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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 42
29th December 2007
I. 'Knowledge and Action in Business Ethics' by Geoffrey Klempner
II. 'Pitfalls in Ethical Financial Investments' by Wolfgang W. Osterhage
III. 'Towards a Redefinition of Time in Business' by Patrick Fogarty
The violent death of Benazir Bhutto has overshadowed what would otherwise have
been a time of hopeful anticipation for the new year. As I explained in my note
to issue 132 of Philosophy Pathways yesterday, I have personal reasons for
sadness, as one of Benazir's distant admirers from the time when she served as
President of the Oxford Union, the same year 1976 that I went up to University
College Oxford to begin my graduate studies.
Two of my Pathways students have contributed to this issue. Wolfgang Osterhage
who is taking the 'Ethical Dilemmas' program was given the assignment, 'Select
any theme from your program and find an article or news report on the internet
which illustrates that theme, then write a report of 1500-2500 words.' The
result is a fascinating exploration of the dilemmas that face the would-be
Patrick Fogarty is taking the University of London BA in Philosophy as an
External student under my mentorship. One of the topics in the Modern
Philosophy paper is the clash between Samuel Clarke, an advocate of Newton's
absolutist conception of time, and Leibniz who held a relational view of time.
As Patrick shows, this metaphysical dispute has interesting analogies with the
way time is viewed in a business context.
Also in this issue is an extract from unit 3 of the on-going 'Ethical Dilemmas'
program, which deals with the topic of weakness of the will in relation to
Business Ethics. There are still places available on this program. Email
firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like further details.
I wish you all a healthy, happy and fulfilling 2008!
I. 'KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION IN BUSINESS ETHICS' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
How and why we fail
Books on business ethics standardly assume an audience whose only concern is to
know what to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. However, that ignores the
fact that we don't always do what we know we should do; sometimes we would
prefer that we didn't know; and sometimes try as we might we find we are unable
to bite the bullet and do what we know is right.
There is no single term for this phenomenon: the familiar term, 'weakness of
will' -- much discussed by philosophers ever since Aristotle -- covers many of
the cases but not all. 'Moral failure' is too wide because every occasion when
we make a wrong ethical judgement, is an example of moral failure. However, I
will stick with the familiar term, with the proviso that it is not necessarily
descriptive of the full range of phenomena which it denotes.
Such an inquiry illuminates the nature of ethical judgement and action, for the
reason that the conditions under which one fails are no less relevant to
understanding the phenomenon in question than describing the conditions under
which one succeeds.
Thus, whether you are engaged in the process of teaching yourself to be a
better judge of ethical matters, or devising training programs in business
ethics, you need to understand how and why things go wrong when they go wrong;
why knowing what is right in theory does not always translate itself into
practice. In just the same way, if you are designing a new car -- or a business
process -- you want to know the limits of the design, how much stress your
design can take before it fails to perform as expected, or indeed undergoes
I shall be looking at examples of failure to do what is in one's own
self-interest alongside failure to do the ethically right action, because the
underlying explanation is substantially the same in both cases. In both cases,
the considered judgement, 'I ought to do X' does not always suffice for doing
X. That is to say, prudential or ethical knowledge does not always translate
into prudential or ethical action.
Weakness of will
Socrates famously held that 'virtue is knowledge'. If you really know what is
the right thing to do, he believed, you cannot fail to do it. Failure to do
what is right is proof of failure of knowledge.
When Aristotle came to discuss what he termed the problem of weakness of will,
(in Greek, akrasia) he concluded that in many cases what we think of as
'knowledge' is not always as clear-cut as it seems. Knowledge is not just a
simple process of seeing but involves a capacity to respond appropriately to
practical as well as theoretical challenges. Sometimes, the challenges that we
come up against demonstrate that our grasp of what we thought we knew is not as
firm as we thought.
