Without Guilt & Justice – The New Integrity

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IN OUR TIME one concept of integrity is being replaced by another. This development is at the heart of the contemporary revolution in morality. The old idea was closely linked to justice, while the new integrity involves autonomy.

What is at stake is not merely one virtue. One can have courage and yet be a monster. But it is generally felt that a person who has integrity cannot be immoral, and that whoever is moral cannot lack integrity. Integrity is taken for the whole of morality or, as the Greeks put it, the sum of the virtues.

The Greeks also called this sum of the virtues “justice.” Now that justice is dying, a new concept of integrity is emerging. It also claims to be all of morality. Actually, what passes for integrity today is a confused and callow notion that cannot be considered on a par with the classical conceptions of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. It makes more sense to treat this messy and brash brat like Shaw’s Eliza; she needs cleaning up and must be taught some manners.

What I call the new integrity may be seen as the goal of some recent developments, but I do not believe in it – or in anything else – because I take it to be the wave of the future. After all, endowing the wave of the future with moral authority is one of the strategies of decidophobia.

The classical conception of integrity is best explained in terms of the origin of the word integrity, which suggests wholeness. The word comes from the Latin in and tangere and means that something is untouched, unimpaired, flawless. Words with the same root meaning are encountered in several other languages and have gone on to acquire the same moral significance as the Latin integritas and the English “integrity.”
In English, for example, “holy” is related to “whole,” and in German heilig to heil. Heil was profaned by the Nazis, but the original meaning is flawless, unimpaired (unversehrt).

One further example is of special interest. In the first verse of the Book of Job, Job is called tam v’yashar, blameless and upright. The root meaning of tam, which recurs often in the book, is “whole,” “complete,” and the noun tumah is usually translated as “integrity.” Thus the Lord says to Satan: “He still holds fast his integrity.” Job’s wife says to him: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.” And later Job says to his friends: “Till I die, I will not part from my integrity.”

In all these languages it is assumed that what is whole and complete is also morally good, and that the integrated man is naturally virtuous. In Plato this notion is central: justice is the health of the soul, and the integration of the personality spells integrity. But the conception of justice as harmony is encountered among the Greeks long before Plato, and it is not peculiar to them. Nor did the classical conception of integrity expire with antiquity. In later Judaism it was developed in the beautiful idea that one should serve God with the evil impulse, too. Thus the Mishnah explains the Mosaic commandment, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart,” as meaning “with both of your impulses, with the good impulse and with the evil impulse.”
Plato and the Jewish tradition were far from sharing the same moral views. Job and “the just man” of the prophets had a social conscience that forms no part of Plato’s conception of justice. Yet the ancient Greeks and Hebrews shared the notion that all the virtues are compatible, and they called the wholly virtuous man “just.”

As long as the classical conception remains on the level of brief suggestions, it seems attractive and profound. But as soon as one reads lengthier defenses of it, the idea that the whole is good and that evil is merely un integrated partiality becomes highly problematic. One is struck by the underlying optimism. Why should it be impossible to embrace evil with one’s whole heart, soul, and might?

The classical conception is close to Manichaeism and to moral rationalism. In Plato it comes down on the side of moral rationalism. But the idea that all good is on one side – health, wholeness, and all the virtues – is Manichaean and decidophobic. The cards are stacked, and there is no need to consider objections and alternatives.


The crux of the current crisis in morality is that integrity is no longer associated with the just man. Our first association with integrity is honesty. Intellectual integrity is a synonym of intellectual honesty. A “just man” is a mild archaism or a Hebraism, but it is no longer uncommon to call a man honest by way of suggesting not a particular virtue but the sum of the virtues.

An “honest woman” is an idiom that suggests an altogether different context, but actually it illustrates the same development. What is meant is not that she never lies but rather that she had lost her virtue and her moral reputation, and that by marrying her some man has restored these priceless possessions to her and “made an honest woman of her.” The moral judgments implicit in this usage are archaic, but “honest” is here used in the sense of “virtuous.”

When Abraham Lincoln is called “Honest Abe,” what is meant is not that he could never tell a lie (that was George Washington) but that he was what Plato and the prophets would have called a just man. Thus honesty is now often considered the sum of the virtues, as justice was formerly.

What is meant by honesty? Let us distinguish three different conceptions of honesty. The first two use the name of honesty in vain.

The classical American misconception of honesty is that the word is a synonym of sincerity. What is at stake is not merely the misuse of a word but the overestimation of sincerity. While sincerity is preferable to insincerity, it comes nowhere near being the sum of the virtues; it is not even a cardinal virtue. Small children tell all sorts of charming falsehoods with sincerity and might be said to be this side of the distinction between honesty and dishonesty. Many clergymen and politicians proclaim falsehoods with sincerity and might be said to have low standards of honesty; they believe what they say while they are saying it, but only a little while earlier they knew that it was false, and questioned a few hours later they no longer insist that it is true. They cultivate the gentle art of mouthing falsehoods with conviction.

The typically modern misconception of honesty consists of confounding honesty with frankness. This makes honesty even easier to attain. One tells people what one thinks of them and assumes that extreme rudeness is proof of moral superiority. Both these misconceptions are extremely popular because they place virtue within the reach of all. Even if one is extremely partial to frankness, one has to admit that this misunderstanding is born in part of the desire for instant virtue; what is wanted is moral superiority without any fuss or trouble.

