The Problem with Business Ethics Courses

The problem with business ethics courses is that all too often they’re taught by business faculty.  And ethics is, after all, a field of philosophy.  And with all due respect to my business colleagues, philosophy faculty are far better qualified to teach ethics than business faculty.

As far as I can see, business ethics when taught by business faculty is superficial at best.  The so-called ‘media test’ and ‘gut test’ are in essence nothing but appeals to intuition and childhood conditioning.  I think it far better to teach the many rational approaches to ethical decision-making which consider consequences, rights, values, and so on.

A further weakness of business ethics when taught by business faculty (and medical ethics when taught by medical faculty, and so on) is that what takes place is preaching, not teaching.  The course is essentially ‘This is the right thing to do’ or ‘Do this in this situation’ – what is taught is simply the current conventions, standard practices, and/or legal obligations.  Far better, I think, that a critical thinking approach be used: provide students with a toolbox of approaches so they can figure out what to do for themselves (after all, they are responsible for the decisions they make).*

Unfortunately, philosophy’s disdain for business is matched only by business’ disdain for philosophy.  So even when a philosopher does teach a business ethics course, it is unnecessarily difficult and sadly unsuccessful.  Students can be quite hostile when things they have been taught as fact (such as ‘The purpose of business is to maximize profit’ or ‘As long as it’s legal, it’s okay’) are challenged.  They take it personally and spend a lot of time trying to win – and so miss much of the course.  But that’s what philosophers do: we challenge the assumptions that arguments are based on.

And we insist opinions be based on arguments!  Clear and logically sound arguments no less!  That’s a lot of work!  Students are especially hostile when a lot of work is required for what is, after all, ‘a bird course’!  If the student is used to knowledge and comprehension courses, then teaching ethics, requiring arguments to support opinions, is doubly difficult.  (And business students have led me to believe that the kind of critical and abstract thinking required in these ethics courses is significantly different from anything they’ve had to do before – which is worrisome because this kind of thinking, at a much more advanced level, is required for the Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning sections of the GMAT.) (Of course, that’s the least of the reasons why this is worrisome.)

And in ethics in particular, we navigate through grey: there is no right answer; there are only degrees of right.  Students resist this, they stand on the sidelines, never really getting the value of the course.  They are far more comfortable with the black and white they seem to be taught in their other courses.

And sad to say, though I was a philosopher teaching business ethics, one day I was informed that I would not be asked to teach ethics again. (Well actually I wasn’t really informed – talk about the need for ethics: if it weren’t for the phone call of an administrative assistant acting on her own initiative, I probably would’ve found out I was ‘fired’ by seeing an ad for an ethics instructor in the paper….)  Why?  I asked the Dean for confirmation and an explanation.  Student evaluations have been “mixed”, he said.  True enough.  In any ethics class, there is a handful, usually the less mature and less academically apt, who react with the hostility and resistance described above.  And there are others who nominate me for an Excellence in Teaching Award.

It’s quite possible, though, the ad won’t appear.  It’s quite possible the course will simply not be offered anymore.  Such was the fate of the IT Ethics course I also taught for a couple years.  As it is, the business ethics course was offered only every second year, as an elective, sending a message of unimportance that also makes the course so difficult to teach successfully (after all, since business is profit-driven, ethics is irrelevant, and anyway, everyone already knows right from wrong).

 

* These weaknesses, by the way, are horribly magnified in business ethics practitioners (consultants, officers, and the like).  To my knowledge, most have no training in philosophy/ethics at all!  And that’s considered okay!  Would you accept an accounting consultant who had no training in accounting?  After all, anyone can add and subtract (just as everyone knows right from wrong).  Ethics practitioners are either legal people or management/human resources people and so their approach to an ethical issue is either ‘Comply with the legislation’ or ‘Comply with the company’ (but in either case, remember that bottom line). Articles on ethical issues that get published in business magazines (as opposed to those that get published in ethics journals) are, frankly, embarrassing in their lack of depth; business codes of ethics are laughable for their simplicity, their naiveté….)

 

Postscript:  Since this piece was written, a business graduate has been elected president of a country.

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Rain Without Thunder (movie) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rain Without Thunder (movie) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

 

I just watched this! And will watch it again, stopping to think at so many points!