The assertion, 'virtue is knowledge' may seem a rather extravagant claim. Yet
it is arguably nothing more than a consequence of viewing ethical questions
objectively. If it is an objective fact that X is wrong, irrespective of our
desires, or what we would like to the case, then cognisance of that fact ought,
logically, to be sufficient to motivate an agent to not do X. If a further
motive were needed -- say, the hope for a reward or the fear of punishment --
then the alleged wrongness of X would not be the objective fact it purports to
Another way of putting this is to say that if there exist ethical facts, then
they must possess sufficient motivational power to affect the decisions that
human beings make. Human beings decide on the basis of their desires and their
knowledge of the facts. An ethical fact would have to possess the capacity to
override the agent's desires, otherwise it is just another common-or-garden
variety of fact, which one can view in a positive or negative light. If it is
ethically wrong to tell a lie, then seeing its wrongness must in itself be
sufficient to motivate me to tell the truth.
I am not going to try to defend the objective view here. It is not necessary to
do so, because it turns out that the very same problem arises if you hold the
subjectivist view that the ultimate basis for ethics consists in human
conventions, or natural sympathy or some other motivation or blend of
motivations which reliably produces ethical behaviour.
The example of lying
Consider the example of the ethical rule, 'Do not lie.' Regardless of whether
one takes an objectivist or subjectivist view, if you say, 'I know it is wrong
to tell a lie, but I allow myself to tell lies whenever it suits me,' then this
is the clearest possible evidence that you don't really believe it is wrong to
tell a lie. You might believe that you can get punished for telling lies, and
therefore you do your best to avoid getting caught. You might believe that most
people think it is wrong to tell lies. But that is not the same as you yourself
sincerely holding that it is wrong to tell a lie. If it is wrong to tell a lie,
then on the evidence of your statement you are one of the people who still need
to be convinced.
Imagine that you lived in a repressive dictatorship where telling the truth
about things that you see and hear can get you into serious trouble. You can
get punished severely just for passing along an everyday item of news. Perhaps
after many years of oppression the population is so brainwashed that they have
come to believe it is somehow 'wrong' to tell the truth. But that doesn't mean
that you believe that it is wrong to tell the truth.
In general, if you say that you know that it is wrong to do X, but then you do
X anyway, an explanation is required why you failed to obey your own ethical
judgement. One possible explanation is that you are a straight forward
hypocrite. You don't mean what you say. Your words are intended to deceive. In
the country where people get punished for telling the truth, everyone is more
or less of a hypocrite for the sake of self-preservation.
On the other hand, if you do mean what you say, then you are involved in a form
of self-contradiction. It is not straightforward logical contradiction, but it
is a form of practical incoherence or irrationality which we term 'weakness of
Admittedly, it is not always clear-cut where we have a case of lying in spite
of your belief that lying is wrong, or a case of telling an untruth because you
believe that in this exceptional case it is not wrong. However, there are
sufficiently many examples where the case is clear-cut; where we tell a lie
simply to save face, or because we are tempted by material rewards, knowing all
the while that what we are doing is wrong and feeling guilty for it.
The addicted smoker
Fred is a warehouse manager and has been an inveterate smoker since his teens.
Following the recent change in UK law, his company has introduced a blanket
no-smoking ban. Now, Fred smokes in the toilets risking severe reprimand or
possibly the sack if he is caught. Six months ago, Fred's doctor warned him
that he is developing a serious lung condition, and if he continues at this
rate he could be dead in five years.
Fred has an excellent reason to stop smoking. His wife has begged him to stop.
Yet he has made one resolution after another and broken them all. Leaving aside
ethical issues around the question of passive smoking, his actions are clearly
not in his own self-interest. If knowledge could be effective anywhere, surely
it would be effective here. What has gone wrong?
It is easy to say that Fred lacks will power. He admits it openly to his family
and friends. Yet in other areas of his life Fred has exhibited remarkable
character and resolution. Recently, he successfully completed a university
Philosophy degree through correspondence, which required considerable
self-discipline and many late nights of study. It is as if nicotine has somehow
found Fred's weak spot and he is helpless to resist.
