[back to archive]
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 26
5th February 2006
I. 'Reasonable Doubts' by Ute Sommer
II. 'On being a "business philosopher"' by Geoffrey Klempner
III. 'Response to Andre Vieira on Junk Morality' by Peter B. Raabe
Philosophie & Wirtschaft (http://www.philosophieundwirtschaft.de/archiv.php) is a
new electronic journal edited by Ute Sommer which will publish original
articles on philosophy and business in German.
Philosophie & Wirtschaft is published under the umbrella of the International
Society for Philosophers. Topics will include: ethical reflection on business
practice, social responsibility of enterprises and managers, globalization,
philosophical methods for managers, philosophers as advisors to enterprises,
thinking and knowing at work.
If you would like to subscribe to Philosophie & Wirtschaft please email the
editor Ute Sommer at UteSommer@t-online.de. Articles should be in German and
written in clear, non-technical language. There is no fixed word limit. The
editor is happy to discuss ideas for possible articles.
I. 'REASONABLE DOUBTS' BY UTE SOMMER
To obtain a copy please email the author.
Web site: Philosophie & Wirtschaft http://www.philosophieundwirtschaft.de/archiv.php
II. 'ON BEING A "BUSINESS PHILOSOPHER"' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
Philosophy is the supreme arena of label-fetishism. The first thing
philosophers do when they meet is check out each other's labels. Are you an
analytic philosopher, a continental philosopher, a process philosopher?
It's a question I refuse to answer because I will not be labelled or put in a
category. For the same reason, I dislike the label, 'business philosopher'.
However, there is an additional objection in this case. The terms,
'philosopher' and 'philosophy' have been over-used and abused by people in the
business world to the point where the concept has ceased to have any real
meaning. A self-taught 'consultant' who has never picked up a philosophy book
in his life can call himself a 'business philosopher'. And many do.
Just to get rid of any cosy notions you may have formed about what real
philosophers do, let me give my take.
Philosophy is radical. It digs down below the surface, strikes at the root. It
doesn't offer easy help or cosy reassurances. It demands that you re-evaluate
your life and your projects, leaving no stone unturned. Philosophy demands
everything that you can give without promising anything in return.
That is how the true business philosopher approaches the business world. Not as
a datum but as a problem, a worrying question mark, a concept which is required
to go to strenuous lengths to justify its very existence. The first question of
business philosophy is, 'How is business possible?'
Maybe it isn't. I don't know.
When I was asked to write an article about the circumstances that led up to the
publication of Philosophy for Business , my immediate reaction was, 'Which
version of the story do you want?'
In the business world, all 'history' is revisionary, a PR exercise, not an
attempt to get at the truth in any meaningful sense. And everyone knows this.
The result is that such exercises are always evaluated cynically, as mere
salesmanship, the only question being what product you have on your shelf today.
I have no doubt that these lines will be read with the same cynical attitude.
As if you could somehow sneak past your audience's defences with the emphatic
assurance, 'No, no this really isn't a PR exercise, what I am telling you is
'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer.
In the end it doesn't matter, because I am arguing a case and not merely giving
a historical account (although I am doing that too). I am going to give the case
that convinced me to take an interest in business philosophy. If you think my
case is valid, or at least worth a hearing, then I will have achieved my
I am not a socialist or a defender of the free market. I don't have a recipe
for business success, nor am I trying to rally people to a cause. I just want
to understand what is going on. Because it doesn't make sense to me. I feel as
if I am an alien who has just landed from Mars, seeing human beings scurrying
about in hectic activity, who just hasn't a clue about its meaning or purpose.
Neither, I suspect, do they.
This is how philosophy begins, in a state of 'aporia' or bewilderment, not
knowing one's way about. Economic life and competition are so familiar to us
that we have ceased to be aware the phenomenon as something to wonder at or put
And yet there must have been a time when this was new. Something happened to
make homo sapiens mutate into homo economicus. What was it? How did economic
thinking gain such a hold? Is there any alternative? These are the kinds of
questions that grip me.
How would I explain to a business person the point of philosophy?
We are looking at the concept of 'philosophy' or of what it is to philosophize.
Philosophy involves thinking. But thinking about what? To think is an action
with an outcome. The outcome of software designer Jane Doe thinking about the
problem of how to calculate the tax on item B is a formula which can be
included in to the program she is writing which will calculate the tax on
Thinking, when it is successful, leads one way or another to a positive
outcome. Thinking is always to some purpose. So what is the purpose of
Suppose you said, 'The purpose of philosophical thinking is to understand.'
