Integrity is loyalty in action to one’s convictions and values. As Ayn Rand put it, the man of integrity may “permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions….” But to keep all your value-judgments ready at hand amid the turbulence of everyday life is a volitional task. And a hard one. You need to hold the full context of your knowledge in focus while retaining your long-range purposes in front of your eyes all the time. The only way you can do that is if you have integrated your knowledge and purposes into principles.
To keep action and thought in unison, you must learn the proper principles and follow them no matter what. It is exactly when the going gets tough, and your mind is being deeply affected by your feelings and biases or pushed side to side by external pressures, that you must summon all the rationality in you and simply follow your principles. It is the “principle of being principled”, Leonard Peikoff tells us.
The flexibility to change your own views of the world or opinions about life is not a breach of integrity; as long as you are doing it after due consideration while following your own intellect independently of others, it is a moral obligation to substitute a better idea for a worse one, a right one for a wrong one. It is a breach of integrity to have a given conviction about proper conduct and then concoct all sorts of rationalizations to ease your conscience and act otherwise. To know some course of action is the right one and then proceed to defy it in practice is what Ayn Rand calls “faking one’s consciousness.”
In regard to consciousness, integrity requires that you have convictions and follow them in practice. But holding explicit ideas is not enough; these ideas must be rational ones, meaning they follow right premises to a conclusion that can, thus, be proved or validated using logic. Like every other virtue, therefore, integrity presupposes a mind that seeks knowledge, a mind that accepts and follows reason.
In regard to action, the challenge of your life should not to be to struggle against immoral passions, but to see the facts of reality clearly, in full focus. Once you have done this in a given situation, there should be no further difficulty in regard to acting on what you see. Here, Peikoff is following Socrates in that true knowledge, that is, knowledge grounded of first principles and logically followed to its ultimate consequences, leads necessarily to the right action. I agree with that, while acknowledging that such kind of knowledge is not only extremely hard to reach, but also extremely hard to keep in mind. Principles, as well as art, must be pursued with all one’s strength for that purpose.
You are a man of integrity if you are an absolutist and an extremist. You are an absolutist if, while you listen to others (those whose rationality entitles them to be listened to), and may modify your behavior in order to gain their cooperation, you are not willing to bargain your morality. You are an extremist if you reject what Peikoff calls “today’s most popular attack on integrity”: the creed of compromise.