Consider a possible explanation couched in terms of knowledge. The resolution
is never so strong as when Fred has just finished a cigarette. But as the
positive effect of the nicotine wears off and the deadly alkaloid begins its
campaign of physical and mental punishment, Fred finds he is increasingly
disposed to entertain the notion that doctors don't know everything; that he
can always escape detection at work if he is careful; and, anyway, he can still
quit after the next cigarette.
This suggests that in Fred's case, the diagnosis that Socrates would offer is
indeed correct: what Fred lacks is sufficient knowledge. It is not enough to
tell oneself that one 'knows', or to repeat any number of times what a 'good
decision' it would be if he gave up. Having broken his resolution time and
again, Fred doesn't really believe himself. He is resigned to giving in when
the temptation becomes sufficiently strong.
Let's try a simple thought experiment. Suppose cigarettes really were deadly in
the most literal sense. After smoking a cigarette, there is a brief rush of
pleasure and then in one in six cases you die instantly of a heart attack.
Nobody in their right mind would want to smoke a cigarette unless they wanted
to play Russian roulette. Or suppose that the company where Fred works has
implemented elaborate CCTV and smoke detectors which make it virtually
impossible to light up without detection. Then unless Fred wants to lose his
job, he will not light up, regardless of how desperate he may be for a smoke.
It follows from our thought experiments that whatever Fred believes about the
medical effects of smoking, or the consequences of being caught breaking the
anti-smoking rule, is less than knowledge. He thinks he knows. He repeatedly
says, 'I know'. But he doesn't really know. If he did know, he would stop. And
the truth is that real life cases are seldom so cut-and-dried. Doctors are
usually cautious about making predictions of death. Smoke detectors are
generally less than a hundred per cent reliable. In Fred's case, the reasons
for giving up may appear strong to us but they are still not strong enough to
motivate Fred to survive the moments of greatest temptation.
The unrepentant thief
Margaret is a customer service clerk. She is underpaid and not very well
treated by her company. Whenever she can get away with it, she helps herself to
items from the stationery cupboard -- Sellotape, paper, envelopes, ring files,
blank CDRs -- for herself and for her children to use at home. She rationalizes
that the total value of the amount that she takes is far less than the pay rise
she believes that she deserves. But she also knows full well that this would be
If Margaret knows that she shouldn't steal, how is it possible that she fails
to act in accordance with this knowledge? One plausible explanation that might
occur to you is that Margaret accepts that the ethical thing to do is not to
take the stationery, but she chooses in this case to act in her own
self-interest rather than to do what is ethical. However, this surely cannot be
correct. The point of the example is that Margaret's judgement that it would be
wrong to steal already factors in a legitimate element of self-interest. It is
a judgement, 'all things considered'. If, all things considered, you judge that
it is wrong to do X, you can't then go on to offer an attempted justification
for doing X. Any possible justification has already been taken into account
when you made your 'all things considered' judgement.
Contrast this case with another case which superficially would be described as
'stealing'. You have been given strict instructions to ask your supervisor
before taking anything from the stationery cupboard. Failure to comply with
this order is regarded by the company as theft. However, an important computer
file which you need to access right away is on a CD which is jammed inside the
CD-ROM drive of an old Macintosh computer. The only thing that will eject the
CD is a straightened paper clip. But no-one has a paperclip and the supervisor
is nowhere in sight. Plain common sense would tell you that in this case you
have a fully legitimate excuse to take a paperclip without asking.
Taking things without express permission is not always 'stealing'. But in
Margaret's case it is. There may be no fixed borderline between legitimately
taking a paperclip and illegitimately helping yourself to bagfuls of items from
the stationary cupboard, but there is a rough and ready, common sense
understanding of how far you can reasonably go. Suppose you have an easy going
boss who says, 'You can take some stationery for your own use, but not too
much.' In this case, cleaning out the stationery cupboard is definitely theft,
while taking one roll of Sellotape -- even if you don't need it -- is
definitely not theft.
