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Follow the Truth: Intellectual Honesty and Spotting Deception

Updated on September 28, 2017
"The School of Athens" by Rafael
"The School of Athens" by Rafael

Intellectual Honesty and Coherence

Intellectual honesty is in the same ballpark as critical thinking in that it is yet another method by which we analyze information and decide if it is coherent, sound or both. This term is often heard more in political review or in the examination of academic ideas and theories. It is usually used to describe an action or comment made by a person of societal interest. Unfortunately, it would seem that the term has been taken out of context quite a bit lately. The term itself references the flow of consistency between beliefs, actions and comments whether they are our own or another person's. The intellectual side of the term references the belief, thought or idea that a statement or action is based on and how it is related/expressed in a given context. The honesty portion is in reference to how consistent the individual's act of expression is when compared to their past, present and estimated future comments. Before discussing the importance of understanding the concept of intellectual honesty and how to spot it, we are going to deconstruct it and discuss some of the important aspects related to intellectual honesty. We will begin with consistency in speech.

Consistency in speech can be exemplified by looking at political representatives and their adherence to the "party line". Let's say that a Republican senator was to give a speech on his beliefs on gun control and will also introduces new policies regarding gun control that he hopes to work toward during his time as senator. Without even listening to his speech you can make an accurate guess as to what his policies may include like less gun control and less government overreach in regard to weapon registration. Your ability to determine the intent and content of his speech is due to your evaluation of the Republican party's intellectual consistency in reference to the topic of gun control. If this senator wishes to remain intellectually honest to his political party then he will likely stick to what has been said in the past. It is important to recognize that it is through the observance of the consistence of speech or action that we are able to accurately compare previous dialogue with present dialogue without being influenced by an inaccurate narrative or a nefarious change in story.

Now, let's scale this back a bit. Many of us have honest jobs outside of politics and do not feel pressured to follow the strict lines drawn by the left and right today. Why is it that someone follows a belief in all aspects of their life and how does that actually Look? Well think of someone with any kind of adherence to a creed or religion. Continuing on with our previous example, what if an individual disagreed with Republicans on gun control and proclaimed that stricter gun control was needed in the United states. Now let us further assume that someone in their family gifts them a gun and they fail to register it. When asked why they haven't followed the law, their reply is that they are only one person and only took because it because it was a gift and will never use it. This same individual still continues to advocate for gun laws and harsher penalties for gun owners that do not follow them. What is the problem here?

Many would reply by stating the obvious: The person is a blind hypocrite. This is of course true, but how is the person a hypocrite? They are a hypocrite for not being intellectually honest to both themselves and others by failing to register the newly acquired gun and adhere to the very laws they proclaim. Furthermore, failing to see the intellectual inconsistency created by their comments and actions leads me to my next point: self-deception.

The are some important points to be made regarding the internal requirements of intellectual honesty that should be addressed prior to discussing deception. First, as stated previously, there is a level of metacognition that is required in order intellectual honesty to exist. Shocker, you have to think about how you think in order to be true to you ideals! Self examination of beliefs and their relation to your actions is required in order to ensure that what is proposed as your beliefs remains consistent with your past, present and future expressions whether verbal or physical. Beliefs are of course subject to change with experience however that is also done through roughly the same process. This process of thoughtful evolution requires the comparison of new information and experiences with old ones and then deciding if a new mode of thinking and expression be accepted. Because I am a Star Wars nerd, we will use a force reference to explain this concept.

Anakin felt powerless on the light side of the force when he lost his mother and felt extremely threatened. He received new information about the dark side of the force that influenced him to compare his past and current actions with possible future ones on both the dark (bad) and light (good) sides of the force. After examining his life and mode of thinking while adhering to the set creed and belief system of the light side, he decided that his life would possibly be better if he followed the dark side rather than light. Thus he underwent a cognitive change in how he viewed the world and his actions in it which lead him to become Darth Vader. If Anakin continued to claim to be a jedi and on the light side while shooting lighting and killing other jedi, he would be intellectually inconsistent and would have demonstrated a lack of self examination. Thank you for suffering through my nerdom.

Where self deception plays a role is in the distortion of the perception of one's own personal actions in relation to their beliefs. Often times this takes place when we excuse ourselves from adhering to our own rules like the example given above with the unregistered gun owner. Other times it is because we do not take the time to examine our actions or refuse to because we do not want to deal with the mental conflict that comes with our inconsistency. The true requirement for intellectual honesty to occur is that there be a desire to actually be intellectually honest with your own thinking. while it can be easy to identify a lack of consistency in others, it is especially hard to do with ourselves. The periodic self examination of one’s own ideals is highly recommended when trying to remain intellectually honest and should always be done before accusing someone else of being inconsistent.

With the increasingly politicized world we live in, it is becoming more and more important to follow the lines of intellectual honesty attached to the ideas or concepts presented. An idea itself can sound good and true, but when presented by an individual or group that has not supported any of the intellectual tenants of the good and true idea, then their integrity and motives should be questioned. This leads to the further examination of the idea, which then leads to a more informed opinion. This process allows for true intellectual honesty when choosing to support an idea or topic through gaining an understanding of how the idea is in line with your personal beliefs. This also allows for the policing of inaccurate speech and false representation of the self. On a much larger scale this idea when employed by a society requires more from its leaders and news outlets.The intrinsic and extrinsic examination of intellectual honesty is needed in our society today as the availability of information has only increased and become faster across the world. Before believing and repeating any information, require that you examine it closely and check the thread of intellectual honesty that is connected to it for consistency. Examine the source for consistency. Most of all, examine yourself to ensure that you are not choosing this information strictly because it sounds or looks believable. We live in a time in which people can actually choose their news which is a luxury that will be lost if not appreciated. Ensure that you are being intellectually honest with yourself by refuting or accepting only accurate information. Remember that everyone lies, but the most lies we ever receive are from ourselves for our own benefit.


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