International Society for Philosophers

Philosophy for Business
electronic journal

ISSN 2043-0736

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Philosophie & Wirtschaft


Daniel Silvermintz

Tom C. Veblen

Marco Senatore

Peter S Borkowski

Dena Hurst

Sean Jasso


Geoffrey Klempner

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P H I L O S O P H Y   F O R   B U S I N E S S           ISSN 2043-0736

Issue number 14
13th December 2004


I. 'The Philosophy of Business Philosophy' by Geoffrey Klempner

II. 'The Role of Philosophy in Developing Business Feel' by Steven Segal

III. 'Postmodernism, Feminism, and Organizational Ethics: Letting Difference Be'
    by Kathy E. Ferguson



This is the last issue of Philosophy for Business before the New Year. May I
wish all the readers of Philosophy for Business happiness, peace of mind and
prosperity for 2005!

Geoffrey Klempner



This essay started as an editor's note to accompany the publication of Steven
Segal 'The Role of Philosophy in Developing Business Feel', and Kathy E.
Ferguson 'Postmodernism, Feminism, and Organizational Ethics: Letting
Difference Be'. Then I realized that attempting to say anything meaningful
about these widely - indeed, wildly - disparate essays was like trying to
navigate a path between two alternative universes. Which in turn provoked
serious reflection on the very aim and purpose of a journal purporting to offer
a 'Philosophy for Business'.

Segal's article is squarely aimed at the business person seeking the elusive
formula for success. Don't put your trust in rules or formulas, Segal advises,
learn to develop your 'business-feel'. Segal's superstars of the business world
discovered in a 'philosophical experience' that 'they could no longer take their
habitual or conventional ways of thinking about management for granted.' In
order to be in a position to radically re-evaluate your aims and priorities,
you must become an 'existential outsider' in questioning the assumptions behind
the status quo, and seeing alternatives that those who count on the status quo
cannot see.

By looking at the situation from the outside, you are able to identify the
assumptions that need to be questioned, as well as questioning your own
previous certainties. 'Anxiety' becomes a force which is positive and creative.
You have to learn to see the situation from a totally different perspective in
order to make the decision which, to others, will seem 'crazy' - but which
turns out to be the right decision in the end.

'Right' by what standards? Segal is careful not to make the assumption that all
that counts is the bottom line. Presumably, each reader, each business person,
will have to resolve this question for him- or herself, in his or her own
personal 'existential experience'.

Segal's metaphor of the 'insider' and 'outsider' mirrors Kathy Freeman's case
against conventional business ethics. 'The question is not what to do about
business when it acts "unethically" but how to critique business when it is
being "ethical" according to its own standards, raising what Heidegger and
others have called the question of the frame. The questions that we can ask
about the world are enabled, and other questions disabled, by the frame that
orders the questioning.'

Like Segal, Freeman wants business to do better. But her worries focus on a
deeper, ethical plane, from which the very practice of business comes into
question. 'Instead of looking at infant mortality, ecological destruction, and
military waste as unfortunate or unintended side effects, feminism brings them
to center stage as crimes of indifference, the logical outcome of the world
that business as usual has created.'

Is it too far fetched to think that Segal's business 'outsider', faced with
Segal's indictment, might be prepared to take the truly radical step of
questioning whether 'business as usual' is possible at all, and, if not, what
kind of thing 'business' might be instead?

I'm afraid it is.

We are not going to see mass resignations of company executives or businesses
going into voluntary liquidation on ethical grounds. We are not going to hear
Chairmen apologizing to shareholders for making too much profit. Not for a
while, at least.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that there is a metaphysical gap, as
yet unbridged, between those who practice business - including the 'mavericks',
the trail blazers and innovators - and those who are prepared to radically
question that very practice. I do not have any advice to offer on how that gap
might be bridged.

In my essay, 'The Business Arena' (Philosophy for Business Issue 5, 7th March
2004) I argued that business takes place within a frame where it is insulated
from ethics proper, as contrasted with the rules of fair play which define the
business game:

     Ethics, as I understand it, is based on the I and thou
     relationship, on unlimited obligation and unconditional
     love and respect for the other. This tension cannot be
     resolved by attempting to cobble together a 'business
     ethics' in the accepted sense of this term. There can be no
     compromise between unconditional obligation and the limited
     obligations that hold between players in the business arena.
     That hasn't stopped philosophers from trying anyway. The
     only result that can be achieved by adopting this
     muddle-headed strategy is an ethics which is too demanding
     for the business arena, and insufficiently demanding
     outside that arena. While those who have seen clearly that
     compromise is impossible have either gone the hopeless way
     of Karl Marx - or, at the opposite extreme, Ayn Rand.

That emphatically does not mean that business escapes ethics. It is we - and
amongst the 'we' I include those who are actively involved in playing the game
- who permit the game to proceed, who take on the ultimate ethical

This is a hard conclusion. Hard, because the political reality at the present
time is that it is virtually impossible to seriously challenge the current
status quo in anything but minor ways. Shelf-fulls of academic journal articles
will not make a ha'pennyworth of difference. Yet, as the world edges ever closer
to the ecological catastrophe that books, articles and films have all talked
about, there may yet come a time when a radical course becomes the only way

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2004




Jack Welch is recognised as one of the great corporate leaders of the modern
world. It is natural that many managers and leaders would want to learn from
him. To this end a number of books have been written on Jack Welch, many of
which outline the "Jack Welch way" of leadership and organisational management.
Yet one of the outstanding features of Welch is that his way of doing things
cannot be reduced to a set of techniques or formulas. Business, he maintains,
is not a great science. It is underpinned by being able to trust in "one's
gut." His success lies in his uncanny business-feel.

