UDate and Time of Submission 12/12/2011, 04. 30 pm Why should we be ethical? The relevance of ethics in life Biz Ethics IIMK Group a, Section D Ankur dey Tarafdar, PGP/15/204, Ankur Kaithal, PGP/15/205, Bagya Lakshmi, PGP/15/212 Gauri Chodankar, PGP/15/215 Jayntwin Katia, PGP/15/224 Why should we be ethical? - The importance of ethics in life Abstract As Albert Schweitzer puts it “Ethics is nothing else but reverence for life”. The introduction of ethics in our life is an unconscious process but the dilemma that it creates leaves us with a lot of introspection to do.
We introduce our topic by discussing about whether ethics is about right and wrong and if it is then what are the standards that govern the righteousness, which leads us to the question if there are just two stands that a person can take i. e. being ethical or unethical or is there a grey area in between. We take a critical view on whether the concept of ethics is a quest for reputation, wherein our decisions are influenced by socially acceptable norms or is it a set of beliefs that we actually carry.
The increasing media scrutiny over the recent corporate and political scandals has brought to our attention the existence of unethical practices on a wide scale in public and private life and has sensitized the public to the need for a debate on the necessity for a formal framework on ethical practices. In this world of cut throat competition are ethics and practicality at conflict with each other or do they complement each other. A contentious question is whether ethics is hereditary or do we develop our ethics as dictated to us by our experiences and environment.
How ethics takes on different forms across time, geographical boundaries and cultures and the common beliefs that cuts across all of them. We would also like to explore whether there is an upper or lower age limit before or after which an ethical base can or cannot be formed. We will like to present the various categories of ethical dilemmas that we come across in our day to day lives and consequently we look at the various approaches towards ethics i. e. from the point of view of profit, law and general principles.
We take a look at a few ethical practices that have been adopted in the recent past and judge their effectiveness by comparing the desired effect with the actual consequences. We will scrutinize the drafting of our laws that so often govern our ethics. What are the various parameters that are considered in this process and how the interests of the various stakeholders are taken into account will be looked into as part of the study. We also take detailed view on the various unethical but legal practices that are happening in the world.
We will analyze how ethics can be taught if at all it can be taught and consequently we explore how our present education system contributes in developing the ethical base and one’s conscience right from an early stage and how it can be improved. We fall back to our scriptures to take some example as to how the ethics was perceived in the prehistoric times and draw reference from them to our present scenarios. In the end we present some cases on contemporary subjects where the ethical issues have been handled in different ways producing different outcomes.
We leave it to the discretion of the reader to analyze them and form his perspective from the discussions we have mentioned above. The increasing media scrutiny over the recent corporate and political scandals has brought to our attention the existence of unethical practices on a wide scale in public and private life and has sensitized the public to the need for a debate on the necessity for a formal framework on ethical practices. At the same time, a search on Monster. com reveals that currently there are more than 5,000 job openings in the ethics field. Such reports ead us to wonder if Ethics is just a fad or is it here to stay. Ethics: A Fad or a Trend Trends, as we know are long term movements in a particular direction whereas fad is a phenomenon that becomes popular in a very short time. Following this definition, ethics is most definitely a trend. An example that exhibits the growing trend of ethics is that 57 of the Fortune 100 companies have an ethics officer and are members of the Ethics and Compliance Officers Association, an organization that started a little more than 10 years ago with only 12 members and now has over 1200 members.
In the current business scenario, employees have become conscious of their actions and decisions because the high media exposure constantly reminds them of their moral responsibilities. Larger companies jumped on the ethics bandwagon about 10 years ago and began developing ethical policies. This initiative instilled a sense of business ethics in the minds of their employees. Employees who already had their share of personal ethical beliefs combined those with company policies to shape the business decisions they make.
Drawing inspiration from the larger companies, smaller companies are beginning to comprehend the importance of ethics and how they affect their business. Although these companies may not adopt a formal policy, the management and the employees have regular discussions about ethics. Ethics is definitely not a fad because the decisions that business people take will always impact a variety of stakeholders in the long term if not in the short term. Each stakeholder will have their own arguments as to why they are the most important.
Yet, if each group is vital to the success of the organization, then a manager thinking ethically will make decisions that have the most positive impact on all the organization as a whole. If ethics were indeed a fad and were to fade away with time, more scandals would arise and this would lead to the downfall of the society. Laws may be broken and citizens would become more defensive while trying to protect themselves. Business would suffer a major drawback as companies would no longer be trustworthy. Ethics can be defined as a set of checks that balance our society.
