Saturday, July 14, 2007

Business and ethics: a disconnect - Part One

First off, by way of introduction, I am pleased to have the opportunity to be a contributor on “In Socrates’ Wake.” I am excited about this blog because I think that philosophy is a discipline and activity that everyone should be exposed to. Therefore, the effective teaching of philosophy is crucial for success in exposing students from varied backgrounds and perspectives to the intricacies of philosophical reasoning. I use the term ‘discipline’ because I do not think that philosophy is a subject like physics, chemistry, history, etc. with a specific body of knowledge that once mastered makes a person a philosopher. It is a discipline because it is a distinctive way of way of thinking. If memory serves me, it was A.J. Ayer who said that philosophy is distinguished from others subjects because of it method. Done well, it allows us to see issues from different perspectives and helps to develop our critical imagination. In my teaching, I use Socrates as the paradigm philosopher, both from a theoretical perspective and a practical perspective. I have greatly benefited from studying the Socratic dialogues. The Socratic method served me well as a manager in helping me to work with people in a dialogical manner to uncover the root causes of issues and developing resolutions for them. To that end, I think that philosophy is the analytical methodology that when properly employed enables us to critically think about subjects/questions in depth so as to uncover and understand the underlying schemas upon which these subjects/questions rests and to be able to determine if there are sound reasons for accepting these schemas. If we cannot find sound reason that justifies our present schemas, then philosophy provides a methodology for revising our schemas. I have in mind here Rawls’ notion of ‘considered judgments in reflective equilibrium’ as an example of this type of methodology. The Socratic approach of finding the correct definition (form) of key terms is another methodology that can be useful.

The Issue: In a recent post, David Hunter, commenting on my observation that many students are not that motivated to study philosophy, indicated that he faces hostile students in the ethics course he teaches dealing with professional life. Having taught business ethics, managerial ethics, and ethics in professional Life courses over the last twenty years and having been in business for thirty-five years, I can identify both with his predicament and the predicament of his students. There are many factors that might contribute to this hostility (and lack of motivation). In this post, I shall consider what I take to be three of the main factors, 1) fear, 2) a disconnect between philosophy and the ‘real’ world, and 3) the perception that colleges and universities exist as training grounds for people to enter into the market as employees. In this post I will briefly discuss each of these items.

1) From the business perspective my major responsibility was basically what Friedman said it was; to create wealth by following the laws of the community I am operating in without performing acts of fraud and/or deception. This is what I was taught by my mentors in the business world (I never took a business course in college) and essentially what is still being taught today in business schools. Of course, now we consider ‘stakeholders’ and not just ‘shareholders’ in making decisions, but profit (versus cost) is still the central core value that we utilize when making business decisions. Profit is the main filtering value thru which we evaluate and utilize other values. From the ethical perspective, we should ‘do the right thing’ (whatever that means). We should be able to explain and justify our decisions by utilizing various moral principles supported by well-worked out moral theories, or developing the virtues necessary to be an ethical businessperson and implementing them in my daily endeavors. The ethicist is thinking something along the lines of “I have something of great value to offer you and if you open your minds you will see the benefit of studying ethics and integrating ethics into your daily practices.” While I think that what the philosopher/ethicist has to offer is of great value, the fear, and, dare I say, the experience, of many businesspeople is that the ethicist is simply going to be critical of them and how they make decisions and conduct business in the marketplace. They fear that they are going to be depicted by a broad ‘brush stroke’ of implications from a few well-known and overworked examples as immoral agents engaged in immoral practices. In so far as most people consider themselves to be reasonably good people and act, as they should, this fear may not be misplaced.