Welch is not alone in exemplifying the importance of business-feel. It is
central to the leadership practice of, for example, Andrew Grove of Intel.
Worry is the primary form of business-feel that underpins Grove's technical
expertise in a number of areas. As we inquire more into the practices of other
leaders we see business-feel playing a central role in their leadership styles.
George Soros, for example, talks of the central role that anxiety has played in
his management style. Anita Roddick speaks of herself as having the passion of
an obsessive. Ricardo Semler has written of the role of stress in transforming
his understanding of organisations. Mort Meyerson identities the role of
uncertainty and despair in leading him to rethink leadership. And Lou Gerstner
in his time at IBM came to recognise the role of emotions in leadership.

The interesting thing about business-feel is that it cannot be learnt in a
purely cognitive way. It relies on a feeling for the situation, on being able
to make instinctive or intuitive judgments in situation, judgments in which we
feel what we are doing is correct without necessarily being able to explain in
abstract and rule like terms why it is correct. If we try to follow principles
of "business-feel" in to conscious and rational a way, we lose the very feel
that is the most vital element of business-feel.

How, then, can we talk and learn about business-feel?

The abovementioned leaders discovered the importance of business-feel in a
"philosophical experience," an experience in which they could no longer take
their habitual or conventional ways of thinking about management for granted.
Their day-to-day experiences as managers challenged them to think about their
practices as managers in new ways. As they questioned their habitual ways of
doing things, so they began to see their own practices and the practice of
management in general in a new light.

Ricardo Semler, for example, thought of himself as a maverick. Jack Welch says
that one needs to be "crazy" to be a leader. Andrew Grove sees himself as
"paranoid," while Anita Roddick sees a sense of being an "outsider" as central
for her entrepreneurial attunement. Perhaps the only one who does not fit this
mould clearly is Lou Gerstner but it was as an "outsider" who was invited
inside that he lead GE from its old way of doing things into a new way of
being. And CEO's like Mort Meyerson have shown how their experience of
depression and anxiety opened up opportunities for moving from old but stale
ways of doing things to new and invigorating ways of leading.

Yet none of these leaders is or was so crazy that they were out of touch with
the world in which they worked. Far from being out of touch with the world,
their view from the outside gave them a perspective on the inside that those
who were on the inside could not see. For like a fish in water we do not see
the water that we are in. Only when we are deprived of water do we begin to see
the water that we are in. The experience of gaining perspective on a situation
by being an outsider is an "existential experience." Generally speaking
existential philosophers have developed a framework in which to show how
experiences of "craziness," "paranoia," "stress" and being an "outsider" enable
us to see the world in new ways.

Philosophical experiences are crucial for seeing new opportunities and
possibilities. An example is the experience of Andrew Grove at Intel. When
confronted with situations that threw his habitual assumptions into question,
he did not respond in a defensive way but turned these experiences into
opportunities for new possibilities. He speaks of his taken for granted
assumptions about Netscape in the 1990's: "I remember being shocked by the
Netscape IPO. I was quite familiar with Netscape, and for that company to be
valued at $4 billion or $5 billion after it came out - that stunned me. But
that shock had a positive impact, because it made me think, Hey, you better
rethink your prejudices, because people are seeing something here that you are
not seeing. I mean, I thought the browser was an interesting piece of software,
but not a life-altering or strategy-altering technology."

Here we see how Grove is able to turn an experience of being shocked into an
opportunity for questioning his assumptions and how through questioning his
assumptions he is able to see something in a new way. Philosophy is that
activity of accepting that there are times in which we need to question our
conventional and habitual ways of seeing things. As the example of Grove
indicates we need to be philosophical when we realise that we cannot take our
common sense perspective for granted. It is usually in moments of disruption
that we come to realise that we cannot take our common sense perspective for
granted - those moments in which we say "what the hell is going on here?" It is
crucial not to become defensive at this point but, as was the case with Grove,
allow ourselves to examine our old assumptions. By examining our old
assumptions we open up the possibility for seeing things in new ways.

In times of disruption philosophy is a practical activity. When things are
flowing smoothly we need to get on with the job. Under such conditions there is
very little need for philosophy. But when things lose their flow, when we are
taken aback, when we are perplexed or uncertain, we need to be able to think
about the limits of our conventional and customary way of seeing things. To
refuse to be philosophical on such occasions is in fact impractical! It is like
burying one's head in the sand.

The danger of not being sensitive to assumptions that need to be questioned is
highlighted by Ram Charan and Jerry Useem in their analysis of failure at
Cisco. Cisco, they claimed had developed a system that would enable them to
predict the future. However, the future did not turn out as the system
predicted. In coming to grips with why the future did not turn out as
predicted, Cisco had to contend with the fact that it had not questioned key
assumptions in developing its predicative system. As Charan and Useem maintain:
"Cisco's managers, it turned out, never bothered to model what would happen if a
key assumption - growth - disappeared from the equation. After all, the company
had recorded more than 40 straight quarters of growth; why wouldn't the future
bring more of the same?"

