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 40
29th September 2007


I. 'Forget about success and it will arrive by itself!' by Heinrich Anker

II. 'Does Good Behavior Pay Off?' by Sean Jasso

III. 'Varieties of Ethical Dilemma' by Geoffrey Klempner



By coincidence, all three contributors to this issue hold Doctorates. But don't
let that put you off. The content of the three articles is for the most part
practical and down to earth.

Drawing on the work of the psychologist Victor Frankl, Heinrich Anker argues
that the pursuit of happiness and success in business is self-defeating. Only
by embracing and dedicating ourselves to a project which gives meaning and
purpose to our life can these be achieved.

In the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley, there has been much discussion about whether it
is practical or indeed desirable to attempt to legislate on all aspects of
ethical behaviour in business. Sean Jasso offers the classic, Aristotelian
argument that being ethical really does pay. But it also helps to have the
appropriate legislation to push things along.

I am glad to report a positive response to my call in the last issue of P4B for
'guinea pigs' for six new Pathways online programs on aspects of the Philosophy
of Business. The course in 'Ethical Dilemmas' will be the first to go ahead.
Below, my article on varieties of ethical dilemma is a taster of things to
come. It is not too late to jump on board.

Geoffrey Klempner



I'd like to treat this issue on two levels:

     I. the individual level
     II. the corporate and/ or organizational level

 I. The relationship between meaning, happiness and success from an 
individual's point of view

In his analysis of the development of the expression 'happiness', the French
philosopher Pascal Bruckner basically states the following:

   - Up until the Middle Ages, happiness was viewed as one's
     just reward in the hereafter.

   - During the Age of Enlightenment, happiness became a general
     right for everyone and could be expected this side of the
     grave. Today, happiness has turned into a general
     obligation and an unhappy person is considered a loser.

   - In other words: like Siamese twins today, happiness and
     success have become two sides of the same coin.

So this means that nowadays a linear correlation is assumed between happiness
and success.

To this, however, Bruckner said:

     The obligation to be happy is especially terrible, because
     it is so vaguely worded and completely eludes us as soon as
     we try to comply.[1]

To be happy is therefore not only difficult, because an exact definition is
impossible, but also because the feeling of happiness cannot be commanded or
conjured up at will -- why we can't even laugh convincingly on command. A
well-known proverb correctly says that happiness cannot be bought; and even
success does not guarantee happiness.

The harder, pursuant to present-day zeitgeist, we chase after success and
happiness, the more they elude us. Concerning the 'pursuit of happiness' Viktor
Frankl, after Freud and Adler the third great Viennese psychologist, says:

     The more a person concerns himself with pleasure, the more
     it recedes. The more he pursues happiness, the more it
     eludes him. To understand this, we have to overcome the
     popular misconception that happiness is one of man's basic
     wants. What he actually wants is a cause that allows him to
     be happy. Once a cause has been established, the feeling of
     happiness will appear of its own accord. To the extent,
     however, that man aims at happiness directly, he loses
     sight of established cause, and the feeling of happiness
     will collapse in itself. In other words, happiness is a
     by-product and cannot be approached directly.[2]

In short, a fast track or a freeway to happiness does not exist for human
beings. In fact, just the way we employ language, reveals that we need a reason
to be happy. We are not just happy: we are happy about A, satisfied because B,
pleased by C, content that D.

We'll look in detail at how happiness can be found later on. For now, I'd like
to focus on other aspects of the quest for happiness and success.

My thesis is that a person who is looking to find self-realization and
fulfillment in happiness and success is chasing after an illusion. There are
many reasons for this:

   - As I have already pointed out, feelings of happiness cannot
     be commanded at will.
   - We don't set the benchmarks of success on our own, so a
     person looking to obtain happiness from success makes
     him/ herself dependent on others.
   - If we expect to convert the happiness obtained from success
     into status and prestige, so that we can place ourselves
     above other people -- which, after all, is the meaning of
     status -- we make ourselves even more dependent of others.
     We need them so that we can place ourselves above them.
   - If we hunger after power purely for sake of power, then we
     are making ourselves dependent on ourselves -- on our own
     compulsions. We're allowing ourselves to be compelled by a
     strong inner urge that can easily turn into an obsession.
   - What if success eludes us, because others have let us down,
     or through unfortunate coincidences, negative circumstances,
     etc.? Yet again, this shows that the quest for success makes
     us dependent on circumstances and on other people. Success
     is like roulette -- a risky game of chance.

The unexpected bottom line is that the quest for happiness and success means
dependency on others -- and does not result in self-realization.

