Diogenes Searching for an Honest Man, attributed to J. H. W. Tischbein (c. 1780)

Honesty or truthfulness is a facet of moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness (including straightforwardness of conduct: earnestness), along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. Honesty also involves being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere.

A reputation for honesty is denoted by terms like reputability and trustworthiness. Honesty about one's future conduct, loyalties, or commitments is called accountability, reliability, dependability, or conscientiousness.

Someone who goes out of their way to tell possibly unwelcome truths extends honesty into the region of candor or frankness. The Cynics engaged in a challenging sort of frankness like this called parrhêsia.=


Honesty is valued in many ethnic and religious cultures.[1] "Honesty is the best policy" is a proverb of Edwin Sandys, while the quote "Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom" is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, as used in a letter to Nathaniel Macon.[2] April 30 is national Honesty Day in the United States.

William Shakespeare described honesty as an attribute people leave behind when he wrote that "no legacy is so rich as honesty" in act 3, scene 5 of "All's Well that Ends Well."[3]

Tolstoy thought that honesty was revolutionary: “No feats of heroism are needed to achieve the greatest and most important changes in the existence of humanity.... it is only needful that each individual should say what he really feels or thinks, or at least that he should not say what he does not think.”[4] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ("Live Not By Lies," 1974) and Václav Havel (The Power of the Powerless, 1978) agreed. Havel wrote:

[L]iving within the truth has more than a mere existential dimension (returning humanity to its inherent nature), or a noetic dimension (revealing reality as it is), or a moral dimension (setting an example for others). It also has an unambiguous political dimension. If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living the truth.

The 18th century enlightenment philosopher William Wollaston argued that all religion ultimately reduces to ethics and all ethics reduces to honesty (The Religion of Nature Delineated, 1722). “[E]very intelligent, active, and free being should so behave himself, as by no act to contradict truth; ...treat every thing as being what it is.” All else would follow from that.

Immanuel Kant made the duty of honesty a core example of his ethical theories.

Others noted, however, that "too much honesty might be seen as undisciplined openness".[5] For example, individuals may be perceived as being "too honest" if they honestly express the negative opinions of others, either without having been asked their opinion, or having been asked in a circumstance where the response would be trivial. This concern manifests in political correctness, with individuals refraining from expressing their true opinions due to a general societal condemnation of such views. Research also found that honesty can lead to interpersonal harm because people avoid information about how their honest behavior affects others.[6]


Merriam-Webster defines honesty as "fairness and straightforwardness of conduct" or "adherence to the facts".[7]

The Oxford English Dictionary defines honesty as "the quality of being honest."[8] Honest is, in turn, defined as "Free of deceit; truthful and sincere...Morally correct or virtuous...(attributive) Fairly earned, especially through hard work...(of an action) done with good intentions even if unsuccessful or misguided...(attributive) Simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated.[9]

See also


  1. ^
    • Rogers, Carl R. (1964). "Toward a modern approach to values: The valuing process in the mature person". The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 68 (2): 160–67.
    • Dahlsgaard, Katherine; Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.P. (2005). "Shared Virtue: The Convergence of Valued Human Strengths Across Culture and History". Review of General Psychology. 9 (3): 203–13.
    • Hilbig, Benjamin E.; Zettler, Ingo (2009). "Pillars of cooperation: Honesty–Humility, social value orientations, and economic behavior". Journal of Research in Personality. 43 (3): 516–19.
    • Van Lange, Paul A.M.; Kuhlman, D. Michael (1994). "Social value orientations and impressions of partner's honesty and intelligence: A test of the might versus morality effect". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 67 (1): 126–41.
    • Schluter, Dolph; Price, Trevor (1993). "Honesty, Perception and Population Divergence in Sexually Selected Traits". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 253 (1336): 117–22.
  2. ^ "Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon". The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651–1827. January 12, 1819. Archived from the original on October 6, 2017. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  3. ^ William Shakespeare. All's Well That Ends Well Archived 2019-06-12 at the Wayback Machine MIT Shakespeare.
  4. ^ Tolstoy, Lev (1894), On Patriotism
  5. ^ MacKinnon, Barbara; Fiala, Andrew (2015). Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues (Concise ed.). p. 93.[ISBN missing]
  6. ^ Levine, E.; Munguia Gomez, D. (2021). "'I'm just being honest.' When and why honesty enables help versus harm". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 120 (1): 33–56. doi:10.1037/pspi0000242. PMID 32463271. S2CID 218977238. Archived from the original on 2021-04-13. Retrieved 2021-02-05 – via APA PsycNet.
  7. ^ "Honesty". Merriam-Webster. 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-10-06.
  8. ^ "Honesty". Oxford English Dictionary. 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-10-06.
  9. ^ "Honest". Oxford English Dictionary. 2017. Archived from the original on 2016-09-28.