2) There is the perspective of the businessperson (and many others) that philosophy, and by association, ethics, is simply ‘in the clouds;’ it is unrealistic and not practical. They see little value in studying it because they think there is an insurmountable disconnect between the philosophers’ and the businesspersons’ worldviews. I think that this perception has great merit. Imagine being a businessperson and being told by ethicists (the expert) that there are fundamental questions that must be addressed and resolved before one can begin to operate a business as one should. As I have written (in an unpublished paper, “Character In Practice, Business, And Moral Decision-Making”), I believe that when we, as ethicists and philosophers, engage in meta-ethical analysis and maintain that what we are doing is theoretically prior to, and necessary for the correct application of epistemically warranted normative values in practice that we effectively remove ourselves from having any meaningful opportunity to interact and positively affect the dialogue that is taking place at that pragmatic level where actual normative issues arise which affect individual and organizational behavior and performance. Focusing on meta-ethical issues, and the analysis thereof, as the starting point of discussing normative issues in business, organizational, and/or professional life creates a serious disconnect between what ethicists engaged in meta-ethical analysis are doing and what business people engaged in operating within societal rule-defined parameters are doing in actual practice such that these two groups do not appear to have a common ground to meet on as long as the ethicists are arguing that there are fundamental meta-ethical issues that need to be addressed before the practical normative issues faced by practitioners can be resolved.

Furthermore, just imagine the reaction of a person working 50-60+ hours a week managing a business in today’s complex and highly competitive global marketplace reading some contemporary work in ethical theory, for example, F. M. Kamm’s Intricate Ethics. I can assure you that most would simply give up trying to follow the nuances of her arguments and dismiss this work as without merit. I know that if I were still working full-time in business I would not be reading this work, or many other works of philosophy/ethics. We would of course be wrong; it is an important work in ethics. But for those engaged in the day-to-day struggles of operating a business the time is not there to be able to exert the mental energy necessary for following complex arguments. We do not see the practical value of studying such work.

3) There is a perception that many hold that colleges and universities are simply the means to an end. That end being the ability to get a career that will enable them to achieve what we, as a society, have defined as ‘achievement and success.’ Education is viewed as an instrumental good, not something that might have (has) intrinsic value. It will be remembered that Max Weber argued that we develop our sense of self and self-worth by how much of the 3-p’s (power, property, and prestige) we accumulate over the years. One of our society’s core values is ‘achievement and success.’ Through the socialization process that we go through, we have been taught that the 3-p’s are indeed the measure of one’s success and social status. (Simply look at your own life. I certainly like the idea that I have a nice home (much larger then I need) with a swimming pool, two cars, a position at a good university, a successful career in business, etc.) Now we have students take a course that, if done properly, may (will) challenge these deeply held foundational assumptions. We, as philosophers and ethicists, are demanding that they uncover, examine, and justify the core values that define their conceptual schemas. How intimidating this must appear to the novice.

So I can understand why students might be hostile to studying ethics (or philosophy in general). In part 2, I will present a strategy for dealing with this hostility in an ethics course.


  1. Very interesting post John I look forward to part two. But for now a couple of points.

    In regards to fear I think you are absolutely right, I try to deal with this by emphasising that most of the time ethics is easy and that most of the time people and professionals are ethical. I try to emphasise that what we are focused on though are the rare occasions where the answer isn't easy and people may be unethical.

    In regards to 2. There seem to be at least two approaches to doing ethics: a philosophical way and a pragmatic way. The philosophical approach (which I think most ethicists adopt) treats ethics as you would any other part of philosophy, and takes it to consist of some very interesting puzzles about how we should behave. This is much of what you see in academic journals. I am inclined to think it definitely has its place and to my mind is very interesting. However its place in the classroom is with philosophy students, not with students in courses which are aimed to introduce a non-philosophy student to ethics, otherwise you are quite right you will turn them 90% of the students straight off.

    An alternative approach is pragmatic, we recognise that we may not philosophically have all the right answers yet, but we also recognise that we need some moral guidance for the mean time. This is how I see my role in these class rooms providing ways to figure out what to do when the answer is not obvious, and learning when the obvious answer ought to be questioned. This is part of the reason I am in bioethics there is a sense in which you are forced to keep your feet on the ground, because you need to be giving practical guidance. Being on research ethics committees is truly fascinating in this regard.

