Updated April 7, 2008 - jtm THE PHILOSOPHICAL BASE OF CSR
The foundation for business ethics is moral philosophy. Adam Smith, in the minds of many the first economist, was the fourth Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and was deeply curious about the motivations of people in their business lives.
The four main schools of moral philosophy as a guide to right action are (1) "Virtue Ethics" as taught by Aristotle ("Who do we aspire to be?"), (2) Deontological ethics as taught by religions and by Immanuel Kant ("What is the right thing to do - as taught by divine revelation or as established by universal principles of human behavior?"), (3) Consequential ethical s as taught by the utilitarians and others ("What acts will generate the greatest good for the greatest number?") and (4) Relativism, i.e., the view that what is the right thing to do depends upon one's social group.
In a business context, the safest way to present answers to ethical questions is to answer them based on at least two of these three questions, thereby taking in a wider swath of the audience one is addressing. For example:
1. A corporate spokesperson may say: "Why does our company take CSR seriously? Because it is the right thing to do and because it makes business sense!" Whether or not the official knows it, these are references to deontological and consequential ethics.
2. Or a company official could say: "We pursue CSR policies because it is who we want to be and it makes good business sense." The references here are to virtue ethics and consequential ethics.
3. Or the official could say: "CSR is meaningful for our company because it's who we aspire to be and because it's the right thing to do." Virtue ethics and deontological ethics.
4. Or, finally, the official could say: "CSR is for us behaving as a good citizen wherever we may be, and respecting the norms of the people among whom we share space."
Moral philosophy seeks to provide normative guidance. It does not escape the requirement that inferences and arguments follow the rules of logic. This is a different branch of philosophy, well worth self-study for those who have missed a formal course in the subject. Continue here for more information about three types of ethics. Continue here to skip the moral philosophy and go direct to ethical applications.
PHILOSOPHICAL BASE - NEWS STORIES
3/13/08In the Game of Business, Playing Fair Can Actually Lead to Greater Profits, Knowledge@Wharton"The Apprentice" shows wannabe moguls trying to impress Donald Trump by preening, cajoling and conniving. The boss glories in firing people and squeezing every penny out of suppliers. But John Zhang and Jagmohan Raju, Wharton marketing professors, and Tony Haitao Cui, a University of Minnesota marketing and logistics professor, argue people aren't purely mercenary in their business dealings. They care about fairness, and doing so can maximize their profits. A manufacturer and a retailer can both end up making more money by setting prices equitably in their joint marketing channel as opposed to maximizing individual profits. The professors’ paper was published in Management Science as "Fairness and Channel Coordination." Comment: John Rawls attempted to reduce the concept of justice to one of fairness. Perhaps ethics is boils down to the same idea that is understood early in life in the kindergarten playground.
PHILOSOPHICAL BASE - COMMENTARY 1/15/08 (Blogspot).Why We Overlook Unethical Behavior What with the string of Enron and Worldcom shockers and then what seems with hindsight to have been a collective see-no-evil attitude in the mortgage origination and securitization businesses, it's not surprising that some Harvard Business School professors have been wondering why no one blew the whistle loud enough on lapses of ethical behavior in business. They start with clearing the air by saying that good people can do bad things and that it's usually easier to see lapses in ethical behavior - or appearances of such lapses - when you are not a party to a transaction. The professors then come up with four types of theories about why people so often seem to overlook unethical behavior at work.More: Blogspot, John Tepper Marlin, Why People Overlook Unethical Behavior.
10/21/07 (Blogspot): NYU's Stern School of Business requires a course in professional responsibility and offers an elective on CSR and other topics. Its Markets, Ethics and Law (MEL) program is responsible for teaching and research on professional responsibility and CSR. The MEL faculty seminars have started with a discussion of utilitarianism as a guide for moral conduct, using as its text John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism. Mill has a dispositive retort to those who defend acts with bad consequences on the basis of good motives..."10/21/07 Blogspot, Word for the Day: "He Meant Well".