Philosophy for Business


Philosophy for Business
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Launched on 2 November 2003, Philosophy for Business is an e-journal published by the International Society for Philosophers, looking at philosophical and ethical aspects of business practice.

We are aiming for a wide circulation to companies and corporations around the world, as well as academic philosophers.

In order to gain the widest possible readership, articles should be written in simple, non-technical language. The target length is 2500 words.

Some themes that we will be looking at:

   Globalization and monopoly
   Is business ethics possible?
   Philosophy of economics
   Practical ethics
   Idea of a code of conduct
   Freedom of speech
   Industrial democracy
   Whistle blowing
   Ecology and sustainability
   Education and health
   Business and the law
   Tax avoidance and evasion

Please send articles for Philosophy for Business to one of the Editors (see below) or to the List Manager Geoffrey Klempner at

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Philosophy for Business is an open access journal, as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

In accordance with UK Law (April 2013) all content is archived by the British Library and is available within the reading rooms of all Legal Deposit Libraries.


Geoffrey Klempner


Marco Senatore

Peter S Borkowski

Dena Hurst

Sean Jasso

International Society for Philosophers
[back to archive]

P H I L O S O P H Y   F O R   B U S I N E S S           ISSN 2043-0736

Issue number 29
19th May 2006


I. 'Summit for the Future: Trade - Asian Leadership' report by Martin Herzog

II. 'My Summit' by Geoffrey Klempner

III. 'Pumping up the Price of Oil' by Michael Levy



I returned from the Club of Amsterdam 'Summit for the Future on Risk' (May 3-5)
energized and full of ideas. Here I would like to mention a few of the people
who I had stimulating conversations with:

     Oebele Bruinsma
     Freija van Duijne
     Richard North
     Annett Ohlich
     Joop Remme
     John Renesch
     Erika Stern   Utrecht School of Governance
     Jacqueline Ternier-David   Praxis International

I especially enjoyed meeting Martin Herzog, who like myself participated as a
philosopher catalyst. I would like to thank Martin for allowing me to reproduce
his contribution to the Summit Report alongside my own, rather more personal
reflections. Many thanks also to conference organizers Felix Bopp and Patrick

Associated Press reported yesterday that 'the price of oil fell below $69 a
barrel Wednesday after government data showed the domestic supply of gasoline
rising for the third straight week amid stagnating demand... But oil prices
remain about 40 percent higher than a year ago amid persistent market anxieties
about the West's nuclear standoff with Iran, supply disruptions in Nigeria and
the impending Gulf of Mexico hurricane season.'

Less than a month ago, when the price reached $75, Michael Levy write a
stinging criticism of the 'greedy speculators' who he blames for the
artificially high price. As Levy comments, 'When demand slackens off, the
speculators allow the price to come down a little. But they do not let it go
much lower for more than a few days.'

Geoffrey Klempner



The CLUB OF AMSTERDAM is an international think tank which reflects our future:
How we want to live, communicate with each other and what tools and cities we
need, how we want to commute and how culture or industries should develop. In
short: what we want our future to be.

The meeting brought a lot of interesting input, many contradictions and little
synthesis. So was the main insight of the group: trade -- Asian leadership on
Wednesday (5.3.06):

India and China are not only risks, the will not only export cheap goods and
services -- but they are at the same time huge news markets for our exports.

While on Thursday it got clear, that:

Ships from China to the USA are full, the opposite way empty. The costs for a
container from China is between 800 and 1400 Dollars, to China half of that.
And still there are large areas excluded from those lucrative potential.

As example Soeren Jacobsen mentioned the apple producers of Georgia. The price
they have to pay to bring their apples, or apple juice, to the port, is almost
higher than the world market price for those 'commodities'. That means that all
land-regions are heavily discriminated in world trade.

Because the USA and Europe still think they are the center of the world, this
is seen as a problem. While China itself has quite a balanced import /export
sheet, Germany exports much more than it imports, and the USA import much more
than they export (Not just because of China).

Not only here, but in the whole discussion about China's influence on the world
market, the complementary and in each economy necessary second part of trade,
the flow of money, has been totally neglected. It is well known, that China
buys a lot of dollars and has enormous stocks of foreign currency, a) not to
have to Dollar dropping too low, what would make exports more difficult, b) to
secure its own rather shaky banking system. That means that Chinese workers
paid so far the credits for the US-war in Iraq, as well as for over consumption
in the USA. Considering the money flows we might even say: China exports goods
-- the USA exports wars.

