The First Principle

The First Principle of Business Ethics?

Should the inherent value of human life be the first principle of Business Ethics? I believe so and what is more, I believe we should teach it that way. And we should start teaching it now.

Surely, there is enough intellectual thrust in the idea of human life as a value that we can teach it to our students. Not teaching it is wrong. It is a base concept in our ideas of civilization. The depth of the idea in every major religion provides further evidence that it is something of a universal concept. But there is much philosophical support for it as well.

We do no honor to the separation of church and state by claiming neutrality in regard to the importance of human life.

It needs to be in every book of business ethics enshrined as a basic concept.

Current events demonstrate the need for a greater focus on morality and ethics in training our youth.

There are more than 140,000 dead and millions infected in this nation as of today. We may have according to one estimate by the CDC, 300,000 dead by the end of the year.

We have not properly mourned these people. And for many of our leadership and political class they might be road kill in terms of significance. Not only have we failed to celebrate their lives, many believe that the disease is a hoax and there fore their deaths are some kind of “fake news.”

What kind of society have we become where humans are discarded with little thought and an obvious contempt for their lives? When did we arrive at the point where the basic fact of 140,000 dead have so little effect on policy? How did we get to a place where significant portions of the population have become deniers of reality and followers of bizarre conspiracy theories such as Qanon.

If we were to be engaged with some foreign threat akin to the Second World War, are there enough of us willing to act in concert as fellow Americans to put up a fight? You find that an exaggeration? How many Americans are refusing the simple precaution of wearing a mask to protect themselves and others?

How does our society view people now? Basically they are seen by our ruling class as consumers and workers, and if you pare that down, money.

I don’t believe that healthy cultures, healthy nations, consider people only in terms of how much money value they produce and how much burden they are when they are old.  

Healthy cultures value human life, pursue the common good, regulate the excesses of capitalism and have a sense of solidarity, what we used to be brotherhood.

We can bring business ethics teaching more in line with that of a healthy society. Getting the basic concepts of morality and ethics out in the business community would be very helpful in building a better society.

James Pilant

Moral Intensity

Moral Intensity
Moral Intensity

How moral intensity and ethical decision making differs between uk business students and accounting professionals? | The WritePass Journal

Moral Intensity

Moral intensity relates to the issue itself and to every unique situation Shaub (1997).  Consequently Jones (1991, p372) described moral intensity as being “a construct that captures the extent of issue-related moral imperative in a situation”.  Ethical dilemmas tend to be evaluated within the context of the situation; hence an evaluation of the situation is imperative in understanding if a situation is ethical or not Dewe (1997).  The conception behind moral intensity has often been related to the criminal justice system; in that your punishment is proportionate to the severity of the offence you commit Davis et al (1988).  According to Jones (1991) moral intensity is a multidimensional construct and he identifies six characteristics that make up the moral intensity model.

How moral intensity and ethical decision making differs between uk business students and accounting professionals? | The WritePass Journal

At what point does moral or ethical problems trigger action? Or even concern or notice? The moral intensity with which a subject is perceived may be the key to determining the trigger.

Environmentalists could be said to have more moral intensity about over use of pesticides than farmers. Farmers probably find the issue of genetically enhanced seeds more of a serious issue than the general public, and so on …

In an ideal situation, the most critical issues of danger and damage to societal order would generate heightened levels of moral intensity so that reactions to moral violations would be quick and effective.

But moral intensity has also been a force for destruction – religious wars, persecution and torture have all flowed from situations where “moral” intensity was at its worst.

It’s a concept worth pondering and important in business ethics, since without that trigger provoking action, most business ethics problems would just continue unaddressed moving onward by simple inertia.

What I have excerpted above is one view of moral intensity. I am going to list some other blog perceptions of the issue below.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, The Harvard College Anscombe Society: (If it is possible to be more pretentious, I am unaware of it.)

Moral rhetoric is the culture war’s current weapon of choice, but the culture war’s real meat lies in the orthodoxies that compel the moral intensity at the front lines. We cannot adequately understand how the culture wars evoke such moralistic passion until we recognize the authority of these orthodoxies. Effectively, two camps wage the culture war: the secular orthodoxy, composed of those who identify with the medley of feminism, pluralism, liberationism, and multiculturalism, and the traditional orthodoxy, wed to Judeo-Christian values. As the incessant unrest over Roe v. Wade illustrates, the intrinsic disparities between these orthodoxies render them philosophically incompatible.

From the web site, (This is an abstract for a paper.)