Margaret is a thief, there is no doubt about that. Or is there? Even if we are
in no doubt, is she a thief in her own eyes? What exactly is her
all-things-considered judgement? Is it that taking the stationery is wrong, or
is it that taking the stationery would be described as 'wrong' by most
observers, and indeed would be wrong were it not for the fact that in this
particular case she has a legitimate reason for taking the law into her own
hands and awarding herself 'compensation' for her low pay?
I suspect that a lot of petty thieves do think in this confused way. It is said
that in Communist countries before the lifting of the iron curtain, theft,
bribery and black-marketeering became the main form of resistance against a
corrupt political system. In such extreme circumstances, to be a thief can be
seen as the ethical choice. But in Margaret's case we feel confident in saying
that she is in the wrong. This is not acceptable behaviour, whatever legitimate
grounds she may have for complaint.
We can say that Margaret, like Fred, is unable to resist temptation when it
comes. Or we can say that Margaret has somehow deceived herself into thinking
that what she is doing isn't really wrong at all, but on the contrary fully
justified. Or perhaps Margaret doesn't even know herself which explanation
comes closest to the truth.
The low achiever
Nicole is an accounts executive whose talents far outstrip the demands of her
job in a leading advertising agency. Overtaken by her less able male peers, she
blames her lack of success on the 'glass ceiling' when in her heart she knows
that she had every opportunity to be where they are.
Nicole's most glaring problem is that she gets periodically depressed, and in
her bouts of depression gives in to self-pity and self-doubt. If just a few of
the plans of action which she formulated in moments of clarity were put into
effect, she would be up at the top of her profession. When her various schemes
fail -- as they inevitably do when the depression returns -- there is always
someone to blame other than herself. Most often, she simply perceives herself
as the passive victim of discrimination.
Nicole's problem is a startling failure -- startling, for someone of such
intelligence and sensitivity -- of self-knowledge. Everyone else can see the
problem except her. When advice is offered, by those who have remained loyal
friends despite her unpredictable moods, it is angrily repudiated. She doesn't
want to know.
Hardly surprisingly, Nicole's self-hatred and resentment have led her to some
otherwise unaccountable acts of unkindness towards her staff, which she always
feels guilty for afterwards. Nothing arouses her ire more than when she
recognizes her own faults in another person. This is needless to say an
observation which Nicole is unable to make for herself.
On one occasion, a colleague whom she had just subjected to a roasting
commented, 'You need therapy.'
In short, Nicole is the kind of boss that you hate, who fails to appreciate
your good work and in her worst moods isn't satisfied until everyone feels as
depressed as she does. The head of the agency, meanwhile, has reluctantly
reached the conclusion that despite her considerable ability, unless there is a
remarkable change in her attitude and behaviour, they will have to let her go.
As observers, we can see only too clearly what Nicole fails to see. If only
someone would shake some sense into her. That is the way it is with some
people: unless something drastic happens to cause them to see past their blind
spot, they will never make progress. Their defence mechanisms are too highly
The anxious presenter
Mark is a senior purchasing officer who has saved his company hundreds of
thousands through his inspired design and implementation of an order tracking
system which is the envy of rival companies. Great behind a desk, or in
one-on-one discussions, his weak spot is giving presentations. He succumbs to
stage fright every time. At the slightest whiff of criticism he caves in.
Unknown to his friends and colleagues, Mark has been in psychotherapy for a
number of years, and understands all-too well the causes of his debility. An
unforgiving and hyper-critical father, together with his unfortunate
experiences at school where he was bullied and mocked by classmates for being a
'swot', have severely undermined his social confidence.
Rising through the ranks of his company through the sheer undeniable quality of
his work, and helped by his sympathetic boss Christine, he has so far managed to
avoid putting himself in a position where his problem will be uncovered. On the
few occasions where he has given presentations, Christine was on hand to field
the difficult questions.
