Weekend 6

May 16th, 2013 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Tomorrow is Weekend 6 — which really means five weekends remain, and one full week, the last residence week. I can’t believe it! But I’m so busy with schoolwork right now that I can’t even spare a thought for the fact that this experience will soon be over for me and my cohort. So. Much. Homework. It’s ridiculous.

I wrote and turned in my ethics final this week. Our questions were very, very open ended: What is the purpose of an economic system? A corporation? A manager? That’s the equivalent of asking “What’s the purpose of water and air?” But one thing this class did was help me to articulate my own thoughts about what it means to behave in an ethical manner. During the first half of the class (last winter!) we did a survey of different ways of framing ethical questions–utilitarianism, the virtue framework, etc.–and then talked about cases from the viewpoints of some of those frameworks. This semester, as we surveyed the history of how people have actually responded to ethical issues in the business world, I found myself thinking that the whole notion of “profit maximization” primes business people to think of everything in terms of maximizing one thing. That seems to be a recipe for narrow decision making. One of the problems with framing ethical questions at a corporate level in this way is that decisions that in theory produce benefits for a large number of people—shareholders, for example–can also produce bad results for a specific smaller number of people.

I think managers–people–are the only vectors for moral, ethical decision-making in the business world. An economic system isn’t capable of making decisions, and a corporation’s actions are just the results of decisions made by individuals acting within its structure. The responsibility for any corporate action is held by the human being or group of human beings making the decision. When managers make decisions, they have the moral responsibility for the outcomes of the decision.

A human being has no choice but to be a moral actor by virtue of being alive. Every day each human being makes many decisions, and each decision carries with it a set of consequences. We have the ability to reason and the freedom to choose our actions. Some actions are of less consequence than others – what I chose to wear today may not be extremely consequential, but it is one of many decisions I make every day. And while I have the freedom to control my choices, I don’t have control over the outcome of that choice. So whenever I choose an action I am also choosing the consequences that are the outcome of that action. We can’t divorce actions from outcomes. Because humans have reason, we are capable of imagining what those outcomes might be, and because we have the freedom to choose, we are responsible for the consequences of our choices.

Economic systems and corporations exist to serve a human need – the need to make our economic activities more efficient and effective. They exist to serve our interests, not the other way around. The human actors within these systems have the right and the responsibility to see that the systems serve our good in the broadest possible sense.

And that’s what I learned in Ethics class.