Most people avoid saying literally false things, especially if those could be audited, like making up facts or credentials. The reasons for this are both moral and pragmatic — being caught out looks really bad, and sustaining lies is quite hard, especially over time. Let’s call the habit of not saying things you know to be false ‘shallow honesty’[1].

Often when people are shallowly honest, they still choose what true things they say in a kind of locally act-consequentialist way, to try to bring about some outcome. Maybe something they want for themselves (e.g. convincing their friends to see a particular movie), or something they truly believe is good (e.g. causing their friend to vote for the candidate they think will be better for the country).

Either way, if you think someone is being merely shallowly honest, you can only shallowly trust them: you might be confident that they aren't literally lying, but you still have to do a bit of reverse engineering to figure out what they actually believe or intend.

This post is about an alternative: deep honesty, and the deep trust that can follow. Deep honesty is the opposite of managing the other party’s reactions for them. Deep honesty means explaining what you actually believe, rather than trying to persuade others of some course of action. Instead, you adopt a sincerely cooperative stance in choosing which information to share, and trust them to come to their own responses.

In this post, we've leaned into the things that seem good to us about deep honesty. Writing while being in touch with that makes it seem easier to convey the core idea. We've tried to outline what we see as disadvantages of deep honesty, but we're still probably a bit partial. We would love to see discussion of the idea, including critical takes (either that our concepts are not useful ones, or that this is less something to be emulated than we imply).

The rest of this post will be:

  • Some examples of where deep and shallow honesty diverge
  • Why and when you might want deep honesty
  • Various disclaimers about what deep honesty is not
  • A look at some difficult cases for deep honesty
  • What deep honesty might look like in practice

Examples of shallow (versus deep) honesty

  • Writing a very optimistic funding application which doesn’t mention your personal concerns about the project
    • As opposed to being upfront about what you think the weaknesses are
  • Telling an official at border control that you’re visiting America to ‘see some friends’
    • Rather than explaining that you’re also going to some kind of philanthropically funded conference about AI risk
  • Searching for and using whichever messaging makes audiences most concerned about AI risk
    • Instead of whatever best explains your concerns
  • Saying that you totally disagree with the ideology of an extremist group
    • And not that they are actually right about some important controversial topics, in a way that doesn’t justify their actions
  • Reassuring your manager about all the things that are going well and privately trying to fix all the problems before they grow
    • Instead of telling your manager what’s going wrong and giving them an opportunity to make an informed decision about what to do
  • Rejecting someone from a programme with a note explaining that it was very competitive
    • Rather than explaining what you perceived to be their weaknesses and shortcomings for the role
  • Telling yourself that you’re doing something for utilitarian reasons
    • Instead of acknowledging that you also have a pretty weird kludge of motivations which definitely includes being recognised and appreciated by your peers
  • When a friend asks how you are, smoothly changing the topic because you don’t want them worrying about you
    • Rather than opening up about private difficulties, or even just giving a wry smile and saying “well enough” in such a way as to provide a trailhead for a conversation about those difficulties if they want to pursue it
  • Sharing the fact that you have some frugal habits (like driving a Corolla), because you think they will make people think well of you
    • And not also mentioning that you frequently spend large amounts of money on luxuries you consider time-saving

Why deep honesty?

In all the above examples, it’s easy to see how deep honesty could go wrong — your boss thinks you’re a moron, your friends don’t care about your feelings, you have a weird existential crisis about whether you’re even a good person, and instead of going straight to a conference you get dragged off for half an hour of interrogation by government officials[2].

But what if it went right? It seems like when deep honesty is well-received, it leads to better outcomes, often in ways you can’t foresee. This isn’t a trite or mystical claim: rather, there will always be information you’re lacking that other people have. When you’re deeply honest, you equip them to make best use of their private information as well as yours. Perhaps your manager knows of a clever workaround to the problems you have. Even when they can’t make special use of the information, deep honesty makes it easy for them to rely on your reports, and so strengthens the relationship.

