Philosophy for Business

P·4·B

Philosophy for Business
electronic journal

ISSN 2043-0736

Home/ Archive

Ethical Dilemmas
Kindle eBook

International Society
for Philosophers

Friends  &  sponsors

Philosophie & Wirtschaft



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 klempner@fastmail.net.

If you would like to receive Philosophy for Business, or unsubscribe, please go to https://lists.shef.ac.uk/sympa/
info/businesspathways
.

Philosophy for Business is published by the International Society for Philosophers.

The journal is distributed by email via the University of Sheffield list server.

The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily reflect those of the Editors or List Manager. If you have any suggestions, comments or criticisms, or if you would like to be an Editor, please write to the List Manager at klempner@fastmail.net.

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.



LIST MANAGER

Geoffrey Klempner

klempner@fastmail.net




EDITORS

Marco Senatore
marco.senatore@tesoro.it

Peter S Borkowski
p.borkowski@aui.ma

Dena Hurst
dena.hurst@appa.edu

Sean Jasso
sean.jasso@pepperdine.edu





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
http://www.isfp.co.uk/businesspathways/

Issue number 39
11th August 2007

CONTENTS

I. 'Can Business Ethics be Taught?' by Daniel E. Wueste

II. 'Taking Fair Advantage' by Geoffrey Klempner

III. 'Guinea Pigs Wanted' by Geoffrey Klempner

-=-

EDITOR'S NOTE

In this issue, Daniel Wueste responds to the challenge, 'Can Business Ethics be
Taught?' with a stout defence of the teaching of Business Ethics in university
against those who would claim that it is either unnecessary, or positively
harmful. Wueste believes that so important is the study of ethics that it
should be taught right across the curriculum.

Wueste refers in his article to the notorious 1968 Harvard Business Review
essay by Albert Z. Carr, 'Is Business Bluffing Ethical?' which I first heard
about from an article in Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_business. The Wikipedia article
alleged that my theory of the Business Arena (Philosophy of Business Issue 5)
is 'reminiscent' of Carr's view, in holding that normal ethics 'at odds' with
the rules that apply within the business arena.

Carr believes that any action is permitted, including giving false information
or 'bluffing', provided that it is not against the law. My response would be:
if you are prepared to go that far what is so important about obeying the law,
when a 'professional foul' can bring benefits which are far outweighed by any
legal penalty that a company may be required to pay? (see my, 'Corporate Social
Responsibility and Dialogue' Philosophy for Business Issue 19). I take that as a
reductio ad absurdum of Carr's view.

I agree with Wueste that business ethics should be taught. Where we apparently
disagree is over the question of whether business ethics is just ethics as
applied to business, or whether, as I maintain, there are special permissive
rules which operate within the business arena which do not operate outside that
arena. In my article, 'Taking Fair Advantage'. I apply this to the special case
of a buyer who knows more than he or she is letting on to a seller.

Just to prove that I would teach business ethics given half the chance, in the
third offering for the current issue I outline six 'Business Pathways' I am
currently working on and which will hopefully before too long become available
as a fourth Pathways School of Philosophy study track. But first I need some
suitable guinea pigs.

Finally, a word of thanks to all those who responded to the call to resubscribe
to Philosophy for Business. Don't forget to spread the word!

Geoffrey Klempner

-=-

I. 'CAN BUSINESS ETHICS BE TAUGHT?' BY DANIEL E. WUESTE

 Let's Ask How, Not Whether Business Ethics Can Be Taught

 Introduction

I take it that when we speak of 'business ethics' what we have in mind is
ethics in business, that is, ethics in the context of business activity. What
else could one be thinking of, you might ask. (An aside: That most readers
would ask this question is, to my mind, very encouraging.) Well, one might have
in mind a 'special ethics.' That's what Albert Z. Carr has in mind in writing
about the 'ethical standards of the business game' which, he says, 'are a far
cry from those of private life.' Business people, he says, need to sharply
distinguish 'between the ethics of the home and the ethics of the office.'
After all, he writes, 'the golden rule, for all its value as an ideal for
society, is simply not feasible as a guide for business.' Like poker, Carr
holds that business operates 'with a special code of ethics.'

