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Difference Between Integrity and Honesty: A Moral Difference

Integrity and Honesty A Moral Difference

Honesty as a Foundation of Integrity

There is a very real difference between honesty and integrity in how one leads their life. It is often said that the honest person is not necessarily the person with much integrity. How can that be? Surely they can be seen as the same thing? The simple answer is no, they cannot be seen as the same thing. This is because honesty is one of the values that make up part of the greater value of integrity. This is probably best displayed by example, let us take for instance a person finds a wallet on the side of the road pick it up and takes it for themselves. When questioned by a family member as to who the wallet belongs the person states, so there is no doubt as to his intention that he found it and intends to keep it. The person is exhibiting the trait of honesty but is he exhibiting integrity as well? No, as he makes no effort to return the wallet, which does not belong to him, to its owner. He is stealing essentially even if he is been honest.

In the above example, we saw that one can be honest while exhibiting no other traits that could be seen as forming the greater concept of integrity. To further illustrate this point that integrity is multi-faceted we will look at the dictionary meanings of both honesty and integrity followed by an investigation into what other values make up the ideal of integrity.

Dictionary Meanings

Honesty is defined as:

“noun, plural honesties.

  1. the quality or fact of being honest; uprightness and fairness.

2. truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness.

3. freedom from deceit or fraud.

4. Botany. a plant, Lunaria annua, of the mustard family, having clusters of purple flowers and semitransparent, satiny pods.

5. Obsolete. chastity.” (Dictionary.com 2017)

From the above definition, the definition of honesty can be summarised as not deceiving or being untruthful. That is the core of what being honest is. As much as we try that core definition will not change in as much as been dishonest will be the polar opposite meaning. There is very little room for differing meanings. You could tell a white lie in order to protect someone’s feelings or lie to serve what you feel is some greater good, fundamentally though you are not being honest. Thus the value of honesty is fairly black and white, you are either been honest or you are not.

When we look at the definition of integrity we see that it naturally encompasses more than been merely honest. Integrity is defined as:


  1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

2.    the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished:
to preserve the integrity of the empire.

3.   a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition:
the integrity of a ship’s hull.”(Dictinary.com 2017)

When we look at the first meaning we see the phrase “…moral and ethical principles…” as well as “…honesty…”, now we hit a bit of a rough patch. What are ethical and moral principles? A question with no easy answer that philosophers have been wrestling with for aeons. Simply put, and this is an oversimplification, without going further into the vast subject of ethical theory, a person who displays principles and doesn’t waver in applying those principles to his life even when inconvenient or unprofitable (Thomas 2011). That person then applies an ethical principle to their life. If that principle was to always help a person in need and they did so even if difficult and may have unforeseen negative consequences that person applies a principle with integrity. Also, note the last definition in the above quote with its implications of being solid or in perfect condition. This further helps our own understanding of what it means to be someone of integrity, that being someone seen as solid, dependable, and consistent in the application of ethical principles (Thomas 2011).

Further Comments on Integrity

Could we then subscribe a list of values that would in term be considered the ultimate definition of integrity? We could try, we would be unsuccessful, though. This is because human life is complex and changing almost continuously, particularly when you take into account advances in technology which inevitably raise questions on whether it is ethical or not. Say, for instance, we believe that loyalty, honesty, and humility form part of the greater ideal of integrity. We may call the wife who stays in an abusive and unhappy marriage loyal. She may be honest with herself as to why she remains in the marriage, for economic reasons or maybe for the children. She exhibits humility in how she presents herself to the public. Could it be argued that she is living to the idea of integrity? What of other values like defending herself against the tyranny of her husband? It can be successfully argued either way depending on one’s own concept of what is considered ethical. You may argue that she is living with integrity as she stoically puts up with a horrible circumstance for what you may perceive as a greater good, whether it be for the children or the sanctity of the concept of marriage. Or successfully argued that she is not living according to ethical principles in that she is not courageous enough to stand up for herself.

The above example illustrates the difficulty of defining integrity in stone as the word means different things to different people. However, that does not mean you cannot apply ethical principles to yourself so that you may live with a sense of integrity. Your decisions may not always be popular or to your immediate benefit which will result in a moral dilemma but you may find it has its own rewards.  Within the ambit of any discussion on ethics and morality, it is also important to realise that we all err, and we are all human. We are all going to fail and flirt with hypocrisy at some point in our lives, thus relying on principles that place behaviour into solely good or solely bad would be wrong. By doing so we cast people into the role of sinners without realising our own failings, or worse realising our own failings and persecuting those that exhibit the same failing.

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References :

[0]integrity. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/integrity

[1]honesty. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/honesty

[2]Thomas, J. 2011. Honesty Is Not Synonymous With Integrity, And We Need To Know The Difference,For Integrity Is What We Need. Retrieved from http://allianceforintegrity.com/integrity-articles/honesty-is-not-synonymous-with-integrityand-we-need-to-know-the-differencefor-integrity-is-what-we-need/


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