There are good reasons to refrain from deep honesty: it is a risk, and sometimes a large one. In the case of admissions, usually when you reject someone from a programme, you have a pretty clear sense of why, and actually explaining that to the applicant could be very helpful. But as well as being time-consuming, telling someone why they didn’t meet the bar can provoke quite a negative reaction and sometimes even reprisal. Deep honesty is an act of trust in the recipient.

However, it’s also sometimes quite hard to realize how much you’re missing when you stick to shallow honesty, and is easy to overestimate how successfully you’re crafting your message. Shallow honesty involves some amount of optimization, and so it falls prey to all of optimization's classic failures.

To take the example of public messaging, particularly smart and capable people are especially likely to spot disingenuous sales pitches, and when they do, they have basically no reason to tell you that you seem manipulative to them, and so there’s no feedback loop. From their perspective, there’s a chance you might be provoked to switch to deeper honesty, but you also might just optimize more carefully. So you learn nothing, and you end up missing out on some of the best people without even noticing.

Shallow honesty works well enough in cases where, in some sense, the other person wants it. The border patrol official would be happy to accept that you're here to see friends and wave you through, without working their head around the subject of the conference. But in domains where people are actively trying to resist adversarial optimization, they can catch on pretty fast.

Indeed, people with experience running admissions rounds generally learn how to spot applications that are shallow, because so many people do it. Likewise with funding applications. It is very natural to want to put your best foot forward and pitch people on why you’re so shiny and polished and great, but often it is a mistake. Sometimes the person reading your application wants to understand what you’re actually like, and if you clearly only give them half the picture then they still have to figure out the other half, only now they’re much less certain.

What deep honesty is not

Having made the case for deep honesty, it’s worth laying out some pitfalls, both in the application, and in how you might interpret the concept.

It is not a universal stance

Deep honesty is not a property of a person that you need to adopt wholesale. It’s something you can do more or less of, at different times, in different domains.

It is not independent of the listener

The words which will help a young child to understand what’s going on will be different from the words which will help an expert. Deep honesty is attuned to the situation, and the audience.

It is not telling people everything

Deep honesty doesn’t mean you have to share every detail that might be relevant. Deep honesty is in touch with what the listener cares about, and is in touch with your and their rights to choose where to spend time communicating. If the cashier at the grocery store asks how you’re doing, it’s not deeply honest to give the same answer you’d give to a therapist — it’s just inappropriate.

It does not relieve you of a responsibility to be kind

Deep honesty means you don’t take responsibility for how others respond to your words. Your responsibility is to make your words good — speaking with truth, relevance, and kindness. Their responsibility is to act well given that. But blunt truths can be hurtful. It is often compatible with deep honesty to refrain from sharing things where it seems kinder to do so (although be honest with yourself about whether it would be a deeper kindness to share). And it’s of course important, if sharing something that might be difficult to hear, to think about how it can be delivered in a gentle way.

It is not incompatible with consequentialism

A pure act-consequentialist, choosing the words that they predict will have the best outcomes, might sometimes lie. Many consequentialists would reject that as naïve and demand at least shallow honesty as a side constraint.

However, this may still be too naïve. The winner’s curse is that whoever wins an auction is liable to have overestimated the value of the object. The same dynamic applies when you’re optimizing for what to say. You have noisy estimates of how good each option will be, and it’s likely that the one that looks best to you will be an overestimate — perhaps because it interacts with some kind of blindspot you have.  If you’re optimizing under shallow honesty, you’re stuck with this problem. With deep honesty, you can hope that you may reveal useful information to people who don’t share your blindspots (even if you don’t know what that information is). And especially when you’re interacting with very competent people, you may not be so good at telling how they will receive any particular message.

So deep honesty as a heuristic for action for boundedly rational actors looks pretty good on consequentialist grounds. It’s very compatible with taking the low-hanging fruit of consequentialism — thinking through possible bad effects of communication, and taking steps to mitigate those. (Deep honesty also looks generally very good from non-consequentialist perspectives on ethics.)

Challenging cases for deep honesty

It’s not always the wise or moral choice to be deeply honest. Deep honesty is a risk, and it’s a bigger risk in some cases than others.

Even when you’re not being deeply honest about everything, it’s often worth remaining deeply honest at the meta level[3]. Warn people that you’re biased and may argue for one side. Tell them that you’re simplifying things, or steering around a topic you don’t want to get into.