Poker's own brand of ethics is different from the ethical ideals of civilized
human relationships... No one thinks any worse of poker on that account. And no
one should think any worse of the game of business because its standards of
right and wrong differ from the prevailing traditions of morality in our
society.

There is much to criticize in Carr's thinking about business ethics. But the
point I want to make here is simple: his idea of business ethics is not what I
have in mind now as I write nor when I teach a course called business ethics.
(This last may be regarded as full disclosure; I am not an entirely
disinterested contributor to the discussion.)

 Can Business Ethics be Taught?

It is worth noting, I think, that most folks I have met who think the answer to
this question is probably no are in the academy rather than business. One reason
for this, perhaps, is that practitioners — whose work is in business rather
than about it — know from experience that handling ethical challenges in
business requires knowledge and skill. In any case, at one level, we all know
that ethics can be taught. After all, although some people are not ethical,
some are and the knowledge these people have about right and wrong is not, as
it were, factory equipment.

Most faculty members who express doubt about the value of (or likelihood of
success in) teaching business ethics grant this point. In fact, it is the
prompt for their next claim: by the time students reach college they are
completely formed ethically; there is no more ethics teaching to do, all that
can be done has been done. I always find this puzzling. We don't think this is
the case in the areas of writing or oral communication, for example, and
students have been doing these things for quite some time when they arrive on
campus. These teachers seem to think that, so far as ethics is concerned, a
student is like a cake; after so many minutes in the oven (years at mother's
knee) the cake is done (the young person has learned all that he/ she can or
will about ethics). Any more time spent in the oven is pointless — because the
cake is done — or worse, it will ruin the cake. (I will return to the second
possibility in a moment.)

Pursuing the first idea, I am often told, usually quite firmly and often with
an air of condescension, 'You can't make them ethical.' My response is, 'fair
enough, but that's not my task. My task is to teach them how to be ethical;
that is, how to handle ethically complex situations and make ethical decisions
in a systematic, reflective and responsible way.' Whether they do this is out
of my hands. In this respect, I am no different than, say, the engineering
professor who teaches her students how to build good, solid bridges. She does
not and cannot guarantee that they will do this (i.e., make them builders of
good, solid bridges); whether they do build good, solid bridges is out of her
hands. Moreover, if they should fail to build good, solid bridges, not only her
colleagues in engineering but faculty generally would not conclude that
engineering can't be taught. (One might conclude that engineering could be
taught better than it has been, of course. But that is a different matter; it
presupposes that engineering can be taught.)

Another analogy may be helpful. Many people were taught how to play the piano
or some other musical instrument during their schooling but do not play the
instrument now. In most cases this is easily explained: they have made a
choice. They have chosen not to use what they know. They were taught how to do
something rather than programmed to do it. The difference between teaching and
programming entails the possibility that the learner will choose not to use
what has been learned. Of course, there is another possibility as well. On
might choose to use one's knowledge and thus become, for example, a pianist.
Analogously, one may choose to use what one knows about business ethics thereby
making oneself an ethical business person. So, again, it's not the teacher's
task to make students ethical. The job of a teacher of ethics — parent, member
of the clergy, or faculty member, for example — is to equip students for the
lifelong project of achieving and maintaining ethical integrity. The rest is up
to them. (There is another point worth noting in this connection. Teaching,
unlike programming, involves respect for an essential element of humanity,
namely, our capacity to choose, which is the basis of the responsibility we
bear for our choices and actions.)

I promised to return to the second point made earlier in relation to the idea
that when they arrive on campus college students are either ethically complete
or they have been taught as much ethics as they can be taught. The first point,
discussed above, was that ethics teaching in college is pointless, because 'the
cake is done' and anyway, you can't make them ethical. The second point was
that teaching ethics in college is like additional time 'in the oven' which is
likely to 'ruin the cake.' How so? Well, someone like Albert Carr would say
that unless we're teaching the 'special ethics' of the business game, we won't
be preparing them for successful careers in business. Rather, we'll be erecting
roadblocks to their success, perhaps even setting them up for lives of misery as
we encourage them to feel guilty about doing things that, for example, violate
the golden rule but are perfectly okay according to 'the ethical standards of
the business game.'