Weblogs, or blog, are rapidly becoming a mainstream technology in the information world. By June 2008, Technorati, an internet search engine, was indexing 112.8 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media. Blogs allow millions of people to easily publish their ideas and millions more to read and evaluate and comment on them. When bloggers write things on their blog they became public. Although bloggers use blogs for many different functions and would likely provide many different definitions of blog (Stutzman, 2004), as we have seen, many bloggers perform journalistic functions. Therefore most moral code for bloggers is credibility in a journalistic sense (Blood, 2002; Dube, 2003), but they are nonprofessional without such code. Generally, blog audiences are built on trust, so bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. For example, bloggers should disclose every benefit to any monetary (or other potentially conflicting) interests when appropriate. However, there has been almost no talk about this kind of ethics in the blog world. This study designed three ethical scenarios of blogger behavior against ethics code. Scenarios include blogger promoted her favorable food without disclosure conflict of interests, post other people’s entries without referencing material, and decoding other bloggers’ picture. The purpose of current research was to examine the perception of moral intensity and how the perception directly affected the specific processes of moral decision making of bloggers related to three scenarios.

From the web site, Lev Lafeyette:

Moral intensity is the degree that people see an issue as an ethical one. Influences on moral intensity include magnitude of consequences, social consequence, concentration of effect, temporal immediacy and proximity. The magnitude of consequences is the anticipated level of impact of the outcome of a given action. The social consensus is the extent that members of a society agee that an act is good or bad and the probability of effect is the rise and fall of moral intensity depending on how likely people think the consequences are. Temporal immediacy is a function of the interval between the time an action occurs and the onset of consequences. Proximity refers to the psychological or emotional closeness the decision-maker feels to those affected by the decision. Concentration of effect refers to the extent to which consequences are focused.


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Teaching With Film – Business Ethics – Professional Ethics- People Will Talk with Cary Grant

People Will Talk  – YouTube This is a brief excerpt.

See if you can find all the ethical questions in the film!

People Will Talk = Click this link and you can buy it at for (currently) $11.97 new or $4.95 used.


Cary Grant and Business Ethics

People Will Talk is a great film for teaching. The story of an eccentric doctor played by Cary Grant who has an even more eccentric friend offers many ethical conundrums. Jeanne Crain is the love interest in the film. During the first half, she is troubled and a largely passive character. I was waiting for my intrepid students to call me out on this, since I am a vigorous supporter of powerful women characters but somehow they missed this. When she became a more vibrant and powerful character in the second half, I would’ve been justified but my prepared defense was unnecessary.

Should a doctor disclose all pertinent facts to a patient? Professional Ethics

Is concealing your qualifications immoral?Professional Ethics – Business Ethics

Is using any means including those outside the current science to heal moral or immoral? Professional Ethics – Business Ethics

Is the comfort of patients more important than the calls of procedure and timeliness on the part of the nursing staff?

What attitude should be taken toward unmarried mothers? Ethics

Is attempting to dig up the dirt on a colleague immoral? Professional Ethics – Business Ethics

Is living off of your relatives wrong all the time? or is it wrong depending on the circumstances?Ethics

At what point is a crime “paid for?” Ethics


Can a kiss equal a marriage proposal? (A good proportion of my class says no. I differ.) A matter of curiosity

Is a story more effective as persuasion or a presentation of facts? (Bet you have that one figured out.) A matter of what I believe – the class tends to go along with me.

Does a movie (especially a good one) explain a moral problem more clearly than a lecture (although they get a brief one anyway!)?

I observe my classes carefully and I use some of the same films each year. But I experiment with new ones each year as well. This was a new one. It was a great success. The class was delighted with it and paid careful attention. Their assignment was to write down all the moral conundrums they observed. We are going to discuss them tomorrow.

James Alan Pilant

Cover of "People Will Talk"
People Will Talk- Business Ethics

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The Ethics Sage Addresses Youthful Cybercrime – Hacking and Online Bullying

Cyber ethics education – Ethics Sage

I feel strongly that cyber ethics education is a must. Students tend to react more positively to discussing right and wrong behavior when they are personally invested. After all, it is difficult to discuss with youngsters the ethics of some Congressional representative; they can’t relate; they have no frame of reference. However, using computers to steal information or bully others is front and center in their consciousness.

Dr. Marvin Berkowitz of St. Louis University conducted an analysis of the behavioral development factors that must be considered in searching for an optimal age range for instruction of cyber ethics. Dr. Berkowitz concluded that the 9-12 ages was a “very reasonable” age to target for a first time strategy of cyber ethics instruction. Several factors led to this conclusion. This age range is considered a “gateway” age and has been used by other groups to begin message delivery; e.g. substance abuse and sex education. Absent hard data on the age at which children actually begin to go on line, we can generally assume that by age 13 children have routine access to the Internet. The 9-12 ages is also the point in development where children begin to understand abstract values, for example, privacy rights, and can begin to evaluate the consequences of their actions. It is important to be able to think abstractly, particularly when working in a medium that is routinely described as “virtual.”