Large inferential gaps

Sometimes you have a very different worldview from your audience.

If you have a good understanding of their perspective (e.g. imagine explaining something to your own small child), you may be able to predict that they might draw inferences you’d consider inaccurate from things you share. It isn’t deeply honest to knowingly let them draw important false inferences, at least without warning them about this issue. But when bandwidth is limited, you may well not be able to bottom out all of the differences in perspective. In this case, deep honesty means improving their understanding of relevant topics in ways they’d endorse with moderately more context (you don’t get to assume they come to endorse your whole worldview). Sometimes this means (transparently) steering around a topic that’s more likely to cause inaccurate inferences; sometimes it means going out of your way to cancel possible implications.  

Sometimes you don’t even know what inferences they might draw. Then it’s especially easy for attempts at communication to go wrong, and you might want to be correspondingly cautious about it. Deep honesty may take you into a zone of sharing things you might not otherwise share and are vulnerable. On the other hand, it’s hard to optimize in a shallowly honest way when you don’t understand the audience, so the unforeseen benefits of deep honesty can be especially helpful in these cases.

Audiences you don’t want to cooperate with

Sometimes people will want information so that they can cause harm, and it is reasonable to not help them. Sometimes you will meet people who actively want to twist your words, and it is reasonable to not give them ammunition.[4]

Multiple audiences

It can be harder to be deeply honest when delivering a single message to multiple audiences that have different contexts and background assumptions. What’s most useful to one audience may not be most useful to another.

We can distinguish between active deep honesty, where you are trying to share whatever information the listener would most want (to reach an informed independent view), and passive deep honesty, where you’re at least not aiming to persuade the listener of something. With multiple audiences, you may only get to choose one to be actively deeply honest with in any moment[5], but you can always be passively deeply honest with all of them.

Sometimes you have some audiences you’d like to be deeply honest with, and others you wouldn’t. Now you have to make a judgment call about how much you value deep trust with the first group, versus how worried you are about the risks of deep honesty with the second.

Here’s a very rough sketch of the concepts we’re using

What being deeply honest might look like

Deep honesty is about empowering your listeners. In principle this could involve conscious optimization for what seems like it might be most useful for them. But as a practical matter, the best guide is often asking yourself, as you say something, “did it feel honest to say that?”[6]. Anecdotally, it seems like this can lead to a qualitatively different mode of expression — where you don’t allow your communication to be steered by ulterior motives — and that some people are pretty good at intuiting when people are or aren’t in this mode[7]. This is a very helpful skill to develop.

Deep honesty is often a bit scary, because you don’t know how others will react to it. This is why engaging in it can require something like faith, that striving after virtue will lead to good things, even if you’re not in a position to be able to say what those are.

Fortunately, although deep honesty has been described here as some kind of intuitive act of faith, it is still just an action you can take with consequences you can observe. So rather than diving in wholesale, you can just try to pay a bit more attention to where you’re already doing it or not doing it, whether it seems like others are doing it, and experiment with doing it a bit more in cases where that seems like it might work out.

Seriously, skipping to 100% deep honesty all the time would be a mistake, and also probably impossible. But it seems like maybe deep honesty is underrated right now.

So ask yourself more often, when thinking about how to communicate, “what is kind, true, and useful?” and “what is the heart of the matter?” rather than “what will have good effects?”. Take a moment to appreciate the people who seem to actually consistently say what they really believe, even if it means revealing that they're wrong or ignorant or have silly reasoning about something, and especially if it's not politically expedient.

Give it a go when you get the chance, and see where that gets you.

  1. ^

    Of course even this is not always necessary — for example, if someone asks how you’re doing, many people think it’s fine to say “good”, even if your cat just died.

  2. ^

    As regrettably more or less happened to one poor author of this very post.

