“As to ethics, the parties seem to me as much on a parity as a pot and the kettle.”

Justice Robert A. Jackson


When you write, are your morals and ethics circumstantial or static?

Is this question answerable?

It depends on how you define the key words: circumstantial and static.

“Static” has many definitions, but in the writing context it means “showing little change.” It’s also used to describe the disturbing effects produced on TV by atmospheric or manmade electrical disturbances. Think Cable TV in 2018—largely static.

“Circumstantial” means depending on other factors. Think Tweets in 2018. Many are written without adult supervision or staff awareness. Legal scholars use circumstantial evidence as tending to prove a fact by proving another event, or other circumstances which afford a reasonable inference of the fact in issue. It depends.

Let’s say you’re an atheist and do not believe in deities. Is that a static belief or a circumstantial one?  If you are writing a nonfiction article about a person whose beliefs are deeply religious and your rejection of deities was static, wouldn’t your belief negatively affect how you present the subject of your article? But if your atheist beliefs are circumstantial, then it’s debatable whether your position affects how you present the subject. If you’re writing an obituary for a family member who was religious and had a deep abiding faith in the afterlife, should you be writing the obit at all? What if you’re writing a reference letter for a religious person? Should you disclose your own lack of religious fervor in the letter? Does it matter? What other moral beliefs do you hold that might affect how your article or reference letter are received or perceived publicly?

As British writers say, at the end of the day do your ethical standards matter to your readers? Is this question answerable? Yes, because if you do not believe in your writing, who will? And if someone believes what you wrote, without knowing you do not believe what you wrote, does that matter?

The nut is whether writers’ personal beliefs should play a role in whether to publish what they wrote. That will always be a matter of opinion. It is never static and always circumstantial. Novels are fictional. Nonfiction books are assumed to be truthful. But neither is ethical or unethical. One is fictional, the other true; leave it at that.