Case Study: Business Ethics a Contradiction in Terms?

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¶ … Business Ethics" a Contradiction in Terms?

"Business Ethics" is not at all a contradiction in terms. Sometimes it may seem that way, but that is only because business dealings often present opportunities to pursue profit in ways that are unethical. The term "loop hole" describes situations in which the applicable laws are not fully capable of ensuring against every conceivable form of business strategy that might be unethical in principle. However, that is not to suggest that business in general is necessarily an unethical process; rather, it only illustrates that business law is an ever-evolving set of complex concepts that are imperfect. In principle, business is governed by ethical assumptions and, in modern times, those ethical assumptions are codified in law. Sometimes, laws designed in earlier eras are insufficient to deal effectively with every conceivable business scenario, but that is a failure of legislation and not business itself.

Henry should hire Packer instead of Stacker for at least two reasons. First, since Stacker cheated his way through college, his grades are meaningless. Conversely, Packer earned is grades and an earned GPA of 3.4 is more meaningful than an unearned GPA of 3.8. Second, Stacker has already demonstrated that he has little regard for adhering to applicable rules. If he applies the same ethical standard to the workplace, he could pose liability risks to the organization; he might also seek to profit improperly and in ways that are detrimental to the organization. Finally, from the perspective of rewarding behavior, Packer is more deserving of the opportunity for having earned his grades and respected rules, whereas hiring Stacker would unfairly reward unethical behavior. That is especially true because he has admitted to cheating quite openly, in which case, hiring him would only reinforce that attitude.

2. Are there any values or virtues necessary for free economies to flourish? If so, what are they? How can they be fostered?

Yes. One of the most important values or virtues necessary for free economies to flourish is respect for justice and principles of fairness and ethics. The concept of free economy means freedom from oppressive or excessive control; it does not mean the freedom from any sorts of rules or values and the freedom to cheat, rob, plunder, or exploit others in the pursuit of profit. Respect for law in business is appropriately taught in business-related classes in educational institutions and in vocational training programs within industry and business organizations. However, the values of fairness, ethical responsibility toward others, and respect for honesty are much more fundamental concepts that should be promoted and reinforced much earlier than business studies. In fact, a good argument can be made that if society does not emphasize those ideas much earlier and much more generally by fostering them as part of the socialization process and in the earliest exposure to education in childhood it is very difficult to teach them more narrowly, later, such as specifically in connection with business.

3. Do Americans share any ethical values? If so, what are they?

Not necessarily. America is a large and diverse society, or collection of myriad different societies. There is no shared ethical belief system or national set of values. Some people derive their values from religion; others derive them from their families; still others have no ethical values beyond self-interest. Even those people with ethical values often differ substantially in what things they value in that regard and what types of behavior and standards they believe are important in that respect.

4. The Declaration of Independence refers to the "pursuit of happiness." Should the word "pleasure" be substituted for "happiness"? Why or Why not?

It probably does not matter either way whether the specific language references happiness or pleasure. First, the terms are substantially interchangeable and, in the context at issue, whatever the interpretation is of one could just as easily pertain to the other. Second, both concepts are equally subjective in that what constitutes happiness or pleasure to any individual depends entirely on his or her beliefs and sensibilities: what one person considers a form of happiness or pleasure might not necessarily be happiness or pleasure for someone else. If one were to contemplate a meaningful change to the language of the Declaration of Independence, one might propose the following language: "autonomous values and pursuits." In principle, the most fundamental form of freedom, (and that which the Framers really meant to embody in the Declaration of Independence), is simply the freedom from any interference from government or from others beyond the regulation necessary to ensure the same freedoms of everyone else. That formulation leaves to each individual to define for himself what his values or "pleasures" might be and what his definition of "happiness" is.

5. Agree or disagree with the following comment from a student found responsible for cheating. Be sure to explain your answer:

Q. Is engaging in cheating fair to honest students?

A. I don't think of it like that. I know some students do. But the attitude is generally, this is the way it is. When they work, a lot of these kids, either their fathers work in business, whatever they do, they get a shortcuts the other guy doesn't. That's the way I look at it. If I'm sharp enough to know the right people to get what I need, and he's not, then that's the point of the whole thing.

I disagree. The reason there are rules defining what cheating is in the first place is to ensure that everybody has the same opportunity to succeed and that everybody is playing by the same rules. The same is true in business and in other aspects of the so-called "real world." For example, there is no rule or law against benefiting from your ability to cultivate friendships in business or even from exploiting certain advantages of circumstance, such as having a father in the same business. But there are fundamental rules of business that prohibit certain practices. Whether in school or in business, those rules are not arbitrary ideas that serve no meaningful purpose. In both realms, the rules are specifically established to ensure that, in the case of school, all students are judged by the same standards. In the case of business, those rules exist to protect clients and competitors from practices that would undermine the entire system of competitive practice if they did not exist.

6. "Sample Dialogue: A case of cheating."

G (1). What do you find convincing in the dialogue? Why? What is unconvincing? Why?

On one hand, each particular point made by the dean was correct. On the other hand, he tried to address too many issue at the same time, many of which strayed much too far from the concept of cheating and the reason it is wrong. Because the dialogue became so broad, it lost its meaning and its value. The fact that the student tries to justify his cheating by rationalizing that he was doing it as a "statement" about the problem of cheating toward the very end of the conversation suggests that the value of the entire dialogue was substantially lost on him.

G (2). On a scale of 1-10 (10 being excellent), how would you rate the dialogue? Please explain your answer.

I would rate the dialogue a 5 or 6 because it became too broad in scope to achieve its obvious purpose. The dean also allowed the student to alter the direction and the issues being discussed by responding to each of his points instead of directing him back to the main topic at hand: the objective reasons that cheating is wrong.

G (3). Pick any one of the dean's answers or comments in the dialogue. Rewrite the answer or comment to reflect a better argument, from the dean's point-of-view.

I would rewrite the dean's answer in this exchange as follows:

"OK, but let's think about what that means when you say that something as horrible as slavery could have been right in another time. What you're suggesting is that there is really nothing that is ever right or wrong in and of itself. When you say that slavery might have been right in another time, you're saying that if enough people like the idea, that it is morally acceptable to forcibly take peaceful people from their home in one part of the world, chain them up, throw them into the holds of cargo ships where half of them died on the voyage to another continent because of the inhumane conditions, and the ones who survived were forced under threat of torture and murder to work themselves practically to death without any choice in the matter. Do you really think that type of practice could be morally acceptable in another time just because many people thought it was OK to do? What do you think the slaves would think about that if they were here to discuss it with you?"

7. What is the single most important thing the University… [END OF PREVIEW]

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