Now he is on his own. Tomorrow, he has an important presentation to give and
Christine will be away. Mark has every reason to believe that he knows enough
about his topic to be able to field any hostile questions. No-one in the
audience has such a firm grasp of his area of speciality. Yet he also knows
that the occasion will be an ordeal.
On the day, things turn out worse than Mark could have possibly predicted.
One of the members of the audience, taking advantage of Christine's absence,
has secretly decided to use the occasion to attack Christine's record and
question her professional competence. At the end of his rant, he even goes so
far as to insinuate that the relationship between Christine and her protege is
more than just professional. After the unexpected outburst all eyes are fixed
on Mark. He knows what he should say in his own and Christine's defence, but
the words just won't come. The enormity of the accusation has left him
dumbfounded. He stands rooted to the spot, his lips move but no sound comes.
This is the clearest possible example of a case where knowledge is not enough
for right action. Surely, one would think, here the doctrine that virtue is
knowledge cannot be maintained, however one qualifies that principle. Knowledge
alone does not suffice to motivate right conduct if you suffer from a
debilitating mental impairment which prevents you from acting on that knowledge.
Some tentative conclusions
Good people can do bad things: they can act unethically, or imprudently, where
the fault is very clearly theirs -- not their situation, or their company, or
society at large. Yet, as we have seen, there is no simple or straight forward
diagnosis of why things go wrong when they do.
Margaret the customer service clerk and caring mother seems to be the one whom
we have the best chance to reach through philosophical dialogue. If she could
only see herself as we see her, or indeed as she is viewed by her work mates
who have all fallen under the finger of suspicion as a result of her thieving,
it might be sufficient to motivate her to stop. Does she really understand why
her thieving is wrong? Has it even occurred to her to see her actions as an
example of the general maxim, 'If you want X then it is all right to take X,
even if X does not belong to you'?
Fred the warehouse manager needs help which philosophy alone cannot give. He is
an example of Aristotle's 'incontinent man', who in some sense 'knows' what is
the right thing to do but whose reasoned decision is overtaken by his desires.
It was Aristotle who recognized the vital importance for ethics of cultivating
habit. Fred can be helped, not through learning even more about the harmfulness
of smoking, but rather by being shown how to develop practical strategies which
will enable him to cope with his cravings until he has successfully rid himself
of his addiction.
Nicole the advertising executive was told she needs therapy. That diagnosis is
surely correct. Of our four examples, she is the clearest case of lack of
self-knowledge. Perhaps if Socrates would indeed have recognized therapy as a
legitimate method for applying the principle, 'Know thyself.' At any rate,
there does seem hope that she will listen to a professional counsellor even if
she refuses the advice given to her by her friends.
On the other hand, Mark the purchasing officer understands his condition
perfectly from a psychological standpoint, but the understanding is no help at
all. As in Fred's case, the solution will involve a program of practical help
or training, which over time will enable him to modify or change his behaviour.
There may be no miracle cure for lack of self-confidence, but the ability to act
as if you are confident combined with success and positive feedback that this
brings goes a long way to compensate.
What do our conclusions show about the role of ethics and moral philosophy in a
We have seen that philosophical understanding and theory only go so far. Moral
philosophers may be highly skilled in analysing ethical problems, or arguing
the case for or against a particular moral view, but it is ordinary people,
with all their complexities and character flaws who have to struggle through to
some kind of understanding for themselves, under conditions where mere
understanding is seldom enough.
Perhaps it could also be said that those who would call on the help of
philosophers do not appreciate sufficiently the extent to which philosophy is a
second-order activity, involving analysis, theory construction and critique.
Philosophers also -- like Socrates, or like Aristotle -- have practical advice
to offer which flows from their theoretical understanding, but giving good
advice to real people in practical circumstances also requires something else:
it requires wisdom. It is wisdom, not mere theoretical knowledge, which enables
us to judge when the solution to a problem can be expressed in the form of
knowledge, and when the only acceptable solution is action.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2007
II. 'PITFALLS IN ETHICAL FINANCIAL INVESTMENTS' BY WOLFGANG W. OSTERHAGE
This article takes up the subject of ethical financial investments and
associated problems in connection with such a definition. It starts out from an
example found in the webpage of an organisation called 'Envocare', which issues
guidelines on this matter. Initially I shall briefly go into the definition of
ethical investment itself. It will be seen that any definition will invariably
lead to ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas are strongly connected to the
standards that are used to define ethical investments in the first place.