After thinking hard about some problem, I 'understand' better than I did
before. But we can still raise the same question about understanding. What is
that for? what is its outcome? The accountant explains a difficult point to
Jane and she understands the explanation. Now she can use that understanding as
part of her purposeful thinking activity, e.g. to work out the correct formula.
One of the great debates in philosophy is whether philosophy is ultimately
justified by its practical results. I personally don't hold this. My
justification for philosophy would be the sheer fact that we are gripped by
philosophical questions. For someone who feels impelled to philosophize, who
feels the need to 'understand' in a philosophical way, no more justification is
needed. That is my experience. However, I believe that philosophers have a
necessary duty to apply their understanding to make the world a better place.
Notice the difference between these two views: the first says that the only
possible justification for philosophy lies in is its practical results, while
the second merely says that philosophers have a duty to apply their thinking to
practical problems. When Marx said, 'Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted
the world in various ways; the point is to change it'  he was giving
expression to the first view. As I said, I don't agree with this. You can't put
philosophy in a box.
One of the things that makes ancient Greek philosophy so fascinating is that
these issues were still hot questions. In the dialogue Phaedo , Socrates
explains his decision to focus on the question of man and the purpose of
existence, thus taking a radically different road from that of his predecessors
the 'physical' philosophers who theorised about the structure of the universe.
The angry clash between Socrates and the sophists illustrates radically
different approaches to the relation between theory and practice and the nature
The physical philosophers, Socrates, and the sophists each had different views
of the ultimate point of philosophy. I don't want to beg the question of the
validity one particular view rather than another. Whichever view you take, the
tools of philosophy -- analysis and logical reasoning -- are available to be
used to probe and question different aspects of human life, and in particular
the world of business.
That is what any philosopher who has an ethical conscience, who recognizes the
duty to apply one's thinking to practical problems is bound to do.
Ten years ago, when I launched my philosophy school, 'Pathways to Philosophy'
 I took the first tentative steps which would lead me out of the narrow
confines of the academic world into the business arena. At first, I was hardly
aware that anything had changed. I continued to write philosophy. I had my
students. I corresponded with other philosophers.
My first lesson in business was the importance of advertising. I learned how to
make web sites. From then on, I was no longer communicating solely with an
audience of academic philosophers as I had done previously. I was broadcasting
my views to the general public, selling a subject called 'philosophy', selling
Then one day I woke up and realized that I had become the very thing that
philosophers over two and a half thousand years have defined themselves
against: a sophist. No words or descriptions can do adequate justice to the
sheer trauma of the discovery that you have gone over to the 'other side'. I
was a Jedi knight turned Darth Vader, priest turned devil worshipper, the
epitome of all that philosophers fear and despise.
In time, I got used to the idea. I said that I don't accept labels. These days,
I don't align myself with the 'philosophers' or with the 'sophists'. You could
describe me, with a pinch of salt, as a 'sophist who loves philosophy'.
On the front page of Glass House Philosopher  I said provocatively, 'I am
one of a new breed. Call us the internet sophists. Whether more will follow our
example, only time will tell. I believe the university departments have had
their day. Time has come for a more democratic arrangement.' You can take that
with a big pinch of salt too.
The idea of starting a business philosophy e-journal was first suggested to me
by a consultant from a free advisory service based at the Sheffield Chamber of
Commerce. One of my Pathways volunteers was very well connected with the
business world and offered to take charge of promotion and building an email
Philosophy for Business was launched in November 2003 and is currently in its
25th issue. When I started the journal, I had only just begun to grapple
seriously with the philosophical issues relating to the business world. It has
been a steep learning curve. Every contributor to the journal has taught me
something valuable. I continue to learn.
Let me now ask the question I posed earlier, in reverse:
How would I explain to a philosopher the nature of the business world?
There is an ideal, which comes across very strongly when you read someone like
Ayn Rand, that the practice of business is, or can be a vocation in the true
sense, a calling. The point is that it can be. But it need not be. One of the
fascinating aspects of the business arena is that the doors are not barred to
those whose only motive is profit and material gain. (The film Wall Street
raises these issues in a very entertaining way, and very much from a moral
This is not a 'good' thing or a 'bad' thing because it is part of the package.
