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Simply too simple!

14 March 2023

In recent years, many organisations have recognised the importance of an ethical approach to business. However, unfortunately, how we discuss ethical issues is often overly simplistic, misinformed or reimagined as a constituent part of some other concept, such as sustainability or ESG.

Business leaders can only consider and discuss ethical issues if they have a competent understanding of ethics. General ethical concepts and principles such as integrity, honesty and non-malfeasance are routinely misunderstood. This often results in an amoral approach to business and a fundamental inability to participate in meaningful discussions of relevant ethical issues. Important questions, such as do we have the right to prioritise profit over the rights of others and is the use of AI to improve workplace performance ethical if doing so compromises individual privacy? And is it dishonest to ignore those who question our opinions?

I believe that dumbing down or misrepresenting ethical concepts has resulted in a common inability to recognise and evaluate the ethical implications of our decisions and actions. When we do not have the words to comprehend or describe a concept or experience, we utilise generalisations and substitute inadequate but easily comprehended terminology to fill the epistemic gap. ‘It tastes like chicken’ is a common phrase cited by those struggling to elucidate the flavour of snake curry, alligator burgers or some other example of a new or unusual culinary experience.

Whenever we believe something has value, we are making an ethical judgement, but judgements without reasoning are unlikely to be commensurate with our personal and organisational values. Competent ethical reasoning gives us the ability to make decisions and act with individual and organisational integrity. But reasoning such as this needs the knowledge of various ethical concepts and terminology because, without these elements, business ethics simply dissolves into rhetoric and platitudes. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe we all need to understand every ethical nuance or argument like a professional ethicist. Einstein is credited with the famous quote, ‘everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler’. I could not agree more with the wisdom of Einstein. Nevertheless, as responsible business leaders, we should not accept the oversimplification of ethics to the point where it starts to taste like chicken.

If you would like to know more about how we can help you improve your organisation’s ability to consider ethical issues, then please get in touch with us on 0800 389 1314 or email us at enquiries@ouchlandd.co.uk

Introduction to Business and Professional Ethics

Introduction to Critical Thinking and Reasoning