Concluding it will be shown that a black or white answer to the problem is
When placing their money into funds or shares people are increasingly asking
questions about the use their money is eventually put to, while waiting for
their returns. As some clever catholic bank was asking recently in an
advertisement: 'Does your money fire shots?'. So in the minds of many persons,
the world can be divided up into such businesses that are possibly doing bad
things to others and other businesses that do not. This thinking has led to a
rating industry occupying itself with assessing the ethical impact of corporate
activities. Upon the recommendation of such agencies people then can choose,
where it is safe to invest their money, without risking to support unethical
activities. This kind of investment is called 'ethical' or 'socially
responsible' investment (SRI).
To be able to judge a company's activities along socially responsible lines a
number of criteria have to be developed and agreed upon. This article takes as
an example the internet presentation of the organisation 'Envocare'
(http://www.envocare.co.uk), which was founded in London with the initial aim
to encourage the preservation and improvement of the environment. Later on
Envocare diversified its field of attention to other socially relevant
practices. Thus Envocare provides interested persons with information about the
possibilities of ethical investments that go beyond the purely environmental
aspect. For this purpose it has defined a list of positive and negative
criteria, which can be applied as a yardstick to measure ethical standards both
to companies and to other organisations such as states.
To cite but a few, here are some positive examples put forward: animal welfare,
community relations, disaster relief, energy conservation, recycling, waste
management. On the negative side one finds: alcohol, animal testing, armaments,
gambling, human rights abuse, oil companies, pesticides, tobacco.
It is conceded that there are possibly less than a handful of companies in the
world that would fulfil positive criteria without ever touching on one or
another negative one in one form or another. Therefore pragmatically Envocare
has devised a scheme that allows for a gradual scaling of investment
possibilities. In this way people can ease their minds, if they cannot decide
for a perfect ethical placement, to at least approximate their aim in some way.
The limited choice of one hundred percent ethically sound investments results
from the seemingly contradictory objectives of having a reasonable financial
return against the ethical restrictions placed on an investment. Obviously this
would leave very few candidates in the field. In this way, by softening certain
criteria or combinations of positive and negative ones, the scope is widened.
We shall come to this problem again later.
From the above definitions some of the possible dilemmas associated with
ethical investments are becoming obvious. They can be basically divided into
(a) matching the standards put forward and
(b) defining standards themselves.
Let us first turn to (a):
(a) Matching standards
What if a company produces breathing apparatus that is used in life saving
emergencies as part of the equipment of ambulances? This is certainly a
positive point on the rating scale. At the same time a slightly modified piece
of hardware can be applied to support bomber pilots cruising at high altitude.
Would such a company in any way be eligible? -- Or consider the famous producer
of buttons, which can be attached both to a rain coat and to military uniforms.
Not to talk about computer chips, which can be integrated in any sort of
hardware -- peaceful or not.
Obviously there are limits. The same goes for washing powder and fridges being
purchased to serve in military barracks or in households. The interesting items
are so called dual-use products: they can be employed both in war and in civil
life. How to rate such companies objectively?
Another problem arises, when a corporation engages to nearly 90% of its
activities in producing non-objectionable products and services. But, what if
one branch or daughter company can be associated with let us say tobacco in
some way? Will it fall through the grid or still get some recommendation?
Ethical rating agencies are aware of these dilemmas, and they propose the
following ways out of them:
- If a company produces dual use equipment, it can be
validated by the ratio of non-objectionable to
objectionable use. If by some definition this ratio is
strongly favourable to the non-objectionable part, it might
still be considered for ethical investment;
- The same goes for a corporation, a subsidiary of which is
producing unethical things: if a certain percentage of
turnover is not surpassed, it might still qualify.
