What you and I need is ethics redefined. Would you sacrifice the life of one man to save five? – check the debate at bit/ly/otfatman. What’s your decision? Your answer will reveal a philosophy, your sense of ethics. .Can we apply a philosophical reasoning to the business world? This is the challenge we set in a new module on ethics and responsibility in business on offer at Manchester Business School in April 2015: http://www.patrickmcnutt.com/uncategorized/professional-development-in-ethics-in-business/.
Our focus will be on rationality and reason in ethics with a game theory focus on rational action. We are searching for a ‘tao’ in the epistemology of the ‘rightness’ and the ‘whatness’ of an action by arguing that Rawls’ reflective equilibrium’ is as close to Kant’s categorical imperative in a practical real sense. It also allows us to integrate altruism and fairness into the Prisoner’s dilemma as a counter-weight to selfishness, betrayal and cheating. Philosophers struggle but do indeed offer a common sense method of reasoning about morality, the ‘reasonable person’ approach at a moment in time.
Exploring a Kantian philosophy for ethics in business requires us to differentiate between business ethics as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise and ethics in business; the latter requires an ethical foundation that can be applied. Our arguments span a broad church of contemporary philosophy from a focus on Hume’s emotions and virtue ethics in the writings of Neo-Aristotelians like Martha Nussbaum to Derek Parfit’s philosophy of a non-religion based ethics to the philosophy of Neo-Utilitarians such as Peter Singer.
Defendant: Restaurant owner
Plaintiff: Mr ‘Three Eyes’
Suppose you begin with an ethical judgment that denying service to a person simply because he has ‘three eyes’ unjust, and you proceed to account for this judgment by a principle which says that discrimination based upon nothing other than the ‘number of eyes’ is unjust. Rawls as a neo-Kantian may argue that the ‘number of eyes’ is a morally irrelevant characteristic of the plaintiff. But then suppose you have another morality about the justice of affirmative action. So you think that ‘number of eyes’ is a characteristic of a person that Manchester Business School should take account of in their admissions procedures. If your philosophy of justice is to become a Kantian categorical imperative, you will be forced to negotiate the trade-off between the principle of justice based on discrimination, and the judgement by Manchester to take account of [say] a ‘three eyes’ criterion in their admissions policy.
Kant (if he were alive today) as a Rawlsian would probably argue that there will be a further trade-off between a person’s first-order judgments about justice and the higher order commitments that take the form of Rawls’ principles of justice. Rawls called this a ‘reflective equilibrium’ – the ideal state [sic] ‘in which all of a person’s considered convictions about justice are in harmony with their more abstract principles of justice’. But a greater debate arises if the restaurant owner has a negative right to deny service to Mr ‘Three Eyes’ and the search for a categorical imperative is more challenging when philosophy is extended to a morality that supports a principle of justice that defends an employer’s right (or entitlement) to discriminate based on race, age, colour, religion or that allows someone in need of emergency care to die due to their inability to pay for treatment. A worker has a right to a minimum wage and safe working conditions; however, it is the employer’s duty to pay a wage and ensure safe working conditions. Any conflict gives rise to an ethical dilemma. A dilemma arises when someone is not fulfilling their duty. Would you sacrifice the life of one person to save five?