This idea is pernicious. A commitment to ethical conduct in business isn't a
roadblock to success. I'd wager, and I'm not a betting man, that drawing on
their own experience, most readers can identify many cases that confirm the
point. But we don't have to rest content with anecdotal evidence. Recent work
shows clearly that good ethics is good business. Collins and Porass's 1994
book, Built to Last comes quickly to mind. And a recent book by Grossman and
Jennings, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from 15
Companies, Each with a Century of Dividends (2002) makes the point nicely by
directing attention to the strong commitment to values at each of these
companies.

 Good Ethics is Good Business... No, Really

This is good news and it should be spread far and wide, for as long as the
pernicious idea that the opposite is true holds sway, teaching business ethics
will be more difficult than it should be and less likely to bear the fruit of
ethical conduct. Why? Largely because it so easily gives rise to the
manipulative duplicity of a man like Jeffery Skilling, former president of
Enron, who in a CD-ROM case study used at the University of Virginia's Darden
School of Business prior to the scandals that brought him and the company down,
said that people have no reason to worry when Enron is involved with a project:
'[t]hey know that it's clean, absolutely clean, because Enron's involved.
That's the way we do business.' 

You can almost hear the groans from students who watch this post scandal.
'Right,' they say under their breath, 'and I'm a monkey's uncle.' The danger,
of course, is that they will take it that the Skillings of business have, as it
were, given them the skinny on ethics in business; it's just a smoke screen,
part of a grand deception in a game the main aim of which is twofold: make lots
of money and don't get caught doing your mischief.

Teachers of applied ethics confront some challenges, for example, 'the-who's-
to-say problem,' which is manifest in the idea that there are no right answers
in ethics or that every answer is as good as any other. (The problem, a.k.a.
relativism, rears its ugly head in other ways too). There are ways to
effectively deal with these challenges. However, these victories will come to
nothing if the relationship between ethics and genuine success in business
remains more or less a secret. That is especially true if as Professor of
Management Richard R. Ellsworth suggests, the idea that the most important goal
of business is to maximize shareholder wealth has permeated the entire
curriculum of many business schools. That notion establishes a foundation that
builds upon greed. It can prompt people to put their own financial interests
ahead of the general good.

What is called for in this connection, I believe, is action by people outside
of the academy. Those whose work is about business rather than in business need
to hear that good ethics is good business from people who know this is so from
experience. They need to hear it from the people whose companies will be
recruiting their students to work for them. (I guarantee that this will be more
effective than anything their colleagues who teach business ethics say to them.)
It is important that business faculty get this message, because they are the
ones best positioned to convey it (or its opposite) to students. The
effectiveness of any approach to teaching business ethics will be impaired if
business students don't get this message, or worse, not having heard it, they
infer that its opposite is true.

 Teaching Applied Ethics

Professor Ellsworth is not alone in thinking there is a problem with what some
call the 'the bottom-line-first ethos of b-schools.' In a letter to the
business school accrediting agency, the Association to Advance Collegiate
Schools of Business (AACSB International), for example, the Fellows of the
Ethics Resource Center in Washington D.C. worry that 'financial performance is
the ethos of required courses' for students of business and opine that 'for far
too long a wide-ranging neglect of business ethics has been condoned in schools
of business.' They recommend a two part remedy: the AACSB should require
business schools to (i) include a separate course in business ethics in the
curriculum of both undergraduate and MBA students and (ii) provide evidence
that that 'positive attention' is given to ethics 'in standard business
courses.' (As it happens, the AACSB did not make a separate course in business
ethics a requirement in the curriculum.)

As I noted earlier, I regularly teach a course in business ethics. It will come
as no surprise, then, that I think offering such a course and encouraging
students to take it is a very good idea. What may be surprising is that I do
not share the belief of the ERC Fellows that business students should be
required to take a course in business ethics. Why not? Because, among other
things, the problem that needs to be addressed is not peculiar to business.
Moreover, even supposing what is manifestly not the case, that taking a course
in business ethics is like being inoculated against wrongdoing, it's far from
clear that 'inoculating' all business majors is the most effective way to
decrease the amount of ethical wrongdoing in business. After all, a substantial
number of the men and women in business today did not major in a business
discipline while in college. The weightier point, however, is the first one.

