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Ethics / Philosophy

Recklessness in Speech

In my previous post, I discussed three elements that make for poor speech. One of these was recklessness. Recklessness is simply a lack of wisdom. There are two particular issues that need to be discussed in relation to speech in particular. The first is whether or not reckless speech is a particular kind of speech. The second issue is the relationship of recklessness to the virtue that it is a vice for.

Recklessness is a vice. It is the vice of considering something for too little time, or acting on recommendations that are formed that way. The virtue is wisdom. Wisdom is the virtue of doing the right things at the right time in the right way and to the right degree. This means that there is also a vice of over-cautiousness. This vice spends too much time thinking about something and not enough time doing something. There is no content-independent method or rule for determining how much time is enough. Each situation and circumstance may require different amounts of time. The wise person is the person who can recognize how much time each situation does require and then actually gives that much time.

Recklessness is much more common than over-cautiousness. Many pairs of vices are like this. One vice is much more common than the opposite. For example, cowardice is much more common than foolhardiness. In this case, that means that usually people fail to give enough time for something. They are too quick to act and act after thinking for too little time. This is understandable when we are exciting by our passions. But it is something that we need to guard against. Acting to satisfy our appetites is not bad, but letting our appetites control our actions is bad. This is what recklessness usually amounts to.

Recklessness in speech is reckless in the same way that anything else is reckless. We say the wrong things at the wrong time in the wrong situation. Having wisdom in our speech is simply thinking before speaking. If our speech is harmful, false or untrustworthy, then we should not speak. We should wait, or speak less.

Recklessness in speech appears uniquely in agreements. Agreements require communication to be made. But many agreements are made sincerely and with trustworthy intentions, but are still foolish agreements. They are agreements to control what cannot be controlled, to do what we cannot guarantee to do or provide something we cannot guarantee to provide. These sorts of agreements are made in situations in which we do not know the person or we do not trust the person. These agreements function as a substitute for trust. What we can promise – our intentions and current activities – is not enough to substitute for our trust. We will either have to be generous with others and give freely, only relate to those we know to be trustworthy or be foolish. I suggest that generosity is better than foolishness.

Next, I will discuss the issue of trust in speech.

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