Why truthfulness matters
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Judith Shklar ranks dishonesty among the ‘ordinary vices’: ‘the sort of conduct we all expect, nothing spectacular or unusual’ (1984: 1). Our interest here is in dishonesty in communication – untruthfulness. Is untruthfulness one of the ‘common ills we inflict upon one another every day’ (1984: 1)? How we answer will depend on what we count as ‘untruthful’: is every instance of pretence or concealment an instance of untruthfulness (even if not done in order to cause anyone to believe what is false)? For all our familiarity with the vice of untruthfulness, deciding what to count as untruthful is by no means easy and uncontroversial. Nor is it altogether easy to show why untruthfulness is a vice, even if everyone agrees that it is. What to count as untruthful – whether, for example, all lies are untruthful or whether there are ‘honest lies’, we will take up in the next chapter. Here let us consider why truthfulness matters – what makes it a virtue.