True honesty, like courage, admits of degrees. Manichaeans use the ploy of asking, are you calling me a coward? Or a liar? And they assume that if their critic hesitates to do that, it follows that they are courageous, or honest. They presuppose that one is either honest or a liar, either courageous or a coward. In fact, most men are neither courageous nor cowards; these terms are applicable only in extreme cases. We may act more courageously on one occasion and less courageously on another, without having merited the epithet of cowardice or courage in either case. The liar corresponds to the coward, and “honesty” should be used like “courage” to designate a high standard.

What is involved in honesty – or high standards of honesty – is apparent as soon as we reflect on the case of the person who says frankly and sincerely what he himself knew to be false only a little while earlier. Or consider a person who says what in fact he has never known to be false, although it is false and he himself would know this if only he had taken a little more trouble. Neither of these two people has high standards of honesty. Why not? High standards of honesty mean that one has a conscience about what one says and what one believes. They mean that one takes some trouble to determine what speaks for and against a view, what the alternatives are, what speaks for and against each, and what alternatives are preferable on these grounds.

This is the heart of rationality, the essence of scientific method, and the meaning of intellectual integrity. I shall call it the canon. We have seen what speaks against some alternative conceptions of honesty. Now let us consider some objections to this conception.

It may seem that a canon cannot properly be called a virtue. How can “the essence of scientific method” be presented as an explication of honesty? This objection can be met. The canon takes the form of a series of imperatives. These imperatives define the essence of scientific method. But the practice of a method can become a habit Of, as people sometimes put it, speaking rather loosely, it can become “instinctive.” And virtues are habits. They can be acquired and developed by practice.

Confronted with a proposition, view, belief, hypothesis, conviction – one’s own or another person’s – those with high standards of honesty apply the canon, which commands us to ask seven questions: (I) What does this mean? (2) What speaks for it and (3) against it? (4) What alternatives are available? (5) What speaks for and (6) against each? And (7) what alternatives are most plausible in the light of these considerations?

Now it may be objected that doing all this is rather difficult. But has it ever been a condition of virtue that it required no great exertion? On the contrary. Next, it may be said that all this is not only difficult but in many cases quite impossible and at other times out of all proportion to the significance of the issue at hand. This is a serious objection and requires an important qualification of the conception presented so far.


Honesty does not entail pedantry. A pedant devotes so much time and energy to trivial matters that he lacks sufficient time and energy to investigate the questions that bear on the most . fateful decisions. Pedantry is the eighth strategy of decidophobia. Honesty entails a sense of proportion, in two ways. First, the pedant is not really a paragon of honesty. He deceives himself. He prides himself on his scruples in small matters, but he shuts his eyes when it comes to big decisions. A person with high standards of honesty will ask such questions as these: What is the meaning and what are the implications of this issue and that? What speaks for giving so much time to this one that I shall lack the time for that one?

Second, honesty requires us to proportion the firmness of our beliefs and claims to the evidence. When he holds a view without having given much thought to the pros and cons and to alternatives, an honest person realizes how tenuous his position is. Whoever has high standards of honesty will not say that he knows something, or even that he believes it strongly, unless he has looked into the matter and found good grounds for his views, and unless he has also considered objections and alternatives. Failing that, he will either suspend judgment or admit to himself and, if the occasion arises, to others that his belief is tenuous.

I have criticized the concept of proportionality when discussing punishments and distributions. In the present context, of course, exact proportion is out of the question. We cannot stipulate how many minutes honesty requires us to spend on this issue or that, nor can we measure the firmness of beliefs. What matters is that one gives oneself an honest account of the grounds for one’s beliefs, and that one makes a deliberate effort to overcome decidophobia.

Those who live up to these criteria exemplify intellectual integrity. But what I shall call the new integrity requires one additional quality. For one could apply the canon scrupulously, but only on the intellectual level. One might not put into practice what one believes. One might say: This alternative stands up under scrutiny, and that one does not; nevertheless I shall act in accordance with the view that does not stand up. Those who have the new integrity have intellectual integrity and also live in accordance with it. Thus practice is integrated with theory.

The consideration of alternatives is crucial but often, neglected. Those who comply with this part of the canon have to do what even a great many scholars would rather not do: spell out what speaks against rival views. It is pleasanter to cite other scholars by way of paying homage to their acute insights. But the new integrity requires us to be clear about the defects of significant alternatives.

Obviously, the new integrity goes beyond any ordinary conception of honesty. Even when honesty is not confused with sincerity or frankness, it is compatible with the admission that one did not take any pains to investigate a question and therefore does not know the answer. A person can possess high standards of honesty but very little self-confidence, courage, or humbition. He may be lazy and reluctant to exert himself. But what I call the new integrity involves not only high standards of honesty but also enough courage and humbition to apply the canon to the most important questions facing us. Thus the new integrity involves autonomy, but the two are not identical because autonomy would be compatible with lying.

I introduced autonomy, saying that it consists of making with our eyes open the decisions that govern our lives; and I added: “Choosing responsibly means that one weighs alternatives. (This theme will be developed further in the chapter on ‘The New Integrity.’)” Then I concentrated on the strategies of decidophobia. Now autonomy appears as the goal of a historical development: the autonomous man is the modem counterpart of “the just man” of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. He does not bow to authority; he decides for himself.


The adherents of the classical conception of integrity were mistaken insofar as they assumed that integration spelled goodness. But a well-integrated and harmonious individual could follow Hitler or Stalin. The idea that we should serve the Lord “with the good impulse and with the evil impulse” is very beautiful, but one could also serve Hitler or Stalin with both impulses. One can serve an evil cause with tremendous courage and intelligence, with self-control and humility, and millions have done it in our time. Many whose life had lacked direction found a purpose – an evil purpose – that integrated their whole personality till everything fell into place.