For the majority, the motivation is complex, not simple: to provide for oneself
and one's family, certainly, but equally to contribute to the wealth of society
as a whole by playing a necessary and valuable part in the economic process.
That is one view.
On the other side, you have the view of Karl Marx. The young Marx's answer to
'the meaning of life, the universe and everything' was very simple: work.
Through working on external things we literally create ourselves, we make the
world a human world. We identify with our productions. They are our very soul
externalized, the essential thread that connects us to the rest of human
Any committed artist or writer understands this. As a philosopher, Marx lived
for his 'work'. Few are so lucky. In return for paper or metal tokens which can
be exchanged for food or material goods, the worker sells his capacity for work,
in other words himself. For the Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts , this was the
definition of prostitution. All workers are prostitutes.
Marx understood fully well that not all work is creative work. The world
imposes necessities upon us, and each of us has to share the burden. But this
too is part of the process of 'creating ourselves' because of its essentially
social aspect. However, that is only how things would be, if we lived according
to our 'essence'. In reality, under capitalism, not only are workers reduced to
prostitutes, but the very bonds that constitute human society -- the human
world -- are perverted and destroyed.
Do I believe any of this?
In the penultimate paragraph of 'The Business Arena'  I talked of the
'hopeless way of Karl Marx -- or, at the opposite extreme, Ayn Rand'. The young
Marx looked forward to a utopian world where money is abolished, a world of
brotherly and sisterly love where everyone works for themselves and the common
good, and feels no tension between these two requirements.
That will never happen. The real world is too complex, and being the endlessly
creative beings that we are, humans love to make things more complicated still.
We sell ourselves, buy ourselves back, find ourselves, lose ourselves in myriad
connections and relationships. For some, religion is a bulwark. But even faith
has its cost. Compromise is the name of the game. And capitalism is the only
system that ultimately recognizes this.
Competitive games and trading are two human inventions which arose before
history began, and would occur again in any possible world. Within the
strictest socialist regimes, the moral evils that Marx identified thrive just
as well as under capitalism.
But what about myself? The best reason I can give for why I am not a sophist is
that the sophists unashamedly prostituted their intellectual gifts. Everything I
have done with Pathways, I have done for myself, because the doing of it meant
something for me on a personal level, defined my sense of who I am and where I
belong. I would stop tomorrow if that were not the case. But unlike the
academic philosophers, unlike Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their ilk, I am
not afraid to enter the business arena -- on my terms.
I want to help business people. Looking out from my bunker, I see a great deal
of unhappiness, the damage done to the environment, the colossal gap between
rich and poor, the absurd waste of human talent. My gut feeling is that it
doesn't have to be that way. My mission is to get business people to see this
Many business people are deeply unhappy. They live and eat stress. They are
driven to succeed, time and time again, and every new threat drives out all
memory of past successes. You are only as good as your latest deal.
I am reminded of a something that psychotherapists say, about the 'inability to
hold on to the good'.
The most successful business people have little time to enjoy their wealth, so
can it really be about the pursuit of money? I would argue that a bank account
is not wealth. Wealth is access to, power over resources. Things you want or
need or enjoy. Money is no good to you if you have little or no time to spend
Money is what defines the game. Success or failure has no other measure than in
financial terms. In the world of big business, all values are convertible to
money. Yet, paradoxically, the money you make for yourself -- your salary and
bonuses -- does not even have value as money. It is reduced to a mere symbol
like the score on an amusement arcade machine.
In saying this, I am mindful of the trap over superficial over-generalization
and cliches. What is dominant or prevails for the most part is by no means
universal. Not all business people are 'unhappy' in the Aristotelian sense of
failing to realize their full potential as human beings. But I contend that the
Do you care about hunger or poverty? Don't waste your time going cap in hand to
these people. They can't help you, not even if you succeed in pricking their
consciences, a rare enough event. The game has no room for begging bowls, only
for winners and losers. The only question is, Which are you?
I said 'it doesn't have to be like that'. Politics will never solve this
problem. The bad style of greedy capitalism has got too firm a hold. Nor will
revolution. We all know where that leads. The only remaining option is
That is why I want to paint a picture of an alternative world, a world of
reformed capitalism. My weapon is the word processor rather than the hustings
or the gun. Even if only a few people get the message, that would be a start.
