of situations people tend to say what you said, and what that tendency says about their likely motives.  Don’t call yourself "honest" until you can also acknowledge those motives. 

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  • Doug S.

    I consider myself “honest” with scare quotes. I don’t “lie” but I do tell deceptive truths.

  • feudal france

    pls keep in mind depressives who (according to quite a good deal of research) are in fact more honest and less self deluding than most, wherein lies a paradox with happiness and success.

  • bw

    Excellent. To continue my plea for continental philosophy, is this not what Kierkegaard talks about with his distinction between objective and subjective truth? Because even though the sentence is objectively true it is not subjectively true, as it would be in answer to a question about it, for instance. He is very good laying out the distinction, although I am perfectly fine with meta honesty or reflexive honesty as well.

  • Lee Corbin

    “Yes your butt looks fat in that. Hey, I’m just being honest.”

    Robin: “In this quote, the first sentence may be honest, but the second seems not.”

    I think that both are honest. The reason it grates is that of the usual explanations for why we are reluctant to say “Your butt looks fat”, the most common is that we wish the person to continue to like us. So adding on “I’m just being honest” is a dumb and futile cheat, trying to have it both ways.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Lee, a “dumb and futile cheat” is “honest”?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    When I say, “Well, to be honest, your AI theory has absolutely no hope of succeeding,” I think I’m adding the qualifier to emphasize that honesty is rare and valuable – a gift given at cost to the giver – and if you ever want to see it again you’d better learn how to react well to it, whether you agree with it or not.

    Who can speak to my subconscious motives? Not I, for then they wouldn’t be subconscious, would they. No, on second thought that’s just an excuse for giving up.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Eliezer, to understand yourself better, first try to understand others better.

  • Lee Corbin

    When I said that the second half of “your butt looks fat, I’m just being honest” is also honest, I inferred that the speaker was describing the content of his statement about your butt. However I see now that “being honest” can better be read as applying to the speaker’s entire state of being.

    So I consider that yes, he was being honest about your butt, but that no, he was also in a state where he was trying to pull off a cheat.

    When Eliezer says, “Well, to be honest, your AI theory has absolutely no hope of succeeding,” he thinks he’s adding the qualifier to emphasize that honesty is rare and valuable. I maintain no, instead he’s doing it mostly because he’s conscious of being a bit ungracious, and wants you to think less poorly of him for it. (I approve of this diplomacy.)

  • Julian Morrison

    To start with, if you’re attributing a single motivation to yourself, you’re certainly being dishonest. People are multiple all the way down.

  • Declin

    “Yes your butt looks fat in that. Hey, I’m just being honest.”

    i believe is in no way an honest reply “what i mean is the answer should be” (compared to whom)……

    This would enable one to give an honest reply in respect to the question….