It is continually being fine tuned with additional research and experiences. Unconsciously, an ethical guide has always been hovering in the background of our society but in the recent years, it has been brought to the forefront thanks to media exposure. Defining Right and Wrong Each and every philosopher has his own definition of ethics. This is primarily because different people have different perceptions concerning the term ‘ETHICS’. A majority of people tend to equate ethics with their feelings but any person following his feelings may recoil from doing what is morally right.
Some identify ethics with religion but then again ethics applies as much to the behavior of the atheist as to that of the saint. Laws are ethical standards to which most citizens adhere to. But being ethical is also not the same as following the law as laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical in principle. Finally, being ethical is not the same as doing "whatever society accepts. " Nazi Germany is a perfect example of an entire society that can become morally corrupt. Moreover, it’s a herculean task to find out what the Society accepts as an ethical practice.
To decide what I should think about Euthanasia, for example, I would have to take a survey of the entire Indian society and then adjust my beliefs to whatever society accepts as a majority. But this is not a practical solution and there is no guarantee that at the end of the process, an individual would be presented with an ethical solution. Ethics as defined in the Oxford dictionary is that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and the ends of such actions.
Ethics refers to those standards that impose the moral obligations to refrain from stealing, fraud, assault, and murder. Ethical standards also include virtues of honesty, loyalty and compassion and rights such as the right to life, the right to information and the right to privacy. Secondly, ethics refers to the study and evolution of one's ethical standards. As mentioned above, feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical. So it is essential to inspect one's standards constantly to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded. Ethics also means shaping up ne’s own moral beliefs and moral conduct and ensuring that the institutions he or she helps to shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and solidly based. Avoiding Right versus Wrong Moral absolutism is when the society decides that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of their consequences or the intentions. This kind of contention, backed by force, is the basis of much authority and leads to violence very often. So much so that it turns out to not be the best way to live in the Society in the long run, even if it is accepted by small groups (say a whole family) in the short run.
Moral absolutism stands in contrast to consequentialism, a branch of normative ethical theories which holds that the morality of an act depends on the context or the consequences of the act. Some Ethical decision making factors are * Is it LEGAL? * Does it violate our CODE OF ETHICS? * What does your gut feeling tell you? * How would you feel if this were on the front page of the newspaper? * What would your role model do? Ethics is not always about right and wrong, especially when two equally important values are involved. Ethics is something that should balance "right versus right".
This is on the basis of consideration that if there's a dispute we care to hear, then each side must be right to some extent. Some instances are * TRUTH or LOYALTY * SELF or COMMUNITY * SHORT TERM or LONG TERM * JUSTICE or MERCY According to the Institute for Global Ethics, there are some principles that help us analyze such disputes: I. Ends-based principle: One should choose the greatest good for the greatest number. II. Rules-based principle: What one is about to do, he would like to see converted into a universal law. III. Care-based principle: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
You put yourself in someone else's shoes and try to imagine their hardship. These principles however, are not answers to real life problems but just some tools to work with. By applying these principles to real life situations, one can move to a decision that both ‘thinks right’ and ‘feels right’— one that makes sense rationally, logically, and also feels right intuitionally. Ethics and Pragmatism In this world of cut throat competition, the question of the hour is whether ethics and practicality are at conflict with each other or do they complement each other.
A perfect example where ethics and practicality complement each other is when an individual visits a hospital to donate blood for money. However in most scenarios, ethics and practicality conflict with each other. A real life example is the US war against Iraq. It is common knowledge that a civilized society does not initiate war but intelligence agencies in USA had the information that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and had already exhibited their willingness to use them. In such a scenario, USA felt it was logical to attack Iraq before they could disrupt the life in USA again.
The society was also conflicted over the media showing the bodies of the dead sons of Hussein. Although such display is generally avoided due to public sentimentality, it was thought to be necessary to achieve the purpose of assuring the Iraqi people that the sons of Saddam were truly no more a menace. More principle versus pragmatism. An example of business ethics would be Budweiser which is the highest selling beer in the United States. Budweiser has modified its advertising over the years to discourage under-age drinking and driving.
Social activist groups such as Mothers against Drunk Drivers pressured Budweiser through media exposure to try and maximize responsible alcohol consumption. Budweiser changed their advertising strategy even after knowing that it may result in a decrease in their overall sales. Their approach mainly focused on ethics and suggested that managers do have responsibilities apart from profit-oriented activities. Is Ethics hereditary or developed ? Just like most of the physical features that gets passed onto us by our parents, is ethics also hereditary or is it developed over time?