Admittedly this is a pragmatic approach that can help in a world where purity
is only a goal but not the reality. However, from a moral point of view, this
means: a little slice of evil is permitted. But how thick is the slice? 10% or
20%? And if 20% why not 30% or 40% or even 100%? 10% makes no difference to the
person that is killed by a bullet. Even in a purely practical context a little
bit of contamination always opens the door for more. In the end the danger is
that by incremental increase the standards will be watered down completely and
distinction is no longer possible. And the selling of the whole concept to a
broader public will either be made very difficult indeed or people will stop to
This brings us to point (b): the definition of standards. Who defines them and
on what commonly accepted basis? The next section will deal with this problem:
(b) Defining standards
By scanning the 'encourage' and 'avoid' columns of the Envocare criteria the
question of general consensus arises. By assigning certain activities or fields
of business as desirable or not the authors seem to assume that there is such a
thing as common agreement in society on their judgement.
Accordingly the following fields should be encouraged: birth control (a roman
catholic would probably not agree), healthy eating (every other year research
results on one food ingredient disclaim the healthiness of another applauded
the year before: do we have dynamic standards?), renewable energy projects (the
example of bio fuel in conjunction with the elimination of small subsistence
farms in the developing world shows that good intention can quickly turn into
Here are some examples of the things to avoid: alcohol (does this apply to wine
growing as well?), animal testing (some people may argue that human lives can be
saved by this method), armaments (what about UN peace keeping forces?), nuclear
power (obviously there is no consensus on its evilness in many parts in the
world, especially in its ability to reduce fossil fuel pollution).
So, what sounds good to some, provokes the opposite judgement by others. Who
decides? Rating agencies and initiatives do, with the highest ethical
intentions. If they can get sufficient public attention, their views become
stronger and indeed become a certain standard, which is no longer questioned.
Objections are then easily refuted on the grounds that they against common
sense and driven by other than good intentions.
This may work in practice. In this way the end may justify the means. Its
assumptions though are still irrational.
Ethical (financial) investments have become a rather popular theme in recent
times. This has to be seen against a background of such phenomena as the
proliferation of weapons and wars, globalisation, climate change etc. The
general public has become sensitive to the notion that there may be global (and
local) players influencing such developments in a positive or negative way. When
investing money into companies engaged in these activities, it is fair to ask
questions in order to find out, on which side these companies can be found:
doing good or not.
For this purpose pressure groups, NGOs and rating agencies have developed tools
that allow companies to be measured in terms of their behaviour. Part of this
toolkit are certain standards, to which a company either adheres or not.
However, there are at least two questions to be asked. Firstly: who sets the
standards? And secondly: who agrees on these settings?
Arguing from a strictly deductive point of view there is no clear black and
white judgement possible concerning ethical investments -- only some sort of
weighted recommendation, which may change over time. The whole problem
illustrates the entanglement of human kind in its own designs and activities.
(c) Wolfgang W. Osterhage 2007
III. 'TOWARDS A REDEFINITION OF TIME IN BUSINESS' BY PATRICK FOGARTY
It is my contention that time is used inefficiently by business at present
because the notion of time commonly used is inappropriate for business
practice. Further I hope to show that by redefining the notion of time in a
business context a greater understanding of the processes of change can be
gained and new, more efficient approaches to change management developed.
Despite many advances in our understanding of the world and a move towards
relativity we still, in our daily lives, define time according to a Newtonian
schema. That is, time is infinite and progresses from moment to moment
According to Newton's explanation time is an absolute. Newton states this
explicitly as follows: 'Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself and
from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.' This
is known as the substantivist conception of time. It is this conception of time
as independent of events or as an 'ontologically autonomous substance, all of
whose intrinsic and characteristic features are possessed independently of
facts about the course of physical events' that we predominantly use in
However, our belief in time as an independent entity jars with our intuitive
sense of sequential causality and sequences of events defining how we measure
time. We measure time by looking at changes, the orbit of the earth around the
sun defines the seasons for us and thus we naturally measure the elapse of
time. We measure time by watching and following the changing relationships
between the hands on a clock. In fact all of the ways we measure time involve
the relation of one event to others.