Does the new integrity fare any better? Was it possible to follow Hitler or Stalin, while living in accordance with the new integrity? Certainly not.

As soon as Hitler came to power, it was unsafe for any teacher to go on teaching as before. One could literally see how many teachers swallowed hard as they said what they knew to be untrue – in history, literature, religion, and biology, and other classes, too. After all, some student might report them to the authorities if they did not toe the line. Even if none did, some student might say quite naively to his father, to a fellow member of the Hitler Youth, or to anyone at all: But my teacher said . . . That might be the end of the teacher’s career; it might even take him to a concentration camp. As time passed, the falsehoods that at first had made some teachers gag went down more easily. The teachers’ integrity deteriorated. Still, might not some teachers, or at least some students, have believed all that they were required to believe? Of course, but only if they did not ask the seven crucial questions.

As for the Soviet Union under Stalin, Solzhenitsyn has shown convincingly in The First Circle and Cancer Ward how one could live in accordance with the new integrity only in a concentration camp or by keeping silent, how silence usually corrupts, and how this corruption spread like a disease through the whole society. The chapter on “Idols of the Market Place” in Cancer Ward makes this point expressly and at length.

In the West so many people are such relativists that they suppose it must be just as possible to swallow Stalinism or Hitlerism as it is to swallow any other world view. And if one believes that American society is just as repressive as was Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, one demonstrates indeed that, but for the grace of circumstance, one might have swallowed Nazism or Stalinism, for one shows that one does not care greatly about the seven questions.

Of course, one could be sincere and a Nazi or a Stalinist. But nobody who applied the canon could have accepted Hitler’s or Stalin’s irrational views, and teaching the canon in one’s classes or openly asking the seven questions would have been a recipe for death.

Few people have ever lived by the canon. Only those who suppose that most people do could possibly suppose that some of Hitler’s or Stalin’s followers did. Under Stalin, the party line kept changing, and his followers were required to change their views overnight, again and again and again. If they believed that whatever he did was best, that he knew better than anyone else, and that whatever the latest edition of the great Encyclopedia said was true, they could escape terrible qualms, but in that case they were decidophobes who did not live by the canon.

It might be objected that we cannot reasonably expect people to say, like Job: “Till I die I will not part from my integrity.” We recall how Simone de Beauvoir, though merciless in her self-accusations, said of those who followed Stalin: “They had to live; they lived.” But moral judgments have not been my concern here. The point has been to understand the new integrity, and when a person gives that up to save his life – if only to preserve himself for the sake of his wife and children – it is reasonable to insist that he did give it up. After all, that is one of the differences between Solzhenitsyn and millions of others: they did, and he did not.

In sum, an integrated human being with the classical integrity could follow Hitler or Stalin, but one could not follow either of them with the new integrity. For the person who lives by the canon does not accept an irrational book like Mein Kampf, or a man like Hitler or Stalin, or any man or any book, as an authority; he makes decisions for himself – he is autonomous.

Suppose, however, that a German or a Russian did consider the alternatives and came to the conclusion that it was best, everything considered, to join “the Party.” 1 have examined this strategy at length in the discussion of decidophobia: those who decide to commit themselves in such a way that henceforth they will never have to face fateful decisions any more are decidophobes and not autonomous. And those who abandon or sacrifice their intellectual integrity cannot be said to have retained it.

Consider the memoirs of Rudolf Hoess, the commanding officer of Auschwitz. In his first-hand account of his chief, Heinrich Himmler, he uses the very phrase that Nietzsche had used in arguing that “the party man becomes a liar”: “wishing-not-to-see”! Hoess also says: “Himmler always found it more interesting and agreeable to hear what was positive and not negative.” This might be considered a rather common human weakness, but Nazism elevated it into a principle: “Himmler was the most extreme representative of the Fuhrerprinzip. Every German had to submit unconditionally and uncritically to the leadership of the state.” When Himmler demanded “surrender of one’s own will,” this was in line with the Fuhrer principle and the Nazi Weltanschauung.

Hoess insists that he always complained to Himmler when he saw him – about technical difficulties. But about the annihilation of millions in the gas chambers he had no doubts. Himmler shocked and disappointed him only at their final meeting when the war was practically over and Himmler, “whose orders, whose utterances had been gospel for me,” was quite cheerful and gave orders to his henchmen to disappear in the army with false papers. But perhaps the statement that best brings out how there was no room for the new integrity or for autonomy in this whole setting is this: “I must admit frankly that after such talks with Eichmann humane feelings almost seemed to me treason against the Fuhrer.”

Hitler himself, of course, was not an autonomous man; he lacked both the classical and the new integrity. His calculated lies and his lack of any scruple about breaking solemn promises suffice to show that he lacked the new integrity, but one might wonder whether he could not have been autonomous for all that, if only he had applied the canon and decided that dishonesty was the best policy. As a matter of fact, however, he was not in the habit of subjecting his irrational convictions to the canon, and he was the kind of man Sartre described in his portrait of the anti-Semite, and Eric Hoffer in The True Believer. Nietzsche’s strictures of the “party man,” quoted in my analysis of the third strategy in chapter I, apply to him. We also know that in conversation he could not tolerate any disagreement, and that in the end he became more and more interested in astrology.


Honesty is not the sum of the virtues. In the chapter on guilt I introduced four cardinal virtues: humbition, courage, love, and honesty.

Like courage, honesty can bring about great evil when joined with brutality. Ibsen showed in The Wild Duck how a fanatic for honesty may feel called upon to tell people what will drive them to despair and suicide. He might also make a point of robbing the dying of their faith or of illusions that have helped them to endure great pain. Not only might he lack love, but he might also be cowardly, at least in some ways. While a dedication to honesty involves some courage and some humbition, one might be honest and yet lack courage and humbition in most matters.

