Forum for European Philosophy Annual Public Lecture

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bovens_smallTrust and Truthfulness

Tuesday 13 May, 6.30-8.00pm

Room G108, 20 Kingsway, LSE

Professor Luc Bovens
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, LSE


Grace Mungai, a victim of Kenya's civil war, lies murdered in a puddle of blood in her house as her young son is crying in the background. This Reuters photograph was run in large format by The Observer (Feb 10, 2008). Every day we are bombarded in the media with photographs of such horrific magnitude. Clearly truthfulness is a constraint on what is being depicted-we object to photographs that are posed, doctored or are presented out of context. But truthfulness is only a minimal constraint. There is a public trust that certain photographs are blocked from publication for being too disconcerting. They may be disrespectful towards the people depicted. Larry Burrows, a photojournalist who was killed in Vietnam, wrote, "It's not easy to photograph a man dying in the arms of his fellow country-man ... Was I simply capitalizing on other men's grief?" Or they may be disrespectful towards the readers. As readers, we feel the discomfort of Leontius in Plato's Republic who cannot resist looking at the corpses after an execution and we object to being put in this position. What motivates this public trust? What are its unspoken rules? And how does one balance the constraints of this public trust against an obligation to truthful and comprehensive reporting?