Virtues/Good Faith

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Introduction[edit]

Good faith is the virtue of truthfulness. You might call it sincerity, truthfulness, honesty, veracity, candor, or authenticity, the particular word chosen is less important than the deep respect for the truth they each convey. Truth is correspondence with reality. Good faith requires our acts and our words to agree with our inner life.[1] Good faith is the opposite of mendacity, hypocrisy, duplicity, and other forms of bad faith both publicly and privately. Good faith requires first that you be honest with yourself. Good faith desires truth.

While good faith does allow for errors, it does not tolerate any intent to deceive.

Promote both truth and grace. There are times when balancing compassion and gentleness with truth it becomes prudent to say less. There is no good reason to tell your grandmother she looks old. Consider carefully what you tell a dying person about their condition. Neither exhibitionism nor tactlessness are virtues.

Truth departs from good faith whenever literal truths are used to send a false message. This can be done by establishing a narrow perspective, then taking quotations out of context, or overgeneralizing from anecdotal evidence rather than using systematic evidence. If the intent is to deceive, it cannot be good will.

Philosophers have disagreed somewhat on the relative priority of truth and justice. An example used to illustrate this dilemma is called the murderer at the door.[2] Suppose an innocent friend is a guest at your house. A known murder then appears at the door asking: “Is your friend here? I have come here to kill him.” Do you tell the murderer the truth and risk the death of your innocent friend, or do you deceive the murder to preserve justice? Kant believes that lying is prohibited in all cases because it violates a categorical moral imperative. Many other philosophers believe that justice takes priority in this example. Casuistry is a method of reasoning used to resolve moral dilemmas. It can become a slippery slope if used to defend deceit in the absence of good faith.

Do not let some absolute interpretation of truth devolve into some form of detached literalism or fanaticism. Keep the good in good faith.

Good faith is at its best when it is combined with justice, prudence, courage, generosity, humility, simplicity, and love.

While lying is not a virtue, neither is foolishness or suicide. [3]

While it is sometimes prudent to withhold the truth in certain circumstances when talking with others, it is not legitimate to lie to yourself. It is better to know you are evil than to pretend you are good.

The Virtue of Good Faith[edit]

Good faith is a virtue because bad faith is not. Virtue can only be built from pillars of truth. Truth is considered the foremost virtue of intellectuals and philosophers.

Everyday Good Faith[edit]

Practice the virtue of good faith every day in these various ways:

  • Be impeccable with your word.[4]
    • Say what you believe, and believe what you say.
    • Ensure what you say corresponds with reality. Align what you say with what you do. Keep your promises; do what you say you will do. Work to increase trust. Ensure what you say remains consistent day to day, unless new material evidence arises.
  • Be trustworthy; constantly act to earn the trust of others.
  • Refine your theory of knowledge. Use it in good faith.
    • Do not tolerate messages originating from bad faith. Fact checking tools such as snopes and FactCheck make it easy to assess the accuracy of popular rumors, myths, and beliefs. Use these tools to assess suspicious rumors and propaganda and correct the falsehoods rather than pass them on. Challenge people who continue to act in bad faith.
    • Know how you know.
  • Do not use a literal truth to send a misleading message. Use only representative examples to draw a larger conclusion. Don’t overgeneralize. Understand the tyranny of evidence and use it only in good faith.
  • Do not mislead by overstatement, understatement, fabrication, or omission.
    • Beware of your participation in various, often subtle, forms of censorship. For example, if you are referring to toxic waste as produced water, you are not acting in good faith.
  • Do not feign ignorance, indifference, or annoyance, to avoid telling the truth.
  • Beware of hypocrisy and challenge it when you notice it. Begin with yourself.
  • Refrain from modern sophistry—do not use specious arguments to deceive. Deceptive intent is not good faith.
  • There is a long list of words we use to make untruth seem more acceptable. Don’t fall for it.
  • When you are being lied to, challenge the dishonesty.
    • Be suspicious of rumors and gossip. Challenge their accuracy and don't pass on unverified claims. Notify the source of any inaccuracies.
  • If advancing an ideology or defending an honor code strains your good faith, it is time to abandon those unhelpful ideas. If your worldview does not align with reality, it is time to update your worldview.

Assignment[edit]

Part 1:

  • Read this essay on candor.
  • Notice each time you are not impeccable with your word. What is going on? Are you being careless, lazy, deceitful, compassionate, or just? Are you acting in good faith, and being for the good? How do you know?
  • Use what you learned above to increase your good faith.

Part 2: How do you decide what is true? Study this essay on the theory of knowledge or complete the course Knowing How You Know. Write down your own theory of knowledge, analogous to this example. Know how you know. Use this increased confidence in what you know to strengthen your good faith.

References[edit]

  1. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  2. See, for example, Lying, Deception and Kant, Alexander R. Pruss, August 30, 2001
  3. From Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. , attributed to Spinoza, The Ethics
  4. Ruiz, Don Miguel (1997). The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Amber-Allen Publishing. pp. 138. ISBN 978-1878424310. 

Further Reading[edit]

Students interested in learning more about good faith may be interested in the following materials:

  • Ruiz, Don Miguel (1997). The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Amber-Allen Publishing. pp. 138. ISBN 978-1878424310. 
  • Frankfurt, Harry (2005). On Bullshit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. pp. 80. ISBN 0-691-12294-6. 
  • Harris, Sam (November 5, 2013). Lying. Four Elephants Press. pp. 108. ISBN 978-1940051000. 
  • Ekman, Paul (January 26, 2009). Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 416. ISBN 978-0393337457. 
  • Runion, Meryl (2003). How to Use Power Phrases to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, & Get What You Want. McGraw-Hill. pp. 224. ISBN 978-0071424851.