To be sure, scandals and ethical lapses occur in business. But they also occur
in government, science, and the church, for example. More important, given our
concern with teaching, in the form of academic dishonesty ethical lapses are
widespread on college campuses. According to a 1999 survey conducted by the
founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, Professor Donald McCabe, more
than 75 percent of college students admit to some form of cheating. About one
third of the 2,100 students surveyed admitted to serious cheating on tests, and
half admitted to one or more instances of serious cheating on written
assignments.

The problem isn't isolated in one area of human endeavor. It is found across
the board. Surely the response to it at colleges and universities ought to be
fashioned with this in mind. (Of course, the same can be said of K-12
education.)

 Ethics Across the Curriculum

Ethical issues arise across the curriculum — for example, in forestry,
engineering, biology, history, physics, nursing, chemistry, architecture, and,
of course, business. Moreover, ethics is key in every student's academic work
regardless of his or her major and it will be key in whatever career he or she
pursues after graduation as well. Thus, it is critical that students are taught
how to make ethical decisions. There are several reasons to believe that the
best way of doing this is by teaching ethics across the curriculum:

First, at large universities it would be difficult, if not impossible, to staff
an ethics course that is required of all students. (Such a course would have to
be small to allow for the sort of interaction and discussion critical to
effective ethics teaching.) Second, and more important, ethics in practice is
not compartmentalized and integrating ethics in regular courses throughout the
curriculum effectively conveys this point. Third, if ethics were truly
integrated across the curriculum, the impact would be dramatic. Members of the
university community would see faculty in all disciplines modeling a
systematic, reflective, and responsible approach to serious and often
controversial ethical problems. They would both appreciate that there is an
ethical dimension to every aspect of their lives and develop the critical
skills necessary to make informed ethical decisions. Fourth, students would be
better positioned to understand that integrity isn't an achievement in the
ordinary sense; that it's not earned in a specific field, on a specific date,
and held from that point on, like a trophy or a diploma. Rather, integrity is
both an achievement and an ongoing project; it's the project that cuts across
all aspects of one's life and lasts for as long as one lives.

 Conclusion

Although faculty without formal training in ethics regularly encounter ethical
issues in their teaching and professional work, they are often unsure of
exactly how to introduce ethical discussions into their classes systematically
and with real content. This presents an obvious challenge for an ethics across
the curriculum program because faculty members are called upon to integrate
ethics into their regular classes by engaging their students in discussion. I
am happy to report that this challenge can be met. At Clemson University, for
example, the Rutland Institute for Ethics offers annual Ethics Across the
Curriculum seminars for faculty in order to meet it.

We have worked with faculty at other schools as well, for instance, Kennesaw
State University (Georgia) and four colleges in Spartanburg County, South
Carolina: Wofford College, Converse College, Spartanburg Methodist College, and
the University of South Carolina — Spartanburg. (We have also done summer
institutes on ethics and service-learning for high school teachers, in 2002,
and teacher educators, in 2003.) Teaching teachers is very enjoyable. It's also
a very efficient means of dissemination. So, while the challenge is quite real
it is certainly not insurmountable. Provided, of course, that the will to do it
is present. Given the undeniable link between the will that is needed and the
potential payoff, I think the prospects for EAC are very good indeed.

 Source Notes

Albert Carr presents his view about the 'special ethics' of business in 'Is
Business Bluffing Ethical?' published in the Harvard Business Review, vol. 46,
January/ February 1968. Reader response was heavy. HBR published a report on
reader reactions by Associate Editor Timothy Blodgett: 'Showdown on Business
Bluffing,' May-June 1968. The quotation from Jeffrey Skilling (from his remarks
in the CD-ROM case study used at the Darden School) comes from an article by
Katherine Mangan, 'The Ethics of Business Schools,' published in The Chronicle
of Higher Education, September 20, 2002. The quotation from Professor Ellsworth
is taken from this article as well. Dr. John Knapp provided a copy of the letter
of the Fellows of the Ethics Resource Center to the AACSB to the members of the
Southern Institute's Consortium on Business Ethics Education prior to its
meeting on April 30, 2003. I am a member of this group. Data and Information
from Professor McCabe's study on academic integrity were made available to
members of the Center for Academic Integrity. Clemson University is a member of
CAI and I am one of Clemson's three representatives. A press account of the
findings is available online: DailyPennsylvanian.com. 'Download. Steal. Copy.
Cheating at the University.' By Mary Clarke-Pearson November 27, 2001.
http://www.dailypennsylvanian.com.