Conversely, those who do not have high standards of honesty and never give much thought to the seven questions of the canon may be very decent people for all that. They may be courageous in many ways, help others unselfishly, and never cheat anyone. This point is hard to get across because so many people assume vaguely, but falsely, that honesty or integrity is the whole of virtue. Hence people may admit regretfully that they are not very courageous and that after all few people are. But if you suggest that their standards of honesty are not very high, or that they leave something to be desired as far as the new integrity is concerned, they may never forgive you.

Yet the new integrity is not the whole of virtue; nor is autonomy. The desire for only one cardinal virtue is the desire for a panacea. As long as there are several cardinal virtues, they may occasionally come into conflict with each other. Thus a teacher in a totalitarian state may be pulled in one direction by his regard for honesty, in another by his love for his family.

Love is exceedingly corruptible and often does the devil’s bidding. Love has no scruples about tempting us to be dishonest, less courageous, less humbitious – even to be cowardly and to lie. Yet if we renounced love for that reason, clinging to the three virtues that on the whole are mutually compatible, we should have to condone a cruel lack of concern for others.

Autonomy is not a panacea that saves us from conflicts and hard choices. On the contrary, autonomy consists of considering alternatives and objections to our preferences. Yet an autonomous person might lack love. Any claim that all who are rational and use the canon would end up with the same code – mine – would be moral rationalism. Love is compatible with rationality, but it is not entailed by rationality. Of course, we can stack the cards and load our definition of rationality. That is the essence of the moral rationalist’s strategy. Thus one can claim that rationality entails an impartial concern for all human beings, and that all partiality to ourselves is therefore irrational. To anyone brought up on the ethics of Kant, that may actually sound plausible. Of course, he did not speak of love in this connection but of the categorical imperative, and those who follow him in our time speak of justice. Either way, the concept of rationality is loaded illicitly.

Those who apply the canon do not have to come to the conclusion that we ought to act in accordance with an equal concern for all human beings; nor need they conclude that all partiality to ourselves is irrational. They might actually conclude that it is impossible to act in accordance with an equal concern for all human beings, and that it is quite rational to give some priority to one’s children, spouse, parents, friends, or pupils – and even to oneself. I have to see to it that I get some sleep; I cannot be equally concerned that everybody else does.

Nor is it clear why we should feel, or act in accordance with, equal concern for all human beings. Why should we be so partial to the human race? If we do not believe that God created man in his own image and that man is more like God than like any other animal, this partiality to man becomes questionable. Kant tried to find a basis for it in man’s rationality, but again it is far from clear why reason should require us to feel an equal concern for all rational creatures, but no comparable concern for those not so gifted. If we encountered beings from another planet, could reason really tell us whether we owed them as much concern as we owed our fellow men, or more, or less? Can reason tell us where the cut-off point should be, regarding those who do not act according to the canon, or regarding idiots, infants, or embryos? Equal concern for all beings is clearly quite impossible. In short, we must make choices, and reason cannot tell us what we ought to choose.

My view is that the adoption of love as a cardinal virtue is tenable, but not required by reason; that a social conscience is desirable though not entailed by rationality; and that, in brief, autonomy is not enough.


What speaks for autonomy, honesty, love, courage, and humbition? What speaks against them? And what speaks for and against various alternatives? Is my code really more plausible than others? Throughout this book I have considered alternatives and objections. I have tried to show how humbition is preferable to guilt feelings, which have loomed so large in traditional morality, and how love and honesty can do better what justice was supposed to do but could not do. I have not made out any comparable case for courage, which is admired almost universally. Courage has been celebrated by poets and tellers of tales since time immemorial. Even so, an autonomous morality cannot invoke any authority – neither that of intercultural agreement nor that of my own moral sense. What kind of appeal remains?

There is a utilitarian argument that does not depend on the hedonism of the English utilitarians. We should distinguish between utilitarianism in the wide sense, which appeals to the consequences of laws or rules, acts or habits, virtues or codes (let us call this consequentialism), and utilitarianism in the narrow, hedonistic sense, which judges the consequences according to their conduciveness to the greatest possible balance of pleasures over pains. I reject utilitarianism in the narrow sense for reasons that will be discussed in the next chapter. But it is the essence of irresponsibility to ignore the consequences, and I can find no good reasons for ignoring them. The only major moralist who insisted that moral judgments must ignore the consequences was Kant, who thought, falsely, that reason could tell us what is right, without considering consequences. The question remains as to the standards by which we should judge the consequences. How, if at all, can one justify one’s standards?

Obviously, one can try to justify one set of standards by appeal to another set; but if one chooses to be rational, one cannot justify one’s ultimate standards, or cardinal virtues, once and for all. Whoever makes one ultimate decision that relieves him of the need for further fateful decisions, is a decidophobe. An autonomous human being asks: What are the alternatives, and how, if at all, are they preferable?

The universal appeal of courage is surely due to the fact that every society is profoundly indebted to some very courageous people and finds it in its interest to foster courage. A society that held up cowardice as an ideal could not long survive. It does not follow that our deep, spontaneous admiration for a person of rare courage is accompanied by any thoughts about the consequences of his acts. Our moral sense has been shaped by poets and tellers of tales; it was inculcated in us in our childhood; and even if we modify it as we grow up and find that some of our enthusiasms do not survive close scrutiny, those we do retain continue to be nourished by a wealth of concrete associations. Because we have had an ideal for a long time, and have felt discouraged and disgusted many times with ourselves and our fellow men, those who suddenly exemplify the seemingly impossible ideal rouse us from despair and earn our gratitude.

