The Ethics of Stats

Some Contemporary Questions about Telling the Truth


  • Rachel Muers

Rachel Muers, School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, U.K.,


This essay argues for the importance and interest, within and beyond theological ethics, of the ethical questions faced by professionals who are called on to be producers of statistics (herein “stats”) for management purposes. Truth-telling, in the context of demands for stats, cannot be evaluated at the level of the individual statement or utterance, nor through an ethical framework primarily focused on the correspondence between thought and speech. Reflection on stats production forces us to treat truth-telling as contextual and political, and to engage with the idea that the capacity to tell the truth is learned or acquired in communities, societies and institutions. I develop this engagement through a rereading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on “telling the truth” and Michel Foucault on parrhēsia, identifying and exploring the relationship between the responsible use of stats and the “cynical” protest against them.