A value built on time symmetry
Science-fiction fans like to travel back in time by “running the movie backwards”. Let us be clear on this: in perfect symmetry, time is not, it does not exist. It is born of the rupture of original symmetry and flows out in the direction we are all familiar with.
Temporal symmetry suggests to us that the value of a contract (or promise) must be the same at the time of its conclusion, at the time of delivery, at the time of payment.
The value of a treaty such as the Charter of the United Nations should have been the same on 10 September and on 12 September 2001; however, by attacking Iraq, the UN charter which defends the territorial integrity of nations and the respect of their governments was violated.
A break in symmetry does not mean that a contract or treaty may be systematically violated! And temporal symmetry does not mean that contracts or treaties cannot be renegotiated. They can be, provided the three previous principles apply:
- Each partner has an equal right to renegotiate;
- Should a party wish to modify a clause, g. the date of delivery or the quality of the product, reciprocity would apply and the seller could also ask for a clause to be modified, such as the price;
- This price should be more or less proportional to the value of the favour asked; and
- Finally, all parties should agree and fulfil their commitment.
So which ethical values does this temporal symmetry suggest? One might first think of sustainability and its environmental impact. Still, the term “Responsibility”, in the sense of “answering for one’s words and acts in time”, affords it significant coverage, and includes environmental protection.
In short one should answer for one’s words and actions and be credible. We used to say: “My word is my bond” or “Dictum meum pactum”. Let us consider a topical example: an automotive manufacturer guarantees the use of a vehicle for a certain period of time. In case of defect, he repairs the vehicle, re-establishing symmetry by having it comply with the contract. He is responsible, he is bound to his customer.
To assume the consequences of one’s choices, of one’s words and actions, is to be responsible according to pernethics. This point of view would not have been shared by E. Kant who considered on the contrary that man is not responsible! “No one should be held responsible for what happens” said the great German philosopher, as long as intentions are pure i.e.morally good. According to his theory “intention” is paramount, because the moral value of an action is determined by its motive (intention) and not by its consequences or results.
His philosophy has influenced our legal system to the delight of many economic actors. They have been able to pollute the planet on a large scale, plunder its natural resources, enrich themselves at the expense of the poor without ever assuming responsibility. Why ? Because they have never had the slightest intention to harm; they just wanted to earn some money.
Like many of his contemporaries in the 19th century, E. Kant was deterministic. He believed that “free will” was just an illusion. He thought that a supernatural or divine force was pulling the strings (determining our actions) and therefore Humans could not be held responsible.