None of this proves that it would really be best for all men to reach a very high degree of courage. I have said that courage and cowardice are two extremes, and the optimum could lie somewhere well above the mean, but well below extreme courage. To some extent, this point is taken care of by the fact that we have another word for the undesirable extreme: foolhardiness. But what has been said here about courage applies also to the other virtues, and unfortunately we lack words for excessive love, humbition, and honesty. But if we set up courage, for example, as a cardinal virtue, we shall be lucky if we produce few cowards and some men and women with a high degree of courage. Again, the same point applies to the other virtues.

Excessive humbition, honesty, and love are all self-destructive no less than foolhardiness. Those whose humbition is too great will be tormented by their failure to come up to impossible standards. Those in whom honesty becomes a rage are a menace to others and will also place themselves on the rack. And concern for others must be selective if it is to be effective, and it must be held in bounds lest it become obtrusive and annoying. The Golden Rule is intolerable; if millions did to others whatever they wished others to do to them, few would be safe from molestation. The Golden Rule shows anything but moral genius, and the claim by which it is followed in the Sermon on the Mount – “this is the Law and the Prophets” – makes little sense. Even when love is defined better, it is not the whole of virtue, much less an adequate substitute for a detailed code of law. The negative formulation is far superior: Do not do unto others what you would not want them to do to you. But even this rule, which antedates Jesus and was advanced by Hillel and, much earlier, by Confucius, falls short of what is needed.

We see this as soon as we consider the parallel to courage. Again, every society is deeply indebted to some people who showed extraordinary concern for others. It makes sense to speak of love in this context, but neither the Golden Rule nor the superior negative formulation describes the virtue of these individuals. They did something positive, but not as a rule anything they wanted anyone to do to them. Those who lay down their lives for others generally have no wish whatever for others to make such a sacrifice for them. The same applies to smaller sacrifices. What is really called for is not the simple projection of our own desires into others, but the habit of trying to fathom what those with whom we deal may feel. That is a minimum. Thinking about how we might help others is the second step.

The case for humbition is so similar to that for courage that only a single difference calls for comment. Humbition has not been celebrated since time immemorial; otherwise I should not have had to coin a name for it. Ambition has been celebrated, in effect, though usually without recourse to this word, and again society has been indebted to ambitious men. But this quality was found not only in the heroes of one’s past but also in many of the major villains. In some societies, humility was held up as exemplary, but one failed to note that those who were admired for their great humility were not people resigned to being of no consequence but humbitious men. My claim is twofold: neither ambition nor humility is as desirable for the survival of society as is humbition, whose social value is immense. Moreover I find humbition intrinsically admirable. When I contemplate the characters whom I admire most, I find that insofar as they possessed humbition, I admire them for that, and insofar as they lacked it, I feel that this was a defect. Exactly the same consideration applies to the other virtues.

Honesty is different in one way from all the other virtues. As I have defined it, it consists of being rational and living in accordance with the canon. (Autonomy consists of applying the canon to fateful decisions, and the choice of norms is a fateful decision.) When someone asks: What is so good about honesty (or rationality)? one might do well to reply: Do you want an honest (or rational) answer? If he were to say no, a whimsical retort in the manner of Taoism or Zen would be called for, and if he were to say yes, one might give him back his own question: What is so good about honesty (or rationality)?

The social utility of honesty even exceeds that of the other cardinal virtues. All language learning, all speech, and all social intercourse depend on honesty, and we simply cannot dispense with this virtue. Much less could we make a virtue of dishonesty. What can be suggested is either that we could get by with something less than very high standards of honesty, or that it might be expedient to permit dishonesty in certain areas or circumstances. In fact, however, in all the years that I have lectured about honesty and the other virtues in a great many different places and in different contexts (it was not by any means always the same lecture), I have been asked occasionally as a matter of principle how I would argue for my set of four, but nobody has ever come up with specific objections or alternatives to the four virtues; nor has anybody ever tried to define areas or circumstances in which dishonesty should be permitted. Under these circumstances, I advocate high standards of honesty with only two limitations: we should proportion our efforts to the importance of the issue; and when honesty conflicts with love we should be honest in case of doubt but not inflict genuine harm on others for the sake of our virtue. It is preferable to be honest when in doubt because otherwise it would become so easy to find reasons for not being honest that this virtue would be honored mainly in the breach.


I have said that it is the essence of irresponsibility to ignore the probable consequences of one’s decisions. The time has come to join this issue with the moral irrationalists. For my position is as far removed from theirs as it is from moral rationalism.

Most existentialists’ exhortations to resoluteness and commitment extol integrity in the classical sense. By choosing with your whole heart you are supposed to become integrated. Your life crystallizes around a project and becomes whole – even if the price you pay should be the new integrity.

Typically, it is assumed that because reason alone cannot prove that we should choose this project rather than that, reason is irrelevant when it comes to fateful decisions. Once that is granted, the way is clear for one or another of the strategies of decidophobia; one may choose a religion or a movement, for example. But what reason and the new integrity can do is crucial: safeguard us against decisions and commitments that anyone who asked the seven questions would not make.

When we apply the canon to alternatives, we consider not only logical consistency but also what speaks for and against each, and we evaluate the probable consequences of this decision and that. The moral irrationalist, on the other hand, chooses one alternative resolutely, without even asking how it is likely to affect various people, and he feels no need to examine with some care objections and significant alternatives.