 Dr. Wueste is a member of The Southern Institute for Business and Professional
Ethics and a participant in the Institute's Consortium on Business Ethics
Education. His article, under the title, 'Let's Ask How, Not Whether Business
Ethics Can Be Taught' first appeared in GoodBusiness the online journal of The
Southern Institute, 2003, Issue Two: Vol. 2, No. 2 2003, 'Can Business Ethics
Be Taught?'

Daniel E. Wueste, Ph.D.
Director
The Robert J. Rutland Institute for Ethics
Clemson University
http://www.clemson.edu/caah/rutland/

(c) Daniel E. Wueste 2003

E-mail: ernest@exchange.clemson.edu

-=-

II. 'TAKING FAIR ADVANTAGE' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER

A recent question on Ask a Philosopher[1] highlighted an ethical problem which
buyers sometimes face: when is it acceptable to take advantage of a seller's
ignorance? Is there anything that you might know which the seller does not know
which you have an obligation to reveal to the seller, and if so what?

The second part of the question was: under what circumstances is a seller, who
subsequently learns something the buyer knew but deliberately kept quiet about,
justified in refusing to honour the sale agreement?

Although it is prima facie wrong to go back on an agreement, whether written or
verbal, if I discover that you have taken what I perceive as unfair advantage
and broken the rules of fair trading, then I am not obliged to let you get away
with it at my expense. However, this general rule can generate some hard cases,
where the original infraction is relatively minor and serious consequences
follow from breaking the agreement. I won't be discussing this part of the
question.

Here is the full text of Clay's question, which appeared on the 37th Page of
Questions and Answers:[2]

     This is a question that has been discussed within a group
     of acquaintances, sometimes leading to some pretty hot
     arguments!
     
     It is a business/ ethics question, and one we deal with on a
     regular, real life basis.
     
     You read an ad in the newspaper listing something for sale,
     and you realize it is worth much, much more than the asking
     price. You are elated at the prospect of a really good
     deal! You call the phone number and agree with the seller
     to go buy it, but when you arrive the seller informs you
     that he has had several other phone calls, some also
     showing great interest, and some calls simply letting him
     know that his item is worth ten times his original asking
     price. He has now raised his selling price.
     
     The dilemma: (As argued by my friends and I!)
     
     You, the buyer, are angry that the seller 'has no honor!!',
     and should have sold the item at the advertised price. My
     thoughts are that you were perfectly willing to take
     advantage of an uneducated seller, and thus you have no
     complaints if he realizes his mistake. Better luck next
     time. Since you were willing to take advantage of the
     seller, you're certainly on no moral high ground here.
     
     The group's response is that the two issues are totally
     unrelated. The buyer has no obligation to educate or inform
     the seller as to his item's true value. The seller still
     should have honored his original price. A verbal agreement
     between both parties is just that, and should have been
     honored.
     
     An additional issue would be to muddy the waters by
     including possible different reasons why the seller is
     selling the item.
     
     If the seller was selling the item in order to raise money
     to buy medicines for a sick child, and you kept silent
     about the item's value and paid the original low selling
     price, then you're really going beyond simply taking
     advantage of an uneducated seller. On the other hand, the
     seller might just have wanted the old thing out of his
     basement, and no actual harm would have occurred. Or are
     these just questions of degree?
     
     Does the buyer have an obligation to inform the seller of
     the true value of his item? If the buyer is a
     'professional', then the answer, legally, is yes. If I take
     a painting with 'Rembrandt' barely legible in the corner to
     your art gallery, and you tell me it's worth 25 and buy it
     from me for that amount, you're in trouble. A buyer who is
     just an average person answering an ad in the local
     newspaper is a different situation. Sort of.
     
     Does the seller have an obligation to honor his original
     price, even though he was completely ignorant of its true
     value when the price was set?
     
