The virtue of honesty is almost universally valued, and exemplars like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are revered in our society. There is little controversy that honesty is a virtue, that it is important to cultivate, and that it should be part of a good moral education.
Yet surprisingly, many fields have only recently begun devoting significant attention to honesty. This is especially true of philosophy and psychology, which are central to this proposal. We hope to inspire much further work on this relatively neglected virtue by focusing on five Big Questions:
(i) What is the definition and value of honesty in its moral and intellectual forms? What are the behavioral and motivational requirements for being honest or exceptionally so?
(ii) To what extent are people honest? How does this vary by culture?
(iii) What contextual and internal factors encourage honesty and shape its development in individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions?
(iv) What are the consequences of honesty and dishonesty for relationships, groups, organizations, and institutions?
(v) Under what conditions is dishonesty justified, if any? What factors lead people to be receptive to or offended by honesty?
To help advance our knowledge of the answers to these questions, we will lead two competitions to fund new and innovative work on the science of honesty and the philosophy of honesty. We will also conduct our own research at Wake Forest University and Carnegie Mellon University, as well as organize two conferences, write a book on honesty for a popular audience, and lead a summer seminar for junior scholars.
Our hope is that the Honesty Project will foster an extensive amount of new research on this incredibly important yet underexplored virtue.