An illustration may help. Suppose you consult a doctor, and his reasons and the evidence cannot establish conclusively what is the cause of your ailment. Imagine that he frankly admitted this and then offered to flip a coin or to pluck the petals of a daisy: to cut or not to cut, to cut or not to cut . . . This would be a paradigm of irresponsibility. What you would expect him to do is to invoke the canon. Then the most plausible hypothesis – or one of the most plausible – would be chosen tentatively, not with the dogged conviction that, once we have chosen it, we have to stick with it, as if that were the essence of integrity. The decidophobe objects: But there is not time for all this; such investigations might take years, and by that time the patient, if not the doctor, will be dead. Of course, it would be irresponsible to ignore the consequences, and to keep thinking up new possibilities without any regard for the time factor. But even if there is very little time, a responsible doctor will not pluck the petals of a flower or assure the patient that the most important factor is that the doctor who makes the decision is sincere or resolute. He is responsible insofar as he applies the canon as much as time permits; and what speaks against some laboratory tests and some other medical procedures is precisely that there is not time enough.

Suppose the case were quite dramatic, and the question were whether to amputate a leg. It might not be necessary, but if we waited until we could be absolutely sure of that, the patient might well be past saving. The responsible procedure would still be to run as many tests as time permits, to weigh the pros and cons to the limits of one’s ability, and then to act (let us assume, to cut) as skillfully as possible, without the bad faith that, because the die is cast, one must feel certain that one has elected the right course. If the surgeon finds out in midoperation that it was unnecessary to cut, he obviously should neither insist that it really was necessary nor throw up his hands in despair and let the patient die. All he can do at that point is to minimize the damage.

Responsibility is not accompanied by any warrant that everything will turn out well. If it does not, all we have is the small comfort that at least we have acted responsibly, with integrity. To make matters worse, irresponsible actions sometimes succeed. But that success is no proof of integrity, that the wicked often flourish, and that disaster does not prove a lack of integrity, was known to the Psalmists and the author of Job.

Given a large sample and a long period of time, responsibility succeeds much more often than irresponsibility. That is why we want physicians to act responsibly. That is why scientists and engineers are trained to check and double – check their hunches. It is no different in politics. Occasionally, reckless gambles will succeed, but those who continue to place their trust in them generally come to grief before long; and the great statesmen of the past have been thoughtful men who weighed alternatives with care. That includes great revolutionaries like Lenin, who studied and wrote books about philosophy. Marx spent most of his later years at work in the library of the British Museum. He felt strongly that it was not enough to interpret the world; he wanted to change it. But the more important the changes are that one would like to bring about, the more indispensable becomes the canon.

Irrationalists may argue that this rational approach was used by some of Lyndon Johnson’s best – known advisers on Vietnam policy – with disastrous results. But the advisers’ stunning lack of moral judgment stemmed from their Manichaean faith that “the free world” represented decency and humanity, no matter what means it employed, while “the enemy” represented the foes of freedom and was therefore beyond the pale and worthy of the torments of hell. So firm was this faith that one did not give sufficient weight to what spoke against the policies one favored, and the President’s insistence on “consensus” compounded this failure. It is not enough to appoint one man the devil’s (!) advocate, as Johnson did, and then to go through the ritual of having him offer objections before the predetermined “consensus” is implemented. This procedure was very different from the method that I advocate, and it invited wishful thinking.


The classical conception of integrity was compatible with conformity. Some of its greatest proponents actually believed that it entailed or presupposed conformity. The new integrity is incompatible with conformity.

Plato, the greatest philosophical exponent of the classical conception, argued that integrity could scarcely be achieved outside a tightly integrated city-state in which every citizen performed the functions that had been assigned to him by the philosopher-kings. Each was to conform to his class, living as the members of his class were supposed to live, and believing what he was told to believe. Plato believed that Socrates had achieved integrity in a corrupt society; hence he had been a nonconformist. But Plato argued that the odds against such an achievement are overwhelming, and that anyone who brought it off was almost certain to be put to death as Socrates was.

Hegel’s view was similar, although it has often been misrepresented. F. H. Bradley developed it sympathetically in his essay “My Station and Its Duties.” But what is lacking in Bradley and crucial in Hegel is a profound sense of alienation and a tortured longing for the harmony that Hegel thought he found in ancient Greece. He sought integration of the personality through integration into a state with reasonable laws.

Hegel was impatient with individuals who found fault with their society and who insisted that it is very difficult to decide what is right. He felt that there was likely to be much more reason in the traditions that have developed over centuries and stood the test of time than in the reflections of a disgruntled individual. He also insisted that most of the time it is not at all difficult to tell right from wrong.

Actually Hegel admitted that in times of transition history shows us great collisions that make it difficult to decide what is right, and that in such situations the nonconformist who loses his fight against society – Socrates, for example – may be vindicated posthumously. This exception, however, does not go far enough. An individual with very high standards of honesty is bound to become alienated from his fellow men.

We have seen how the various strategies of decidophobia are at odds with integrity. But I have also admitted that one can belong to a religion or movement, for example, without sacrificing high standards of honesty. It may therefore seem that the new integrity does not entail nonconformity or alienation. Yet not all who belong conform; nor does belonging preclude alienation – one can feel deeply alienated from one’s fellow members. It may be objected that one can feel that way, but that it has not been shown that the new integrity entails any such experience. Indeed, it is possible to imagine a society in which high standards of honesty would be so greatly admired that those who lived by them would be esteemed on that account and not resented. But that is not how people actually are, nor are there signs that within the lifetime of any of us, people will become that way. Meanwhile it is a fact of life that those who live by the canon reap alienation, and their nonconformity is resented.

