excerpted http://www.westminster-abbey.org/event/lecture/symes_2004.htm For most of the history of the West, telling the truth has been seen as valuable in itself, as belong to our human dignity, and required by honour. Aristotle wrote that ‘falsehood is itself mean and culpable, and truth noble and full of praise.’ This tradition is still alive in Kant, who wrote, ‘By a lie a person throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a person.1 ’ ..... Onora O’Neill, in the Reith lectures of 2002, talked of a crisis of suspicion. People do not trust that they are being told the truth by politicians, doctors, business executives, the clergy and most especially by the media. Geoff Mulgan, who has just finished as director of strategy and policy at No.10, recently attacked the media for having no concern for truth. And of course the media make similar accusations against politicians and everyone else. We are drowning in information, but we do not know whom or what to believe. This is not to say that people are necessarily less truthful than before. I have no evidence for that, though I suspect that it is the case. Certainly people care about truth. The tremendous interest in the Hutton inquiry showed that we do. But we are afflicted with a profound uncertainty as to what is the truth and how we may obtain it. It is often assumed that the answer is as much transparency as possible. If only everything were revealed, then we would know if our suspicions were grounded or not. And so every memo, every email, telephone call and conversation in the corridors of power must be recorded for inspection. And increasingly the government checks up on us all. But O’Neill argues that this can never kill suspicion. She said that ‘demands for universal transparency are likely to encourage the evasions, hypocrisies and half-truths that we usually refer to as “political correctness”. But which might more forthrightly be called either “self-censorship” or “deception” 3 Suspicion can never be allayed. There might always be some missing bit of evidence, if only one searches hard enough, like for the elusive WMD in Iraq. The fact that we cannot find the evidence only proves that our enemies are fiendishly cunning and so untrustworthy. A culture of complete transparency also might actively discourage one from being truthful. One would never know when one’s words might be used as evidence against one. And how can we ever think about anything if we cannot try out crazy ideas, float hypotheses, and make mistakes? Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century Dominican, wrote that no one may attain the truth without a hundred errors on the way. We need the freedom for words for which we are not going to be held eternally responsible. Seeking the truth requires times of protected irresponsibility. So the ideal of complete transparency is neither possible nor desirable. what do you think?