What Does It Mean To Live An Honest Life? Argumentative Essays Example
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Philosophy, Course Number
Honesty is a virtue that has many meanings and intonations. While there is an immediate attempt to view honesty in the framework of dealings with others, honesty may also be construed as an effort to be honest about oneself and to look at the world without illusions. The effort to look at the world without illusions would actually require higher levels of honesty than the more prosaic honesty of dealing with others. To answer the question as to what it means to live an honest life, one must first ask whether it pays to be honest. Why do people decide to be honest, despite daily reminders that the world’s riches are reserved for those who can bend the truth? There is no straight answer; however, a guide about honesty may be obtained from the writings of Ayers, Camus and Fromm. The thesis of this paper is that to lead an honest life means to lead a life of realism, to live virtuously for the sake of virtue alone, and in so doing, contribute to the inner and outer world.
Honesty as a Way of Life
Honesty is deemed to be a virtue. Popular conception of honesty is that it is ‘good’ to be honest. However, in the words of Ayers, “there is little correlation between goodness and happiness” (123). Just as a nun would never know whether her life lived strictly in obeisance to God had a meaning, an honest man would similarly not be guaranteed to fame, fortune or a place in the hereafter. If honesty does not lead to happiness, why would people prefer to be honest? One possible answer is that honesty might lead to self-fulfillment. An honest man might meet many ‘absurd’ situations, where his honesty would not win the day. On such occasions, ‘he simply has to derive all the consequences”(Camus) from the point of view of his honesty. Thus, honesty, if followed, would be its own device. This echoes Ayers’ assertion that “if virtue is said to be its own reward, it is because it often acquires no other (Ayers 123).
It is in the inner realm of searching for oneself and the truths of life that honesty acquires an entire new dimension. If a person were truly honest about himself, his limitations and his interactions with nature, he would soon realize that there is little in life that is within his direct control. He might come to realize that most things might have little to do with cause and effect. Accidents and ‘flukes’ might even be the norm of how life is to be expected to occur. He might feel bereft of his moorings of security, purpose and relevance once he realizes that things were not static and meaningful in Newtonian terms. This would force him to look at things from a broad perspective, to realize that he would be trading the illusion of freedom for a new kind of independence. True honesty would thus arise out of holding no absurd notions about life, and being realistic about one’s station in life. Such a position would be at once truly liberating as well as truly terrifying. On the one hand, a world shorn of illusion might prompt a man to commit suicide. On the other hand, he now has the option to could create a rich life without illusions. An honest mind would, therefore, be in sync with metaphysical realities, and be at peace with the contradictions of life itself. And in so doing, an honest man might transcend limitations of his mortality and achieve feats that would be illogical to reason.
The realism that an honest life would result in would have many facets. Man would finally come to terms with the finality of Time and not fight against it. He would break out of the self-defeating cycle of counting his life as a series of birthdays, only to realize that he were passively awaiting the end of his life. With the dawn of realism, man would be liberated and would be able to live virtuously for the sake of virtue alone. “For a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action” (Camus). Realism would therefore prompt an honest man to try and improve his lot in the best possible manner with what he has at his disposal.
The world that man would create out of his honesty would have its own rewards and unique challenges, giving man enough latitude and leeway so that he would seek no other world. Therefore, it stands to reason that over a lifetime of honesty, man would be able to create something good out of his life.
There is little doubt that a life of honesty would pose its own set of challenges. In today’s world, the shades of gray abound, and honesty is often more of a liability than an asset in the short term. An honest person might have to do many things the hard way without support from society. However, like Sisyphus, when he might have to re-commence his journey from the start point on multiple occasions, he would be ‘superior to his fate’ and ‘stronger than the gods’ (Camus). While the honest man is forced to start from zero on many occasions due to his intransigence to compromise, his efforts would also make him find simpler ways to do things and to understand what is essential to do and what is frivolous. This distinction that the honest man would realize, perhaps at personal cost of reverses, would be unique to him and give him a sense of perspective that would be unparalleled.
Therefore, as in the eyes of Sisyphus, to an honest man, the Universe would offer deep meaning and satisfaction. He would not be content to merely follow the inane path of acquiring material things in life at the cost of selling his soul. While the rest of the world would go about its race towards frivolities, an honest man would understand the essence of cause and effect, and he would be able to see through the machinations and leverages that propel the modern world. With his honesty, he would be able to find simplicity amidst complex issues, because he would have the courage to face reality, a quality that is sorely lacking in today’s world.
Because of his sense of perspective, the honest man would be an ideal candidate to provide leadership in challenging situations. Difficult times like famine, natural emergencies and even terrorist attacks require man to see clearly and without illusion, and think out of the box to arrive at solutions for the good of society. The honest man would find most of his peers to be lacking in spirit to face such difficult times as they would have lost their strength of character and endurance, given their proclivities of living an easy life of compromise. Therefore, the onus of leadership would fall onto the honest man, and his peers would realize the value of calling a spade a spade.
Thus, to lead a life of honesty would mean to lead a life without blinkers and false pretenses about one’s own powers, one’s relative importance and in truisms such as notions about the ‘victory of good over evil’. Man would lead a life shorn of illusion and in the new light of realism. In this new light, man would follow honesty just like any other virtue- for the virtue alone and not out of any thought of gains in the material or the metaphysical world. To such a man, honesty would have Kantian overtones of being an act of duty for its own sake. However, paradoxically, it is only through such an approach that man would actually become braver in his dealings and would be taking on causes that would be close to his heart. He would cease to be scheming and prone to materialism and would look for meaning in his internal life and would simultaneously look to create meaning in the lives around him. While the world would throw many hurdles and reverses his way, an honest man would keep braving the reverses and continue on his chosen path, for his heart would have become strong just like the mythical Sisyphus.
Ayer, Alfred Jules. “The Meaning of Life.” In The Meaning of Life, and Other Essays. New York, Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, 1990. 117-126. Print.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Trans. Justin O’Brien. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955. Print.
Fromm, Erich. To Have or to Be? New York: Continuum, 1977. Print.
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