James Hoopes

MBA students need more than professed values. They need to know that the world is morally complex and morally dangerous. They need to know that bad deeds can come from good values. They need to know that valuing integrity enough to keep one’s hands off other people’s money is only the beginning, not the end of business ethics.

There are many ethical questions in business life that we cannot answer by professing values. And the wrong answer to those questions can start us unawares down a slippery slope that quickly turns sticky. Devoting an hour or two of an MBA curriculum to moral philosophy is a good way to give students an understanding of why professed values will not protect them against such moral dangers. Yes, it’s important to make the philosophical complexities simple! And of course it is important to move quickly to practice.

But a quick look at just three moral philosophers – Aristotle, Kant, and Mill – shows why confident reliance on professed values can make for bad ethics Aristotle valued virtue or character. Kant valued rationality and duty. Mill valued utility.

All those values are good, but they often conflict in practical life. A manager may value kindness as a virtue and therefore rightly want to avoid lay offs. But the same manager may simultaneously and rightly feel a need for layoffs because he or she also values profit (utility) and duty to shareholders.

Managers in such situations where their real values conflict with each other will hardly be helped by pre-announced values claims. Rather they need to know what Aristotle, Kant, and Mill teach, together if not individually. Good values such as virtue, duty, and utility can conflict. In such cases, managers need some other things besides supposed values or even real values to help decide what’s right.

Like this content? Why not share it?
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on PinterestShare on Redditshare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.