Ethics and Education: the beginning (via Just a Word)

This is a good article and I always enjoy essays where the author struggles with difficult moral conundrums.

I teach college classes and I lean heavily on opinion writing because it’s difficult for students to speak in anything but their own voice. I have observed a great deal of teaching and while it varies in quality, I doubt if the principal blame lies there.

I believe the problem is the bleed of toxic philosophy from Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. Isn’t buying a term paper an economic choice (Friedman) that maximizes shareholder worth while following the “rules of the game?” If productivity is the only measure of morality(Rand), shouldn’t our modern John Gaults enhance their productivity? Aren’t the unproductive sheep, the dead weight of society, the helpless proles, the creators of these rules designed to limit the productivity of the great minds, the only real producers of value in our society?

If rules are designed to create a level field and you don’t believe in a level playing field, you are not going to play by the rules. I am sure that many of these students are unaware of the origins of their philosophy about rules and choices but that does not make the connection any less real. Obviously there have always been rule-breakers. But have we ever lived in a time where the public ethos is so accepting of this kind of behavior?

I tell you it is always a weird experience to meet the prototypical John Gault, an individual who has discovered their own specialness and that humanity, kindness, compassion and brotherhood are limits placed on their success by the common herd. Or the weirdness of the Friedman follower who believes if only we gave people free choice about seat belts, air bags, food, drugs and inoculations, our lives would be enhanced.

You see, in their world, it is perfectly obvious that brotherhood is the enemy, common rules a bacteria weakening the human specie, and compassion, a tragedy, binding people to their own lack of success.

What is the rule on buying term papers but an annoyance to the superman, the new man?

Well, I await patiently for the John Gaults to ascend the mountain and leave the rest of begging, pleading our our knees, crawling on our insignificant bellies, that if only these paragons of production, the new successful breed of humanity, would only return to make society work and, in return, we would swear to no longer limit them by taxes and rules from their proper and obvious role in society. (Read Atlas Shrugged.)

I’m sure it fills the longing in my students to be special, kings and queens under the flesh. Humanity is hard. Being productive and resilient is difficult. Sharing and caring is a burden. But those are the things that make us significant, not a Nietzschean philosophy of destiny and specialness.

There are other philosophies in our nation: virtue ethics, several hundred variations of Christianity, citizenship, and the doctrines of honor, responsibility and chivalry.

When these are in place, we will solve many of our problems with obeying the rules.

James Pilant

Ethics and Education: the beginning I call this “the beginning” because I have a feeling that this will prompt several posts on the subject, but I am not promising that yet. This actually coincides well with my post on Friday regarding a University’s attempt to eliminate cheating by allowing collaboration and internet use on exams. This post however, follows a slightly different vein. I was reading an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning called The Shadow Sch … Read More

via Just a Word

Integrity (via Precocious Lotus)

Posts on single word topics like integrity are common and usually terrible reading. This one is good reading. Integrity is little discussed. I tend to write more about hypocrisy and honor, the same kind of turf. But this author chooses integrity and does well with it.

Good read.

James Pilant

Integrity Integrity: “Integrity as a concept has to do with perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome. People use integrity as a holistic concept, judging the integrity of systems in terms of those systems’ ability to achieve their own goals” ~ This is a concept that I value highly. Without realising it and naming it I use the worth and personal reflection of this as a measure of a pers … Read More

via Precocious Lotus

Ben Franklin’s Business Ethics!

I was reading the Harvard Business Review when I came across this gem of an article by a John Paul Rollert. In it, Rollert discusses Franklin’s scheme for moral perfection and the cast of villains and heroes who assisted and obstructed his printing business.

I try to read Franklin’s autobiography at least once a year. After writing the biography he would go on to represent Massachusetts before the king, serve in the Continental Congress, and most importantly, serve on the Committee of Five that created the Declaration of Independence. He then represented the colonies to the French king, was one of three American negotiators for the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War, and then to culminate his career, serve as a delegate as the Constitutional Convention. In the last years of his life, Franklin became an avid foe of slavery.

The autobiography is, thus, an early picture of Franklin before the world shaking accomplishment that would follow. Reading the book is an interesting experience. Franklin is witty, self deprecating and pridefull (often at the same time), cynical, clever and moral (most of the time). He freely admits that sex was a problem for him (he mentions intrigues with low women) and he believed it necessary for good health.

He is the antithesis of Friedman’s pure focus on profit, being an avid member of the community, supporting and creating in the public sphere constantly. He created organized firefighters, lending libraries, the idea of matching funds, and the development of education. He not only spent his own money, he solicited money from others and was willing to suffer controversy if he felt the cause was just. In short, he was a model American.