So ubiquitous is this experience that men and women of unusual integrity often find the alienation that comes from not belonging to a religion or a movement easier to bear than the alienation that is generated by belonging but insisting on the canon. Constantly rubbing shoulders with those who resent uncomfortable queries and objections may be felt to be harder than leaving the fold altogether.

One might suppose that there is at least one kind of community in which the new integrity is a way of life and in which the canon is so widely accepted that it constitutes a glorious counterexample: the academic community, or at least professors, if not students. This is not the place to document timidity, conformity, intolerance, and the lack of high standards of honesty in academia. Woe unto the man or woman who does not belong to the right school of thought! But this theme has been discussed in the context of decidophobia. Nor would it be profitable to use professorial book reviews as an illustration, for that subject is so vast that we should be distracted from our central concern here. But consider meetings of committees, academic departments, the faculty as a whole, or meetings that are attended by large numbers of students, too. A considerable amount of courage is required to raise objections or suggest alternatives that others plainly do not want to hear, and it is extraordinary how often that which is not gladly heard remains unspoken. Some professors, of course, are luminous examples of integrity – as are some lawyers, writers, doctors, and men and women in other walks of life. But they pay the usual price.


In spite of much timidity and the many confusions about honesty, the twentieth century has witnessed a growing recognition of what true honesty involves. Consider two of the leading philosophical movements of our century: analytical philosophy and existentialism. Both have contributed to this recognition.

One could date analytic philosophy from G. E. Moore’s dogged attacks on his predecessors, beginning in 1903. His refrain was ever: What could they possibly have meant? When others cited his own dicta, he was not beyond saying that he was not sure what he himself could possibly have meant. All this was rather mannered, and Moore’s articles – not to speak of his imitators – were at times tediously pedantic, as he considered one after another outrageous answer to his question, finding predictably that none would do. Yet he taught philosophers a new ethos.

Confronted with Moore’s example, it would no longer do to assume that obscurity was any warrant of profundity. Moore was pedestrian to a fault, intent on not tolerating any nonsense, however high-sounding. For all his limitations, he raised the standards of honesty, at least in philosophy.

It is arguable that much of what people learned from Moore could also have been learned from Socrates. But it took Moore to make us aware of this aspect of Socrates. Even so the degree to which Socrates embodied not only the classical but also the new conception of integrity is noteworthy, and we shall have to return to this point.

Sartre, born two years after Moore published his first book, also raised standards of honesty, but in a very different way. By Moore’s standards, much of Sartre’s philosophical prose is atrocious – an example of precisely the kind of writing that Moore tried to exorcize. But in Being and Nothingness no less than in his plays, novels, and short stories, Sartre tried to expose the wiles of self-deception. Thus he, too, showed what honesty involves – and how difficult it is to attain. While Moore honed the intellectual conscience of a generation or two of professional philosophers, Sartre sensitized that of their students.

Their complementary insights are not readily seen to complement each other. Many professors are appalled by their students’ sloppiness and lack of rigor and their failure to live up to high standards of honesty, while the students reciprocate by being no less shocked by what strikes them as the bad faith of many of their teachers. Too often both sides are right – to be dismayed.

Philosophers have not been alone in contributing to the growing recognition of what honesty involves. It is to Sigmund Freud more than to anyone else that we owe the realization that there are degrees of honesty and that it is quite common for men to be less than wholly honest without being outright liars. He has shown how difficult it is to be honest with oneself.

The dimension explored by Freud fits into the first of the seven questions of the canon: “What does this mean?” Moore’s conception of meaning was curiously narrow, and that of some positivists was even narrower. At one time the latter actually argued that all propositions that could not be verified – ethical judgments, for example – were meaningless. On their own showing, their claim that such propositions were meaningless was itself meaningless. When this position proved unsatisfactory, many analytic philosophers took their cue from Wittgenstein’s later thinking and suggested that in order to get at the meaning of a word one must consider how a child is taught to use the word. But there are dimensions of meaning that are rarely considered by most philosophers, and it is more to the point to think of the meaning of claims, beliefs, and views than to concentrate on words.

It will suffice here to mention psychological meaning, sociological meaning, and historical meaning. Under the first heading, one might distinguish further between intended meaning (what a person is driving at, or what he is trying to say, although he may put his point badly); emotional meaning (what it means to him, in the sense in which it may mean a great deal to him); and psychoanalytic meaning (assuming that a proposition may sometimes mean more to a person than he himself realizes).

Insofar as the new integrity consists of asking seven questions, it cannot rest content with a wholly superficial and onedimensional answer to the question: “What does this mean?” Discussions of religious claims, for example, are often obtuse because they completely ignore psychological meaning. Not only must we occasionally ask whether the claims of other men mean more to them than they themselves realize, but we also have to push this question regarding our own beliefs. This is often difficult, but it is by no means always impossible. The person who never asks himself questions of this sort is making insufficient efforts to overcome self-deception and to that extent lacks high standards of honesty.

Thus the development of the new integrity owes a great deal to Freud. Yet Freud shared the overestimation of honesty when he said in a memorable and beautiful passage: “Whoever has completed successfully the education for truthfulness toward himself, is permanently immune against the danger of immorality, even if his standard of morality should differ in some ways from what is customary in society.” I have argued that those who have learned to be honest with themselves could lack love, courage, and humbition.

The claim that standards of honesty have been raised in Our century may seem to be paradoxical. What we are conscious of is the abundance of dishonesty – not only in religion, politics, and advertising. The whole quality of modern life is poisoned and polluted by dishonesty.