     We really do wrestle with this, and would very much
     appreciate your thoughts if you find this question
     appropriate for your group.
     
This seems a suitable scenario to test the theory of the 'Business Arena'[3].
According to my theory, different rules apply when items are bought and sold,
depending on whether the transaction takes place inside the business arena or
outside.

First, we need to prime our intuitions by considering a few more examples:

1. You own a company which specializes in supplying parts for earthmoving
equipment — bucket teeth, bushes, track pads etc. One of your clients has an
ancient machine whose parts are hard to come by. While picking through scrap
that your competitor is selling off cheap you notice the very item your client
is looking for, which you can sell at twenty times the asking price.

2. In a second-hand shop amongst a pile of old children's toys you spot a
complete Chinese Mah Jongg set in perfect condition which you you can sell  for
a hundred on eBay, where you have a thriving games shop. You pay a couple of
coins at the till, and walk away grinning.

3. A small company which designs and manufactures a new type of music player is
on the ropes as a result of a series of inept and financially disastrous
marketing campaigns. As an entrepreneur with many years experience in marketing
consumer electronics, you know exactly what would be required to turn the
business around. You offer to buy up the company for one penny, with the
undertaking that all debts will be honoured and no-one will lose their jobs.

4. You are art critic for the New York Times. In a gallery, far off the beaten
track, you find works by a painter whom you recognize as having great talent
and potential. You introduce yourself and tell the painter you like her work
very much indeed and would like to buy some. The next week your column appears
with a glowing review of the show. The artist is of course delighted, but so
are you at having purchased her best work for a song.

5. Your friend drives an old Ford Capri which is on its last legs. Knowing that
you are an experienced mechanic who loves Capris, and that you would jump at the
chance to give the car some tender loving care, he offers to sell you the car
for fifty. You gladly hand over the money and the next morning start phoning
round people you know who might be interested to buy a reconditioned Ford Capri.

The last example is the odd one out, so I will deal with that first. When
friends sell things to one another, it would be considered an abrogation of
friendship to attempt to gain any advantage from the deal at the expense of the
other person. Both parties to the exchange are concerned to ensure that the
there will be no room for bad feelings afterwards. In the present case, you
both know that you are not going to keep the car, and that you will indeed make
a tidy profit on it. It's money that you've well earned for your hard labour.
Your friend splashes the cash on a night out and buys a brand new Ford. You are
both happy.

The business arena is not like this, nor should we want it to be. I take it as
truistic that in the business arena both parties, the buyer and the seller, are
looking for the 'best' deal. The buyer wants to get the highest price that the
item will realize, while the seller wants to pay the least he or she can.

Even so, one values an atmosphere of amity. It is a wise rule of thumb to trade
with someone on the assumption that they would be happy to trade with you in the
future. That can be so even if on a particular occasion you got clearly the
better deal. There's always next time. It is the institution of the market
place which allows you to behave in this way. Even if the contest is friendly,
it is still a contest.

I have heard it said that the ideal outcome of any sale is one where no-one
'loses' and buyer and seller are equally happy. That may well be so. But the
point is that such an outcome cannot be guaranteed or enforced. The price of
making 'equal gain' a necessary condition for taking part in the game of buying
and selling would make the game impossible to play.

There is good justification of a law which protects sellers from predatory
professional buyers — as in Clay's example, the expert who recognizes the
painting with 'Rembrandt' barely legible in one corner — because in that case
the playing field on which the deal takes place is not level. One of the basic
principles of business ethics is that the competition to get the best deal
should be a fair competition. Insider knowledge is another widely discussed
example of how the playing field can be unfairly tilted, with the added aspect
of disloyalty and conflict of interest.

However, there is a remaining area of uncertainty where it is not clear whether
or not the rules of the business arena apply. In my answer to Clay's question, I
said:

     Your case appears difficult, because of the lack of
     context. You present this as a deal in the market place,
     between people who have never met one another before, and
     yet in real life people who meet through newspaper ads are
     not behaving simply as 'traders in the marketplace'. They
     are just people, who are concerned to do the right thing,
     not out of friendship or a concern for one's professional
     reputation but because it is the decent thing to do.
     
