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Diogenes Searching for an Honest Man, attributed to Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (circa 1780)
He who dares not offend cannot be honest. ~ Thomas Paine
I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. ~ George Washington

Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and denotes positive, virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness along with the absence of lying, cheating, or theft.

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  • He who says that there is no such thing as an honest man is himself a knave.
    • George Berkeley, as quoted in Ladies Home Journal Vol. 97, No. 8 (August 1960).
  • The truthfulness which Jesus demands from his followers is the self-abnegation which does not hide sin. Nothing is then hidden, everything is brought forth to the light of day. In this question of truthfulness, what matters first and last is that a man’s whole being should be exposed, his whole evil laid bare in the sight of God. But sinful men do not like this sort of truthfulness.
  • The first step toward greatness is to be honest, says the proverb; but the proverb fails to state the case strong enough. Honesty is not only "the first step toward greatness," — it is greatness itself.
  • If we live by the rule of honesty and accept our problems, we can go far down the road of achievement.
  • An honest blunder in the use of the language is not dishonest. [...] What is honest is not dishonest.
    • Bowen, L.J., Angus v. Clifford (1891), 60 L. J. Rep. (N. S.) C. D. 456; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 100.


  • Honesty is the best policy.
    • Nathanael Carpenter, Achitophel, or the Picture of a Wicked Politician (1629)


  • We've reached a truly remarkable situation: a grotesque mismatch between the American intelligencia and the American electorate. A philosophical opinion about the nature of the universe which is held by the vast majority of top American scientists, and probably the majority of the intelligencia generally, is so abhorrent to the American electorate that no candidate for popular election dare affirm it in public. If I'm right, this means that high office in the greatest country in the world is barred to the very people best qualified to hold it: the intelligencia, unless they are prepared to lie about their beliefs. To put it bluntly American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest.


  • Let honesty be as the breath of thy soul, and never forget to have a penny, when all thy expenses are enumerated and paid: then shalt thou reach the point of happiness, and independence shall be thy shield and buckler, thy helmet and crown; then shall thy soul walk upright nor stoop to the silken wretch because he hath riches, nor pocket an abuse because the hand which offers it wears a ring set with diamonds.


  • Straightforwardness without civility is like a surgeon's knife, effective but unpleasant. Candor with courtesy is helpful and admirable.


  • When men cease to be faithful to their God, he who expects to find them so to each other will be much disappointed.


  • Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you.


  • The more honesty a man has, the less he affects the air of a saint.
    • Johann Kaspar Lavater, as quoted in Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1862) edited by Henry Southgate, p. 290.


  • Semper bonus homo tiro est.
    • An honest man is always a child.
      • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), XII. 51. 2.


  • A man is sorry to be honest for nothing.
    • Ovid, in Henry T. Riley, A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Quotations, Proverbs, Maxims and Mottos (1876), p. 138. This is a translation of Ovid's "gratis paenitet esse probum" from his Ex Ponto, book 2, chapter 3. The translation in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., p. 114 (1980) reads: "It is annoying to be honest to no purpose".


  • Therefore, now that you have put away deceit, each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, because we are members belonging to one another.
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.


  • No man is wise or safe, but he that is honest.
  • Yet Heav'n, that made me honest, made me more
    Than ever king did, when he made a lord.
  • No man is bound to be rich or great, no, nor to be wise; but every man is bound to be honest.
    • Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, as quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary History (March 1627), p. 235.


  • Keep your eyes open if you deal with him. — Why, isn't he honest? — Thomasus? Sure he's honest. You just have to watch him, that's all.
  • Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.
  • What's the news?
    None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.
    Then is doomsday near.
  • There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,
    For I am arm'd so strong in honesty
    That they pass by me as the idle wind,
    Which I respect not.
  • This above all, —to thine own self be true;
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
  • Take note, take note, O world,
    To be direct and honest is not safe.
  • At many times I brought in my accounts,
    Laid them before you; you would throw them off,
    And say, you found them in mine honesty.
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
  • In short, honesty is more than a moral principle. It is also a major economic factor. While government can do little to create honesty directly, in various ways it can indirectly either support or undermine the traditions on which honest conduct is based.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 17. Government Functions


  • If I could believe that this was said sincerely, I could put up with anything.


  • A creature that cannot grasp the mutual exclusiveness of A and not A has no difficulty in lying; more than that, such a creature has not even any consciousness of lying, being without a standard of truth.
  • The man who is so conscious of the rectitude of his intentions as to be willing to open his bosom to the inspection of the world, is already in possession of one of the strongest pillars of a decided character. The course of such a man will be firm and steady, because he has nothing to fear from the world, and is sure of the approbation and support of Heaven.
    • William Wirt, An Address delivered Before the Peithessophian and Philoclean Societies of Rutgers College 20 July 1830.
  • "Honesty is the best policy," but he who acts on that principle is not an honest man.
    • Archbishop Richard Whately, Thoughts and Apothegms, Part II, Chapter XVIII. Pious Frauds; On Some Obstacles to the Attainment of Truth, and to its Progress in the World.
  • The leading idea is, nothing really succeeds which is not based on reality; the sham, in a large sense, is never successful; that in the life of the individual, as in the more comprehensive life of the state, pretension is nothing and power is everything.
  • If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.


  • These are the things you should do: Speak the truth with one another, and the judgments in your gates must promote truth and peace.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 371-72.
  • Omnia quæ vindicaris in altero, tibi ipsi vehementer fugienda sunt.
    • Everything that thou reprovest in another, thou must most carefully avoid in thyself.
  • Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
  • When rogues fall out, honest men get into their own.
  • He that departs with his own honesty
    For vulgar praise, doth it too dearly buy.
  • The measure of life is not length, but honestie.
    • John Lyly, Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit, Letters of Euphues, Euphues and Eubulus.
  • Friends, if we be honest with ourselves, we shall be honest with each other.
  • Mens regnum bona possidet.
  • I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an "Honest Man."
  • Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.
  • How happy is he born and taught
    That serveth not another's will;
    Whose armour is his honest thought,
    And simple truth his utmost skill.

See also

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AltruismAsceticismBeneficenceBenevolenceBraveryCarefulnessCharityCheerfulnessCleanlinessCommon senseCompassionConstancyCourageDignityDiligenceDiscretionEarnestnessFaithFidelityForethoughtForgivenessFriendshipFrugalityGentlenessGoodnessGraceGratitudeHolinessHonestyHonorHopeHospitalityHumanityHumilityIntegrityIntelligenceJusticeKindnessLoveLoyaltyMercyModerationModestyOptimismPatiencePhilanthropyPietyPrudencePunctualityPovertyPuritySelf-controlSimplicitySinceritySobrietySympathyTemperanceTolerance

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