Most of us believe that personality is built by our surrounding and environment whereas the truth is that our personality traits are embedded in our genes. So twins who are brought up in completely different environments still develop the same type of personality. It is to be explored whether the same holds true for ethics as well. Because if ethics is hereditary then all the fuss about personal and professional ethics, about teaching ethics becomes a waste. Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution.
He argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind. People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior.
And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior. He suggests that we are born with abstract rules or principles, with nurture entering the picture to set the parameters and guide us toward the acquisition of particular moral systems. It makes the obvious point that something about the human brain allows us to acquire a system of moral norms. And it makes the equally obvious point that dogs and cats that grow up with humans never acquire our moral norms Let us take a backward approach nd try to establish the age that is recognized by the society as the threshold when a child begins to develop a moral sense and demarcates between right and wrong. The legal system says that a child is able to reason between right and wrong by the age of 7-15. And the Catholic church puts that age at 7 when a child knows what a sinful act is and what is to be done. But there is no scientific confirmation for this age and the debate still goes on. So now that we have some idea about “WHEN” lets take our focus back to our main question that is “HOW”.
Most of the people believe that a child who is born and brought up in an environment full of violence, lack of affection from the parents and without a proper model to guide their behavior have been found to have a damaged conscience. But scientists are still struggling to find a conclusive answer as to how a child learns to differentiate between right and wrong. It can be said beyond doubt that children are born with certain tendencies or more importantly empathy that is an inherent factor in distinguishing between right and wrong.
Empathy is broadly defined as the ability to respond to another's distress in a way more appropriate to his situation than to your own. Evidence suggest that even a new born toddler reacts to the cries of another child and the response is more in terms of human cries rather than any aversive sound. A child can distinguish between a smiling face and a frowning face even within the few weeks of his birth. This suggests that as social animals we have evolved our responses and interpretations of such visual stimuli and they are embedded within us right from our birth.
So identical twins are found to respond to other’s distress in a similar way. This is because of the similar kind of natural empathy that they are born with. But the development of that solely depends on the type of environment that they are brought up in and how their emotions and feelings are responded to by the society. The issue of ethics is completely dependent on our actions and not just what we believe in. It is something that we practice over a period of time and when there is consistency in the same that we call them our set of ethics.
So for a person to understand what is right and wrong is either dependant on how other people react to his actions what the religion says or what the law says. There can be no intention for malice attached to an action before someone knows it is malicious, and that is something we learn when we know what people don't like. The emotions of guilt and shame go a long way in deciding what a person chooses to be right and wrong. Many children have been found to reason something which they don’t do because it might upset or anger his parents.
That is the first step he takes in forming an opinion about what he thinks as right and wrong. But the strange thing about this observation is how children react so naturally and similarly when they anger a parent as if they were born with that natural ability to judge. Development of ethics and timelines for learning ethical principles Having understood that the basis of ethics has both hereditary as well as environmental factors involved let us take a look at whether ethics once developed are constant or they keep changing with time.
The very first step that a child takes in this regard is under the influence of his parents. The kind of parenting observed is permissive, autocratic and authoritative. In the first case the child fails to develop self control and is not able to develop a limit for moral behavior whereas in the second case also the outcomes are same because the child believes that the centre of control is outside him i. e. his parents. Authoritative parenting basically makes a child respect the laws and decide accordingly. The opinions that a child develops keeps changing with time as he moves through various stages of his life.
Harvard psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg was one of the first people to look seriously at whether a person's ability to deal with ethical issues can develop in later life and whether education can affect that development. Kohlberg found that a person's ability to deal with moral issues is not formed all at once. Just as there are stages of growth in physical development, the ability to think morally also develops in stages. He refers them as the six stages of moral development. At the initial stage a child decides his action based on obedience and punishment associated with by flouting the rules.
They act as individuals and do not take the society into view. In the 2nd stage also a child is guided by the punishment factor but now it’s just a risk on not following the rules. He argues that anything that a person thinks is right for him he should do that. E. g. Stealing is wrong but if a person steals if he thinks it is right than it is justified. But they develop a sense of fairness of exchange and reciprocity. At stages 3 and 4, young people think as members of the conventional society with its values, norms, and expectations.
At stage 3, they emphasize being a good person, which basically means having helpful motives toward people close to one At stage 4, the concern shifts toward obeying laws to maintain society as a whole. At stages 5 and 6 people are less concerned with maintaining society for it own sake, and more concerned with the principles and values that make for a good society. At stage 5 they emphasize basic rights and the democratic processes that give everyone a say, and at stage 6 they define the principles by which agreement will be most just.