     It is not decent to make a large profit out of such an
     exchange based on your superior knowledge. If you know more
     than you are letting on — I'm talking about something that
     makes a big difference, one that would cause serious
     consternation to the seller — then you should spill the
     beans. That would be my view.

Examples like this — where neither buyer nor seller does this for a living --
are best not seen as 'business deals'. You are not meeting as dealers but
rather as strangers. You are ethically obliged to treat the stranger as you
would a friend, and not attempt to gain an advantage in the way that you would
naturally do if you were competing in the business arena. It is not accidental
that one finds lonely hearts columns right next to ads for old CDs and stamp
collections. The buyer and seller enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and a chat
about their favourite rock band.

The remaining examples 1-4 are different, because they all take place in the
business arena.

Your competitor kicks himself for not being aware of the true value of his
stock, but in truth there's little he could have done about it. The shop
manager earns a reprimand for failing to take sufficient care in pricing an
item whose purpose she did not recognize. The previous owner of the electronics
company now enjoys a secure job at a decent salary, but rues the great
opportunity missed as a result of his lack of marketing expertise. The painter
watches with a mixture of amusement and regret as the price of her paintings
soars. If she'd only had the courage of her convictions, she would have valued
her own work more highly and made a more concerted attempt to get into the
bigger galleries instead of settling for a backwater.

These are cases, I would argue, of a buyer taking fair advantage. A similar
series of scenarios could be described where the seller gets the upper hand,
but I don't think it's necessary to labour the point. It has become a cliche
that in the business arena knowledge is one the most valuable commodities. You
work hard for your knowledge and sometimes pay dearly to acquire it. At the
risk of stating the obvious, it is right and fair to make a profit from your
superior knowledge, and to gain an advantage at the expense of your less
knowledgeable competitor.

 Footnotes

1. Ask a Philosopher http://www.philosophypathways.com/questions/

2. Questions and Answers 37, number 31
http://www.philosophypathways.com/questions/answers_37.html#31

3.  Geoffrey Klempner 'The Business Arena' Philosophy for Business Issue 5
http://www.isfp.co.uk/businesspathways/issue5.html

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2007

E-mail: klempner@fastmail.net

-=-

III. 'GUINEA PIGS WANTED' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER

In 'Pathways to Philosophy: Seven Years On',[1] I recount how the first
Pathways students played a significant part in the design and writing of the
six Pathways programs. 

     The sensible, logical thing do to would have been to write
     the six programs, then advertise for students. But I knew
     myself too well. I could never do that. I could not write
     without someone to write for. So I took the plunge and
     placed a postage stamp sized advert in the London Sunday
     Times.
     
     ...In the information pack, I listed four programs as being
     currently available. In truth, I had only written unit one
     of each program. The plan was to write new units as and
     when the demand arose. The postage stamp advert brought
     around thirty requests for information packs, and out of
     the thirty, three plucky students enrolled for a program.
     Now I had my work cut out.
     
     The early Pathways students had an enormous impact on the
     development of the Pathways programs. Their insistent
     questions and objections forced me to continually review my
     plans from one unit to the next. Each unit seemed like a
     contribution to an on-going dialogue.

I would like to produce Pathways courses on business ethics and philosophy of
business, designed primarily although not exclusively for business people. I am
looking for students who are prepared who are prepared to collaborate with me in
this undertaking.

It is always a bit risky agreeing to be a guinea pig. I have no illusions that
there is any likelihood that I will be inundated with requests. But I reckon
there are a plucky few amongst the readers of Philosophy for Business who would
be prepared to take the plunge. Fees are the same as for the existing Pathways
programs.[2]

Email if you are interested in taking one of these courses. I would also be
very interested to hear from any business philosophers or business ethicists
who have ideas for distance learning courses that they would like to develop
for Pathways.

 Footnotes

1. 'Pathways to Philosophy: Seven Years On' appeared in Practical Philosophy:
Journal of the Society for Philosophy in Practice Issue 6, 2003: 'Case Studies
in Practical Philosophy' 
http://klempner.freeshell.org/articles/pathways.html

2. Pathways to Philosophy: adventures in distance learning
http://www.philosophypathways.com/programs/pack.html

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2007

E-mail: klempner@fastmail.net

[top]