What’s the Difference Between Honesty & Truthfulness
Honesty and truthfulness are not the same thing. Honesty is saying what you sincerely believe to be true – what you believe to be true in a manner not intended to deceive. You can honestly state something that is untrue. Truth is about objective fact. Something is either true or not. A person can be honestly wrong, believing something that is not the truth.
A good example of how honesty and truthfulness differ is the responsibilities that lawyers have to clients and the court. According to Frederick and Martin (
Martin, V. N. with Frederick, M. 2013.
101 Things I Learned in Law School
: “Lawyers must be honest, but they don’t have to be truthful. Being honest means not telling lies. Being truthful means actively making known the full truth of a matter…A criminal defense lawyer, for example, in zealously defending a client, has no obligation to actively present the truth. Counsel may not deliberately mislead the court but has no obligation to tell the defendant’s whole story.” In other words, a lawyer may withhold the truth about a client but if that same lawyer tells a falsehood about a client’s activity, then that is dishonest.
In a more general sense, if someone knowingly says something that is not true, they are telling a lie. But if they unknowingly say something that is not true, they are being honest. Let’s assume your best friend tells you he is cheating on his wife and asks that you keep his confidence. One day your spouse comes home and asks you if you know whether that friend is cheating on his wife. It seems your spouse’s sister saw your friend at a restaurant with another woman on two occasions. If you tell your wife that you know nothing of the cheating, then you have told a lie. But if your friend never told you about the cheating and you tell your spouse you know nothing of it, then you are being truthful.