The Key to Having an Ethical Business: Step 1 Abandon the Bad Ethic

Perhaps in no time in recorded history outside the industrial revolution has the words “business ethics” or “business morality” been so widely used.  It’s funny (all you can do is laugh) because the words presume that there is a universally defined “ethic”.  There is not.  In fact, more than ever in the history of human civilization, ethics and morality has nearly become void of meaning.  One might know it when they see it, but when pressed the typical post-modern answer to the question “What is morality?” yields a typical post-Humean, Smith, Kantian, Cartesian response.   Do these sound familiar?

“Morality is a construct of society.  What society deems moral, is moral.”  – Hume held the view that morality was decided by the masses.

“Morality should be defined by what the market wants.  If the people want morality, their elected government will enforce the moral norms of those people.”  Adam Smith  a la “the invisible hand theory”.  Smith, unsurprisingly, was a student of Hume. 

“How can we know what morality is?  You just follow your gut and hope for the best.”  Rene Descartes held the view that one cannot really know anything, except that “I think.  I am.” (Which he changed from his original syllogism “I think.  Therefore, I am.”)  This ushered in a wave of skepticism that any moral truth at all existed.

“The end justify the means.”  Utilitarian philosophy used by the third reich and communist Russia. 

“Everybody has their own way of doing things.  Who am I to judge what they do?  They have their truth; I have mine.”  Kant supposed that reality was within the human being and that the human being had to impress their reality onto the world.  Hence, he formulated his categorical imperative – roughly, “act as though you will your action to be a universal law.”

Now when a company or the employees of that company take any of these thoughts as a proper basis to inform their ethical decision making, tragedy and immorality are bound to erupt.  Why?  All of these above ethics are subjective.  And when an ethic is subjective, it is bound to change on the whim of a person or persons.  Under these types of ethics, it would be deemed perfectly moral. 

“Society thinks slavery is moral.  Therefore, slavery is moral.”  Of course it’s not, but when plugged into Hume’s ethic, this would logically be true. 

“There is a market for child prostitutes.  Therefore, child prostitution is moral.”  Smith/Hume

“Some people say Wal-Mart doesn’t pay their employees enough.  But how are they to say what is moral and what is not?  How do they know what is moral?” – Descartes.

“Hey, as long as we’re making money, it really doesn’t matter that our cigarette is the most addicting.”  Utilitarianism

“If Whole Foods sells debeaked chickens, de-beaking chickens must be moral.  Who am I to judge Whole Foods?” Kantian.

 So this gives us step 1 on how to make your company ethical.  THROW OUT THE SUBJECTIVE ETHIC.  Morality is not inside the person nor inside a civilization.  Morality is objective.  It knows no national border, no government, no association.  It’s real and out there to be discovered.  Can you imagine if people actually thought whatever they did was moral?  Society would be chaotic.  Fortunately, people only say they believe in these subjective ethics, though they don’t actually follow through on them…for the most part.

If you hear managers and employees justifying behavior by using subjective types of arguments, challenge them because those types of ethics don’t yield morality.  All they give a company is a tool for their employees to justify immoral behavior.  And if you want to get rid of the bad fruit, you must chop the tree down.  Get rid of the subjective ethic!

In replacing the bad, subjective ethic, pray, meditate, think about how morality is objective and waiting to be discovered.  It’s out there in nature, in reality, and you must be the company to discover it!

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