Being an occasional column in which a Thoroughly Modern Moralist writes:
As a Thoroughly Modern Moralist I am often asked: is truth an absolute or a relative concept and, should I be involved in a traffic accident, can I be held responsible if my wife has failed properly to launder my underwear? The answer to this complex question is by no means simple but becomes much more more tractable if we recognise that framed within it is not one but two quite distinct questions: the matter of truth and the question of responsibility [both admission and assignment]. The two are cognate but qualitatively different matters.
For example, only today I received a letter from a Mr Lardi Aårsse of Long Bredy who asked "Given the proven scientific link between susceptibility to CONTRIK-69 and obesity, is the marketing at this time of the innovative and revolutionary thrupiece digi-3D-Home-LaserPrinter-PieMaker [patents pending] a responsible act?' Leaving aside the awkward particulars of this specific case and the fact that this occasional column is generously funded by the Threadbone Corporation, the matter is best approached through the lens of "responsible corporatism" or as I prefer to call it, "depersonalised socio-scientific covert self-interest". Whilst Mr Aårsse may be implying a potential misalignment - or, more extremely, a "conflict of interests" - between the commercial imperatives which necessarily drive a large corporation [even one whose record of social responsibility is as unblemished as the one in question] and the requirement placed on all legitimate organisations to take consider the public benefit [or public "non"-benefit] arising from their actions, it is surely both naive and otiose to expect, at a time of crisis, that any agency [be it individual or collective] should ignore the bigger picture.
That said, and whilst remaining clear that there can be no room for the tolerance of hidden agendas, improper action or immoral behaviour [however loosely defined] we need, in my opinion, to take both a nuanced and a non-dogmatic view. For example: let us accept for a moment [though it could certainly be challenged] that there IS a proven link between susceptibility to CONTRIK-69 and obesity and let us further accept that promoting any product likely to increase obesity IS, therefore, likely to increase susceptibility to CONTRIK-69 amongst the population as a whole, does it follow that the act of promoting such a product is, in and of itself, wrong? To say that it is, is surely to be both too harsh, too doctrinaire and - I am tempted to say, following Merleau-Ponty - too "dirigiste"]. Let us consider instead the alternative counterfactual scenario. Say that we acknowledge both the link and [as you might contend] the consequential moral necessity to ban the product from sale. How many millions of pounds might the responsible conglomerate lose as a result? How many workers - from scientists and development technicians to shop-floor workers, distribution agents and retail salespersons - might be thrown upon the steep slopes of the scrapheap of unemployment as a direct consequence and how many of their families might then suffer the very deprivations of adult and child night starvation that the too hastily-banned product was designed specifically to alleviate? Might we not then suspend our previous moral judgement and beg the law-makers and social influencers to legalise the product once again in order that weight-gain amongst the general population might be properly assured? [A classic case of "acting in haste and repenting at leisure"?] I think so. In short the unintended consequences of our less-than-well-grounded but superficially attractive becuase virtue-signalling moral position serve to undermine the very social good such a position was intended to achieve. [see my recent "Unacknowledged Conditions and Unintended Consequences: The Case of Bra Burning in Arizona 1968-1974", University of Afpuddle Department of Social Studies Research Papers  pp 106-194]
Now you may ask, what has all of this got to do with truth? The answer to this complex question is by no means simple but becomes a little more tractable if we recognise that framed within it is not one but two quite distinct questions: What is truth? and What IS truth? The two are cognate but different matters and are best left until next time.
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