So as a person moves through various stages of his life, he keeps developing his opinions which become part of his internalized ethos. There is no such age beyond which a person cannot imbibe ethical principles as it is a constant learning process. Changes occur in young adults in their 20s and 30s in terms of the basic problem-solving strategies they use to deal with ethical issues. These changes are linked to fundamental changes in how a person perceives society and his or her role in society. The extent to which change occurs is associated with the number of years of formal education (college or professional school).
Deliberate educational attempts (formal curriculum) to influence awareness of moral problems and to influence the reasoning or judgment process have been demonstrated to be effective. So we can conclude this discussion on the note that people are born with natural tendencies but the opinions about right and wrong are formed during the various stages of their life. These opinions are guided by environment, law and other external factors Approaches to Ethics8 The question of why should we be ethical may be answered by considering the different approaches to business ethics. These approaches deal with the reasons to make ethical decisions.
Business ethics can have three approaches to it: * Profit approach * Legal approach * Morality approach * Profit approach:- Profit approach to business ethics includes the economic benefit analysis of any ethical dilemma. To understand clearly what profit approach to business ethics is all about let’s consider an example. Suppose you are running a school for driving. Even though it may not be important for you to teach rules of traffic, it is necessary that you do teach them because in the long run people will realize this and it may affect their business in the long run due to bad publicity.
Now this approach has its own limitations and advantages. First, there may be businesses which are short lived and it may be the case that following business ethics will only yield profits in the long run. So, they don’t have any incentive to be ethical. Secondly, there may be ethical practices which may not be profitable at all. Thirdly, a practice which is ethical and profitable in a particular market may not be so for another market. The positive part of this approach is that profit provides a significant incentive for organizations and entrepreneurs to act ethically.
This approach complements their goal of maximizing shareholder’s value. * Legal Approach:- Legal approach to business ethics deals with following ethical practices to avoid punishment under law. An apt example to explain legal approach would be of food adulteration. Although it is profitable for a vendor to sell adulterated food products, it is a criminal act. Hence in order to avoid punishment, he may sell unadulterated products, which is lawful as well as ethical. One limitation of this approach to ethics is that there may be acts which may be both lawful and unethical.
One example of this would be the toxic wastes that is released by industries causing land and water pollution. So there exists a grey area for this approach. Another limitation is that law acts as a stick (punishment) for unlawful behaviour; this does not necessarily convert unethical practices to ethical ones. Sometimes, it may help in the opposite!!! Here, I am referring to people suffering from delayed or denied justice. * Morality approach:- Morality approach of business ethics refers to following ethical practices because one considers it to be the right thing to do morally.
An example to illustrate this would be the Johnson and Johnson’s Tylenol case. After coming to know that their best-selling drug contained cyanide resulting in deaths of people, they recalled all their products to prevent further harm. They realized their mistake and openly accepted it instead of running away from it. They also offered help to the affected people and their families. Today, they are maintaining a reputation of a socially responsible company. This is the approach to ethics where decisions are based on what is right even if it may not be profitable.
But, in reality we can find that most of the ethical decisions can be traced to two or all of these approaches instead of a single one. Ethics in our scriptures9 Ethical issues have existed since time immemorial. In fact, most of the ancient scriptures in India deal with one or the other ethical issue. Most of these issues that were mentioned way back are still very much relevant today in a different scenario of course. Thus, quoting some of these examples would highlight the relevance of ethics. Please note that it is upto the reader to form his/her opinion about these ethical issues.
The purpose of the following section is to highlight the ethical issues through ancient literature. 9 Ethics in the Literature of India http://www. san. beck. org/EC12-Literature. html Mahabharata The ultimate example of an Ethical dilemma is of Arjuna in Mahabharata, when he is confused between fighting for good against evil or to fight against his own cousins. Krishna then encourages him to fight as a warrior and the non-attachment of fruits to actions. This dilemma is beautifully explained in The Bhagavada Gita. Krishna then comes up with a plan to send Arjuna’s wn son Abhimanyu intentionally to handle the chakrvyuh during Kurukshetra. Abhimanyu didn’t succeed and he died. All his was done by Krishna in order to persuade Arjuna to go for a war against his own brothers. Another example would be of Guru Dronacharya, who had a principle that he will never fight a war without his son Ashvatthaman. Krishna knew that Yudishthir (who was known for his honesty) will never lie about the death of Asvatthaman. So Krishna tactfully made him say that “Ashvatthaman (an elephant) died” to mislead Dronacharya. Similarly, Karna was killed by Arjuna’s Brahmastra while he was just preparing for a planned fight.