  3. ^

    As a case in point, we want to discuss the fact that in making this (three-authored) post anonymous, we’re holding back from deep honesty. We don’t regard our identities as a great secret, but it seems to us that publishing under our names could be seen as having an ulterior motive, of trying to persuade people to deeply trust us (in general). This (it seems to us) could actually make it harder for people to feel a certain kind of trust in our purposes in writing this post, and could get in the way of people engaging directly with the ideas. By removing ourselves from the equation, we hope to keep things clean. However, we are conscious that there might be some benefits we cannot foresee to posting non-anonymously, so it seems possible this is the wrong call. We at least wanted to be open about our thinking on this point.

  4. ^

    Obviously, this determination is hazardous.  At least one of the authors believes they have gotten this importantly wrong in the past sometimes, and that more deep honesty would have served their own goals and the world better.

  5. ^

    Although not-infrequently the same information will be desired by many audiences. And even when that isn’t the case, you can often talk to multiple audiences in sequence, flagging who each part is meant for.

  6. ^

    Although it seems like the ability to accurately judge this can be inhibited by stress. This predicts that people who are under stress will typically be less honest, even without having chosen to be dishonest — and is an extra reason to worry about patterns of overwork and/or burnout in sectors of EA. This is also one argument for sometimes taking a deep enough rest that you are not stressed, and for asking yourself then how deeply honest your previous actions were.

  7. ^

    One author of this post would like to thank the various people who consistently and gracefully called him out on his occasional insincerity, for prompting him to actually notice it and sharpen the relevant intuitions, and heartily recommends that everyone find such friends.

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I aspire to a kind of honesty that's similar to what's described here. I thought maybe this post was going overboard, but then it kept including caveats that feel similar to the caveats and specifics I go for.

One thing I might add or rephrase:

I think doing a good job with honesty, and having it be actually helpful, includes having a bunch of related soft social skills. 

Sometimes the truth hurts people (which might in turn hurt you). One attitude here is "whelp, then either I must not care as much about truth as I thought (because you aren't willing to inflict or take on that hurt) or I'm just going to deal with a bunch of random costs for sticking with the truth". But another attitude is "learn the goddamn communication skills to present important truths in a way that hurts less."

(while you're still gaining those skills, one solution is various flavors of meta-honesty, which you touch on here. i.e. be clear to people 'hey, I won't directly lie, and I will try to tell you useful, unbiased info, but I won't always go out of my way to do so'. Another is to be like 'nope, I'mma be deeply honest all the times even when I'm too clumsy to do it without causing harm', which comes with upsides and downsides)

There's soft skills in "communicating to others without hurting them", (i.e. "tact") and there are also soft skills for absorbing information that might have otherwise hurt you, without getting hurt.  (i.e. "thick skin"). Both seem worth investing in, if you want a world with more honesty in it.

There's soft skills in "communicating to others without hurting them", (i.e. "tact")

What about the situation in which:

  • One has highly religious relatives who are somewhat less cognitively functional that oneself
  • You wish you could help them have a map more closely coupled to reality
  • You are confident that you have a good chance of convincing them of reality, but not that the knowledge would actually be a net gain for them to have, since:
  • They are so invested in their beliefs that the realization of falsehood might do irreparable psychological damage

So there's "being honest" and "trying to convince people of things you think are true", and I think those are at least somewhat different projects. I feel like the first is more obviously good than the second.

I would first ask "what's my goal" (and, doublecheck why it's your goal and if you're being honest with yourself). Like, "I want to be able to say my true thoughts out loud and have an honest open relationship with my relatives" is different from "i don't want my relatives to believe false things" (the win-condition for the former is about you, the latter is about them). The latter is subtly different from "I want to have presented my best case to them, that they'll actually listen to, but then let them make up their own mind."

I'd also note there are additional soft skills you can gain like:

  • feeling safe/nonjudgmental to talk to
  • making it feel safe for people to give up ideology (via living-through-example as someone who is happy without being religious)
  • helping people grieve/orient

I like the essay and I think [something like what you call deep honesty] is underrated right now. But I'm still confused what you mean, and about the thing itself.

I'll say a few more things but the headline is that I'm confused and would like more clarity about what a deep honesty-er is.

