A N Wilson disputes Roger Scruton’s account of the reasons for his lack of universal popularity.
In the chapter “How I Became a Conservative”, Scruton meditates on the consequences of his political-cum-emotional decision. “…It became a matter of honour among English-speaking intellectuals…to write, if possible, damning and contemptuous reviews of my books, and to block my chances of promotion…” This analysis of what it is about Scruton which irritates overlooks the fact that he must know, in today’s climate, the likely effect of such regular Scruton standbys as a defence of foxhunting with hounds and a defence of social hierarchies, even of snobbery itself. There are plenty of right-wingers who, in various branches of intellectual life in England, have received good reviews for their books, and also been offered prestigious jobs…If Scruton is rather more marginalized than once he was, it perhaps has more to do with the error of judgement he made some years ago, when he accepted a back-hander from a tobacco firm, for the loose but undeclared general purpose of defending the tobacco lobby in his journalism…[F]or a man whose calling and raison d’être is that difficult business – not just telling the truth but finding out what the truth would be like if we told it – it was a huge blow to be exposed as the lickspittle of tobacco giants. If your job is inquiry, you cannot accept money for providing the answers before the question has been examined.
Well there you go. Exactly. And as a matter of fact, if your job is inquiry, you can’t accept anything for providing the answers before the question has been examined, because it’s the one thing you can’t do given that conditional. Inquiry, if it is to be inquiry, rules out providing the answers before the question has been examined. If you provide the answers before the question has been examined then what you’re doing is not inquiry, it’s some other thing. We say this somewhere in chapter 8 of Why Truth Matters. In fact (she says, having looked) it’s in the final extract we provide on the website.
And real inquiry presupposes that truth matters. That it is true that there is a truth of the matter we’re investigating, even if it turns out that we can’t find it. Maybe the next generation can, or two or three or ten after that, or maybe just someone more skilled than we are. But we have to think there is something to find in order for inquiry to be genuine inquiry and not just an arbitrary game that doesn’t go anywhere. We like games, but we also like genuine inquiry. That’s why truth matters.
There. That’s how it is. You can have inquiry, or you can have something else, but you can’t have both in one. You can’t have inquiry that isn’t inquiry, so you can’t have inquiry that cheats. If it cheats it immediately turns into something else, as if a magician had transformed it.
Jerry S and I argued about this a little after he did the Little Atoms interview a few weeks ago, after he’d told the great radio-listening public that actually he doesn’t think truth does matter, so, like, you know, never mind. We argued a little but I think he ended up admitting that I was quite right in what I said. Well okay not that exactly but I think he grudgingly agreed to my characterization of what he said. The case he made on Little Atoms was that truth doesn’t always matter, for instance between individuals. Well of course not, I said sharply, but then we never said it did; we were talking about disciplinary inquiry and truth, not truth in every nook and cranny of life. I think he raised some feeble objection to the effect that not all disciplines are engaged in inquiry or truth-seeking, but again I brushed that ruthlessly aside as a red herring. We weren’t talking about pottery or art appreciation, for Christ’s sake, we were talking about inquiry. I think at that point he gave in and agreed I was right, or perhaps he changed the subject; one of those. But anyway, I stick to that. We’re talking about truth in truth-seeking contexts in WTM, we’re not saying everyone should run around telling each other how nasty those shoes are and how sinister everyone looks in that shirt.
But we are saying, at least I am and I think JS is too, that philosophers should not pocket money from tobacco lobbyists in exchange for ‘defending the tobacco lobby in [their] journalism’. Actually I don’t think anyone should do that, for moral reasons as well as epistemic ones; but for philosophers, the epistemic reason is pretty compelling all by itself.