Thus, we see that Panadavas, especially Krishna used many cunning strategies to defeat the Kauravas. Though we know that the Pandavas were fighting against the evil Kauravas, but could they have done it in another way? Would have the result been different? So, the main question that naturally arises from this discussion is whether ends justify the means? Ramayana One classic example depicting an ethical issue is the controversial decision of Ram to ask Sita (after being rescued from Ravana) to jump into fire to prove her chastity. This was when Ravana, the demon, treated Sita with dignity after having kidnapped her.
Another issue cropped up during the war of Ram against Ravana, when at one point of time, Ram had an opportunity to finish off the then unarmed, unprotected and helpless Ravana. But, Ram instead of doing that, asked Ravana to come up again the next day fully-rearmed. This was because Rama considered killing an unarmed person to be against dharma. Moreover, when Dasarata’s third wife Kaikeyi asked the throne of Ayodhya for his own son Bharat and to send Ram in exile to the forest, he could not deny that even though he knew this to be wrong. This was because Dasarata promised Kaikeyi to grant her two boons and he had to keep his word.
On the other hand, Ram instead of protesting against the injustice happening to him, quietly accepted this “honouring his father’s words”. Later on, Bharat could not tolerate the idea of bequeathing the throne that rightfully belonged to his elder brother Rama. So, finally he decided to do it as a representative. Therefore, Ramayana talks about sacrificing materialism and pleasures for righteousness. Ethics and our Education system We know that one’s upbringing is considered to be the most important in terms of formation of our moral base.
It is believed that the basic set of values, beliefs and morals take shape early in our lives and this structure remains always remains intact throughout our lives. So naturally, the question arises: Can Ethics really be taught? According to findings of psychologist Kohlberg, the answer is yes. In fact, Kohlberg said that there are three stages in one’s life as far as the formation of one’s ethical base is concerned. The first stage is the preconventional stage. This stage is that of a child, when the judgement of what’s right or wrong is authoritative.
This means that they consider something to be right or wrong if their parents, guardians or teachers. The second stage was called as the conventional stage. In this stage, the adolescents base their judgement of what’s right or wrong on the loyalties of the group in which they belong e. g. loyalties to one’s family, friends, nation, etc. Kohlberg termed the last stage to be the conventional stage. At this stage, people make moral judgements on their own principles. They have a universal point of view and there is a tendency to consider the interests of all the people involved.
Also, it was found that courses on Ethics in the curriculum actually resulted in the growth of an individual ethically. In fact, it was found that individuals go through dramatic changes in their 20’s and 30’s in terms of their opinions on Ethical issues. So, it is very clear that teaching Ethics to young adults at B-schools is completely justified and relevant. But, what if some form of universal point of view is imparted at an early stage (preconventional stage). There exists a system of teaching Ethics at this stage in the form of theoretical subjects like Value Education or Moral Science.
But, I feel that if we inculcate an Education system which stresses on thinking from all perspectives from the adolescents stage will play a substantial role in personality development. Also, adolescents face many Ethical issues themselves like lying to parents for friends, copying parent’s signature on report cards, shoplifting, etc. So, it makes sense that we teach them to think from all perspectives and to imagine themselves in other’s shoes. Please note that I am not advocating a system which preaches the students what’s right and wrong. This system might just build p the correct thought-process on which they can base important Ethical decisions in life when they grow up. This might just act as a foundation for the tough decisions that awaits them. Ethical dilemmas in daily life People often find themselves in ethical dilemmas in their daily life activities. A survey conducted among 3,600 college students at twenty-three colleges in USA revealed that 17% of the participants had lied on a resume or job application or during a job interview, 40% had lied to a boss, and 20% cheated on an exam. This statistic helps us recognize the high incidence of ethical violations in one’s daily life activities.
However, this stat only reveals one side of the story- that of the number of times people committed the ‘wrong’ act; what it fails to tell us is the higher number of instances when one would have been forced into making a decision between doing the right/wrong thing. When people are forced into choosing among competing sets of principles or ideals, ethical dilemmas emerge. These competing sets of principles or “spheres of responsibility”10 have the potential to pull people in different directions and thus create ethical dilemmas for them. These can be broadly classified into the right-vs-right dilemmas and the right-vs-wrong dilemmas.