  • There's always multiple audiences. A simple example is that anyone could repeat anything you say to someone else. A harder example is that individual humans are actually dividual.
  • "you can always be passively deeply honest with all of them" This is incorrect. They don't speak the same language, and there are always many homonyms.
  • It's not clear to me that it makes sense to at all think of bureaucracies as being the sort of thing that you can be honest or dishonest with--too schizophrenic / antiphrenic. Honesty, as you've described, is about putting more true + less false salient propositions in a mind as beliefs. There has to be a mind there to have propositions.
  • The essay is vague about who is benefiting. Which matters because the definition of deep honesty involves salience, which means it's dependent on goal-pursuits or something else which gives salience to propositions. As Vassar said: As Kant said: What information architectures can I and should I integrate into?
  • Basically, I think we're a lot less clear on [** what sort of being we would have to be for it to make sense to describe us as being (deeply) honest or not, or as being treated with (deep) honesty or not] than we should be.
  • Compared to an exhortation to deep honesty, I'm as much or more inclined to make an exhortation to figure out [** what sort of being...] and [what sort of being we would have to be for it to make sense for others to treat us with (deep) honesty]. Others fail me in both respects, but more so by not being suitable partners for deep honesty than by not being deeply honest.

I really like this post for being an appropriately nuanced look at both how to strive for honesty and also reasons not to.

I've seen some takes on the topic that seem to arise from either a deep discomfort of ever having to deal with anything at all misleading, or just from a straight-out desire to minimize social effort and use honesty as an excuse to blurt out whatever is on your mind. This post is very much not that, and rather goes into detail on how being deeply honest actually requires putting in more work to do it well.


The problem with something like e.g. funding applications is that unless deep honesty (which I agree would lead to the best outcomes!) is actively rewarded, then whoever is that honest ends up being a sucker who loses to those who express more confidence, even if unwarranted. This in fact I'd say is a big problem with funding and investments, because the shallowness of the honesty required (in fact, the encouragement of all sorts of truth twisting this side of outright lying) creates a situation in which it's very easy for people to slide directly into fraud or at least delusion about their own prospects as soon as things go awry.

Promoted to curated: I sure tend to have a lot of conversations about honesty and integrity, and this specific post was useful in 2-3 conversations I've had since it came out. I like having a concept handle for "trying to actively act with an intent to inform", I like the list of concrete examples of the above, and I like how the post situates this as something with benefits and drawbacks (while also not shying away too much from making concrete recommendations on what would be better on the margin).

Im a real fan of insane ideas. I literally do Acid every monday. But I gotta say among crazy ideas 'be way way more honest' is well trodden ground and the skulls are numerous. It just really rarely goes well. Im a pretty honest guy and am attracted to the cluster. But if you start doing this you are definitely trying something in a cluster of ideas that usually works terribly. 

If anything I have to constantly tell myself to be less explicit and 'deeply honest'. It just doesnt work well for most people.


This sounds like a case of the Rule of Equal and Opposite Advice: I'm sure for some people more honesty would be harmful, but it does sound like the caveats here make it clear when not to use it. I more agree with questions Tsvi raises in the other thread than with "this is awful advice". I can imagine that you are a person for whom more honesty is bad, although if you followed the caveats above it would be imo quite rare to do it wrong. I think the authors do a good job of outlining many cases where it goes wrong.


John Carmack is a famously honest man. To illustrate this, I'll give you two stories. When Carmack was a kid, he desperately wanted the macs in his schools computer lab. So he and a buddy tried to steal some. They got caught because Carmack's friend was too fat to get through the window. Carmack went to juvie. When the counselor asked him if he wouldn't get caught, would he do it again? Carmack answered yes for this counterfactual.

Later, when working as a young developer, Carmack and his fellow employees would take the company workstations home to code games over the weekend. Their boss eventually noticed this and wondered if they were borrowing company property without permission. He quickly hit on a foolproof plan to catch them: just ask Carmack because he cannot tell a lie. Carmack said yes. 

These stories aren't really a response to your point. I just find them to be hilarious examples of the inability to lie. They're also an existence proof of someone being unable to lie but still doing very well. 

Many things can be done by the right people. But Idk 'radical honesty' adjacent ideas usually go real bad.

