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What is Intellectual Honesty?

Intellectual Honesty

Intellectual Honesty must be understood as the maximum attempt at non-intentionality on the part of the issuer. And as fair play or respect for the receivers’ freedom of response. It is also that whoever is reflecting can look at the surprise of the conclusions of his thought. And is willing to support them, even when it does not suit him. That is why intellectual honesty is considered a cult of truth; a mode of appreciation for objectivity and verifiability, and contempt for falsehood and self-deception.

Intellectual honesty requires coherence and solidity of principles on the part of the issuer, be he an intellectual, a scientist, a journalist or a communicator. Being intellectually honest means being free, true to oneself and having a strong commitment to discernment and conscience.

The use of the public word must always be subject to the rules of intellectual honesty because it implies the exercise of a task that carries responsibilities.

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Observance Of Intellectual Honesty

The observance of intellectual honesty requires, therefore:

  • Independence of judgment: the habit of convincing oneself with evidence and not submitting to authority.
  • Intellectual courage: decision to defend the truth and criticize error, whatever its source and, very particularly, when the error is one’s own.
  • Love for intellectual freedom and, by extension, love for the individual and social freedoms that make them possible.
  • Sense of justice: willingness to take into account the rights and opinions of others, evaluating their respective foundations.

In any case, these virtues must arise from an internal, self-imposed code, and not depend on an external sanction.

Karl Popper’s Principles

The principles that Karl Popper postulated in 1981 at the University of Tübingen to define intellectual honesty were elaborated for the scientific world. However, because they offer a very broad perspective on this concept, they can be applied to multiple disciplines.

Five principles for a new professional ethics of the intellectual:

  1. Our objective conjectural knowledge always goes further than a person can master. That is why there is no authority. This also applies within specialties.
  2. It is impossible to avoid all errors, and even all those that, in themselves, are avoidable. All scientists make mistakes all the time. The old idea that errors can be avoided and that, therefore, there is an obligation to avoid them must be revised: the idea itself contains an error.
  3. Of course, it is still our duty to do our best to avoid mistakes. But precisely, to avoid them, we must first of all be very clear about how difficult it is to avoid them and that no one completely succeeds. Neither do the creative scientists, who let themselves be carried away by their intuition: intuition can also lead us to error.
  4. Errors may exist hidden from everyone’s knowledge, even in our best-tested theories; thus, the specific task of the scientist is to search for such errors.
  5. Therefore, we have to change our attitude towards our mistakes. It is here that we must begin our practical reform of ethics. Because the attitude of the old professional ethics forced us to cover up our mistakes, keep them secret and forget about them as soon as possible.

Other Ideas: honesty, hypocrisy and simulation

According to Alejandro Katz, lies are never absent from political life. But in a hierarchy of vices, lying does not occupy the main place: nobody expects absolute public sincerity from politicians. It is more: some thinkers like Hobbes or Mandeville , have even argued in favor of a certain degree of hypocrisy. Judith Shklar , in her classic book on “Ordinary Vices”, reserves the worst, the most infamous place for cruelty, and points out that hypocrisy is inevitable in politics, which has led her to affirm: “democratic politics it is only possible with some dissimulation and pretense”.

Hypocrisy is undoubtedly a prominent feature of political discourse and double standard practices. Just as the permanent succession of lies is something other than a great lie, the endless succession of hypocritical behavior is not a great hypocrisy. It is a simulacrum, and the simulacrum, unlike lies and hypocrisy, has no connection with the truth, it is indifferent to how things are in reality.

The simulator, unlike the liar, does not care about the truth. Therefore, his speech is what is called bullshit in English: chatter, verbiage, charlatanism. The simulator is not interested in lying about something in particular: he is interested in satisfying his objectives and, for that, he aspires to manipulate the opinions and attitudes of his public, without paying any attention to the relationship between his speech and the truth. It is, as Harry Frankfurt wrote in a now classic essay on the concept of bullshit. “An empty speech, which has neither substance nor content”.

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Intellectual Honesty according to Sam Harris (neuroscientist)

Whichever way we look, we see men and women who one would call sane going to extraordinary lengths not to have to change their minds. Obvious: many people don’t like to be “seen” changing their minds. Although they would be willing to do so privately or internally and on their own terms, perhaps from reading a book. This fear that our public image will  harm entails a fundamental error. And that is where it is convenient to place oneself in the position, precisely, of those who “sees” us. Stubbornly clinging to our convictions beyond the point where their falsity has been demonstrating, clearly does not make us see anything good.

Intellectual honesty allows us to step outside of ourselves and think in ways that others may (and should) find appealing. It all depends on understanding that wanting something to be true is not enough to make it true, but rather the opposite. It should make us think that we are a little out of touch with reality. In that sense, intellectual honesty makes true knowledge possible.

Lastly, another way of transgressing intellectual honesty is when, for example, the investment of the amount  resortes to. A good example of this in the religious sphere is linking poverty with laziness. In the Bible the word poverty appears 180 times and only once it links with laziness.

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