    Now note though that these two points attach to another question about the purpose of teaching ethics which is are we aiming to create good philosophers who understand ethical theories? or are we aiming to create good people? In much of the service teaching, though vaguely heretical (I think) from a philosophers point of view, it is later we are trying to achieve (the former would be nice icing if we can get it). So in my position I am supposed to be teaching these students to be good members of their future professions, with the ethical norms that entails. In the UK this is explicitly underwritten by the Quality Assurance Agency and the standards for courses they publish.

    Furthermore this point to a tension between one and two, the more pragmatic an approach, the more it becomes action guiding, and the more accurate the fear is. But on the other hand the less action guiding, the more 'philosophical' the course becomes the more they switch off.

  2. John: A provocative set of issues, very real in my opinion. I have to say that I've essentially stopped teaching business ethics due to some of the issues you mention. In particular, there's a kind of immaturity to the way people think about the intersection of ethics and business. It comes out in the points you mention about ethics being 'in the clouds' or being critical. A lot of students I've taught duck serious reflection about ethical issues with the view that ethics is simply inapplicable to business. I frankly find this attitude juvenile at best and sinister at worst. So I hope your future posts give me hope that teaching business ethics is not a futile exercise!

  3. John Hasnas has written some pretty interesting stuff about business ethics & its connection to real-world application. His most recent work argues that the problem with academic business ethics is that, due to the current legal environment in which businesspeople operate, abstract principles are of limited help because businesspeople must often choose between doing what is ethical and doing what the law requires of them. In other words, academic business ethicists often simply assume that what the law requires and what morality requires are pretty much the same thing, or at least that the law is not very often an impediment to doing what is right. Hasnas argues that academics' insistence on this false assumption has contributed to business ethics' marginalization.

    He has webbed some papers on the subject, here and here.

  4. We just completed our yearly assessment of our ethics courses (pre and post test comparison). The results are typical, in some ways. Many students -- primarily business students -- made comments about how academic ethics is "for college" or "is unrealistic". One even noted, in response to a case study, that one character "must have just gotten out of college, since they still have a conscience". Stunning stuff, but not very shocking as you all know.

    I have lots of thoughts about this issue, but one that keeps coming back to me is this one: such students seem to assume that the world of business, or of commerce, is the "primary world" (or primitive or whatever) whereas ethical "worlds" or points of view are secondary; so if they don't match the primary world, they should be jettisoned. I find this orientation interesting, especially since it seems to me that one's evaluative framework is the "primary" world that one operates with from the start when one approaches the world. I can't help but to approach every situation I am in an evaluative fashion (even if it isn't theoretical or even reflective). As such, it seems to me that my 'work world' is not the primary one, and so shouldn't be subordinate. Maybe this is just my intuition?

  5. On Michael's point one of the hardest courses I have ever taught on was on Business Ethics and it was a third year course taken half by business students (compulsory) and half by philosophy majors (voluntarily) that made pitch almost impossible to achieve if it was at the business students level, it was not philosophically complex enough for the philosophy students and vice versa.

    Ananda you make an interesting point. I often point out in my classes that the law doesn't tell us the right thing to do. I especially point this out in the Northern Ireland context since we have some draconian laws in regards to disclosure of information. Namely if you are aware of any illegal activity you are obligated legally to disclose this. These laws made sense in regards to the troubles, but they are now a major headache for researchers since ethically they are obliged to not disclose in many cases, but legally they are obliged to disclose.

  6. It is interesting to speculate as to why business students, as in Chris's comment, seem to have so little time for ethics. I have read some interesting perspectives on this. One attributes this attitude partly to the relentless demonization of business in popular culture -- the constant portrayal of businessmen as evil and corporations as soulless, dehumanizing, amoral entities might contribute to the legitimization of these attitudes in real life.