The question of happiness and success can also be put in the following way:
have we wasted our life, has our life been useless if we don't show the outward
signs of success?

   - Should we consider Vincent van Gogh's life useless, because
     he was hardly able to sell a picture during his lifetime?
   - And are the lives of doctors useless, because illness and
     death will always exist?
   - Was Mother Theresa's life a waste, because she wasn't able
     to conquer poverty in Calcutta, let alone the whole of
   - Must the lives of all those who never stood on a pedestal
     during their lifetime and always came in second, i.e. the
     vast majority of humanity, automatically be deemed useless?

Now, let me put the point another way:

   - Should van Gogh have painted other pictures than he did for
     the sake of success so that he would have been celebrated as
     a great artist?
   - Should Mother Theresa have chosen a different vocation?
   - Should Boeing not have built the Jumbo jet because they
     risked going broke if it didn't fulfill its promise?
   - Should the Beatles have ignored their own convictions and
     adapted to the then mainstream music?
   - Should William Wilberforce not have started his campaign
     against slavery in Great Britain just because in his day
     slavery had the same economic importance for Great Britain
     as the defense industry has nowadays in the U.S. economy?

What I want to say is that our decisions tend to be quite different when we
measure a venture or an endeavor by our degree of conviction than when we're
primarily looking for opportunities that result in success, prestige, power,
wealth or whatever else one might consider a source of happiness. And in the
end, this affects our life-balance.

How arguable and ambiguous today's ruling standards of happiness and success
are can be seen in expressions like: 'successfully beating' a competitor, 'a
successful kill'.

Countless examples exist of people who have been very successful in the eyes of
the general public and who should theoretically be very happy, but have actually
ended up being desperately unhappy. Contrarily, there are those who were never
successful in the accepted meaning of the word, but who would not hesitate to
say their lives have been meaningful, rewarding, and rich.

Meaning on the one hand and happiness and success on the other are not
identical, they do not lie on the same line -- they are independent of each

Here, I'd like to anticipate a crucial point:

   - Happiness cannot be coerced or commanded into being.
     However, a meaning in life can always be found.

Now I'd like to take a closer look at this. According to Viktor Frankl
happiness and success cannot be approached directly, we have to have a cause
first. Frankl says the following about the importance of finding a cause:

     Don't aim at success -- the more you aim at it and make it
     a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success,
     like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it
     only does so as the unintended side effect of one's
     personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as
     the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than
     oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for
     success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.
     I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you
     to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your
     knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run
     -- in the long run, I say! -- success will follow you
     precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.'[3]

So, Viktor Frankl is saying that happiness and success are a result of:

   - our commitment to a cause greater than oneself or as the
     by-product of our dedication to the needs of others
   - listening to what our conscience tell us
   - accomplishing our undertaking to the best of our abilities,
     in other words, making a personal effort

According to Frankl, these are also the three central aspects defining the
meaningfulness with which we lead our lives. Summarized this means: the
meaningfulness of how we lead our lives is essential to our success and
happiness. This results in the following chain of cause and effect:

     Commitment (greater cause) => meaning => personal effort =>
     happiness/ success

In a nutshell, Frankl is saying that when we look for a cause we should not be
putting our own interests first as in the case of pursuing happiness and
success directly. We have to shift the focus away from ourselves and look
beyond our immediate needs, place ourselves in the service of a cause that is
greater than we are or dedicate ourselves to the needs of our fellow humans.

Our conscience can help us out here. Victor Frankl calls it our meaning organ,
the organ that senses meaning. Our sense of conscience opens our eyes for the
concerns of causes greater than ourselves, for the needs of other people -- for
example, the needs of our customers.

The connection between conscience and a functioning economy is not a new
concept -- it has been there since the first beginnings of the science of
economy. Can you guess who is responsible for the following quotation?

     it is the inhabitant in our bosom, the inner man, the great
     judge and arbitrator of our conduct... only through the eye
     of this impartial spectator can the natural deception of
     self-love be corrected.

     (Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments)

Citing the strength of the human conscience and the ability of man to look
beyond his own interests and put him/ herself in the position of another
person, Adam Smith stated his case for the government to withdraw from the

A person committed to the service of a greater cause with a clear conscience
can unreservedly focus his/ her entire attention and strength on the
undertaking at hand.

And a person with no reservations and convinced that he/ she can put something
positive into motion is able to give his/ her best to the undertaking.

This is the most important prerequisite to making a success out of an
undertaking. By not targeting our own happiness and success directly -- the
applause on the platform -- we are allowing ourselves to concentrate completely
on our undertaking and its significance. We are able to give our best and the
result is therefore more likely to be a success.