Once again it may help to recall the Hebrew prophets. They certainly raised moral standards, but that does not mean that their contemporaries were more moral than their predecessors. One only needs to read the prophets to realize that this was not the case. Specifically, Micah and Isaiah raised moral standards when they proclaimed war to be evil and demanded that swords should be made into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Yet wars did not cease, and twenty-five centuries later most of mankind still had not accepted even in theory the standards set by Micah and Isaiah. Only after the horrors of World War II, when confronted with atomic bombs, did much of mankind come to agree that nations ought not to learn war any more, but even then many nations continued to wage wars. Most Americans did not disapprove of the Vietnam war until they felt that they were not winning it. From this depressing record it does not follow that the prophets did not raise moral standards.


The question remains as to whether it is proper to speak of the “new” integrity. Is it really new? After all, Socrates approached it, and so did Job. But in antiquity Socrates was admired for some of his other qualities; and to this day, Job is usually seen differently. Few readers even notice that when he says to his friends, “Till I die, I will not part from my integrity,” he means his honesty. Those who note his honesty generally suppose that it consists merely of his not being a hypocrite, and it is widely held that his friends are hypocrites. But they say little that has not been repeated through the centuries by theologians of many different denominations. They accept the wisdom that is ready at hand. Popular wisdom or common sense has some authority for them, and hearing each other confirms each in his views. They are not hypocrites; neither do they see any need for taking pains to find out what might be true. They prefer the instant wisdom that only authority can furnish.

Honesty in the sense of truth-telling was esteemed as a virtue even in antiquity, although it was not widely esteemed as a cardinal virtue. Honesty in the sense of taking great pains to determine the truth was rarely praised. In Socrates and some of the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers this ethos is implicit. Thucydides once gave voice to his contempt for those who accept as truth what is ready at hand, instead of taking pains to discover the truth. Sophocles described the same ethos in Oedipus Tyrannus. There was a tradition that Oedipus was the wisest of men, but Sophocles endowed him with a passion to discover the truth, a determination that becomes the central motif of his life, and a profound scorn for all who do not share this ethos.

Honesty in the sense of a sustained attack on self-deception is, as we have seen, the most modem aspect of the new integrity. To us it is familiar through the works of Gide and Sartre and a host of other twentieth-century writers. We can trace it back beyond Freud and Nietzsche to Goethe’s Mephistopheles, whose wit keeps exposing Faust’s romantic self-deceptions. Earlier than that, we find little of this ethos. Sophocles’ Oedipus is a towering exception. The truth he seeks is the truth about himself, while Creon, Teiresias, and his wife-mother keep advising him that his happiness depends on not finding out. His high standards of honesty alienate him from his environment, and his integrity becomes his undoing.

It may still seem incredible that the new integrity should be as new as I claim. It may seem improbable that in antiquity a mere handful of men exemplified it. Were the author of Job, Sophocles, Thucydides, and Socrates really that exceptional? Of Course, one might add another example or two, but people are so inclined to think that things were always much the same as now that some are bound to wonder if the “new” integrity was not always much more widespread than I have suggested. Let them reflect on the history of philosophy in the light of G. E. Moore’s ethos. Let them ask themselves how many people applied the canon to their religious tradition, their scriptures, their theologians, their holy men, or merely their professors. Let them also reflect on the lack of the Freudian sensitivity before Freud. If this sounds too general, let me recall my grandmother’s insistence that “a teacher is a hallowed person” – eine geheiligte Person. Even after World War II, many German professors seemed to feel that way about themselves, and in the 1950s many of their students still accepted this view. In the late 1960s they went to the opposite extreme.

All of this becomes more plausible as soon as one recalls how the new integrity involves autonomy – deciding for oneself and not accepting the ten strategies of decidophobia. When Luther and Calvin defied the church, they appealed to authority. The Enlightenment came closer to autonomy.

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is the incapacity for using one’s understanding without the guidance of another. And this minority is self-incurred when it is caused by the lack not of understanding but of determination and courage to use it without the guidance of another. Sapere aude! Have the courage to avail yourself of your own understanding – that is the motto of the Enlightenment.

These are Kant’s words, and in his ethics he also made much of “autonomy.” Nevertheless, he and many other great men of that period had recourse to moral rationalism. Kant’s style was usually dry and scholastic, but the effusiveness of his apostrophes to “Duty” and to “the Moral Law” shows how they were for him surrogates for God, and how much he still required some authority. Some of his contemporaries in France, of course, formally proclaimed Reason a goddess.

Some of the romantics reacted against this rationalism and became moral irrationalists, apostles of feeling and intuition. But the ideal of autonomy clearly owes something to the romantics, too. What was needed was a step beyond moral rationalism and moral irrationalism, and before the twentieth century that step was taken only by a very few individuals here and there. Kant’s younger contemporary Goethe was autonomous, and among the ancients also, as noted earlier, Euripides. But hitherto the ethos of the new integrity has never been spelled out as here.

Are both the old and the new integrity partial? Do we really need both? Fortunate indeed are those who have both, but those still striving to develop the new integrity cannot afford to be overly concerned about the classical integrity. Those intent on harmony and serenity will dull the cutting edge of the new integrity. Seeing how it entails alienation, they will seek refuge in the strategies of decidophobia. But those who attain the new integrity may find eventually that the old integrity is coming to them, too.

« The Need for Alienation | Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible? »


One thought on “Without Guilt & Justice – The New Integrity

  1. Jesse Lewis Howell

    Great ideas by a philosopher that removed cobwebs from my eyes in my early 20s. His ideas on Law and Justice are decades ahead of politicians and current intellectuals. You counted WK –on so many levels.
    JL Howell


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