Questioning of assumptions is not an elementary process. Assumptions do not
just show themselves or present themselves for questioning. We need to be able
to notice that we are making assumptions which, as we see in the case of Cisco,
we are not always aware of. We are usually blind to the assumptions that are
implicit in our judgement. And because we are blind to them, we cannot just
decide to question our assumptions. For by definition that which we are blind
to is outside of the scope of what we can see.

How, then, do we become aware of our blind spots? Great leaders develop
practices that ensure that they turn their blind spots into learning
opportunities; opportunities for spotting what is on the margins of their radar
screens. One such practice is what existential philosophers call the "gaze of
the other." It is by seeing ourselves through someone else's eyes that we see
our blind spots. An example is given in the leadership practice of Nelson
Mandela. . As a commentator on Mandela points out: "The human side to Mandela's
stumblings is revealed by an account one of his private secretaries gave of his
recent visit to Scandinavia: it seems that every night, after retiring, he
would summon his three secretaries to his bedroom where he would ask them, "Now
tell me what I have done wrong today, because I don't want to make the same
mistakes tomorrow."

Just as Mandela sees himself through the perspective of others, Peter Drucker
calls on corporate leader and strategists to periodically "abandon" their
habitual assumptions of the business. He believes that by "abandoning" their
familiar perspective of the business, they develop an outsider's perspective
through which to question what they take for granted. It is crucial for leaders
to be attuned not just to what they can see but also to the way in which their
perspective limits them and closes off opportunities to them. Leaders must be
able to see what is going on behind their backs. They need to be present not
only to what is in the foreground but in the background as well.

The role of philosophical questioning in enabling leaders to become aware of
the background is made clear by Lou Gerstner when he says: "Once you think
you're at the point that it's time to write it down, build the manual, and
document the formula, you're no longer exploring, questioning, the status quo.
We are constantly challenging what we do - building a culture of restless
self-renewal." (Neff, 1999)

The idea of building a culture of restless renewal through constantly
questioning the status quo lies at the heart of philosophy. Socrates, the
archetypal philosopher of the Western world is famous for his process of
constantly questioning everything, not for the sake of being clever but because
it always opened up new possibilities and ways of seeing things - just as is the
case of Gerstner. Socrates is identified as a philosopher because of his process
of constantly questioning the status quo.

Through his willingness to question conventional assumptions, Gerstner was able
to see IBM in a way that defied conventional logic. In the crisis years of the
early 1990's common sense had been calling for the break up of IBM. Its size
was seen as a disadvantage. Gerstner's process of questioning the status quo
allowed him to see that its size was in fact its advantage. Because of its size
it could act as an integrator in a market driven by fragmentation. Instead of
following the trend towards fragmentation, he questioned it, and saw that there
were opportunities for IBM in servicing customers who could not integrate
technology for themselves.

Through his philosophical attunement, Gertsner enabled a change of mindset and
attitude at IBM. As a leader, he enabled employees at IBM to question some of
their most cherished assumptions. For example, he overturned conventional
attitudes towards competitors at IBM. Whereas the conventional attitude towards
competitors was one of antagonism, he encouraged employees at IBM to see
themselves as integrators of competitors technology. Instead of seeing their
competitors as their enemies, they came to see opportunities for themselves in
collaborating with their competitors.

When accounting for his uniqueness as a leader Welch points not to his command
of the techniques of management; and not to his calculating or analytical
skills but to the individuality of his philosophy. Techniques and toolkits do
not give perspective. They are simply tools. We have to have the perspective in
which to use the tools. Today, however, we are so preoccupied with the tools
that we forget about the perspective.

It is the function of a philosophy to give us perspective. A philosophy gives a
solid anchor point in the face of uncertainty. It provides a framework within
which to deal with the unpredictability's which are so much a part of a leaders
job. It enables a leader to be resolute when they need to make decisions. It
gives a vantage point through which to see the whole. It allows leaders to zoom
in and out. It enables leaders to be attuned to organisational potential which
is buried deep within the organisation. It sensitises leaders to opportunities
that are on the margins of their industries. It provides a language in which
the organisation can communicate with itself.

Philosophies do not, however, arise out of thin air. They need to be developed.
Welch says he spent a lifetime developing his philosophy. The point is that he
did not take his way of thinking about leadership for granted. He nurtured and
examined his way of thinking. He did not just act but was highly attuned to the
philosophy that was implicit in his way of acting. This allowed him to have
perspective on his leadership practice.

Today there is so much more talk of the role of intuition, judgement and
business feel in business. Leaders need to be able to trust their gut. Yet this
cannot be a blind trust. For intuition can lead us astray. Our intuitions are
guided by our assumptions, thoughts and moods. If we do not understand these we
will never have an understanding of our own mindsets. To uncritically trust our
intuition in such circumstances is highly dangerous. It is nothing more than
following blind impulse.

However, once we are able to understand the assumptions underpinning our
mindsets, then we can learn to trust the response from our gut. Philosophy is
the process of developing an understanding of the moods, thoughts and
assumptions that underpin our feeling for the business. The question is: how
many of today's organisational leaders who advocate the role of judgement,
intuition and business feel are aware of their philosophies, and the role that
philosophy plays in leadership? How many leaders are ready and willing to
develop their philosophies?

Leadership and management philosophies are developed not by learning the latest
theories on management but by learning to reflect on the assumptions, moods and
thinking patterns that are implicit in our way of doing things. Philosophical
coaching provides a framework in which to enable managers and leaders to
develop their philosophies of practice.

[This is an extract from my forthcoming book Business Feel: From the Science of
Management to the Philosophy of Leadership Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.]


