Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My response to Peg Tittle, "Ethics without Philosophers (the Appalling State of Affairs in Business")

Here is my response to Peg Tittle's online article:

I smiled as I read your article,"Ethics Without Philosophers (the Appalling State of Affairs in Business." While I am in total agreement that ethics shouldn't be taught be non-philosophers, I disagree with your statement, "(Avoid those who teach Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Aesthetics; and run away as fast as you can from those who teach Kant and Derrida.)"

One's ethics (as well as one's politics and aesthetics) is a product of one's metaphysics. What one thinks is real and true will affect what one thinks is good and right. You call for us to "work together." But how are philosophers going to work together with non-philosophers if we can't even work together with each other?

Finally, there is also more to ethics than what Modernism would have us believe. (See Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry. . You haven't addressed the contributions that Virtue Ethics is able to make to business ethics.

I submit that "this terrible misunderstanding, this doing ethics without philosophers" has come about precisely because modernism has reduced ethics exclusively to dilemmas and principles. When business ethics is reduced to a series of dilemmas, it is just a variation on the business case study. Principles alone are like mathematical formulae--just plug and chug that Principle of Utility or that Categorical Imperative or whatever "Methodology for Ethical Decision Making" you choose, and voila--you've done ethics! A person doesn't have to have a higher degree in mathematics to be able to get the answer to quadratic equation. It seems that we philosophers have allowed ethics to be reduced to a similar state, so no wonder people without philosophy degrees are becoming ethical consultants.

However, there's a bit more to ethics than just principles: there's character and there's telos/goals/ends. Of course logic and critical thinking are necessary, but they are not sufficient. (Hopefully, they are also areas in which non-philosophers will have some expertise and practice.) But philosophers are the peculiar folks who wonder about things like "what is the good life?" "What is a good person?" "what is justice?" Those are questions that non-philosophers don't have time to deal with, or aren't interested in. But in grappling with them, philosophers are stretched into areas of metaphysics, epistemology and the history of philosophy, and are able to bring a unique perspective as well as valuable expertise to business ethics, environmental ethics, medical ethics, etc.

Philosophy flies with two wings: analysis and synthesis, and business depends on its ability to soar.

1 comment:

Kent W. said...

What a great response! I appreciated Ms. Tittle's article until I started to see where it was leading her. Clearly, metaphysics matters!