    Thus, people who go into business after college see themselves as one of: selling out, adopting the persona that the culture has taught them is appropriate for business, or simply "playing the game" until they can screw the company they work for. I remember reading an anecdote about a business ethics class where the majority of the class, when confronted with a thought experiment in which they discovered a colleague stealing from the company, would remain silent, and a sizable minority would have tried to "get in on the action." When queried about the reasons for these views, a common response was "Corporate managers are corrupt and intend to screw us, so there's nothing wrong with doing it to them first." It's not hard to surmise that decades of exposure to movies, TV, and books that depict businessmen as the primary villains in the world might help form these attitudes.

  7. I think Ananda is onto a piece of the puzzle here. What she hints at here is also true of students' hostility to ethics in general. What I mean is this: students come into our courses just escaping their parents rule, hoping to escape from the eye of society, and to 'stretch their wings', find themselves and develop into individuals. Ethics class can, in fact, turn into an academic version of those very things they are trying to get away from. Basically, we present a number of different frameworks in which they can be judged unworthy. They just have to pick one. :)

    If they have been looking to get away from this sort of thing, that might explain some of the hostility (they might be thinking -- we go again!).

    Now business may work similarly. If the business student has decided on this path, here comes the ethics instructor telling them that there are these 'larger principles' that judgmentally govern its domain ( we go again!), in a sense threatening its autonomy and so, by extension, their own attempts to create a space for themselves in the world. This will be especially the case if business "exemplars" are typically portrayed as negative. So they lash out towards ethics as part of that system they are dying to get away from -- hence it's stupid, it's unrealistic, etc.

  8. Ananda: Yes, there are some depictions of business as soulless and amoral, but virtually every important Fortune 500 CEO writes a memoir/self-help/how to succeed in business book (see Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca). If anything, popular culture has gone in the direction of venerating entrepreneurs (see Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc.).

    Not to unexpectedly steal any of the thunder from John's future posts, but I also suspect that resistance to business ethics among students has origins similar to those Chris cites. Students have flooded into universities in the past several decades specifically to study business and other 'practical' disciplines. (It's interesting to note that the number of students majoring in philosophy and other liberal arts disciplines has remained steady or even grown slightly in the past quarter century; it's just that this modest growth is dwarfed by the huge growth in students studying things like business -- hence the relative decline in liberal arts majors.) So I've sometimes thought that students take ethical criticism of business very personally, as if what's being criticized are not particular practices or attitudes but a fundamental orientation or lifestyle. And as Chris notes, this can feel like an attack on one's person.

    Now, I would never advocate academic business ethicists backing off from the project of criticizing the practices and attitudes of the business world where such criticism is warranted. Indeed, I think it's a responsibility that academics (whether humanists, scientists, social scientists, etc.) have to their larger culture -- to hold it up to critical scrutiny. Yet at the same time, perhaps there are ways of setting a tone in the business ethics classroom that forestalls students feeling that any critical examination of business practices and attitudes amounts to an attack on their chosen profession. For instance, perhaps the critical aspect of such courses can be balanced with a positive one, by, e.g., pointing to examples where ethical conscientiousness goes hand in hand with profitability; by emphasizing that being involved in commercial activity, producing quality products that satisfy customers, is an honorable and essential activity (I gather all but Marxists could concede that!); etc. In other words, can business ethics be taught as aspirational, something like virtue ethics?

  9. Thanks Michael you reminded me of the point I wanted to make, which is that I have noticed generally that topics which directly relate to what students either currently do or are going to do in the future are often the hardest to teach in terms of getting honest open participation. Even good philosophy students who are happy to entertain the strangest notions as long as they don't attach to them doing anything tend to clamp up a bit when the subject is closer to home. In particular in teaching applied ethics I have noticed that topics like euthanasia (quite distant from the average student) get a higher quality of argument and consideration by the students. In contrast teaching on aid to the needy or the ethics of eating animals is much more of an uphill battle to get the students to genuinely engage with the issues. The initial response of the students to Singer's paper on the aid to the needy for example is usually the ad hominem style response: "well I bet he doesn't do that"
    And it takes a fair while for the quality of the argument to improve from that.

