Before I read Reputable Conduct, particularly chapter four, I regarded honesty as one of the most supreme attributes among mankind. An honest person does not just simply recount the facts accurately, as opposed to distorting or omitting important information, rather the honest person also admits mistakes and comes clean about who he or she is. Honesty means integrity to truth about the world and about the individual. The liar or deceiver distorts not only the facts but his or her personal image.
Jones and Carlson (2004) define honesty most clearly in chapter four, in the context of teaching ethics. The topic relates to the question of the chapter: should, and if so how should, teacher educate their students about their personal moral perspectives? In other words, what’s the role of indoctrination in the classroom?
The authors tell the story of a student cheating on a test, who then claimed he would not do so as a police officer: “The student clearly felt that it was okay to be dishonest in one’s personal life but not in one’s professional life” (p. 54). Here honesty takes the form of action; it is not merely representing facts, it describes the way a person approached a test. The chapter concludes with the following remark, “I feel confident that an honest, open discussion about the foregoing points will go a long way to head off any unpleasant misunderstandings” (p. 62). Honesty aligns with personal integrity and openness, suggesting a more existential definition of honesty, where people admit with accuracy how they feel and what they think.
Jones and Carlson’s view of honesty augmented my own with an entirely new category. Action, they authors implicitly show, sits firmly within the scope of honesty. Honesty regards not only the facts and the telling, nor only the person and integrity; honesty means acting according to the law. In the book’s case, these law pertained to test-taking, but in the greater world, honestly essentially means obedience to the established system of justice. For officers and civilians, we need a rigorous look at what it means to be honest and what it means to enforce honesty.
- Jones, J. & D. Carlson. (2004). Reputable Conduct: Ethical Issues in Policing and Correction. 2nd Ed. Pearson Custom Publishing.