As Kidder points out, the really tough choices involve decisions concerning the right-vs-right scenarios, wherein one is forced into picking one out of two equally ‘right’ choices, with each one being right as per one’s core values. For instance, if one were to be in possession of information that would incriminate another person then one would ideally notify the authorities of this information unless the former was a lawyer and the latter was his/her client. A client confidentiality privilege forces the lawyer to keep this information to himself and fight the case for the client as required by his profession.
When confronted by cases of the right-vs-right dilemma, there are varying degrees of right on both sides with no simple solutions for such complex situations and these lead to complex ethical dilemma with no clear way of ascertaining the right course of action (Duignan and Collins). A much talked about case is that of abortion; the opponents take the side of the unborn, whose interests, they believe, should be taken into consideration while arriving at such as a decision, while the proponents emphasize the right of the woman to make decisions affecting her body.
In contrast, the right-vs-wrong dilemmas are relatively simpler to solve. Kiddler refers to these as “moral temptations”; these are typically the situations where one has to decide between doing either the morally right thing, which one ought to do, or the morally wrong thing, which one wants to do. Cheating on an exam, stealing from the store, and robbing one of one’s possessions are examples of such moral temptations. However, even such temptations can be fulfilled without harming another person.
Jumping the signal would be a crime in any country under any circumstance, however doing so when there isn’t any vehicle approaching from the opposite end isn’t violating anyone else’s right, yet it is considered wrong and one is penalised for such an act. Johanssen talks of the Religious perspectives and political perspectives on persuading people into being ethical. The former are “re? ected in the moral guidelines and the “thou shalt nots” embodied in the ideology and sacred literature of various religions. For instance, the Bible warns against lying, slander, and bearing false witness. Meanwhile, the latter focuses on the values and procedures considered crucial for the health and growth of the political system. These emphasize the need for the rights to freedom of choice, tolerance of dissent etc... Ethical Dilemmas in Business sphere Organizations constantly have to consider ethical issues in conducting their activities. Each of its actions is scrutinized not only for its legal standing but also its ethical standing. A spurt in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities by organizations has coincided with n increased desire by the organizations to be perceived as ethical entities that have the community’s interest in mind while conducting its businesses. Various Corporate scandals, such as Enron, and Sunbeam, or the scandals implicating the governmental agencies for colluding with the corporate world, as was seen during the 2G scam in India and the alleged misappropriation of funds during the Commonwealth games, Delhi 2010, have sensitized the people to the need for corporate governance and a code of ethics for people who govern us, and for organizations we invest our time and money in.
Organizations often need to decide whether to tell the truth, or at least how much of the truth to tell. The way in which organizations conduct their activities can affect people both individually and/or collectively as a society. Common ethical issues faced by organizations include- Misrepresentation of facts- Selectively ignoring facts that might harm others amounts to misrepresentation of facts. A half-truth is often worse than a white-lie.
Marketing campaigns often make exaggerated claims like assurances on the quality of service of their product through its serviceable life while not disclosing the short useful lives of these products is one such example. Buying Influence or Engaging in Conflict of Interest – Such conflicts usually arise when the parties affected by the decision are related to each other officially. For instance, an investment analyst on being paid a high reference fee by an organization might be tempted into issuing a ‘buy’ rating on the stock of the organization even if his analysis on the company disagrees with that recommendation.
Hiding or Divulging Information- Employees or organizations have failed to disclose information to their superiors or their shareholders respectively when they have not performed up to the expectations by hiding certain info through unscrupulous means. Cooking the books to under report losses is commonly in corporate scandals. On the other hand divulging confidential information also constitutes unethical behaviour. There are certain relations which are fiduciary in relation and are based on the trust that the agent would not act against the principal’s interests.
In India, telecom operators have been found to have shared such sensitive client information with advertisers thus violating the client confidentiality. Taking Unfair Advantage- Businesses primarily work on the principle of profiteering from their actions while serving the society. The proponents of such actions often quote people who act in a similar manner by demanding the best of service for the fee they pay or remuneration for the service they perform, therefore it is not unreasonable for organisations to act in a similar manner.
However, a line ought to be drawn on the extent to which the organizations can profit from their operations as the good of the society should not be compromised heavily in this regard. A monopolist can find himself facing such a dilemma between maximizing his benefit and society’s benefit. Absolutes regarding Ethical behaviour- Can we differentiate between being ethical and unethical with certainty? The need for the distinction between ethical and unethical actions stems from the western world thinking.