Steven Segal is an executive coach. He lectures in management at a number of
graduate schools of management including the Macquarie Graduate School of
Management and Sydney Graduate School of Management. He is the author of
Business Feel: From the Science of Management to the Philosophy of Leadership
published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. He is a registered psychologist and a
practicing philosophical counsellor.

(c) Steven Segal 2004




Feminism's relation to business cannot be founded on cooperation. Feminism
cannot become a tool for business to develop fairer practices or to pursue its
goals more efficiently. It cannot improve business because feminism's quarrels
are not with the excesses and abuses that pervade business organizations but
with the very premises that underlie standard operating procedures. It does not
point to unfairness within the system because that would presume the possibility
of fairness at the level of the system. Feminism does not question the
efficiency or effectiveness of business practices but the moral and political
legitimacy of these practices: not how best to use the power that business
accords certain groups of people (owners and managers, for example) but why
these people are thus empowered. It does not challenge bad business but
business as usual.

The definitive tone of dismissal in the above statements might seem to close
the very doors this volume seeks to open, denying both the possibility and the
efficacy of a link between feminism and business ethics. But this is not
necessarily the case. The field of business has a tendency to co-opt its
critics by absorbing them into its orthodoxies, where market values and
positivist epistemologies reign. A critique that is somewhat extravagant and
makes some questionable generalizations may be necessary in order to clear the
path for other arguments - arguments that can challenge rather than perpetuate
the paradigms that prevail in the field. Such challenges are a necessary part
of any effort to do business ethics differently.

Feminism's vision of the world is incompatible with the world that business has
created. This is not to dismiss feminism as utopian and irrelevant but to
suggest that feminism must raise a broad spectrum of questions. It must
struggle against myriad hegemonic institutions and discourses to make its
arguments, both in this essay and in the world. We face everyday events,
actions, and encounters that have devastating consequences for women, for
children, for all human beings, for the earth and all its life. Rather than
simply rehearse the statistics, let's look at concrete examples:

Every 6 seconds somewhere in the world a child dies. Most children die from
readily preventable conditions, primarily malnutrition and diarrhea. They die
because their parents or their communities are too poor to provide them with
clean water, adequate food, and basic health care. This situation could be
reversed if the enormous inequities between industrialized nations and the
third world were confronted, rather than perpetuated, by what is
euphemistically called development.

One every 6 seconds

Every 5 seconds cattle ranchers in Central America and the Amazon valley
destroy an acre of rain forest for the sake of raising beef for the lucrative
export markets in industrialized nations. The habitats of thousands of plants
and animals, including human animals, are disappearing. This course of
destruction could be stopped if the dominant voices in the human world did not
view the nonhuman world as, in Heidegger's phrase, "standing reserve" - if
human beings required themselves to interact with the natural world rather than
seize it for their own use.

Every 5 seconds

Every 10 seconds a quarter of a million dollars is spent worldwide on the
military. Every dollar poured into the abysmal toilet of war preparations is a
dollar stolen from dying children, smoking rain forests, and other sites of
suffering and destruction.

Every 10 seconds

We must denaturalize the political circumstances in which we find ourselves in
order to theorize about these tragedies. Instead of looking at infant
mortality, ecological destruction, and military waste as unfortunate or
unintended side effects, feminism brings them to center stage as crimes of
indifference, the logical outcome of the world that business as usual has
created. To redirect thinking in this way calls for a substantial shift in our
understanding of responsibility, reason, politics, ethics, and other categories
of collective life. I understand that business is not the only culprit
responsible for producing these injustices: governments are eager to do their
share, as are religions, the military, schools, and other conduits of
destruction. My project is to implicate business squarely within the discursive
and institutional constellations that produce disaster for women, children, and
the planet and to interrupt this hegemonic order in the name of feminism.

But what kind of feminism? Let me step back a moment from these perhaps
inflammatory claims and define some key terms. "Feminism" is an umbrella term
for a huge family of ideas that are often sharply at odds with one another. One
important distinction is that between liberal feminism and its more radical
cousins. Liberal feminism, also known as equity feminism or humanist feminism,
calls for the equal treatment of women within existing institutions. Taking the
parameters of the existing arrangements largely for granted, liberal feminism
shouts a loud "me too" at the wall of arrogance and exclusion that marginalizes
women. Liberal feminism's reforms often enhance the opportunities available to
those classes and colors of women who can claim access to traditional
institutions. I am bracketing this face of feminism not because I want to
dismiss it but because it is the face of feminism that the business
establishment finds most palatable. It is represented in Ms. magazine's praise
of Control Data for its enlightened management practices:

     Control Data is among those enlightened corporations that
     offer social-service leaves.... Kit Ketchum, former
     treasurer of Minnesota NOW, applied for and got a full year
     with pay to work at NOW's national office in Washington, DC.
     She writes: "I commend control Data for their commitment to
     employing and promoting women ...." Why not suggest this
     to your employer? (Spivak, 1987:91, quoting "A New Way to
     Work for Women," 1982:30)

Meanwhile, in one of Control Data's South Korean plants, 237 women workers went
on strike for higher wages:

     Six union leaders were dismissed and imprisoned. In July,
     the women took hostage two visiting U.S. vice-presidents,
     demanding reinstatement of the union leaders. Control
     Data's main office was willing to release the women; the
     Korean government was reluctant. On July 16, the Korean
     male workers at the factory beat up the female workers and
     ended the dispute. Many of the women were injured and two
     suffered miscarriages. (Spivak, 1987:89, quoting "Was
     Headquarters Responsible?" 1982:16).

