As the authors point out in the opening chapter of Moral Issues in business, "Stories of business corruption and of greed and wrongdoing in high places have always fascinated the popular press, and media interest in business ethics has never been higher" (Shaw et alt, 4). Part of this fascination must stem from humans interest in "bad new" of disasters terrorism and threats to peaceful living. Some of the interest might be a self defense mechanism that seeks to guard against unwanted circumstances that could happen in people's lives through protection themselves of the knowledge of what has happened to others.
The example used as the classic case of unethical and immoral conduct in the business word is the case of Enron which at the turn of the century was one of the most blatant examples of business impropriety. Enron, the authors point out was guilty of "deception, dishonesty, fraud, disregarding one’s professional responsibilities, and unfairly injuring others for one’s own gain. (Shaw et alt, 4). True issue of Enron and other businesses like it are ethical questions. Enron's first mistake was not that of breaking any laws, but in choosing to defy ethic rules that if they had been addressed early on and corrected, Enron's smight exist still today.
Ethics considered abstractly is very different as the authors point out ethics in practice. In the real world "many of the moral issues that arise in business are complex and difficult to answer." They are institutional ethics that can involve multiple parties with diverse interests and goals. It involves not just businesses outward interactions but also questions of consumer outreach and internal management of how employees are treated, screened, rewarded and incentivized. (Shaw et alt, 4).
This is a dense web of considerations given that they all stem from the central question of moral philosophy which asks "‘How are we to relate to each other in order to ensure that our individual and collective well-being is enhanced?" (Shaw et alt, 5). This draws off the philosophical school of utilitarianism. When this is played out with legislation it is known as rule utilitarianism posits that morality should be governed by rules set for particular classes of actions and that based on the typical outcome of these actions are we should in any situation follow the rule that in general brings about the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Act utilitarianism is more contextual and sees all actions as permissible in certain situations in which they will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.
In utilitarian calculus Rule utilitarian would look at instances of actions and would allow those that typically amount in the greatest deal of happiness and prohibit those actions which generally amount in a lesser degree of happiness. For the calculus act utilitarianism would also be concerned with the implications of happiness/unhappiness with an act but would take into account the context in which the action was committed in weighing whether or not it is morally permissible.
Rule utilitarianism would formulate the utility principle to reflect an concrete standard of actions, whereas for an act ultilitarianist the standard would be adapted to take in to account the context of where an action is committed and given the situation what the consequence will be.
While different businesses may vary in their specific ethical concerns, all business face and are tasked with decisions whose outcomes will be dreamed either moral or immoral, ethical or unethical.
Moral questions differ from factual questions in that they ask the "should I do this?" and not "Am I capable of doing this?"
Ethics ask if a certain action, policy or behavior is right or wrong. This leads one further down the philosophical rabbit hole and asks by what metric can we deduce whether or not something is wrong. It is not as simple of compiling a list of what is right or wrong since much of what determines this is dependent upon the situational context. The process of this determination is a "moral judgement that is concerned with evaluating the effect upon our individual and collective well-being."
A branch of ethics that follows a similar line of thought is utilitalitarianism, which determines a moral action as one that maximizes the good of the whole and minimizes suffering.
Utilitarianism has more parallels in legal thought, but there are other thinkers whose thoughts are more individual in their aims. Hobbs was a philosopher who was an ethical egotist because he believes it is rational to act always in self interest in which there is no morality so long as a person uses any means possible to achieve what is best for himself. He is a social contract because he believes that humans live in an un-ideal state of nature and since it is better for man’s self interest to live in a community, societies are formed by entering a contract with others that allow for one to live in relative peace. He is a psychological egotist because would believe the theory that it is descriptively accurate to say that man acts in self interest.
In a Godless universe I do not believe Hobbe’s moral view is possible. Since his world view does not believe in objective morality, his social contract would be undermined by people seeking what is best for themselves. It is not plausible to think that people would not be constantly breaking the social contract when they thought they could get away with breaking it without anyone knowing. The social contract of our society is uphed most follow the law not out of fear of consequence but because of an internalized morality. Take away both God and objective morality and moral chaos within a society (social contract) results.
Outside of laws that govern behavior, the standards we follow every day i our lives that tell us murdering is wrong, stealing not okay, lying not acceptable are moral standards. The soundness of these standards depends upon "the adequacy of the reasons that support or justify them" (Shaw et alt, 8).
