My Position on Business Ethics

Dec 09

One uniquely human characteristic lies in our desire to hear and tell stories, fiction and non-fiction alike. By way of story we vicariously experience emotion and conflict through another person or object. The human quality of empathy binds us to the characters in story in such a way that we ask ourselves what we would do in similar circumstances. This introspection is what makes literature so powerful, and so meaningful. After all, it is in the moment of anguish or bliss, when nothing will be the same, when an irreversible choice is in front of us, that we discover who we really are. Context When the moment of decision comes, what will I do? Will I become sharp, focused and relentless, as Jonathan Harker did when striving to save his dear Mina? Will I surrender to my lusts as Claude Frollo did when entranced by the beauty of La Esmeralda? Will my resolve crumble in the face of fear and torment, as Winston Smith did when tortured or could I so completely change my constitution, as did Sydney Carton, and surrender my life to save the life of the man who would be my rival in love? Great literature provides an expansive collection of contexts in which to explore the depth of human choice. Some characters grow into strength while others shrink into oblivion. There is enormous value in these vicarious choices, made through the movements of well scripted characters, particularly when those choices result in resolutions. When the moment comes to make the same types of choices in our own lives, a comfortable library with ample time to review these literary works is unlikely. The choices were made long before that crucial moment, just as with the characters mentioned above. Gap in Reality (Pressure) In his book Story, Robert Mckee explains that story, like those mentioned above, happens whenever there is a gap between subjective and objective reality. The subjective reality is what the character anticipates will happen. Objective reality is what actually happens. For example, when I pursue a business arrangement, I anticipate that all parties will be honest and forthright. That is my subjective reality. When objective reality fails to align with my subjective reality there is a...

Read More

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...

Read More