In their study Nora Martin and Diane Prince have mentioned the influence of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle’s thinking on our understanding of ethics. Socrates believed that there could be an absolute standard that would be utilized to evaluate all mankind’s thoughts and actions. Plato stated that there existed two realms – the physical world and the world of ideas; that humans can obtain knowledge of good but only through reason within the realm of the ideas world. Reason is what allows humans the possibility of obtaining objective moral knowledge.
Aristotle went on to say that it is the right of conduct – right conduct in relation to other persons and in relation to one’s self which helped us in judging one’s actions. Our quest for prosperity has narrowed our outlook towards life; influenced by a binary grading system we have become accustomed to thinking only in black or white terms. Same is the case while judging people’s actions as being ethical or unethical. However, as we have discussed previously, there are no absolutes in ethics. Any action can be perceived as being right or wrong given the circumstances and the rationale behind the decision made.
Our thought process is limited by our creativity and the knowledge we have assimilated through the course of our lives. When we are exposed to any new idea or one that we have been taught not to approve of, our primary response is rejection; yet there might be no tangible ground for rejection for the idea, two people who are on different planes of thinking might have very different opinions on what constitutes right and wrong and thus one’s ethical action will be unethical as per the other. Besides, unlike the other sciences which have empirical evidence to prove their theories, ethics isn’t set in stone.
Taxation, for instance, is the classical ethical dilemma faced by governments faced across the world. Does taxing the rich higher than the poor in order to offset the disparity between the incomes between the two classes seem ethical? Utilitarianism would say yes, this move would supposedly maximize the overall happiness. But such a move would also violate the basic human right to equality. Ethics is a field which is filled with such contradictory principles. The consequentialist branch of ethics says that our actions are judged by the outcome while the deonotological school of thought talks about our actions being governed by a set of rules.
But as Mark Thoma says, the deontological approach also has its roots set in the consequentialist approach; while framing the rules to judge a person’s actions, it is the outcome of these actions which determines whether such an action would be considered to be punishable or not. In this regard, all our actions should be judged on a case by case basis. To conclude, we believe that ethics should not involve a black-or-white approach, there are the shades of grey at the moment and there always will be until mankind can collectively agree on the absolutes in judging one’s actions.
Is Ethics a part of everyday decision making? Legal but Unethical practices Everyday decision making does not require us to invoke our ethical quotient, atleast not consciously so. In practice, when we are being judged or opinionated as being ethical or otherwise is for most part a result of our not so conscious ethical efforts. When such is our sensitivity to ethics in daily life, where does it gain significance? Before getting to that, let’s look at whether there is a need for such a question to arise at all in the first place.
That we give room for our thoughts to judge our actions in an ethical angle, entitles us to a certain degree of sophistication in the thought process. Is this element of sophistication inherent in every individual? If yes, how frequently are these thoughts invoked? Human beings in dire destitution, whose subsistence needs are not met, at times, resort to extreme measures to fulfill the same – there are historical accounts that take cognizance of a few such incidents. Extreme hunger, in the past, has pushed a few to thrive on the death of another.
Under such extreme circumstances, man loses his ethereal characteristics and is consumed by his basic survival instincts. A continued and repeated exposure to such circumstances wipes off all his inclination towards anything that has a semblance to ethics or morality. It is only natural that he is reduced to that, and that we accept him for this. There are two parts to the last statement. A critique on one’s actions from an ethical perspective bears meaning only when man sees himself as having crossed or risen above the animal way of existence.
It may happen that past occurrences in his life may fail to be the premises on which his judgment is made, given the level of desperation. Thus I infer that there is an element of sophistication attached to ethical thinking and it does not arise or at least does not gain significance in every human being’s life. The second part of the highlighted statement involves our ‘acceptance’ part. Is it in us to acknowledge the existence of such individuals and their way of living or actions as being natural? Do we not condemn such actions and make examples out of such individuals?
Of course, we do. Our framework of thinking and actions for that matter has always been restricted on moral and legal grounds. Here comes legality, laws and by virtue of inference our ‘rejection’ or condemnation of such individuals. Law requires us to NOT do a lot many things in life. That law is made by mere mortals who have no inkling of what the ground situation is, is reason enough for us to question their ( and the inference based on their) validity from an ethical angle. We, the common people, are to address the situation and action as being ethically unacceptable.
We may also find it to be so morally too. But on grounds of ethics we are to rethink our take on this. Such actions are seen not only in cases of destitution as quoted earlier. Let us look at another similar but differently interpreted situation. Sophistication entails as long as we do not give in to feed our animal instincts. But this time there is an iron veil protecting us from getting into the bad books of people-the same old human being are social animals rhetoric- and thus a license to degrade ourselves. Of course, I am talking about ‘war’ and killing is the action.
