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A new three-year project to investigate the science and philosophy of an understudied virtue.

Until the last few years, most academic studies touching on the nature of honesty were actually focused on variations of its opposite: on lying, cheating, or deception. Recent studies have shifted the focus to the virtue of honesty, but have yet to capture robustly what honesty is, how common it is, and how it develops and functions in relationships, groups, organizations and institutions.

A new three-year project, funded with $4.4 million from the John Templeton Foundation, aims to significantly advance the science and philosophy of honesty. Led by Christian Miller, the A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University, The Honesty Project will involve key researchers from Wake Forest and Carnegie Mellon as well as more than a dozen subgrantees — each receiving between $40,000 and $200,000 in funding —investigating aspects of the philosophy and science of honesty. The collective goal of the project is to examine honesty and its moral and intellectual consequences.

Miller previously led the five-year Templeton-funded Character Project, which examined character traits including honesty and compassion as they relate to psychology, philosophy, and theology. Based on his work on the project, Miller wrote The Character Gap, a book-length summary of the latest character research. 

Miller’s team for the Honesty Project includes his Wake Forest colleagues (and Character Project contributors) William Fleeson, Michael Furr, and Eranda Jayawickreme, as well as Taya Cohen of Carnegie Mellon. They will undertake a series of empirical projects. One will look at honesty during difficult conversations, where truth-telling can come into tension with other values like care, ease, kindness or benevolence. The second project will examine the role of honesty in daily life, with studies aiming to develop valid measures of everyday honesty, identify what factors encourage honest behavior, and understand how honest behavior affects personal relationships.

The Honesty Project will also hold two conferences (in summer 2021 and 2023), as well as a summer seminar for early-career scholars. Miller and his team expect that dozens of scholarly papers and conference presentations and at least five book manuscripts will be produced during the course of the project.

“Honesty has been an understudied virtue, but Christian Miller and his team are well-positioned to lead a significant expansion in the philosophy and science of honesty,” says Sarah Clement, the John Templeton Foundation’s Interim Vice President of Programs. “The Honesty Project has the potential to stimulate new conceptual and empirical advances that will contribute towards better understanding of questions like how honesty is best defined, how it varies by cultures and individuals, and whether dishonesty is ever philosophically or morally justified.”


Learn more about the Honesty Project and project leader Christian Miller’s other work.