Book 04
Chapter 07
Telling the truth about oneself is a virtue.

So next let us talk about people who speak truly about themselves, people who make claims that prove true, and let us also talk about people who say things about themselves that are not true. Now, it may seem as if it is a simple matter: you either tell the truth or not, but we shall see that it is not that simple; for each truth there is not just one falsehood, but many, and for each right way, there are many wrong ways to go. Here again, we will have a virtue of holding to the mean, (i.e. being honest about oneself), and vice of deficiency, and a vice of excess as well.

On the side of excess, we have the boasters. These are people that claim things about themselves which would be good to have, except they do not actually have them, or although they do have them to some extent, still they do not have them to as much an extent as they claim. For example, perhaps someone did help out and contribute to a project, but they go too far and claim that no one could ever have got it done without them, and yet the work that they did, other people could well have done also.

On the side of deficiency we have those who we call 'mock-modest'. These people have things about themselves which they could honestly claim, but they say just the opposite. For instance, someone may say they know a little bit about such-and-such a thing, and then it turns out that they are really an expert. So here, such people err on the side of deficiency and make false claims of too little (rather than of too much).

And what about the mean, the virtue? That would be the truth-teller, someone who is modest, and yet also tells it straight, just how it is. Such a person, you know who they are, because they are who they say they are; you will know where they stand, what they can and will do, and what they cannot or will not do. This is the kind of person you can count on to not play you false. Falsehood is a low thing, and people who tell lies should be blamed; while truth is a good and noble thing, and truthful people are worthy of praise. Unlike people who claim too much or too little about themselves, the truthful person claims what is right, and doing so is the right thing to do, and so they are virtuous in that way.

And let us talk more about what kind of person it is that tells the truth about themselves. Here we are talking about cases where even though there is nothing at risk, and nothing is forcing a person to tell the truth (i.e. no one could call them out on it if they were telling a lie), they still tell the truth anyways. And this is different from cases of telling the truth when there is a binding agreement (which would be more the virtue of justice).

But then again, we could say that a person who tells the truth has the virtue of equitableness. If such a person already has a love of truth, so much so that they tell the truth when there is nothing at risk, they will do it even more so when there is something at risk. This is someone that avoids falsehoods because they find falsehood to be something low and base. They also err on the side of understating the truth rather than overstating it, because this seems rather in better taste, while exaggerations are in bad taste and people quickly get sick of them.

People who tell tall tales about themselves, but do it more because it is exciting and not because they are trying to get something out of fooling people -- well, such people are not good (because it is not good to enjoy telling lies), but they are not really wicked either, but rather silly and futile. People who boast and do hope to gain from it (i.e. to gain reputation or honor) are bad, but not the worst (well, they at least wish for something good, even if that is not the right way to get it). But the people who do it for money are the worst. Here I mean the type of person that will claim to be able to do things which, if they really could do them, it would be valuable and helpful to others, and although they cannot do what they boast of, it can be hard to tell at first, and hard to prove that they are frauds, and they can get away with taking payments without ever having to give the money back. More specifically, I mean people that make false claims that they can foretell the future or that they have special remedies that cure illnesses, etc.

And notice that in the above discussion, there are three different kinds of boasters, and each of the three has a different kind of character, because they tell falsehoods for three different ends (purposes) (each of which suits their character): (1) excitement, (2) reputation or honor, and (3) money.

Now, overly modest people are liked better than people that boast and tell tall tales. They talk down themselves, like how Socrates used to do, and that makes it seem like they are not acting in that way in order to gain something, but rather to keep back and avoid showing off and not call attention to themselves. But the things that they say they do not have are things that people think it is good to have.

People with false modesty, on the other hand, are not at all well-liked. False modesty is more like boasting in a roundabout way. This is the type of person that tries dressing like a Spartan (i.e. very simple and military) or otherwise makes a show of not having something, and by doing that they are also showing off how they can afford to go without when other people cannot. Then there are those who pretend to be humble by complaining they cannot do things that no one else can either. When they do this they are drawing attention both to the fact that it is one of the few things that they cannot do, and to the fact that they are superior to everyone else in what they actually can do. But if someone understates things in a moderate way, and not in such a way as to draw attention to themselves, such a person is more to our liking. The boaster is more opposed to a truthful person, because the overall character of such people is worse than the other sorts.


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