While the reforms that liberal feminism can deliver are often significant to
the managerial women who benefit from them, they have little to do with
altering the structures that produce global gender inequities (for example,
multinational operations in free trade zones, run-away shops relocating to
exploit cheap female labor, or repressive third world regimes propped up with
Western aid) or with changing the world in a feminist direction. Businesses
that support upward mobility for selected managerial women while relying on a
disempowered female workforce may earn praise from liberal feminists, but they
do little to satisfy more radical feminist critiques.

The feminism I speak from is more radical because it finds the existing power
structures unacceptable no matter who is at the helm. It is informed primarily
by two competing impulses: one to create a "woman centered" understanding of
the world and a contrary one to deconstruct the distinction between margin and
center. The relation between the two is complex, full of tension and
opportunity. Both impulses frame the questions of moral and political life
around the problematic of gender, but in different ways. In the first view, men
- male power, male identities, masculinity as a set of practices - are seen as
problems; in the second, the gendered world itself is a problem. Both stances
bring gender into view as a powerful organizing principle of social life, but
the first one reverses patriarchal gender priorities whereas the latter
explodes them. The development of women's voices, sometimes called gynocentric
theory or feminist standpoint theory, entails diving into a world divided
between male and female experience in order to critique the power of the former
and valorize the alternative residing in the latter. It is a theoretical project
that opposes the identities and coherencies contained in patriarchal theory in
order to identify a different set of identities and coherencies - that is, a
different and better way of thinking and living. In the second view, feminists
pursue the deconstruction of gender, stepping back from the opposition of male
and female in order to loosen the hold of gender on life and meaning. This
project renders gender more fragile, more tenuous, and less salient both as an
explanatory and evaluative category. Feminist standpoint theory creates a
woman's point of view in order to reject male orderings of the world, while the
purpose of gender deconstruction is to reject the dualism of male and female.
Realizing the persistent tension between feminist standpoint theory and
feminist deconstruction, I am, nonetheless, going to treat feminism as if it
were a coherent category with stable boundaries within which unanimous
agreements had been reached. I shall take these liberties in order to bring
other questionable categories into focus. Feminism, its internal struggles
acknowledged, will be posited here as a launching point from which to unpack
other categories and render them problematic.

I will draw upon ideas from both sides of feminism, but as the tide of this
essay suggests, I will favor the face of feminism that connects to
postmodernism. The postmodern movement within feminism comes to the defense of
difference in opposition to "the founding of a hysterocentric to counter a
phallic discourse" (Spivak 1983:184). The deconstruction of gender is done in
the name of a politics of difference, an antifoundationalism defending that
which resists categorization, which refuses to be corralled within familiar
categories. While nearly all feminists at some level oppose binary oppositions,
postmodern feminists are the most emphatic in their call for an opposition to
sexual dualism itself, in the name of "the multiplicity of sexually marked
voices," or relationships that "would not be a-sexual, far from it, but would
be sexual otherwise: beyond the binary difference that governs the decorum of
all codes" (Derrida, 1982:76, quoted in Moi, 1985:76).

Here again is an obscuring of differences within a category in order to have a
more or less comprehensible point from which to argue. Such obscuring is a big
problem not simply because there are many different, often contending,
arguments included in postmodernism but also because the very creation of the
category is problematic. To create a thing called postmodernism or
poststructuralism, which one can then be for or against, is to risk taming the
rebellion against categorization expressed therein. I frequently use the term
"genealogy" to speak of the intellectual terrain labeled postmodern in academic
debates, both to evade the ideological closure that often comes with the term
and to recall the Nietzschean influence. The denaturalization of meaning claims
and the critique of origins should not be reduced to another "ism" on the
ideological menu. Nonetheless, for purposes of this essay I will call upon both
feminism and postmodernism to stand still, to quell their internal disturbances,
and to keep the peace within their own ranks so that we may examine the problems
inherent in another set of ranks, those of business and business ethics.

On to the other crucial categories of inquiry. I take "business" to be
shorthand for the world that international capitalism. has created: a world of
transnational corporations, of the electronic flow of capital, of governments
recruited to serve the interests of corporate profit and penalized when they do
not, of endless consumer wants generated by advertising, of the
commercialization of life around the cash nexus. I take business ethics to be
an academic enterprise that tends on the whole to legitimize the world of
business - or else to be ignored by it. In a curious way business ethics is a
lot like liberal feminism. It seems largely to take the system for granted and
to look for ways to introduce into that system new and improved methods of
operation: flextime for women supervisors or workshops on stress management
carry a political status similar to that of lessons in Rawlsian or Kantian
moral reasoning for managers. Business ethics resembles liberal feminism in
another way: each provides a career niche for certain members of their
respective constituencies (upwardly mobile women or unemployed philosophers) in
the more lucrative arenas of management or business administration. Yet neither
does much for the women whose class, color, or culture bar them from managerial
positions or for the kinds of philosophy or philosophers who do not readily
accommodate the needs of business. Liberal feminism and business ethics stand
in a similar relation to business: they take for granted precisely what more
radical feminism throws into question.

