“The Death of Honesty” by William Damon brings up an issue that will be with
humanity forever; he delves deep into the implications of being truthful and has
valuable insight on the effect of lying. The publication “The Death Of Honesty” was
published in 2012, yet the underlying theme that honesty is diminishing over time seems
to be more and more prevalent in society as time goes on. Damon takes the position
that lying and lack of virtue are detrimental to society, and without people taking more
action against such behavior, it could even potentially lead to the death of democracy.
Damon, with the help of interesting scenarios and examples, admirably persuades the
reader to believe that dishonesty, and a lack of priority to be honest, will tear at the
fabric of society to the point of no return.
Of course, Damon does not believe in a situation where lying should be
outlawed, or where lying is bad in all circumstances. He establishes himself with the
reader by acknowledging that no one should necessarily be truthful in every scenario
when he gives examples of situations where lying can be noble. His first example being
“Reassuring an ungainly teenager that he or she looks great” (Damon par. 1) and the
second example being when he suggests that lying to Nazis about the locations of
hidden families during the Nazi occupation of Europe was also noble (par. 1).
After acknowledging some circumstances where the truth might not truly be the
most virtuous option, Damon creates a paragraph with only one sentence that clearly
shows his position about lying in an attempt to appeal to the reader’s ethics: “Teaching
honesty is no longer a priority in our schools” (par. 5). This appeals to the reader by
reminding them of their cultural standards, which include that trust is important,
especially at a young age.
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Damon goes on to suggest that “No civilization can tolerate a fixed expectation of
dishonest communications without falling apart from a breakdown in mutual trust” (par.
6). Damon attempts to justify this by saying that “people shun liars because they can’t
be trusted” (par. 6). As much of a stretch that it is to suggest that whole civilizations can
crumble as a result of too much lying, Damon appeals to the reader’s sense of logic
when he backs up his statement by also suggesting that “people shun liars because
they can’t be trusted” (par. 6). He goes on the back up his position about trust and
honesty by examining the importance honesty played on society throughout history; the
Romans, Confusious, the Bible’s Old Testament, and even Abraham Lincoln and
George Washington are all used as examples that placed an importance on, or were
commended for being honest.
After looking at the benefit of being honest and having integrity, Damon
discusses the rationalizations of people within society to continue to be dishonest and
even goes as far to say that people in contemporary life — such as lawyers, politicians,
businessmen, and others—can be foolish to deal with all people in an honest way. He
states that as a result of the continual lack of trust among people who lie, “The bounds
of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge” (par. 9). “The
laws of the jungle” in this case is a good example of Damon using pathos to create an
emotional response. Most people would obviously find it hard to live in the jungle, and
this example he used is an exaggeration for dramatic effect.
Damon believes society is at a tipping point, where people will soon no longer
assume that anyone is truthful. And again, Damon makes use of a one sentence
paragraph in an attempt to solidify his theory that civilization will crumble without
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honesty; “A basic intent to be truthful is required for all sustained civilized dealings” (par.
Damon goes on to say that the news, political discourse, civic affairs, and most
concerningly (especially for the young), the educational system have all lost credibility
over the years. Damon appeals to the readers pathos, yet forgets to mention any logic
in his examples. He simply states that things are bad, but does not back them up with
evidence. As a reader, you might think that the educational system is fraught with
cheating, but there is no mention of how common this type of occurrence is, or whether
or not it happens less or more over time with consideration to the ratio of a growing
world population. Damon does however, state that according to research, almost three
quarters of American college students have admitted to cheating at least once on their
academics prior to college—without any reference to where the research was
After showing some more prominent and recent instances of cheating in the
educational system, Damon proposes that American school systems and policies are
failing to properly deal with cheating as an issue. He says that “There is little
consistency, coherence, or transparency in many school policies” (par. 21). After listing
recent instances of cheating, this statement might seem to logically resonate with the
reader, however, lacks to properly acknowledge how prevalent such instances occur.
“The problem here is the low priority of honesty in our agenda for schooling
specifically and child-rearing in general” (par. 22) Damon says. Looking at this
statement impartially, there might be low priority of honesty for schooling or there might
be a lot of priority for honesty in schooling. However, the reader is likely to take his
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word for the former because by the end of the text, the publication was written well
enough to establish some trust and credibility for everything Damon had written.
In general, the author concentrates on specific examples of people not being
truthful in a good attempt to connect with your emotions, yet he makes you forget that
he fails to bring up how prevalent lying is as a ratio within society and whether or not it’s
actually becoming more common. However, he is still most likely not wrong when he
brings up that dishonesty is an issue. All things considered, it seems that Damon
focused more on the detriment of dishonesty when he might also have benefited from
focusing on the merit of being virtuous and honest to deliver his message. Overall,
Damon succeeds in making you wonder about what extent and what impact lies and
honesty will have in the future. And we do now know that there’s still a lot to learn about
the benefits and consequences of honesty and truthfulness.
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