For a detailed analysis see: From 'Economy of Power' to a sustainable 'Wise

 Think Clubs: Show, awareness raising or propaganda?

The meeting was good. Many different and often conflicting interests, matters
and people met and discussed openly. Some criticized the PR show for business
of Richard North, others objected to the idea that partnership is something
that should be managed by computers and checked for profitability (David
Butler) -- who himself found the final comments of the psychologists (more
spirituality is needed) as very much unfit to be brought up in discussions with

Glen Hiemstra's teleported message showed, where the controversy seems
insurmountable. His presentation summarized as the main problems we should
solve in a not too far future:

     1. global warming
     2. global poverty
     3. religious conflicts
     4. lack of positive ideas

I do share that view, but would put point 4 first, because, as Alice was told
in wonderland: If you don't know where you want to go, don't ask for the road!
Global warming is obviously for many business minded people like a red rag to a
bull. Global poverty is not their problem, religious conflicts neither, and they
would never complain about a lack of positive ideas, as long as it is possible
to make money with the ideas they have.

The major criticism of the show would be, that it is really difficult to get an
overview. For this we should not be content with the few glimpses we got here in
those few days. All participants just got a partial, so lopsided insight, as
there have been 5 knowledge streams and 5 interdisciplinary streams, and I did
not meet one participant, who really had an overview. To really use all that
knowledge presented in such a meeting efficiently, a better knowledge
distribution and knowledge management would be needed:

 A) De-personalize knowledge into arguments, make it more objective and

The presence of well known prominent persons, the presentations by
'authorities', outstanding persons, leaders, even 'idols' is probably the major
attraction of such a meeting, but for further discussions all those personal
opinions, personal convictions and personal knowledge would have to be
de-personalized, that means, to be rendered more objective, to be discussed.
This is needed, as learning means to integrate new knowledge in ones old system
of knowledge. To be able to learn, one has to think, not just to listen and to
see. And thinking means to evaluate the new knowledge after ones owns values
and priorities -- without 'bending' it. That would be propaganda.

 B) Present knowledge in a multilevel-multicompartment - but one world -
presentation model. (English) (German)

Many times during the meeting I asked myself, what is the main target, what is
the function of something like the Club of Amsterdam? Is it awareness raising,
networking, knowledge seeding, thought processes, black box, think-show... or
just a show? The first impression one gets is: propaganda. All the time someone
is promoting the idea, that 'trade is better in solving problems than the
government, or development aid e.g, because each donor tries to influence the
receiving nations politics. Private business is by far more efficient...'

Only a few days later, back in Switzerland, I understood the big advantage
something like the Club of Amsterdam has over Universities and standard think
tanks. The problem of universities, research and schools (higher and lower
ones) is, that they compartmentalize knowledge. The taught and sold knowledge
is so one-sided, that the holes in this knowledge cheese are much bigger than
the real content. To fill those holes all kind of 'lateral' thinkers, as those
met the meeting, are indispensable. Totally opposing views have to bang
together, and they do that only in open meetings as the discussed one, they
rarely do at universities, even less at schools, and not at all at think tanks,
that are mostly bound by a specific ideology, be it politically right or (no,
not wrong) left.

     So far all knowledge has been considered as God's gift and
     could so not be sold. In the future it has to be regarded as
     a source of profit and to be managed under this perspective.

     Charles Kleiber, Swiss state secretary for education and
     research in: Le Temps, 11.10.1999

Why do we produce cheesy knowledge (a fact that does not only hold true for
Switzerland... Well, even most of the famous Emmentaler is nowadays produced in
Holland ...)? One reason is specialization. No specialist accepts interference
by non-specialists, and few try to interfere with the specialties of the
others. That means, nobody has an overview, as claimed up). Every specialist
estimates his specialty to be the most important, interesting, future oriented,
and each specialist wants to control discussions in his field. Wiseacres always
intend to control results and decisions, what leads to a lack of democracy,
lack of information of others -- so lacking knowledge on their side and lacking
acceptance for the strongly needed participatory planning on all levels of

Open discussions as we had it at the Club of Amsterdam would be of utmost
importance in Switzerland as well, but business runs here its own
propaganda-shop, called economiesuisse, classified as think-tank by the
organizers; while the counterpart, the socialist party, runs a think-grid that
produces not much more than applications of the old ideological views from
their side.