From the perspectives that a feminist postmodernism makes available, the
question is not what to do about business when it acts "unethically" but how to
critique business when it is being "ethical" according to its own standards,
raising what Heidegger (1977) and others have called the question of the frame.
The questions that we can ask about the world are enabled, and other questions
disabled, by the frame that orders the questioning. When we are busy arguing
about the questions that appear within a certain frame, the frame itself
becomes invisible; we become enframed within it. Heidegger observes that the
frame makes claims upon our questioning that we have trouble hearing: "Man
stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of enframing that
he does not grasp enframing as a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one
spoken to.... The dominant frame orders our thinking in such a way that
alternative orders are silenced: But enframing does not simply endanger man in
his relationship to himself and to everything that is. As a destiny, it
banishes man into that kind of revealing that is an ordering. Where this
ordering holds sway, it drives out every other possibility of revealing"
(308-309). Those who are enframed within the moral and political universe of
business tend to see only those battles that their practices name as worthy.
Enframing is challenged when elements on the fringes or in the basements of a
particular frame (say, feminism as fringe or basement of the modem business
world) become more audible.

Let us consider an example of such audibility: the critique of international
"development" practices offered by Vandana Shiva (1988) in her book Staying
Alive. Trained as a scientist, Shiva abandoned the field to do political,
economic, and social analysis of international development - the system that
enables the destruction of traditional peoples in the name of progress. It is
commonplace to hear that international development on a capitalist model hurts
women, that it destroys or devalues women's traditional extra-market labor,
undermines their capacity to care for themselves or their families, and
transfers economic and political power to men (see Staudt, 1990). Shiva's
project is to push these consequences to the center of the analysis rather than
marginalizing them as unintended and temporary outcomes of an otherwise worthy
practice. By attacking the "sacredness" of modem scientific knowledge and
economic development, Shiva shows these to be "not universal categories of
progress, but the special projects of modern western patriarchy" (Shiva
1988:xiv). The violation of nature by what Shiva calls "maldevelopment" is
associated with the violence done to the women who depend on nature to sustain
themselves, their families, and their communities. Shiva's book is an attempt
to articulate how rural Indian women experience and perceive ecological
destruction and its causes and how they have initiated processes to arrest the
destruction of nature and begin its regeneration (1988:xvi).

To advance her argument, Shiva sketches the everyday world of village women in
India, whose daily life practices entail close interaction with trees, land,
and water to obtain food, clothing, and shelter for their families. She shows
how the patterns of these women's lives are being annihilated by the
initiatives of the economic "developers" and their plans for "progress." Rural
Indian women's traditional practices regarding water use and conservation are
now being displaced by scientific water management systems with their emphasis
on cost/ benefit analysis and productive utilization of water. For the new
water managers, the delicately interconnecting ecosystems are invisible; for
example, water that runs into the sea is wasted, regardless of its long-term
contribution to maintaining the water table. At the same time, the forestry
industry is destroying the environments in which local women traditionally
gather food and fuel. For the forest managers, trees that are not marketable
from an "industrial materials standpoint" are "clearly weeds," no matter what
their contribution to the local food supply (Shiva, 1988:64, quoting Bethel,
1984). Peasant women are being cut out of the food chain by the so-called green
(commercialization of food crops) and white (dairying) revolutions. Labor
traditionally done by women to sustain life is disqualified from consideration,
whereas the work of "experts" counts as productive:

     It is assumed that "production" takes place only when
     mediated by technologies for commodity production, even
     when such technologies destroy life. A stable and clean
     river is not a productive resource in this view: it needs
     to be "developed" with dams in order to become so. Women,
     sharing the river as a commons to satisfy the water needs
     of their families and society are not involved in
     productive labour: when substituted by the engineering man,
     water management and water use become productive activities.
     Natural forests remain unproductive until they are developed
     into monoculture plantations of commercial species. (Shiva,

Shiva chillingly describes how the green revolution has fostered female
infanticide and feticide: commercialization results in higher wages for men
than. for women (often twice as high), which translates into a lower value for
women's labor, both market and nonmarket; this, coupled with the expense of
providing girls with dowries, increases the cost of girls to families while
reducing their worth. When a traditional society is invaded by the discursive
and institutional world of business, women and children lose.

Another example of a feminist fringe made audible comes from Sara Ruddick's
(1989) analysis of the practices of mothering in her book Maternal Thinking. In
Ruddick's view the experiences of mothers take on a philosophical significance,
and she suggests the political possibilities residing therein. To do so,
Ruddick wrests mothering out of the arena of sentimentality and kitsch, away
from the hegemonic views of a society quite ready to become maudlin about
mothers but unwilling to legitimate much power for women. Maternal thinking, at
its best, is found to have certain central qualities: it is ongoing, processual
("though we desperately needed to act, it was abundantly clear that our
nighttime conclusions simply yielded the next afternoon's questions"); it is
practical ("We were not reflecting for the sake of reflection; we needed
answers") (Ruddick, 1989:11). Done well, maternal thinking requires a kind of
control that limits itself and strives to make itself unnecessary. It calls for
a scrutinizing of the world that looks unobtrusively for danger without unduly
limiting exploration. It requires the muting of narcissism and the appreciation
of "alternative excellences and virtues" (108). It gives birth to an attentive
kind of love that Ruddick calls "holding" (78-79), a connection somewhat like
empathy but not so self-oriented: "knowing another without finding yourself in
her" (121). It relies on feelings, properly assessed, to direct and explain
action, thus establishing feeling as a form of knowing:

     Rather than separating reason from feeling, mothering makes
     reflective feeling one of the most difficult attainments of
     reason. In protective work, feeling, thinking, and action
     are conceptually linked; feelings demand reflection, which
     is in turn tested by action, which is in turn tested by the
     feelings it provokes. Thoughtful feeling, passionate
     thought, and protective acts together test, even as they
     reveal, the effectiveness of preservative love (70).