Might be an uncharitable read of what's being recommended here. In particular, it might be worth revisiting the section that details what Deep Honesty is not. There's a large contingent of folks online who self-describe as 'borderline autistic', and one of their hallmark characteristics is blunt honesty, specifically the sort that's associated with an inability to pick up on ordinary social cues. My friend group is disproportionately comprised of this sort of person. So I've had a lot of opportunity to observe a few things about how honesty works.

Speaking as somebody who is inclined to say too much myself, it's taken a long time to realize that the first thing that comes to mind isn't always the most honest thing. And it's surprising how easy it is to think of honesty that way. It's obvious when you think about it in retrospect how that would be a fraught definition of honesty but, in my experience, it doesn't prevent you from falling into that trap over and over.

Deep Honesty, if I'm understanding the authors properly, isn't anything like trying to be universally candid, or being blunt. It's more like searching for opportunities where you've been too conservative and trying to unlock the potential value of establishing more honest communication in those situations.

Scott Alexander talked about explicit honesty (unfortunately paywalled) in contrast with radical honesty. In short, explicit honesty is being completely honest when asked, and radical honesty is being completely honest even without being asked. From what I understand from your post, it feels like deep honesty is about being completely honest about information you perceive to be relevant to the receiver, regardless of whether the information is explicitly being requested. 

Scott also links to some cases where radical honesty did not work out well, like this, this, and this. I suspect deep honesty may lead to similar risks, as you have already pointed out. 

And with regards to:

“what is kind, true, and useful?”

I think they would form a 3-circle venn diagram. Things that are within the intersection of all three circles would be a no-brainer. But the tricky bits are the things that are either true but not kind/useful, or kind/useful but not true. And I understood this post as a suggestion to venture more into the former. 

Dear lord, that third link. (Look how the OP doubles down in this thread)[]. As someone else in that thread mentioned, explicit radicalism in any facet of life is going to cause you some trouble. Calling someone ugly to their face and asking them to start a conversation is a hilariously bad example of "radical honesty" over deep honesty. 

Thanks for bringing up the comparison points of radical honesty and explicit honesty. It does seem like deep honesty is in between the two.

But the characterization of deep honesty that you've posited doesn't feel very respectful? It leaves space to patronizingly share things the listener doesn't want to hear, because you've determined that they're relevant. Our notion of deep honesty is closer to being grounded in a notion of respect, perhaps something like "being completely honest about information you perceive that the receiver would want, regardless of whether the information has explicitly been requested". Sometimes that could involve some leaving of trailheads, or testing of the waters, to ascertain whether the person does in fact want the information.

As to "when should this apply", it's maybe something like "when you're trying to cooperate with the other party". Of course there's still room for this to go wrong (in the first example you link it seems like the person was trying to cooperate with their boss, who didn't reciprocate), but it does seem like a pretty important safety valve compared to radical honesty.

I think being as honest as reasonably sensible is good for oneself. Being honest applies pressure on oneself and one’s environment until the both closely match. I expect the process to have its ups and downs but to lead to a smoother life on the long run.

An example that comes to mind is the necessity to open up to have meaningful relationships (versus the alternative of concealing one’s interests which tends to make conversations boring).

Also honesty seems like a requirement to have an accurate map of reality: having snappy and accurate feedback is essential to good learning, but if one lies and distorts reality to accomplish one’s goals, reality will send back distorted feedback causing incorrect updates of one’s beliefs.

On another note: this post immediately reminded me of the buddhist concept of Right Speech, which might be worth investigating for further advice on how to practice this. A few quotes:

"Right speech, explained in negative terms, means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (spoken with the intent of hurting another person's feelings); and idle chatter (spoken with no purposeful intent at all)."

"In positive terms, right speech means speaking in ways that are trustworthy, harmonious, comforting, and worth taking to heart. When you make a practice of these positive forms of right speech, your words become a gift to others. In response, other people will start listening more to what you say, and will be more likely to respond in kind. This gives you a sense of the power of your actions: the way you act in the present moment does shape the world of your experience."

Thanissaro Bhikkhu (source:

being able to credibly commit to doing this at appropriate times seems useful. I wouldn't want to commit to doing it at all times; becoming cooperatebot makes it rational for cooperative-but-preference-misaligned actors to exploit you. Shallow honesty seems like a good starting point for being able to say when you are attempting to be deep honest, perhaps. But for example, I would sure appreciate it if people could be less deeply honest about the path to ai capabilities. I do think the "deeply honest at the meta level" thing has some promise.

