The Ultimate Ethics Reading List

Dec 16

My ethics course was taught by an adjunct professor who is also a local attorney in Boise. On the first night he mentioned that there were some things about the course text that he didn’t like. In order to compensate for this, he provided dozens of additional resources which covered the topics and perspectives that he considered most important for a study of business ethics. Through initial writing assignments he observed that the predominant ethical inclination of the class was Aristotelian. He adjusted the later sessions in the course to focus on strengths and pitfalls of Aristotle’s philosophy with respect to business. Much of the reading was extremely valuable and enlightening, so I wanted to record some of the ancillary reading list here. Not all of these are freely available, but for those that are I have included a link. You may need to visit a university library to track down the others. This list is not a comprehensive review of the material covered. It also includes multiple perspectives, which means it shouldn’t be expected to convey a single coherent view on business ethics. In fact, the value of these resources is that they provide arguments and counter arguments for a well-rounded perspective. “Is Business Bluffing Ethical”, by Albert Carr “The Business of Ethics”, by Norman Chase Gillespie “Moral Mazes:  Bureaucracy and Managerial Work”, by Robert Jackall “Corporate culture: poison for whistleblowers”, by Brian Martin (review of Jackall’s article) “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”, by Milton Friedman “Profit and the public good”, in The Economist (related to Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations) “Corporate Social Responsibility Can Be Profitable”, by Rubén Hernández-Murillo and Christopher J. Martinek “Moral Theories”, Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics (this includes a review of Consequentialism, Deontology, Justice, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics). There are other links from that page to a more detailed review of each moral theory. “The Ethics of Whistleblowing”, by Ben O’Neill “The Normative Theories Of Business Ethics: A Guide For The Perplexed”, by John Hasnas “Business Ethics and Stakeholder Analysis” by Kenneth E. Goodpaster “Inside Job (2010)” “The Role of Character in Business Ethics” by Edwin M. Hartman “Moral Compromise and Personal Integrity: Exploring the Ethical Issues of Deciding Together in Organizations” by Jerry...

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Contextual Ethics, or Ethical Relativism

Oct 21

Ethics in business is a game, not unlike poker, argues Albert Carr in a 1968 paper entitled “Is Business Bluffing Ethical?”. Throughout his paper he argues that there is an ethical divide between personal ethics and business ethics, and that what may be unacceptable in personal matters, is not only acceptable in business matters, but expected. About 15 years later, Norman Chase Gillespie published a counterpoint to Carr’s paper entitled “The Business of Ethics”. Gillespie’s position is that there should not be as much license for business matters as Carr proposes, however, he stops far short of arguing for an absolute. Context drives the turning points in each argument from Carr and Gillespie. One main difference between their arguments is found in the assertion by Gillespie that morals represent an absolute that applies in all contexts, while implying that Carr throws morals out when promoting business ethics as a game. Carr does discuss morals, but not in their impact on business, instead taking the position that in the business context, the dominant guiding principle is law, not morals. What is right in business is determined not by morals or conscience, but by what is lawful. Carr does cede that  in circumstances where non-legislative stakeholders, such as clients, take a deep interest in a matter, that can also sway the business outcome. In this case, the choice is not made based on any right or wrong, but instead based on what is prudent and economically sound. Relativism enters into Gillespie’s arguments as he introduces the concept of a “moral rule”. When he originally published his paper in 1983, society may have had a narrower view of what moral rules applied to groups of people, so that some of the relativism observed in Gellespie’s arguments may be a reflection of contemporary society and culture. For example, he argues that lying to save a life is acceptable. He also argues that putting the driver of another car at risk is better than threatening oncoming traffic or sacrificing one’s self to preserve the safety of others. These examples are far from absolute and he provides no justification as to why his moral conclusions ought to be shared by others, which weakens his arguments. Dilemma...

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