Ruddick's category of "thoughtful feeling" (70) undermines the male-ordered
dualism of reason versus passion; the practices of mothering make available the
constitution of a self-in-relation that thinks her feelings and feels her

The particular relations that Ruddick most closely examines are between mothers
and children. She emphasizes the child as actor, not as raw material to be
managed. Ruddick speaks of the "child's body, from its birth" as "enspirited"
(83). In granting subjectivity to those beings usually excluded from philosophy
except as the recipients of authority, victims of power, or carriers of the next
generation's responsibilities, Ruddick names a site for the production of
powerful intersubjectivities and also brings into view a perpetually silenced

Ruddick connects mothering to peace politics. Mothers are not seen as
inherently peaceful but as beings whose work requires them to make efforts
toward being peaceful. She emphasizes that mothering is a struggle; mothers
struggle with fulfilling their own commitments, with their failures and
temptations, and with or against the demands of others upon them. Ruddick sees
the skills and practices of mothering as offering "resources for creating a
less violent world," but no guarantees (136; see also 57).

One such resource can be found in an alternative notion of responsibility. The
male-ordered concept of responsibility is narrow in its range of meaning. One
can be responsible in the sense of having caused something to happen - that is,
being personally to blame for an event. (By this logic, affirmative action is
reverse discrimination because individual white men living today did not cause
slavery or patriarchy in the past.) One can also be responsible in the sense of
entering into a contract that calls for certain payments in exchange for goods.
(For example, liberal theorists often speak about the rights and
responsibilities of citizenship.) Feminists argue for an expanded and
reconstituted notion of responsibility as the need to respond, to extend
oneself, to take care. While not abandoning the idea of individual agency, the
concept is broadened to be more collective and more relational. One is
responsible not only for what one has done, or even for what one has not done,
but for what is required.

Shiva's analysis of economic "maldevelopment" and Ruddick's discussion of
mothering may seem far cries from the postmodern face of feminism, with its
emphasis on fluidity of categories and avoidance of closure. Shiva deconstructs
"development" and "progress" as Ruddick does "mothering" and "fathering," but
they let other unities, such as third world women or nature, pass
unscrutinized. Although the disjunctures between Shiva's and Ruddick's brands
of feminism and those with more postmodern tendencies is substantial, they
share a common ethical gesture: they both incline toward an ethics of letting
difference be. Shiva and Ruddick arrive at this ethic by emphasizing
differences between women and men or between adults and children or between the
first world and the third. Postmodernism arrives at this ethic - at least at the
possibility of this ethic - by a different route. By focusing on the differences
within particular identities (a woman, for example) or meaning claims
("progress," for example), postmodern feminism explodes these claims from the
inside. This intersection raises numerous questions about the relation between
efforts to put women at the center and efforts to deconstruct centers;
recognizing these questions, I want nonetheless to set them aside to focus on
what might be found at the end of these journeys toward difference.

The postmodern approach to an ethic of difference begins with its
counter-ontological claims: postmodernists typically deny that there is any
order out there to be discovered. The world is a place of flux and discord to
the postmodern thinker; it offers, as Foucault remarked, no legible face and is
indifferent to our need for a resting place in truth. The genealogical thinker
is suspicious of appearances not because they conceal an underlying reality but
because underneath the disguises laid down by power, in its self-justifying
ideologies, she finds another layer of disguise. We make up our claims to
truth, Nietzsche stated, then we forget we made them up, then we forget that we
forgot. Claiming that there is always more to being than knowing, the
genealogist sees the positivist's search for a correspondence between word and
thing as hopeless. It is hopeless because the empirical codes that govern
positivism are based on a cultivated ignorance about the inherently
metaphorical nature of language. Similarly, the genealogist views the
interpretivist's search for attunement with some higher unity (for example,
history, the laws of nature, progress, or the goddess) as dangerous, since it
stretches itself toward some truth that is held to be out there waiting and
fails to notice its own participation in constituting what it then claims
merely to have discovered. Instead of searching for unity or taking refuge in
positivism, the genealogist opens herself to the discordances and
discontinuities discernible within a field of meaning.

Interpretive and positivist thinkers usually start from the undemonstrable
premise that there is a fit between human desires, human categories of
understanding, and the world that humans inhabit. Genealogists, who begin from
the equally undemonstrable position that there is no fit but only resistance
and slippage among what we want, how we think, and where we are, do not
necessarily scorn the desire for an order, only the assumption of it. The
genealogical insistence that the world does not come made for our categories,
that there is no necessity unfolding itself through history or science or the
goddess, can be a radically disturbing claim. The claim is disturbing because
it destabilizes the "reality" side of the still necessary but now problematic
appearance/ reality distinction that supports both interpretation and
positivism. The claim can also be radically liberating, since arguments that
language constitutes, rather than merely describes, the world open the way for
efforts to structure the world differently in discourse. And it can also be a
quite humbling claim, opening the way to acknowledgments that the world is not
"for us" and that our touch upon it should be light.

