Susan Rice on Honesty and the White House

The Washington Post decided to publish an article by the least credible person in America on the importance of White House officials speaking the truth. They seem to be completely oblivious to the irony of having Susan Rice lecture us on this question.

Credibility is the currency in rhetoric, and Rice could not be less credible than she is. However, there's more to life than rhetoric. Philosophically, it is improper to dismiss her simply because she is a hypocrite who is manifestly guilty of the same offense -- or an even worse one, as her lies were carefully planned. That would be the logical fallacy of tu quoque, combined with the fallacy of ad hominem. She might have a point, even though she's a horrible person and a hypocrite.

And, indeed, she does have a point. Honor holds the world together. Truth is a force multiplier. Those things are true, whoever says them.


Anonymous said...

OK, but is the world short of people who can speak of honesty and honor without relying on those with none?


Grim said...

Some parts of the world may be. For example, this particular paper is published in Washington, D.C.

MikeD said...

I will play Devil's Advocate on this one, Grim. If you're saying that someone who has demonstrated a lack of honesty lectures the rest of us on the importance of honesty, that's better than no one giving that lecture. Fair enough, but shouldn't we also be concerned that what this person (with a demonstrated lack of honesty) considers to be "honest" may not exactly jive with the Socratic ideal of "honest"?

In other words, you use words like "honor", knowing in your mind exactly what constitutes "honor". I put it to you that it is one of the most difficult concepts to accurately define to another person. Now imagine that some low down, back-stabbing, cowardly, traitor (say, Bowe Bergdahl) decided to give a lecture on what "honor" was, and how it was important to him in his military service. Do you think he might be operating under a different definition of "honor" than you and I might be? Don't you think his lecture would either be worthless or perhaps even insulting (depending on his audience)? Sure, it's important that someone talks about the importance of honor, but sometimes the lecturer matters too.

Grim said...

It is difficult to define honor. I did so once -- see "Honor defined" on the sidebar -- but on reflection I'm not sure I captured the whole with that definition. It's an important part of what is meant, but there may be more to be said about the whole of honor.

I conditioned this case on the saying of true things, though, so I'm not sure your counterargument is really parallel. The parallel would be Bowe Bergdahl speaking truthfully about the importance of honor in military service. In that case, it would be ironic -- as it is highly ironic to find Susan Rice writing on the importance of honesty from the White House -- but not improper.

Rice here is engaged in self-service, as well as service to her party, which further undermines her credibility. But, again, it's not wrong: honor and truth are of fundamental importance, and the White House would be well advised to take much greater care about them.

MikeD said...

The parallel would be Bowe Bergdahl speaking truthfully about the importance of honor in military service.

The key word there is "truthfully". And not "from a certain point of view". But the problem is that a speaker MAY speak truthfully in the sense that they do not tell a lie, but by leaving important facts out completely they may give the listener an absolutely false impression of reality. Noam Chomsky specializes in this precise kind of "truth". But you would never consider him truthful, in a meaningful sense. And for HIM to expound on the virtues of "truth" is surely a distortion of virtue disguised as vice.