I want to thank the team that brought this brilliant piece together.  This post helped me assemble the thoughts I've been struggling to understand in the past four months, and reading this made me reflect so much on my intellectual journey.  I pinned this post to my browser, a reminder to read this it every single day for a month or more.[1] I feel I need to master deep honesty (as explained by the authors), to a point where it subconsciously becomes a filter to my thinking.

  1. ^

    I do this I find a concept/post/book that I can mine for more thoughts or needing mastery of a conceptual framework.

I notice I fail to see a difference between Deep Honesty with Reasonable Caveats, and just ol' regular Shallow-ish Honesty that allows small bits of Deep Honesty when convenient (which is something all of us do reflexively). If you (reasonably) refrain from being Deeply Honest in all situations where being so would be tactless,  cause you harm, harm others, divulge sensitive information that should not be shared, and damage social relationships, you are left with very few options in which to exercise Deep Honesty (which would basically only include conversations with your therapist and writing LW comments).

I have a strong intuition that in order for Deep Honesty to work and not horribly backfire, society would have to be first restructured to make it possible, specifically by making it impossible (or just awkward and ineffective) to punish people for their Deep Honesty and honestly shared views.

Deep honesty does require tradeoffs. It's a costly signal. Society doesn't need to restructure. As the post says, you can use it sometimes and not others according to your judgment of the tradeoffs for that situation. I have been doing this for my entire adult life, with apparently pretty good but not great results. Sometimes it backfires, often it works as intended.

The LessWrong Review runs every year to select the posts that have most stood the test of time. This post is not yet eligible for review, but will be at the end of 2025. The top fifty or so posts are featured prominently on the site throughout the year. Will this post make the top fifty?

Jesus once said: "Simply let your "yes" mean yes, and your "no" mean no, because anything beyond that comes from evil".

It seems like this discussion might cover power imbalances between speaker and listener more. For example, in the border agent example, a border control agent has vastly more power than someone trying to enter the country. This power gives them the "right" (read: authority) to ask all sorts of question, the legitimacy of which might be debatable. Does deep honesty compel you to provide detailed, non-evasive answer to questions you personally don't believe the interlocutor has any business asking you? The objective of such interactions is not improving the accuracy of the border agent's worldview and it is unlikely that anything you say is going to alter that worldview. It seems like there are many situations in life where you have little choice but to interact with someone, but the less you tell them the better. There's a reason witnesses testifying in a courtroom are advised to answer "yes" or "no" whenever possible, rather than expounding.

I'm so happy you made this post. 

I only have two (2) gripes. I say this as someone who 1) practices/believes in determinism, and 2) has interacted with journalists on numerous occasions with a pretty strict policy on honesty.

1. "Deep honesty is not a property of a person that you need to adopt wholesale. It’s something you can do more or less of, at different times, in different domains."

I would disagree. In my view, 'deep honesty' excludes dishonesty by omission. You're either truthful all of the time or you're manipulative some of the time. There can't be both. 

2. "Fortunately, although deep honesty has been described here as some kind of intuitive act of faith, it is still just an action you can take with consequences you can observe.

Not always. If everyone else around you goes the mountain of deceit approach, your options are limited. The 'rewards' available for omissions are far less, and if you want to have a reasonably productive work environment, at least someone has to tell the truth unequivocally. Further, the 'consequences' are not always immediately observable when you're dealing with practiced liars. The consequences can come in the form of revenge months, or, even years later. 

Given only finite time, isn't one always omitting nearly everything? If you believe in dishonesty by omission is everyone not dishonest, in that sense, nearly all the time? You can argue that only "relevant" information is subject to non-omission, but since relevance is a subjective, and continuous, property this doesn't seem like very useful guidance. Wherever you choose to draw the line someone can reasonably claim you've omitted relevant (by some other standard) information just on the other side of that line.


Honesty is the cornerstone of trust and integrity. 

It may not always be easy but it's essential for authentic connections and personal growth.