 

Here’s the brief description: It’s the year 2042 and the threat is real…women are going to prison for terminating their pregnancies. An investigating reporter is determined to reveal the truth behind the convictions.

 

It’s available on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Rain-Without-Thunder-Betty-Buckley/dp/B009YCWW7E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486337772&sr=8-1&keywords=rain+without+thunder

 

 

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a couple excerpts from UnMythed, by chris wind

and now for something a little different, a couple excerpts from UnMythed, by chris wind

 

Macha

 

this one I’ll tell straight:

 

you were forced to race against a team of horses

you were pregnant at the time

you won

then you died, giving birth.

 

but with that last great exhalation

you cast a curse

upon the warriors of Ulster:

for nine generations

whenever they attempted to fight

they were incapacitated

with childbirth pains.

 

***

 

Amphion

 

perhaps you’re right about my beard–

it’s funny, I guess facial hair

well, hair of almost any kind

is a measure of masculinity

and academics and artists

have always felt a little like eunuchs

(real men use their bodies)

 

it’s an interesting insight

(and surprising from you)

but it falls a little short–

what I wonder is this:

do I have a beard

to look more like a man

or less like a woman?

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Women Discover Life on Mars

“Should we fund a mission to Mars?  Sure.  Give us a bit of time and we can make that planet uninhabitable too.”  (jassrichards.com)

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching MARS.   Why?  Because the three astronauts who walk out onto the planet’s surface at the end to discover life on Mars are all women.  Not a token one of three.  Not even a remarkable two of three.  But ALL THREE.  All three are women.

AND the bureaucrat back on Earth who makes the announcement?  Again, a woman.

AND none of this was presented as in-your-face feminist.  Not one line in the entire script made reference to their being women.  There was no male resentment, no resistance, no snide comment about quotas or reverse discrimination.  There was no undue praise, no celebration for having achieved the status of being the first humans to discover life on Mars.

They just were.

I can’t tell you how gratifying it would be to just be.  To be an astronaut if I wanted to be.  To be the one to discover life on Mars.  To be the head of a Mars mission program.  Just because I was qualified to do so and lucky enough to make it through the selection process.  And my sex had as little to do with it as my hair.

Furthermore, throughout the expedition, there was as much female presence as male.   Sure, okay, one of the women became leader only because one of the men died, but when the second crew arrived, its leader was a woman.  And if I’ve got this mistaken, it’s only because regardless of the actual hierarchy, women were as central, as important, as valuable, as active.

They were just living their lives. 

And yet, seven of the eight writers are men.  The director is a man.  All ten executive producers are men.  Even so, they had THREE WOMEN discover life on Mars.  Three women, all by themselves.  They didn’t need a man to go with them to protect them.  They didn’t need a man to go with them in case they got lost.

Amazing.  Truly amazing.

And so truly … gratifying.  To see this.  To actually see this.

Thank you.

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Telling our Members of Parliament How to Dress

So I recently found this on the Parliament of Canada website:

While there is no Standing Order setting down a dress code for Members participating in debate, [84]  Speakers have ruled that to be recognized to speak in debate, on points of order or during Question Period, tradition and practice require all Members, male or female, to dress in contemporary business attire. [85]  The contemporary practice and unwritten rule require, therefore, that male Members wear a jacket, shirt and tie as standard dress. Clerical collars have been allowed, although ascots and turtlenecks have been ruled inappropriate for male Members participating in debate. [86]  The Chair has even stated that wearing a kilt is permissible on certain occasions (for example, Robert Burns Day). [87]  Members of the House who are in the armed forces have been permitted to wear their uniforms in the House. [88]

What could possibly justify this Speakers’ rule?

Could it be that our Members of Parliament can’t dress themselves?  The people we’ve voted into positions of power? Doubtful.  They’re adults.  Many of them even have a university degree.  (Okay, I know …)

Could it be somebody in a higher position of power is prioritizing appearance over reality?  What you look like is more important than what you are like.  That bodes well for, well, the world.

Could it be someone in a higher position of power is making a series of non sequiturs from clothing to behaviour and character?  If you wear a business suit, you must be honest, hard-working, mature – respectable.  Say what?

It is certainly that someone in a higher position of power is appealing to tradition and practice.  Philosophers rightly consider that fallacious reasoning.  Just because we’ve always done it that way, just because we do it that way, doesn’t mean we should.

