Truth, objectivity and subjectivity in accounting
The central thesis defended here is that we can have truth and objectivity in accounting. We do not contend that this potential is presently realized: On the contrary, we argue that certain contradictions immanent to capitalism give rise in late modernity to crisis tendencies in financial accounting as a way of knowing - epistemological crisis. We do contend that accounting's tendencies to epistemological crises can, at least in theory, be overcome. We begin to defend this view by considering accounting as an essentially descriptive activity. The account given by the philosopher Donald Davidson of the very possibility of knowledge is used to justify the view that intersubjectivity is all the foundation we need, or can have, for objectivity, and to defend out claim that we can have accounting knowledge, that is, true accounts/descriptions of an objective and intersubjectively accessible public world. The defence here is against those theorists, including those inspired by certain strands of the phenomenological, (post)structuralist and hermeneutic traditions, who would deny the possibility of any such objectivity in accounting. Using an analysis of the history and debate surrounding the issue of accounting for deferred tax in the United Kingdom (UK), we endeavour to locate accounting in terms of the dichotomy the philosopher Bernard Williams draws between science and ethics. We find that the descriptive and normative are inextricably entangled in accounting concepts in much the same way as they are entangled in thick ethical concepts such as 'chastity' or 'courage'. We recognise that the descriptive aspect of accounting can not be neatly distinguished from the normative and dealt with separately. Furthermore, following Williams, we argue that difficulties associated with the objective validation of the normative dimension of thick accounting concepts renders knowledge held under them vulnerable to destruction by reflection.