Intellectual honesty & obligation
Noah Millman attempts to define intellectual honesty:
“Intellectually honest” means you make arguments you think are true, as opposed to making the arguments you are “supposed” to make and/or avoiding making arguments that you think are true that you aren’t “supposed” to make.
Advocates, by contrast, make the best arguments they can think of for the position that they are obliged to take by their position. They are still supposed to be honest – they are not supposed to actually lie. But they are not expected to follow their own consciences with respect to the arguments they make or the positions they advance.
I’m not 100% sure that’s what the phrase is supposed to mean, but given that a substantial fraction of people who opine for a living behave as advocates, it does seem there ought to be a phrase to distinguish those who don’t. “Intellectually honest” fits the bill for me.
In the comments, Alan Jacobs pushes back, noting that “you don’t add anything meaningful to the term “honesty” by prefacing it with “intellectual.” Unless there’s some form of non-intellectual honesty.”
Perhaps ‘intellectual’ is the wrong word. Perhaps something like ‘independent’ makes more sense, if we are only interested in distinguishing between advocates and non-advocates. Then again, everyone is biased. If advocacy is merely a stronger bias, then perhaps we are speaking in terms of degree rather than kind here. After all, what ensures that a non-advocate who nevertheless supports a particular agenda will not at least subconsciously take a position that they are ‘supposed’ to take and still believe it to be true? Many of our assumptions are at once honest and ingrained. In that sense, I think there are degrees to which people are even cognizant of where truth ends and obligation begins.