Cyber ethics education – Ethics Sage


I also feel strongly about this issue. Ethics training should begin in the schools as early as possible and the article is absolutely correct. Dealing with real current issues is completely superior to hypothetical scenarios.What is happening in your life now is almost always more important and more relevant then what might happen. Hacking and cyberbullying, also referred to as cybercrime, are gateway crimes. I believe they can lead to more serious crimes because they make unethical behavior more acceptable and more routine.

I believe that we strengthen our ethics and moral stance by our choices in our life experiences. You can choose to limit television viewing to programs that have strong themes of morality and justice. You can choose motions pictures based on whether or not the film conveys messages of kindness and healing as opposed to wanton killing and theft. You can choose to surround yourself with art, culture and literature choosing to become a fuller and better human being instead of relying on consumerism to make you content in the narrow sense.

Ethics is not just a class in college. It is a lifetime pursuit of the what Greeks called the “good life.” The earlier we begin ethical training and the more relevant it is, the better to begin that internal conversation that builds judgment and wisdom.

There is no doubt in my mind that this society at this time in history needs more judgment and wisdom. We are in the midst of an ethics crisis. The great financial institutions of this country have engaged in trickery and deceit on a massive scaled as well as engaging in the most reckless kind of speculation with other peoples’ money.

Concentrated around Washington and its environs, is a relatively small number of opinion leaders known as “very serious people” or the Washington Elite or the “villagers.” They believe that standardized tests solve educational problems, that cutting the benefits that feed the helpless and keep the elderly out of poverty have to be cut in a time of economic recession and high unemployment. They seem to have no idea how the great mass of Americans live and little curiosity about them. We live in the richest nation on earth and we are unable to maintain our infrastructure or feed the poor. This is immoral. Exalting greed is immoral. Evading taxes by moving money overseas is immoral and unpatriotic. Making corporations already profitable even richer by tax breaks is immoral.

We should start moral education early and if we do so, we see real effects with a little luck in our lifetimes. It is obvious that there has been failures in the moral teaching delivered to this generation.

Let us build a new consensus that “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it”

James Pilant

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Why Moral Philosophers Aren’t More Moral Than the Rest of Us (via Ockham’s Beard)

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

This is a fun article. Of course, as an ethics teacher I should probably worry, but I will continue to have faith that I will do okay.

I am still working my way through moral philosophy so this article had relevance for me. I hope you enjoy it as well. Read the comments, some of them are pretty fire breathing.

James Pilant

Brace yourself. Or sit down. Or both. Eric Schwitzgebel and compatriots have uncovered a startling revelation: professional ethicists don’t behave any more morally or courteously than non-ethicists. Full abstract of their paper: If philosophical moral reflection tends to promote moral behavior, one might think that professional ethicists would behave morally better than do socially comparable non-ethicists.  We examined three types of courteous a … Read More

via Ockham’s Beard

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Andi comments on the previous post – The 99 Percenters – Why is New York the Center of their Protests?

This is a comment on a previous post –  The 99 Percenters – Why is New York the Center of their Protests?

(The article was actually motivated by one of my reader’s comments on Facebook and while I hope there are elements of a call for economic justice implied in it, I didn’t have any ethical argument except for inequality itself – James Pilant)

Here’s Andi’s response to the post –

While reading this article, I wondered about the ethics and what the author wanted us to tell. Is it the question whether it is morally right that people do the protests in NY or is it the question if it’s ethically that 1 percent of the population in NY owns about 44 percent of all income?! Or is it the more general question whether it is ethically to do protests in the street?

To answer this question it is necessary to know the definition of an ethical decision. A decision is ethically if it affects others, has alternative courses of action and is perceived as ethically relevant by one or more parties.
By comparing the questions with the definition, it becomes clear that the second question cannot be discussed under ethical terms. Only the questions whether it is ethically to to protests or to do them in NY, has alternative courses of actions.
Therefore I focus on protests and try to state my opinion about it.

To answer the question with the postmodern ethical theory (= decision is morally right if the person follows his emotions in a situation), I would say that doing protests to point to abuses is morally okay because it is a good medium to raise high attention in the press and in tv newscasts. But that’s only half of the story. To answer this question in a more rational view, the combination of postmodern ethical theories and ethics of rights and justice is needed. Here the question of fair procedures or fair outcomes comes up.