    What I take from that is that no-one, philosophy students, business students or indeed ethicists really like the conclusion that either what they are doing or might be doing in the future is unethical. We don't like being judged either now or in the future.

    But as Michael points out this is one of the roles of moral philosophy, to provide a critical look at what is accepted as common practice.

  10. Hi all
    I have read these comments and am very happy for so many thoughtful ideas and observations. In the next day or two I will give a longer response to some of the issues raised before I put part 2 out for discussion. But for now, I would like to comment on the last comment made by David regarding students (or anyone for that matter) unwillingness to seriously confront issues if they are too close to home. I agree with him that one of the reasons for this is that we do not like to be shown to be wrong. Another reason is that sometimes the beliefs upon which some of our moral judgments rest are so deeply embedded in our conceptual schemas that we are fearful that if we are wrong in this instance we might be wrong in many others and that our entire schema may become unraveled. This is a fear that we as educators must be aware of as we introduce students to ethics (and philosophy in general).

    But this brings up a very intersting problem; why do philosophical arguments so often fail to convince people? I can get students to agree that the premises of an argument are true, or at least believable, and yet they will not grant the conclusion. They simply reject it. Telling them that simply rejecting a conclusion as false is not a rational response if the premises are accepted as true and the conclusion follows from them only further disconnects them from the argument and from ethics and philosophy. They would rather be seen as irrational then change.

  11. It is an interesting problem and one I have observed frequently especially teaching on topics that affect how the student, "should" behave. So in regards to the ethics of eating animals, while the majority of students reject the possibility of animals having significant moral status out of hand for flimsy reasons, there are a handful of students who claim to find the arguments compelling and yet still choose to eat meat. They usually admit that this is inconsistent of them, but that they are less bothered by inconsistency than the idea of giving up meat.

  12. Michael writes:

    Yes, there are some depictions of business as soulless and amoral, but virtually every important Fortune 500 CEO writes a memoir/self-help/how to succeed in business book (see Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca). If anything, popular culture has gone in the direction of venerating entrepreneurs (see Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc.).

    Larry Ribstein has done some empirical work on the portrayal of business in film, suggesting a persistently negative slant. I'd speculate that CEO books are as successful as politicians' books in terms of raising their professions' public image.

    In other words, can business ethics be taught as aspirational, something like virtue ethics?

    This is a really interesting notion and I hope you will elaborate.

  13. So in regards to the ethics of eating animals, while the majority of students reject the possibility of animals having significant moral status out of hand for flimsy reasons...

    I can't help pointing out that ethics instructors can be guilty of this too. When I was in an introductory applied ethics class at the University of Maryland a few years ago, the instructor showed us a video depicting factory farming (at the time, I wondered why she felt shock value was instructive in this case but not during the unit on abortion), and then proceeded to discuss the literature and the arguments. When I raised the policing-nature argument, she dismissed it immediately, and asserted that the issues it raised were unproblematic for those defending a strong view of animal welfare/animal rights.

  14. "in regards to the ethics of eating animals, while the majority of students reject the possibility of animals having significant moral status out of hand for flimsy reasons."

    Lots of reasons for this, I would think. But one of them, I suppose, is this: holding a value isn't just a theoretical enterprise. So showing someone how something is inconsistent just isn't sufficient to motivate them practically.

  15. Hi all
    Again, what wonderful comments. This was my 1st post ever and I am gratified that you found it of interest.

    Some comments:

    David: I agree that in intro course we should focus on the pragmatic approach to doing philosophy. The intro courses where I teach are Gen Ed and most take them to fulfill that requirement. The vast majority will never take another philosophy course so I aim at giving them something of practical value that they can hopefully implement in their lives.