This argument against substantivism is known as relationalism and was perhaps
first crystallised by Leibniz in his letters to Samuel Clarke. Leibniz
argues, when posed with the question, Why did God create the world at a
specific time and not one year earlier? that this question is only meaningful
if you consider time to be substantive. If on the other hand, as Leibniz
believes, time is not distinct from things existing in time then as creation
happens time also comes to be. This argument is beautifully put in Robin Le
Poidevin's discussion of sufficient reason in his book Travels in Four
Dimensions. Neither does this argument suffer from the removal of mention of
a deity i.e. the argument is not contingent on the existence of a creator as
It is my contention that at present business processes and procedures, time and
change management are all substantivist with respect to time. Further I see it
as beneficial to change that focus to a relationist view.
Looking at relationism we see that we measure time by examining changes in
relation to each other, one occurring before the other or two events being
simultaneous or one event following another. To this there is a subjective
element, for after all we choose which events will act as the standard and
which we will measure according to that standard. I wish to show that we can
create, depending on requirements, different frames of reference for the
measurement of time which are independent of normal standards (i.e. Clock Time)
but retain consistency when viewed in a relationist context.
A simple frame of reference and a context may be seen by considering the
following thought experiment:
A subject is placed in an isolated room with no clock and no windows. She has a
call button, which allows her to ask for food when she is hungry. She is
supplied with the tools and materials to make a ship in a bottle and is told
that the task must be completed within a year. Now the question is what
determines if the task will be finished on time?
Well definitely there is no measurement that the subject can make that will
ensure that a timescale is adhered to. She might use the number times she
sleeps to determine the number of elapsed days but there is no guarantee that
her sleeping cycle is tied or co-ordinated with the rotation of the planet,
similarly for the number times she eats. She might instead use her heartbeat to
measure time but that will slow down or speed up depending on her state of
activity during any interval. Therefore, the best way for our candidate to
complete the task and hopefully to finish within the given deadline of one year
is for her to work as quickly as possible.
Suppose building the ship only requires six months work from a normal person
working as hard as they can then we would expect our subject to complete the
task easily ahead of schedule. If on the other hand the task takes a normal
person two and a half years to complete, then no number of clocks or
measurements will get our subject to complete within one year.
What is the point of this experiment? Well it illustrates that we are likely to
get the best from our subject by removing the clock i.e. by viewing the passing
of time as a relational and to some extent a subjective process. When we look
at time from a relationist perspective rather than a substantivist one we can
ensure that performance is at its best by ensuring changes take place as
quickly as possible. But no amount of setting substantive deadlines will
increase the speed at which a task can be completed. The substantive view is
redundant where best performance is to be achieved. Thus Clock watching can in
a very fundamental way be detrimental to performance. If substantive theory is
allowed to form the basis of time management but our estimation of the duration
taken to complete tasks is incorrect then time management breaks down and
continual resource consuming readjustment is the order of the day.
I suggest if we can move business and the individuals in business towards a
relationist concept of time then we will be able to use task based management
techniques moving the emphasis away from time constrained and towards event
framed change. From our thought experiment we can see that externally applied
time constraints mean nothing, a task takes as long as it takes all other
things being equal.
1. Scholium to the Definitions in Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,
Bk. 1 (1689), trans. Andrew Motte (1729), rev. Florian Cajori, Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1934. pp. 6-12.
2. Chung, Chen H. 'Balancing the two dimensions of time for Time-Based
Competition' Journal of Managerial Issues September 22 1999
3. H.G. Alexander Ed. The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence Manchester University
4. Robin Le Poidevin Travels in Four Dimensions: The Enigmas of Space and Time
Oxford University Press 2003
(c) Patrick Fogarty 2007