Let's get the ball rolling now, before it is too late.
1. A German translation of my article is forthcoming in Philosophie &
2. Francis Bacon Essays 'Of Truth'. Cf. New Testament John 18:38
3. 'Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt
darauf an, sie zu verandern.' Karl Marx Theses on Feuerbach No. 11
4. Plato Phaedo 96a - 99d
5. Pathways to Philosophy Distance Learning Program
6. Glass House Philosopher http://sophist.co.uk/glasshouse/
7. Karl Marx Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Dirk J. Struik Ed.
International Publishers 1964
8. Geoffrey Klempner 'The Business Arena' Philosophy for Business Issue 5, 7th
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2006
III. 'RESPONSE TO ANDRE VIEIRA ON JUNK MORALITY' BY PETER B. RAABE
In response to Andre Vieira's comments on my paper 'Junk Morality', I'd like to
make three points:
First of all, since morality is about behaviour which avoids harm to others,
self-interest is not a moral position. Therefore if a corporation is defined as
purely self-interested, since it is only interested in making a profit for
itself (its shareholders) within the law, then it is immoral. In fact some
critics, as for example in the documentary 'The Corporation,' have dubbed
corporations 'psychopathic' and 'sociopathic' because a corporation will not
hesitate to take advantage of loopholes in the law and act immorally in order
to further its own interests.
Second, corporations do not exist in some alternate reality. They are created
by human beings and operate within the human community. The fact that human
laws give corporations the right to be purely self-serving and anti-social does
not remove them from human society. Their activities affect real people living
in the real world. If corporations have the legal right to be only self-serving
then they are, by definition, legally allowed to be immoral. And we all know
that just because a behaviour is not illegal this does not necessarily make it
And third, decisions are not made by corporations; they are made by the human
beings who act within those corporations. Therefore the morality of the human
beings who make the decisions within corporations will be reflected by the
activities of those corporations, and the corporation can be judged to be
acting immorally when the people within it make immoral decisions.
Let me give you an example of the kind of immoral decisions made by
corporations and the people who control them. Several years ago vehicles known
as SUVs in the United States were experiencing catastrophic tire failures on
straight stretches of highway at normal speeds. This would cause a subsequent
roll overs, killing and injuring the people within. The problem was wide-spread
resulting in thousands of accidents and hundreds of deaths. It was eventually
discovered by investigative journalists that the less expensive tires that were
supplied by the tire companies to the SUV manufacturers were different from the
much higher-priced tires they also made only by virtue of a 10-cent strip of
material in their construction. This strip of material prevented similar
failure in the more expensive tires.
So the first immoral actions by the tire companies (there were several of them
supplying similar cheap inferior products to the SUV manufacturers) was to put
the 10-cent safety strip of material only in tires which they then sold at a
far higher price than the 10 cent cost of the material.
The second immoral action by the tire companies was when the survivors of
terrible accidents sued the tire companies. Recall that I said above it was
investigative journalists who informed the public of the problems inherent in
the construction of the cheap tires. When the tire company executives realized
there was a problem with their cheap tires they kept it secret. They simply
decided it was more cost-effective to settle the law suits out of court, to pay
off the surviving victims, than to recall the defective tires and replace them
all. In other words, it was more cost-effective to let some people die than to
give everyone safer tires. But I want to emphasize again that the decisions to
let people be killed or burned or crushed in SUV roll-over accidents was not
made within some corporate 'other reality'. The decision to let people die was
made by the people acting in the name of the corporations for which they made
this brutal and heartless cost-benefit analysis.
Can corporations be guilty of immoral behaviour? You bet! Corporations are
often held responsible and fined for immoral behaviour such as personal injury,
damage to the environment, copyright infringement, and so on. And many of the
newer laws under which corporations are now, finally, taken to task are laws
which enforce human morality on them in order to prevent them from harming
people. Isn't that what laws are generally about -- trying to prevent harm? I'm
happy to say that moral philosophers working in the field of business ethics
have been instrumental in challenging the immoral legal status that
corporations in North America have flaunted for so long. On this continent a
lawyer can no longer argue that a corporation need only act in its own self
interest while making a cost-benefit analysis within its alternate reality. It
is no longer acceptable for a corporation to harm real people for the sake of
its own profit. This is not only a legal position; it's moral.
(c) Peter Raabe 2006
Peter B. Raabe Ph.D.