    Michael: I agree that many students in business ethics course think that ethics is not applicable to business. In future posts, I will focus on strategies that I use to change this attitude.

    Ananda: Thanks for mentioning Hasnas. One of the major problems that businesspeople face regarding the relationship of law and ethics is that is the law establishes the operational parameters of acceptable business behavior for that community. It is of the factors by which we establish our cost of product baseline. Following the rules (law) establishes part of the cost of my product. If I want to be more ethical then the law requires then I will be increasing my costs. If other businesspeople are not willing to do things above and beyond what is required, then I will be placing myself at a competitive disadvantage relative to pricing my product in the marketplace.
    This may provide one explanation for Chris’s observation that many students find business ethics to be unrealistic. If I as a businessperson am going to be judged by well I uphold the laws of the community then why should I do more then what the law requires? After all business and business organizations are essentially legal constructs.

    Chris: I hope that you will expand on your intuition regarding the primary and secondary worlds. I also think that you have suggested a serious problem in the way we teach ethics; here are the theoretical options; choose one that you think is best and follow it. Or worse yet, the people teaching business ethics courses are not trained philosophers.
    Another problem is that often these courses are taught in the business school. How critical of business, markets, and capitalism are these courses really going to be? I have often argued that Marx’s “Estranged Labor, should be required reading for all who go into business. How many of the issues that face organizations can be traced back to issues raised in this essay? Deming’s 14 points is simply a recipe for avoiding alienation.

    Ananda: I disagree that people think they are selling out, some may, but most do not. I think that what they are doing is fulfilling the societal expectations that they have been socialized to accept as defining who they are and whether they have been successful in life. This is one of the hardest ‘nuts’ to crack.’ We have been socialized to accept certain core values as being the ones that matter and which should be used to develop our sense of self and self worth. If you use the metaphor of a conceptual schema as a ‘web of belief’ these values are at, or very close to, the center of the web; such that if they are shown to be unwarranted the web collapses. One of our goals as ethicist (philosophers) should be to get people to investigate their core beliefs, but at the same time provide them with a mechanism for modifying, or even replacing, the values that need to be modified, etc. Too often, I think we simply destroy without helping to rebuild.

    I do agree with you that exposure to movies, TV, etc have created a mindset that is probably unrealistic regarding businesspeople. For every Ken Lay there are a thousand who have not and would not do what he did. Unfortunately business ethicists seldom focus on those who do the right thing.

    Michael: I agree with Ananda; it would be interesting to see you develop the idea that business is aspirational. For many years I have look at business and ethics as a utilitarian. But, now I am moving to the idea that business is one mechanism for developing myself as a good person in terms of the type of person I want to be. One exercise that I have my students do is to imagine their tombstone and written on the tombstone is one word that will explain to others (who may not have known you) what kind of person you were. What word would you like to have placed on your tombstone?
    Now, the question is, “are you living the life that exemplifies that word?”

    Again, many thanks.

  16. This is a great thread. I have a few thoughts to share.

    First, I think that in teaching introductory ethics courses as well as upper-level courses such as business ethics, we ought to be in the business of fostering intellectual and moral virtue in our students. One interesting question is why is it that philosophers consider fostering moral virtue heretical, but take fostering intellectual virtue to be fair game?

    Second, one way I seek to counteract the "Business ethics is an oxymoron" belief is to point out the example of Merck and river blindness. In short, the company stumbled upon a cure for river blindness, but those who suffer from the disease in general cannot afford to pay for the drug. At last check, Merck was still providing this drug free of charge, at a price tag of $20 million per year.

    Finally, a professor of mine in graduate school made the following suggestion when ethics arguments hit "too close to home", such as the Singer argument for donating to famine relief. She states in class that we all do immoral things, no one is perfect, and so let's just see what we think of this guy's argument. I've found this to be a useful way to get students to lower their defenses.