Even at Amsterdam one had to accept being constantly bombed with balderdash
against the government and rather stupid eulogies of the rich -- but on the
other side 'very old business experts' got disturbed by the opinions of
philosophers and sociologists, reminding them of the not neglectable importance
of spirituality, society and natural environment.

Incredible differences in thinking bang here together -- and the astonishing
thing is, that still some productive discussions prove possible.

 Ideological exclusion of certain ways of thinking turn each think-tank to a
botchtank -- no difference if social thinking, and the inclusion of nature in
the thinking system is excluded from the right side, or if economic thinking is
excluded from the left side.

Martin Herzog, Dipl. Ing. ETH, philosopher by vocation, 14.05.05

(c) Martin Herzog 2006




In one of the coffee breaks, when I finally got to talk to Felix Bopp, I asked
him straight out, 'Why did you invite me? why am I here?' ItΥs difficult to
find philosophers involved in business,' Felix replied with a smile. I resisted
the temptation to pursue the subject further. I was there, that was all that

But why did I come? what was I looking for?

Back in August last year, when I received my invitation, I wrote in my online

     Socrates said, 'Know thyself'. It is great if you feel that
     you know yourself. (Better still if you are correct!) Most
     of us would be happy to be working towards self-knowledge
     -- or at least going in the right direction. I am a
     philosopher. Truth-seeking, more than anything else, is
     what turns me on. Why that should be I don't really know.
     It would be interesting to find out. But is what I have
     just said really true? Is it truth that I am really after,
     or something else? Why put myself on this stage, exposing
     myself to all manner of 'risks', if I could seek truth much
     more safely -- and, probably, much more efficiently -- in
     some little philosophy department somewhere? Could it be,
     after all, that there is something I want more than I want
     When you put yourself to the test, there's two things you
     can risk... You can risk finding out the real truth about
     yourself, the truth you didn't want to learn. Or you can
     risk losing your way in the search for self-knowledge. Both
     of these things I fear. -- I don't know which is worse.
     Glass House Philosopher 14th August 2005

I came to the summit not just looking for some interesting problems or
questions to practice my philosophical skills on. I came looking for
inspiration and practical advice.

I want to succeed as a philosopher in the business world, and not just 'of' it.

The keynote speeches on risk could have been written just for me. As I write
these words, I am in the process of preparing to launch a philosophy business
-- a UK limited company -- in partnership with one of the students from
Pathways, my online philosophy school. This is no mere intellectual 'risk'. A
substantial amount of money is at stake. Back in August, I would probably have
reacted in horror to the idea. But much water has passed under the bridge since

On the first day, I learned a few useful techniques for overcoming my risk
aversion. 'Whatever, you do, death will get you in the end' is a good one.
Thanks for that, Sir Paul Judge. I've written before about the fear of death.
My radical solution -- it will not appeal to everybody -- is to give up belief
in an 'ego' which persists over time. Only the present moment is real. When you
let go of your ego, all sorts of things become possible.

But is that true?

You tell me. Faced with a real challenge, and the very real and scary
possibility of failure, it is not so easy to cast ego aside and say, 'whatever
will be will be'. I'm an inconsistent fatalist. I can't quite persuade myself
to give up the illusion of 'control'. I guess I still have some work to do on
that aspect of my personality.

In the corporate governance stream I learned about the role of dialogue. The
company of the future will be an organic, fluid entity rather than a rigid
hierarchical structure, but more than merely organic because each of the
'organs' is a self-conscious individual in his or her own right. The very
fabric of the company of the future will be built up from the personal
interactions within it. Through this arises the possibility of a new kind of
'competition', a new kind of 'marketplace' where co-operation rather than
egoistic survival of the fittest is the key to survival.

Is that true?

I don't know. But here's something I am more sure of.

It arises from a discussion about the difference between an 'business
consultant' and a 'philosophical consultant'. Are they two of the same? Or are
we talking about apples and oranges? You will see the point of this in a minute.

