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Truth, Agency and the Hutton Report: A Reply to Diana Coole

  • SUSAN MENDUS (a1)

Abstract

In her provocative article, ‘Agency, Truth and Meaning: Judging the Hutton Report’, Diana Coole makes two important claims: first, that ‘political inquiry is impoverished to the extent that theorists … ignore the more mundane reports and statements that help constitute everyday political life’; and secondly, that a theoretical analysis of the Hutton Report shows it to have been informed by a particular conception of truth (Lord Hutton's own conception) that largely guaranteed its conclusions and served to make Dr Kelly and the BBC ‘victims of a particular sense of truth’.

I share Coole's belief that political theorists should contribute more to the analysis and understanding of ‘mundane’ texts, but I have grave reservations about the kind of analysis she favours, and about its implications in this particular case. It seems to me that her focus on truth is de-politicizing, while her conclusion that Dr David Kelly was a ‘victim’ rests upon a simplistic understanding of moral agency and responsibility. If we wish to bring the resources of theory to bear on everyday political texts, we do better, I suggest, to focus on moral and political philosophy than on epistemology.

TRUTH

Coole claims that the conclusions of the Hutton Report were informed (even determined) by a ‘positivist-juridical (empiricist-legalistic)’ conception of truth, one which displayed ‘antipathy towards the idea that truth is a matter of interpretation and hence dependent on subjective judgements’. As this conception worked its way through the inquiry it ‘guaranteed’ partisan conclusions that were at odds with the self-understanding of other protagonists in the affair, most notably that of Dr David Kelly.

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