  17. I didn't have anything too profound in mind with my remark about biz ethics being taught in an 'aspirational' way. All I meant is that a lot of the atmosphere in biz ethics literature and in the classroom as well is that ethics is imposed from the outside, so to speak. This naturally makes students see ethics as an encumbrance, as something to be resisted, even if only in the classroom setting. What I had in mind was very much what I suspect John is driving at with his tombstone question: trying to teach business ethics as part of the ethos of business, as an aspect of being excellent at business, rather than as an imposition on business excellence. An analogy with driving: There's the traffic laws, and then there's being a good driver. I've sometimes thought that biz ethics gets taught as if it were the traffic laws -- the minimal demands one must meet in order to stay in business (= keep your driver's license). But being a good driver (a conscientious, aware, self-aware driver) is a different matter. I have no pedagogical concrete suggestions along these lines, other than to suggest that teaching biz ethics would be more successful if students saw ethics as a set of business-internal concerns.

    John (and others) - Students are sometimes persuaded by philosophical arguments (I've found few students who aren't convinced that most of us are not fulfilling our duty to alleviate poverty, for instance.) But there's a gap between conviction and action. Call it what you want (akrasia, irrationality, etc.), but many arguments don't seem to move people to act on their conclusions.

  18. To add to Michael's comment about teaching business ethics (and other 'practical' subjects) aspirationally rather than as an imposition I think it rather helps if you have hands on experience with the subject matter, then you can personalise it and give examples of good practice that you understand and have experienced. In my case in the business ethics course I designed (this was a distance learning course which I ended up leaving before I taught, but is still as far as I know running at Massey), I made sure that it was focused on New Zealand (Since that was were it was based) and used my experience of being in business in New Zealand. A running theme was ethical issues in real estate businesses, since as a property investor that is something I have hands on experience with. Likewise I tried to ensure that any case studies and assignments were based in real New Zealand cases so for example in the section on ethics in advertising I got them to pick a case from the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority's website (they publish all their decisions online) and discuss whether they thought the ASA had made the right decision and why.

  19. I've been meaning to post a comment to this post, and hope it doesn't die with the next installment now online. I too teach business ethics "aspirationally" or even "inspirationally", and I've found a structure that works very well. It's turned a course I dreaded teaching as a graduate student into a course I really enjoy as a professor.

    One of the big complaints I have about professional ethics which I think generates reluctance on the part of students is that we tend to dwell on the negative cases. After all, most people's experience with the word "ethics" comes from how certain disasters like Enron, Worldcom, and the Ford Firestone Tire problem could have been avoided. By the middle of the semester I could tell that my students were suffering from "disaster fatigue", and worse, they were beginning to suspect I was something that I'm actually not -- a super leftist dedicated to convincing them that corporations are evil and should be destroyed.

    The last time I taught the class, I made sure to include positive cases too. In fact, I divided the course into three sections: ethical problems in business, solutions to ethical problems in business, and then a unit on leadership and business ethics. I find that telling them right away that we will be focusing on positive business ethics in addition to negative business ethics gives me loads of credibility to work with.

  20. To follow up on Adam's comment: What are the positive cases you give?

  21. I'm curious to hear as well but there is always this sort of thing:


  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Actually there are tons of positive cases out there. Tylenol's response to the cynaide poisoning definitely has some positive notes to bring out, and that's in most textbooks. There are also lots of good examples of companies going green (like Interface Carpet) or treating their employees fairly contra Wall Street (Costco, for instance). I don't mean to say that these companies are squeaky clean, but you can get a lot of mileage out of positive cases. It's actually one of my research projects to develop more. I have a book on order from Amazon called Firms of Endearment that I may use to get more positive content into the course.

    I also end up giving my students a general process for developing ethical solutions to ethical problems within a company.

  24. Well, you have explained very well about business and ethics and contradictory points of both but I would say people and business have right to decide their own ethics and values but it's also true that sometimes these ethics prove as a barrier in the growth of the company as they are so many players in the market they don''t have any ethics and can go to any level to build their business.


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