He was no shrunken, pale reflections of humanity, the kind that worships the green dollar sign above all other treasures. He loved his country and his fellow man. He was willing to suffer ridicule and danger for his country.

I have three heroes in my life, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Drummond (Inherit the Wind) and Caesar as portrayed in Shaw’s play, Caesar and Cleopatra.

I owe you gentle reader an apology. I have talked much about what I have read and what it meant to me and let Mr. Rollert’s article undiscussed. His writing appears in the Harvard Business Review which by itself speaks well of it and I recommend that you read it and get his take on the business significance of Franklin’s writing.


I teach Business Ethics. What happened in the health care debate in the last few days is to ethics what a fire hydrant is to a dog. I am enraged. Does anybody at any time, talk ethics about this issue? And I am definitely absolutely not talking about joe lieberman’s, “I am standing for God and country based on how pettily I can act at the moment.” Revenge is not ethics.

How do I explain any of this to students? Health care reform makes them buy private insurance? Whose idea of reform is this? What do I tell them? Their government’s cure for rising health care costs is to make them buy insurance from private companies? How do I explain the importance of ethics, honor and duty, when it is not rewarded? What kindness, consideration and care have the insurance companies done to merit this? Have they been free of fraud and wrong doing?

Should I just re entitle the class Anti-Ethics: how to get ahead and don’t worry, God won’t get you later?

I can’t explain this to ME. There is no way anyone could have told me this debate would work out this way.

I believe in democracy, that people should have some kind of say in how the government functions. I believe that we are in a serious crisis in the field of health care and that it is severely damaging the country not to mention causing death and suffering for many people.

For decades, in poll after poll, the American people have said over and over again that this system is not working. In Congress over the last few days a consensus has been reached to strengthen the current system, essentially rewarding the same actors and fools who have created this crisis in the first place.

We as a free people will be forced to buy private insurance. Let me explain private to you. If the government does it, I can vote, I can complain and the government can make changes. Elected people like staying elected and even fairly small threats to their electability will motivate them. Private industry has a different motive, profits. I have no way of influencing their decisions. None. Zip. Zero.

You might say: Well James, you can buy another insurance policy, get something cheaper. Really? The insurance companies have an exemption from the anti-trust laws. They do not have to compete. With the government mandate that I have to buy insurance, I am being tied and fettered, thrown helpless into the profit making hands of an insurance company. I will be fined, possibly imprisoned if I do not. I can be relatively confident that the government and private industry will make sure I either pay or suffer.

I could go on for page after page, but what’s the point? I’m not a lobbyist. I don’t make campaign contributions in the thousands of dollars. I have e-mailed my representatives with no response at any time on these issues.

As far as I can tell in the minds of those people I had the misfortune to vote for, I don’t exist. My life has no relevance to the people in Washington.

So, tell me, what do I tell my students?

James Pilant

What Moral Stance?

As I discuss the ethical implications of various business practices, I am troubled by the multiple possibilities of moral stances. Catholic Social Doctrine, Protestant Social Doctrine, the Southern Baptists’ total absence of any moral doctrine in regard to the business expressed as free market absolutism, Plato and Aristotles advocacy of the good life, the life examined and well lived, Kant’s categorical imperative, Friedman’s thinly veiled advocacy of Friedrich Nietzsche Superman, (the moral and ethical are weaklings who place limits on the “real” achievers because otherwise they couldn’t cut it); what do you advocate when examining the strange conduct of American business?

I will search for the best options, but it is not going to be easy. But doesn’t that fit with so much else?

The fight for justice, truth and honor is never won. The forces of evil rise again and again. There is no golden stake you can thrust into their heart to stop their depradations on the poor and helpless, their use of the levers of power to enrich themselves when they have contributed nothing and worst of all their continued recruitment of the young an a half wit philosophy of joining a group of “special” people, achievors, the real makers and shakers, an Ayn Rand doctrine that makes you special without any accomplishment or achievement save a twisted belief.

What is there but to fight, to struggle. Hear the words of Cyrano de Bergerac
in the last act of the play.

(He raises his sword):
What say you?  It is useless?  Ay, I know
But who fights ever hoping for success?
I fought for lost cause, and for fruitless quest!
You there, who are you!–You are thousands!
I know you now, old enemies of mine!
(He strikes in air with his sword):
Have at you!  Ha! and Compromise!
Prejudice, Treachery!. . .
(He strikes):
Surrender, I?
Parley?  No, never!  You too, Folly,–you?
I know that you will lay me low at last;
Let be!  Yet I fall fighting, fighting still!

Let us fall knowing that we acted with honor. Let us die with a curse on our lips for the sanctimonious, pompous evil doers among us. Let us die well.