Black and white transparency: contradictions of a moral metaphor


Transparency has evolved from an individual, dangerous power in Plato to a desirable, collective property in the contemporary world. This paper intends to give a brief account of this long and somehow surprising path and extract some interesting consequences for economic and political activities, as well as for information technologies. Six literary masterpieces are used to highlight the contradictions and dangers entailed by the abuse of the fascinating metaphor of transparency. In the end, what is usually intended when demanding transparency from a corporation, a firm or a state is more (or more accessible) information about it, i.e., understandable and abundant black and white data. This means reporting, picturing, producing material, becoming apparent, which is precisely the contrary of being transparent. We don’t want to look through, but to look directly at. The question, then, is not transparency, but opacity: what do we need and want to see, and how is this going to be produced?

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This work has been developed at the Department of Sociology and Philosophy of the University of Exeter, UK, and sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science through its MEC/Fulbright Fellowships program and its FFI2008-03599 research project. The author wishes to express his debt with both institutions and his gratitude to all his colleagues and friends at Exeter, particularly to Francesco Guala, Anne Meuwese, and Michiru Nagatsu. Special thanks must also be given to Teresa Erice, for her careful corrections of earlier drafts.

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Correspondence to Armando Menéndez-Viso.

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Menéndez-Viso, A. Black and white transparency: contradictions of a moral metaphor. Ethics Inf Technol 11, 155–162 (2009).

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  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Ethics
  • Information
  • Transparency
  • Visibility