Moral assuage can be sought on the grounds of patriotism but ethically it still remains a gross fallacy. War has proven elusive to the realm of ethics, either that or we humans are infinitely ignorant towards any kind of learning from the past (let alone mistakes). We now view that reality from limited perspectives only, namely legal and moral (even this may be debatable). This completely excludes the ethical angle, thus there emerges a set of legal but unethical practices. Here we accommodate our actions by bending our perspectives and not vice versa.
What then proves to be a pivot for all the sophisticated thought processes? This means that the grounds of judgement themselves are fleeting and shifting. When such chaos is accommodated, the basis for our actions remains a question unanswered. Sometimes it is the moral high ground, sometimes it is ethical and mostly it is legal basis, that decides our actions and our judgment of others actions. Now let us explore a few practices that fit the bill of being accommodated by only one or two of the three perspectives and is excluded by the rest.
Euthanasia is one often debated issue that has become legally acceptable in some countries. Whether a person has the right to remain alive, while in a vegetative state, is quite a sensitive decision. The sensitivity comes in because we make a decision for someone else, and that someone is usually in that state for no fault of his own. The ethical disparity arises in the following context – the means to support such a vegetative person usually decides their right for continued existence. The means include money and caretakers. So, the same person in a different social condition would have arned the privilege for his continuity of life. This ‘awareness’ is what makes the decision ethically and morally critical. Another right to life issue is abortion. By making the process legal some countries have denied the fetus its right to personhood. Again, the context and circumstance play a great role in resolving the ethical aura that surrounds this decision. Stem cell research is the usage of embryonic cells to generate a variety of cells, used in cellular therapy and even organ development. This involves destruction of embryos or storage of the embryos for a long period that crosses their viability.
This denies the right of the embryo to life, if it had been successfully implanted in the mother’s womb. The dilemma initially is in the destruction of the embryo’s potential for life. But the success in research could bring about processes that can give an extended life to many human beings. This trade off may not sound plausible but like many other biological research, this also has an ethical and moral angle to it. Taking an utilitarian view, the good for great many people would offset the unintended sacrifice of the embryo’s right to life. Also based on consequentialism embryonic stem cell research is justified.
The dilemma may be resolved once the research comes to fruition. A contemporary practice that comes under the design of being legal but unethical, subject to interpretation, is the storage of sensitive data on computer cloud. The world has attained a certain level of maturity with respect to the internet for instant communication and information overdose. The ethical point of discussion is the placing of sensitive information on the internet, even though the storage space is claimed to be private. The immense strides taken by cyber-criminals leave almost no virtual space secure.
Also, the cyber-security on the side of the government also is involved in monitoring to such an extent that almost anything that resides/leaves a person’s computer via the internet is ‘known’. Though the cyber-criminals do not fall under the ethical angle, the cyber-security people do. There is no promise of privacy on the internet; at least there is no delivery on such a promise when made. So much for the citizens’ privacy; there is a slew of activities undertaken by the cyber-security professional that takes an ethical angle – the surveillance of other countries’ by means best left unscripted.
Of course, it is not just surveillance, when one is reminded of the planting of the Stuxnet on the Iranian nuclear facility. We can easily set back a country by a few years by being internet smart and get legal about it by donning the role of the cyber-security professional. This clearly falls under ethical consideration. These are people with high intelligence quotient, who have achieved a greater than normal level of thinking. But to them the whole issue does not taken an ethical angle. The reason may be attributed to insensitivity, misplaced priorities in the form of fanatic patriotism or just plain indifference.
Whatever the reason may be they have failed to act in the way such sophistication of thoughts begets. We have thus come a full cycle. The question of ethics arising in us, and us being conscious of it in our everyday actions happens neither in the case of extreme conditions where there is lack of such thoughts nor in the case of high level of intelligence. It therefore must lie in the middle ground and essentially not be under the cover of law, for it to escape such indifference and insensitivity.
Those who fall under this ethical consideration category, in the race for being portrayed as culturally strong, traditionally oriented and seamlessly integrated with the current social group, are in varying degrees, willing to go through the pressure of compliance. This ‘adaptation’ to a certain extent erodes the ethical quotient, again not consciously so. What then is deemed to be ethical or not, is a cumulative judgement delivered by such a group which had had an erosion of its ethical quotient. So, an individual’s ethical orientation scores better in the absolute rather than in the relative.
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