The genealogical project has a constant eye out for the appearance of the will
to truth or the will to power over truth. This suspicion inspires, among other
strategies, the substitution of verbs for nouns in genealogy's rhetorical
practices: to speak, for example, of valorizing or privileging a point of view
or table of values is a way of calling attention to the act that one is
performing in valuing that phenomenon over others. This linguistic move
denaturalizes the attribution of worth by emphasizing that the higher status
has been accorded rather than discerned. Genealogy seeks to unsettle the
settled contours of knowledge and power in order to make way for disunities and
misfits - to let difference be. Genealogists tend to employ disruptive
epistemological codes intended to throw doubt both on positivism's Joe Friday
approach to knowledge ("Just the facts, Ma'am") and interpretivism's
determination to fit every thing into a coherent narrative. Luce Irigaray
(1985), for example, disrupts the orderings upon which both positivism and
interpretivism arise through her reliance on analogy. Analogy can disrupt the
comfortable lull of familiar narratives by bringing together pieces from
different stories. In "The Mechanics of Fluids," a chapter in her book This Sex
Which Is Not One, Irigaray draws an analogy between the resistance of fluids to
a mechanics based only on solids and the resistance of women to the dominant
symbolization of male discourse. In fluids she finds "a physical reality that
continues to resist adequate symbolization and/ or that signifies the
powerlessness of logic to incorporate in its writings all the characteristic
features of nature" (Irigaray, 1985:106-107). The complicity between accepted
rationality and solid mechanics excludes fluids, just as that between reason
and male discourse excludes women; women/ fluid is continuous, diffusible, and
traversable, evading boundaries and identities. By juxtaposing the contrasting
configurations of mechanics and of gender, Irigaray's "textual impertinences"
create an analogical space in which a new set of connections might be made
(Shapiro, 1985:195).

Genealogy often does its work indirectly and is sometimes accused by its
opponents of not doing much work at all. The word "deconstruction" suggests an
unfortunate architectural metaphor, implying that genealogy only tears down
meaning, never offering anything one can affirm. But genealogy does more than
serve as the wrecking crew of political theory, although that would be no small
contribution: it calls our attention to that which has been omitted, suggesting
an ethic of difference. By pursuing a relentless history of particulars, and
giving examples of misfits and anomalies, genealogy is "compelling us either to
find ways to draw these misfits into the fold or to acknowledge the element of
dissonance or artificiality within unities themselves" (Connolly, 1987:155).
Genealogy insists upon recognizing the marginal, especially that within
individuals or meaning claims that must be policed, denied, and repressed in
order to present a consistent and solid identity to the world. Genealogy's
ethic of difference "counsels us to come to terms with difference and to seek
ways to enable difference to be. It is an ethic of letting difference be. It
calls into question the project of perfecting mastery of the world on the
grounds that, given resistance built into the order of things, the project
would reduce everything to a straightjacket while pursuing an illusory goal"
(Connolly, 1988:161).

Calls to let difference be reflect not the "fuzzy shrug of the shoulders of
pluralism" but an active attention to multiplicity (Callaghan, 1990:10), not
the claim that all claims are equally valid but the call to attend to all calls
to order with a sympathetic ear for what does not or will not fit. This ethic
does not dispense with the need for governing norms or intelligible rules for
ordering collective life, but it does call attention to the status of those
norms and rules as contestable outcomes of negotiations, as artifice rather
than discovery.

Enhanced appreciation of difference, both internal and external, can come from
many sources. It can issue from learning the light touch needed to guide
another life without crushing, it, as Ruddick (1989) says about attentive love:
"Attention lets difference emerge without searching for comforting
commonalities, dwells upon the other, and lets otherness be. Acts of attention
strengthen a love that does not clutch at or cling to the beloved but lets her
grow" (122). And further, mothers train themselves "to look, imagine, and then
to accept what is different" (123). Alternatively, appreciation of difference
can grow from stretching oneself toward the life worlds of precapitalist or
precolonial peoples, from imagining living in a cosmology in which the world
comes alive through the stories of one's ancestors (Silko, 1977). Shiva (1988)
encourages such stretching by giving an account of rural agricultural practices
in which these practices are presented not as less rational than those of the
modernizers, but as differently rational. Or appreciation of difference can
issue from a genealogical understanding of the arbitrariness of all categories
and the costs of all demands for stability and order. The desire to let
difference be, to lighten the hand of order so that difference can reside in
greater safety and with greater honor, can come from more than one direction.

The call to let difference be may seem to lead to political quietism, to be an
invitation to protect all positions and postures, including those that oppress
people. But one can combine appreciation of difference with a call for change;
more specifically, one's appreciation of difference can insist on a call for
change. The world business has created calls vociferously for innovation, but
resists difference. The modern business world is always in need of new stuff,
but it immediately brings it to order around the prevailing norms and rules.
Letting difference be does not entail indifference to oppression and suffering
nor a tolerance for oppressors as just another difference. Loosening the hand
of order and abating the drive to mastery require us to let be the differences
that let difference be while opposing those who call for greater uniformity and
regulation. A society fully attuned to this ethics might not be able to tune out
the clamor of suffering and outrage around it: a child's death every 6 seconds,
an acre of rain forest destroyed every 5 seconds, a quarter of a million
dollars wasted every 10 seconds. Pushing past tolerance to appreciation of
difference, both that between us and that within us, takes us at least part of
the way toward realizing a feminist postmodern ethics.

(c) Kathy Ferguson 1997



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[From Women's Studies and Business Ethics: Toward a New Conversation edited by
Andrea Larson and R. Edward Freeman. Oxford University Press 1997. Reproduced
with permission.]