Whether protests are morally right or wrong, is difficult. What do you think about the following questions?:

Can a protest really influence decisions that there are fair outcomes for everybody? Or is it only a way to highlight unfair procedures?

My great thanks to Andi for taking the time to comment and not just to comment but to comment with intelligence and insight. I want Andi to know that author identification is up to the contributor. If you want to be clearly identified with e-mail, blog links, etc.., you have only to ask and I will modify the posting.


James Pilant

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Samuel Adams—To Richard Henry Lee (January 15, 1781) (via Democratic Thinker)

This is a letter from Samuel Adams to Richard Henry Lee. These were two giants of the American Revolution. I am fond of American history and believe that we have much to learn from the ideas and actions of the founders (although I firmly believe it can be overdone).

This is an interesting letter. It has some observations I find compelling. Please have a look.

James Pilant

Samuel Adams—To Richard Henry Lee (January 15, 1781) American Correspondence     In 1781, while the war was still uncertain, Samuel Adams writes to his good friend and fellow patriot encouraging him to help inattentive citizens return to the first principles of liberty. It would be indeed alarming, if the United States should ever entrust the Ship in which our all is at Stake, with inexperiencd or unprincipled Pilots. Our Cause is surely too interesting to Mankind, to be put under the Dir … Read More

via Democratic Thinker

Volume 60: Wait A Minute… (via Sill-E Thoughts)

Our author writes in his conclusion that –

I think the sensationalism fed to us on a 24-hour news cycle is starting to make us delusional. That’s the unintended side-effect of higher ratings. Good news turns of televisions. Good news doesn’t get discussed at the bars and water coolers across America. Good news doesn’t make us feel better because we don’t get to say, “At least my life is better than theirs.” There is a cliché regarding every person getting fifteen minutes of fame. I’d like to think that if we waited a minute, the remain fourteen could serve as a sane example for others to imitate.

I like it. I have said similar things. I call for critical thinking and less television watching. I tell my students that there are better things to do with their time and almost all maintain their mass media habits in spite of my earnest protests.

I wish the author well and hope to see more of his work. Please read the whole thing.

James Pilant

Volume 60: Wait A Minute... I need a favor from those of you that have been following my blog since it began (like my girl Cool V). I need for you to explain to my growing list of new readers that, from time to time, I cut through the introspective niceties, get real, and go off. THIS is one of those times. Honestly, I didn’t know I was going to write this blog until I was talking with my wife last night. I was telling her a couple of incredible stories about people who too … Read More

via Sill-E Thoughts

Sunday Terminology: Nihilism (via CAFNepal)

I see plenty of nihilism around particularly in our multinationals. Much of what international corporations do falls into an area devoid of moral and often rational judgment as tangible economic benefits are often sacrificed to immediate speculation.

James Pilant

Sunday Terminology: Nihilism Nihilism: The rejection of objective moral values and structures, literally "nothingism." The nihilist is a skeptic about moral traditions and obligations and does not regard them as binding. A distinction should be made between the attitude of the reluctant or sorrowing nihilist, who finds nihilism terrifying but true, and the celebrative nihilist, who view nihilism as liberation from oppressive rules. Friedrich Nietzsche sometimes described nih … Read More

via CAFNepal

The Tables Are Turned on Murdoch (via The New York Times)

Joe Nocera writing in the New York Times creates an often satirical piece that segues from schadenfreude to celebrating justice. I relished every word and hope you enjoy the piece as much as I did.

These are my two favorite paragraphs, click on them to read the whole editorial.

James Pilant

Throughout his career, Murdoch has never just been satisfied with besting the competition, as most decent businessmen are. He’s not truly happy unless he has his foot on a competitor’s neck and is pressing it downward. Felix Salmon, a blogger for Reuters, unearthed testimony about an executive who ran one of Murdoch’s more obscure divisions. “I will destroy you,” the man told a competitor, according to the testimony. “I work for a man who wants it all and doesn’t understand anybody telling him he can’t have it all.”

One feature of Murdoch’s career is that he’s never played by the rules that apply to other businessmen. That’s one reason I think he seems so shellshocked in those paparazzi photographs: unable in this dire circumstance to make his own rules, he simply doesn’t know how to react or what to do. On Tuesday, when he is excoriated in Parliament, it will be the first time he has ever truly been held to account. It undoubtedly won’t be fun for him. But there are many people who are going to take great glee in his misery — not unlike the way his newspapers have always taken such glee in the misery of others.