Although many people use law and morality interchangeably, the two are not equal. As the authors point out "breaking the law is not always or necessarily immoral" and in the same vein just because something is legal does not absolutely mean that is is moral or correct.
People sometimes confuse legality and morality, but they are different things. On one hand, breaking the law is not always or necessarily immoral. On the other hand, the legality of an action does not guarantee that it is morally right (Shaw et alt, 10).
The classic example of this that the authors use is those during Nazi controlled Germany who helped Jewish citizens escape from secret police intent on denying them their freedoms. The correct moral choice that anyone in that situation would have chosen would have been have been to break that law. Ethical relativist believes that morality has to do with religion, but steady varies with the culture and situation. There are no objective moral realities under this viewpoint. Many business people appeal to ethical relativism to justify instances of deception as morally okay within a business contest. They authors use draw an analogy from oker that , “Poker’s own brand of ethics is different from the ethical ideals of civilized human relationships. The game calls for distrust of the other fellowCunning deception and concealment of one’s strength are vital in poker.” (Shaw et alt, 17)
Ethical relativists begin their argument by using fallacious arguments that begin with believing moral disagreement necessarily implies that there are no universal moral standards. This as uninformed as saying that just because scientists disagree about the origin of the universe there is no universe.
Ethical relativism is overturned in turning our view inwards to realize that not only do we innately pass judgments on ourselves and others, but in real life we regard acting on certain feelings and desires as immoral. Ethical subjectivism also allows for the powerful with a morality okay to oppress the less powerful. In essence, different subjective systems are in a constant clash with one another if for one system it is immoral to be oppressed and in another system it is moral to oppress.
It is a positive thing that businesses keep morality independent of religion and would go on to say that ethics found in religion are reflective of objective morality. By grounding morality in religion we not only raise one specific religion above others, but we raise religion above morality and cause morality to become an aspect of one specific religion.
Religion, while often used to promote human dignity, can also be used to undermine fundamental rights of humans. Boss warns that Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica used Aristotle’s natural law theory to support a religion-based natural law ethics in which it was seen as morally acceptable to subjugate woman to men and woman were seen as incomplete men.
Though some would point out that religion has inspired moral acts in people such as mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, the converse can also be true. September 11th, burnings at the stake, oppression of minorities, and slavery have all been justified in the name of religious morality.
Ultimately, the authors argue that moral judgments should be logical. Logic policies and laws all lend themselves to technicalities which while they might make a compelling argument, are not ultimately logical thought constructions but thoughts derived from wanting to avoid ramifications of dubious actions.
In computer programming there is a a saying that “garbage in garbage out.” This is basically what the authors say is needed in order to have a good ethic framework and virtue. “Moral judgments should be based on moral principles: is the heading of one chapter. Arriving at moral judgments is first about laying a foundation for moral thinking, and then applying a reasoned out philosophy to duge persons, actions, policies and business entities. Facts matter as much as moral standards. “Moral reasoning and argument typically appeal both to moral standards and to relevant facts. Moral judgements should be entailed by the relevant moral standards and the facts, and they should not contradict our other beliefs.” (Shaw et alt, 30)
The book closes by presenting case studies that utilize the terms taught in the previous chapter.
These terms can be applied to a situation in which is an argument I heard at a place I once worked whose name I will change to Business A. In business A there was a manager that was stealing products from the organization. Two employees that he hired began also stealing from the company when The Manager let them in on his scam.
It was the manager who was eventually found out by upper management who to minimize his own wrongdoing by highlighting the faults of the others. The employees claimed they were not aware that what they were doing was wrong since they had been told by their superior that it was alright to do.
In this situation there is a different set of interpretations based on the same amount of facts. But what is important to do, and by applying one of the approaches listed in the book, would be to look at it logically. Was it illogical for the employees to act ignorant of wrongdoing. The basic question is, “Should they have known better.” And the answer I think in most situations would be yes.
Another application would be looking at CEOs who received huge bonuses when they were leading companies to the brink of bankruptcy. Performance bonuses when a business is failing is not a logical thing to receive.
The book is comprehensive in that it could be read by people of a company and all parties would walk away with a working vocabulary of the ethics in a business setting.
Shaw, William H., , “Moral Issues in Bussiness” 11th edition. Wadsworth Inc, 2010