And the other thing to note?  There’s no mention of what exactly female members must wear.  Because there’s no standard business attire for women?  No, that can’t be right.  To judge by the Speakers’ own criteria, tradition and practice, it is standard for women to wear shoes with high heels (that will be uncomfortable for standing, difficult for walking, and eventually cause postural pain), to wear a skirt or dress (that will ensure their legs are showing, because – men want to see women’s legs at all times?), and at the very least to not wear a jacket, shirt, and tie – because we MUST MUST MUST enforce the gender norms.  Our patriarchy depends on it.

(Oh, one other thing to note: “..male Members wear a jacket, shirt and tie” – what, no trousers?)

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The Sci Phi Journal!

Check out the Sci Phi Journal: a journal about science fiction and philosophy!

Not just about though, there are many cool stories to read and think about…

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Planning is Sinister?

In This Changes Everything,* Naomi Klein makes an interesting observation, intended to explain why we aren’t building the kind of economy we need: “… there is something sinister, indeed vaguely communist, about having a plan to build the kind of economy we need, even in the face of existential crisis” (125, my emphasis).

Is that why we don’t plan?

At the individual level.  People are so que sera even about creating other human beings.  ‘You’re pregnant?  I didn’t know you wanted to spend twenty years of your life looking after someone.’  ‘Oh, it just happened ….’

And at the community level.  If lakes were zoned, for example, everyone—jetskiers, and people-with-screeching-kids, and canoeists —could be happy.  But as it is, the first group is angry with the third, the second group is angry with the first, the third group is angry with both the first and the second.

This lack of planning—it’s all because it’s communistBecause a pre-determined society is somehow against individual freedom?  

Not planning is against individual freedom.  Not planning is allowing yourself to be tossed about at random, by chance—and that’s not being free.

I wonder if there’s also a religious element involved.  To plan, to choose your future, is to reject, or at least challenge, God’s plan.  For you, your future.

Also, planning requires foresight, and foresight requires imagination.  Which, I’m realizing, most people don’t have.

Planning also requires strong desires, for X over Y.  Again, I’m realizing that most people—don’t really care.  (Which means they get in the way of those of us who do.)

 

*very highly recommended, by the way

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Calm down. Don’t think about— Don’t think.

One day when I was talking to a neighbour about something that I wished we could do something about—someone tossing their garbage out of their car onto the road where we walk every day, someone letting their kid drive a dirt bike with no muffler throughout the neighbourhood, someone burning leaves and sending toxic smoke everywhere—and she said something like ‘Calm down, your blood pressure’s going up!’

Well, it wasn’t (my blood pressure has finally creeped up into the normal range, ten years after I stopped running forty miles a week), but I realized then that she wasn’t distinguishing between my cognitive anger, my critical thinking—I was making a point about civility, and respect for others, and the difference between public and private space—and some emotional rant that might end in screaming and slamming doors.  I suppose the latter can elevate one’s blood pressure, and if it’s high to begin with, if you’re on blood pressure medication, like so many people are these days, then yeah—calm down.  So no wonder people develop a sort of blind and deaf veneer.  No wonder they just ‘go with the flow’ and never object.  No wonder they avoid thinking about—  Well, thinking.  It’s literally bad for their health.

But what this means—this inability to distinguish argument from rage, along with the increasing number of people with high blood pressure—is that the more we eat at McDonald’s, the less we’ll get angry about McDonald’s.  The more zombied out people are, sprawled on the couch in front of the tv, the more zombied out people will strive to remain.  Sprawled on the couch in front of the tv.

Not thinking.

 

 

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Another poem from chris wind – thought this one especially apt since it’s September and students are back at university…it’s from her book dreaming of kaleidoscopes

 

To My Philosophy Professors

 

Why didn’t you tell me?

When I was all set to achieve Eudamonia

through the exercise of Right Reason,

When I was eager to fulfil my part

of the Social Contract,

When I was willing, as my moral duty,

to abide by the Categorical Imperative

When I was focussed on Becoming,

through Thesis and Antithesis to Synthesis–

 

Why didn’t you correct me?

Tell me that Aristotle didn’t think I had any reason,

That according to Rousseau,

I couldn’t be party to the contract,

That Kierkegaard believes I have no sense of duty

because I live by feeling alone,

That Hegel says I should spend my life

in self-sacrifice, not self-development,

That Nietzsche thinks I’m good for pregnancy

and that’s about it–

 

Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t included?

