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“The Death of Honesty” by William Damon Research Paper


The article under analysis is entitled The Death of Honesty and is written by William Damon in 2012. In his article he describes the problem of deception in today’s world and compares it with the past. He also uses many rhetorical devices in order to support his idea. His main idea is that the biggest problem today is not that people are frequently lying because, as he says, it is in human nature to lie, and it is not always bad, but that truthfulness is becoming less important as it was before (Damon). Therefore, he fears that if his idea is true, the bonds of trust that are vital for creating a free democratic society are in danger, which will inevitably lead to the situation where building good relationships between people is impossible, and the civilized society will collapse. The main goal of this paper is to discuss the author’s rhetorical methods and style, examining how the text persuades readers.

Summary of the Article

At the beginning of the article, Damon describes the notion of deception and truth. He claims that deception is not always bad, but, moreover, it can be better than truth in certain cases and provides examples of such cases. Then he claims that telling lies is in human nature and that people have always been lying throughout their entire history. However, he expresses his concern toward the current tendency of making truth insignificant (Damon). In this respect, he says that despite people have always lied, the being honest was considered honorable, and this virtue had a high value among people. Now, in his opinion, this honor has disappeared.

In the body of the article, the author depicts his fears that if being honest is no longer valued, the future society will collapse and give way to chaos and anarchy. Then he states that this tendency is observed even in those places where truth must be the priority, for example, educational institutions. Here he provides many examples of scandals that occurred in different schools regarding the students who were cheating and teachers who abetted them in doing it. Understandably, most students want to cheat, especially those who despise studying and learning. However, the motivation of teachers can be different and unusual. For example, some teachers do not punish students for teaching because they think that by helping each other students train to be loyal (Damon). Other teachers think that some tests are too difficult or unfair for the students.

At the end of the article, Damon repeats his concerns about the future of trust between people and emphasizes the importance to fix this problem (Damon). Furthermore, he claims that the process of improvement of the situation must begin from the schools, as it is a place where trust is taught to young people.

The Use of Rhetorical Devices

In order to limit the analysis, each rhetorical device is discussed in a separate body paragraph. First, of all, a great number of metaphors are used in the text. A metaphor is a comparison of two objects by substituting one word for another with a similar function but which is not normally used in the given context. For example: “Reassuring an ungainly teenager that he or she looks great may be a kind embroidery of the truth” (Damon). Here the author uses the phrase “embroidery of the truth” where “embroidery” is usually used to denote fancywork which is not connected with the notion “truth.” Another use of metaphor can be found in the sentence: “As the Founders of our republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy” (Damon). In the phrase “cultivate virtue,” the word “cultivate” usually pertains to the sphere of biology; therefore, in this case, it is a substitution of the word “form.” One more example of a metaphor is presented in the sentence: “The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve” (Damon). The word “dissolve” means “disappear” in this context.

Another example of a rhetorical device is epithets. In the sentence: “Of all the breeches that can tear deeply into the moral fabric of a school, cheating is among the most damaging, because it throws in doubt the school’s allegiance to truth and fairness” (Damon), where “the moral fabric of a school” is the phrase that contains words, namely, an adjectival phrase and a noun, which are not normally used together but rather for a poetic effect. Similarly, in the sentence: “Hinckley’s comment was made in the context of his alarm-sounding book on “neglected virtues,” and it points to the problematic status of honesty in our society today” (Damon), the author uses the phrase “alarm-sounding book.”

This stylistic device can be interpreted as an epithet as well. Thus, a book cannot be alarm-sounding. The meaning is that the book evokes disturbing emotions after being read. One more illustrative example of an epithet can be found in the sentence: “Nowadays, when cheating is considered by some teachers to be an excusable response to a difficult assignment or even a form of pro-social activity, our society risks a future of moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and all the virtues that rely on it” (Damon). In this sentence, the phrase “moral numbness” is an adjectival phrase that means “moral weakness.” Thus, in this case, the author tries to show that the current attitude towards truthfulness will eventually lead to moral numbness of the society.

The author applies metaphors and epithets to present his ideas more clearly. These devices have a significant impact on readers’ opinions. Such stylistic methods assist in creating bright images in their minds. Also, metaphors and epithets are used to emphasize the importance of certain ideas.

Another rhetorical device is logos. This technique is based on the use of logical ideas in order to appeal to an audience. For example, in the sentence: “Our schools vacillate between routine neglect and a circle-the-wagons reaction if the problem boils over into a public media scandal” (Damon), the author logically develops his idea that administrations in schools do not appropriately respond to students’ cheating. Another example of this method can be found in the sentence: “It certainly does not mean taking what any of them say at face value” (Damon) and “A basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can generally be taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings” (Damon). The author refers to politicians who often lie in order to hide their failures. The author’s main motive for this technique is to reinforce his main concept. He wants to persuade readers that the lack of honesty is a major problem in our societies. Also, he tries to explain to readers that it is necessary to question all the statements made by public figures.


Thus, in his article, Damon provides his opinion about the current state of relationships between people which he describes as deceptive. However, deception is not his main concern which he vividly expresses in his article. Rather, he thinks that trust is not a priority today even at schools, which can unavoidably lead to the spoilage of relationships between societies on a larger scale.

Work Cited

Damon, William. Hoover Institution. 2012, Web.

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"“The Death of Honesty” by William Damon." IvyPanda, 4 Jan. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-of-honesty-by-william-damon/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "“The Death of Honesty” by William Damon." January 4, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-of-honesty-by-william-damon/.


IvyPanda. (2021) '“The Death of Honesty” by William Damon'. 4 January.

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