Philosophy for Business


a primer for decision makers


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Ethical Dilemmas is for anyone interested in philosophy, but especially aimed at those who are in a position to make strategic decisions which involve a company's long term goals and values, in relation to the challenge of reconciling self-interest with ethics.
Ethical Dilemmas by Geoffrey Klempner
This isn't a manual on business ethics, nor am I advocating any particular code of business ethics. Ethical codes have their place — in staff training courses and company PR. But no ethical business person ever relied on a code.

I don't accept the frequently touted view that it is always in a company's interest — including its long term interest — to be ethical. In the real world, unethical companies and corporations survive and prosper. A business ethicist who tells you that you that ethics will always pay in the long run is either self-deluded, or lying.

But I also reject the view that the only rational constraint on decision making in business is profit and loss. What this means in terms of the bottom line is that ethics and and a company's self-interest will inevitably come into conflict. The only effective way to resolve this conflict is to recognize that each must, on occasion, give way.

In the real world, ethics is something you pay for. In a good year, a company can afford to budget more for ethics, in a bad year less.

How is it possible to make this kind of existential judgement, which is neither strictly ethical nor self-interested? How do you judge how much you are prepared to pay for ethics? These are just some of the questions that Ethical Dilemmas seeks to resolve.

About Geoffrey Klempner

Geoffrey Klempner has a D.Phil in Philosophy from University College Oxford. He is Director of the Pathways School of Philosophy and List Manager for the Philosophy Pathways and Philosophy for Business e-journals. [CV]



Download Units 1–3 of Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 1

Judging wisely, Nature of ethics, The business arena, Decision procedures, The requirement of consistency, Disinterestedness and detachment

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 2

Making the case for ethics, Difficult decisions, Ethical dilemmas, Three moral dilemmas, Subjective and objective, The wise decision maker

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 3

How and why we fail, Knowledge and action, The example of lying, The addicted smoker, The unrepentant thief, The low achiever, The anxious presenter, Some tentative conclusions

Contents: Units 4–10

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 4

The problem of 'dirty hands', The bribe, The firing squad, The paradox of principle, Principles rights and integrity, Principled leadership, Strategy and tactics

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 5

Truth and truthfulness, Why it is wrong to lie, Business bluffing, Them and Us, Honesty as a policy, White lies

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 6

Permissible lies?, Between bluffing and lying, Taxonomy of lies, Bullshit and spin, Lies damn lies and advertising

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 7

Defining 'property', Stealing and lying, Theft, punishment and self-protection, Spreading the wealth

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 8

Competing for profit, How much profit does a person need?, The rules of competition, Deals and contracts, Professional foul, Taking fair advantage

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 9

Social responsibility as an ethical dilemma, Business case for social responsibility, Ethical case for social responsibility, Defending the term 'CSR', Importance of praxis, Fighting the system

Ethical Dilemmas Unit 10

Prospect for a business ethics, The limits of ethics, The focus on persons, Skills and virtues, The business virtues, Business ethics for ordinary people

International Society for Philosophers