 

(Perhaps because you too had excluded me

from serious consideration;

Or did you think I wouldn’t understand?)

 

(I do.           I do understand.)

 

1987

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AI Indeed

So I first heard of the movie Ex Machina when I read a review (by Chris DiCarlo) in Humanist Perspectives—and was so disgusted that I wrote a letter to the editor.  Why?  Because the reviewer had revealed his own misogyny by failing to address the elephant in the room: the fact that the body the guy created for his AI was that of a female, a sexy female, a young female, is what—mere coincidence?  The picture they’d chosen to accompany the review (no doubt, the one chosen to promote the movie) showed her bound.  In fishnet.*  Her pose was right out of a BDSM scene.  Not worth mention? As I said in my letter,

That you failed to remark on any of this disturbingly telling.  It indicates just how much men have come to expect to see women as young and sexy.  Apparently it’s the norm, it’s normal, to pornify women, to present their bodies as sexually available.

Well, fuck you.

(Have you heard of sexism?  Feminism?  Check it out, why don’t you.)

The letter was not published.  The editor wrote back and said,

I don’t know if this changes anything, but Chris had nothing to do with the selection of photos for the review. That was done by a woman who helps me with the onerous task of laying out the magazine.

—a comment that opens up a whole ‘nother area worth investigation.  How is it that people think that if a woman does X, it must be okay?  This notion informs the currently popular misconception of feminism as indiscriminate female solidarity.  (As a commenter said recently in response to one of my posts on BlogHer, implying that I was not a feminist, “My feminist sisters support all woman in whatever choices they make…” At the very least, that stance would be rife with internal contradictions.)

But onwards.  Does it change anything?  No.  As long as the image is from the movie, then the movie is evidence of the normalized pornification of women, and DiCarlo still ignores that elephant in the room.

If the AI had been black-skinned and called ‘boy’ and given menial tasks and whipped, I suspect it would have been noticed.  I suspect DiCarlo would have made at least passing mention to the implied racism.

But—and I’ve just watched the movie.  Not only is “Ava” sexy woman-child (there’s even a ‘play dress up’ scene), the guy has a hall full of closets of similar AIs.  He’s not making AIs.  He’s making fucktoys.  He actually tells his (male) guest that they have fully functioning holes.  We see him using said holes for his apparent pleasure.  The guest realizes that the guy has created Ava to match his porn file.  (What the hell is a porn file?  Oh.)

All very unremarkable, apparently.

There was one promising line—the guy insists that consciousness is gendered.  But the claim isn’t really challenged.  And it becomes clear that he has come to that conclusion because his ‘source material’ (his ‘blue book’) for Ava comes from a net cast wide upon the world-as-is.  That is, he’s just grabbed all the sexist sociocultural conditioning in the world and built something from it.  No wonder, Ava.

Ex Machina is just another movie that objectifies women.  It just pretends to be about AI, but it’s not even a little bit past Asimov’s I, Robot.

Is it redeemed by the fact that Ava escapes, after killing the guy (and leaving the guest imprisoned, facing the same outcome)?  Not really.  Because she does so by sexual manipulation (“I want to be with you,” she tells the guest in her soft, little-girl voice.  “Do you want to be with me?”).  (“Yes,” I imagine the guest replying.  “I’d like the girlfriend experience, please.”)  That’s apparently what the script writer and director believe intelligence is, at least when female-bodied.

And she escapes into the forest wearing high heels—fuck-me heels.  Though, okay, that’s probably all that was available to her, and we do see that she takes them off.  But she doesn’t throw them away.  Once in the real world, does she choose instead Doc Martens, loose pants with pockets, a comfortable sweatshirt, and a jacket?  No.  She remains sexualized.  Artificial intelligence indeed.

 

 

*Right, okay, it was actually metal mesh, I get that.  And the similarity to fishnet is also mere coincidence?  (If you think so, you are too naïve for words.  Certainly too naïve to be writing movie reviews.)

(You know we’re laughing at you, right?  [When we’re not screaming at you.]  You who investigate artifical intelligence but are too stupid to recognize your own immaturity, you who have conferences on “The Future of Humanity” with all-male panels, you who publish special issues called “Speaking of Humanism” featuring nothing but male faces…)

 

 

 

 

 

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