A colleague was telling me yesterday about the practices of the big
international consultancy companies:

     About ten years ago the big international operating
     auditing companies came under criticism because they
     offered consultancy and auditing within the same legal
     entity. The independence of the auditors and herewith the
     credibility of the audits was questioned because there were
     cases where the auditors claimed weaknesses in the audited
     business and recommended the companies to ask the auditing
     company's consultants for advice...
     This is how they recruit. They hire the best graduates from
     the best universities, more than they need, for example 100.
     Then those 100 newcomers are put into very difficult
     projects... From 100, only 5 to 10 'survive' through elbow
     tactics, politics and so on. Those who are successful are
     recognized as high 'potentials' and are promoted and
     supported. All the others have to leave.
     From the level of a senior consultant on, the consultants
     have to sell and acquire contracts with customers; their
     compensation is mainly based on the revenue they generate.
     There is no quality measurement other than financial
     indicators that have an impact on their compensation.

This is orthodox Darwinism with a vengeance. I replied:

     If the question is, 'How can we increase profits?' -- if
     that is the only question -- then you have got to go with
     the consultancy firm who have the best track record at
     increasing profits.
     What you have described is an inevitable result of that
     question. The giant consultancy firms arose out of a
     struggle to compete. The big boys came out on top. Now, if
     you're saying that actually it's all hype and the big boys
     only proved that they had a better marketing operation then
     that's a different issue. In that case, the best strategy is
     to avoid the giant consultancies and look for hidden talent,
     the smaller but smarter firms with a lower advertising
     Of course, there's the point about short term and long term
     profitability. There will be the argument that the track
     record of the big consultancies is artificially hyped
     because they go for spectacular short term gains to the
     neglect of the long term. I assume that there are enough
     companies who are aware of this and are looking for
     consultancy firms who will increase their performance 'in
     depth', so that their longer term profitability is improved.
     We start from the position that, 'it's not all about
     profit'. But if it's not all about profit what is it about?
     enlightenment? happiness? peace and love?

Of course, I was being rhetorical.

What distinguishes the philosophical consultant from the business consultant is
the recognition that there is something that matters, beyond profit. The bottom
line is not the 'bottom line'.

I finally had my chance to say 'what it's all about' on the last day of the
summit. I didn't see eye to eye with the other philosophers, mainly because I
didn't accept their easy Aristotelian equation between virtue and happiness. In
my view, we have follow the path of virtue because ethical values are real,
there is no other reason.

If virtue is worth pursuing purely for its own sake, as I believe, then no
other motivation is needed to be a virtuous business man or woman. Yes, you may
be happier, but there is no guarantee. Nothing is certain in this life. This
isn't 'peace and love'. This is simply, Reality. See what is real, and you will
not be blinded by the lure of material rewards into forgetting that other things
are important too.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2006




The price of oil today has now been pumped up to $75 a barrel because of fear
driven news and the greed of speculators. There is propaganda talk of oil
reaching $100 a barrel, so the seeds are being planted for the future, that
will feed the next panic buying spree.

Any oil producing country, any oil company or any speculator can set up a
commodity trading company with hard to find trails, to trade oil futures. When
demand for oil gets tight or there is fear laden, negative, or bad weather
news, they buy up many future months, sending prices rocketing more than normal

Many other regular traders spot a trend and follow suit for they are in it to
earn money. Also, high priced oil is in the interest of groups who want
congress to vote -- yes, to drill for oil in conservation areas of Alaska. If
oil prices stay high the chances of a yes vote is greater.

When demand slackens off, the speculators allow the price to come down a
little. But they do not let it go much lower for more than a few days. The oil
market makes higher lows every time there is a bout of profit taking. It then
carries on to make higher highs.

Even though supplies are still plentiful, even though there is never any real
shortage all the time oil futures are rising, they still are able to brazenly
manipulate the price to stay higher than it should be, in a genuine demand and
supply market, waiting for the next world crisis to send the price even higher.

Many times the experts say technical factors are sending the price back up,
which is jargon for the words, Nobody knows why the price is rising other than
blatant propaganda and lies about shortages.

Just as terrorists used American aircraft to blow up the World Trade Center,
the capitalist system is being used and fabricated, by a few people with
extreme need for greed, to cause a major world recession if prices are allowed
to continue to spiral out of control.

Free market forces are no longer in effect on the oil commodity market. It is
time for governments around the world to wise up and bring in tighter laws to
restrict the shameless greedy speculators from profiting from ill-gotten,
propaganda gains.

(c) Michael Levy 2006

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