An example I like to use to illustrate my meaning is the comparison between the
real world champion and the workout world champion.

Workout world champions are people who consider themselves to be the most
important person; they want to be the center of attention and will do anything
for a place on the podium, on the top step naturally. They work out very hard
and are very determined, but when they step onto the sports field the
realization that they might lose and make a fool of themselves hits them. They
realize that they are putting their prestige at risk and the fear of failing
blocks them completely. They will do anything to force a victory and are not
above resorting to underhand tricks. Ultimately they put themselves at great
risk, because they place all their bets on one card. When push comes to shove,
they fail because they are scared of failing, because they are fixated on

Real world champions also work out very hard, but they do not primarily step
onto the sports field to satisfy their narcisstic aims or to bask in the
adulation of the masses. They go in with the intention to give the game their
best shot. By not taking themselves too seriously and by focusing on the game
and not on themselves, they are not blocked by the possibility of a letdown.
They do not let themselves be provoked or fazed by their opponents, in fact,
they can even respect their opponents, which makes an eventual defeat more
bearable and keeps the pressure down. They are able to play fairly and
fluently. This uncomplicated approach allows them to mobilize their mental and
physical powers to the maximum and reach out to new levels. That is why they
often end up winning.

By not following the path of personal happiness and success, by not chasing
after other people's approval from the start, and instead, allowing ourselves
to be led by a cause and giving our best, we can feel good about what we're
doing. This is the way to discover what is right for us, what suits us, our own
personal yardstick. And when we have found what is right for us, in other words
our very own mountain peak, we can focus our entire energy on climbing it.
Engaging in meaningful undertakings allows us to:

   - find our personal resources, that is to say, discover our
     strengths and hone them
   - be freed from the fear of failure
   - be kept from blind determination and from entering into
     unnecessary risks, which make us fearful, hesitant and can
     end up immobilizing us
   - pursue our target with tenacity and complete attention; to
     climb to the peak of our mountain step by step, keeping our
     eyes on the summit instead of looking right and left or even
     back down into the depth, which could make us dizzy and make
     us lose our grip

It may have occurred to the reader that in a basic sense Viktor Frankl's
meaning approach is entrepreneurial. Meaning lies in doing; meaning means
moving matters in what we perceive to be the right direction and so shaping
reality. This is how we become co-designers of reality, we influence reality
and REALIZE ourselves. Realizing those undertakings which suit us, realizing
meaning is self-realization in a very fundamental way.

Quintessentially the orientation of meaning means self-determination and
self-realization -- the paradox being that we find them by focusing away from
ourselves, by forgetting about ourselves and placing ourselves in the service
of a greater cause.

Kierkegaard said it the following way:

     The door to happiness opens outward -- he who tries to
     push his way in will not be able to enter.

Success, prestige, status, and power may give us a sense of self-value; the
orientation of meaning gives us life significance.

And so, we have come a full circle. The person who orientates him/ herself
according to the meaning of an undertaking, in the service of a greater cause,
is able to give his/ her best efforts and thus ultimately stands a much better
chance of succeeding than the person who aims for success solely for the
benefit of private success and happiness.

So, what's behind this concept? Why does it work?

1. Orientation according to a greater cause is not some kind of ethical
concept. It is an essential constitutive trait, a basic anthropological maxim
of mankind.

Just as a circle drawn on a piece of paper has no meaning until we provide a
surrounding context -- for example, adding a third dimension and cutting a
slice so that we can see that it is a sketch of a Swiss Emmental cheese with
holes -- so only when our actions are guided by a greater cause, when they are
put into a greater context, do they become clear and receive direction. They
become meaningful to us.

2. Man became human through asking:'Why?', by asking for the meaning or the
reason for something. Finding the meaning is not only a basic human need, but
also at the same time a deeply human motivation.

And so, if we look at the chain of cause and effect again, we'll find that we
can now add a further piece.

     Commitment (greater cause) => meaning (=motivation) =>
     achievement => happiness/ success

So now we have the reason why, for example, a longtime top manager like
Bertelsmann's Walter Bockmann states over and over again:

     'If you want performance, you have to provide meaning!'

Or more accurately: 'If you want performance, you have to provide possibilities
to achieve meaning. A further underlying concept that backs this up is
'performance through promotion.'

3. The question: 'Why?' when asking after meaning always results in a
'because...'. And this 'because...' always refers back to values. In a sense,
values are our 'meanings reservoir' -- Frankl speaks of values as units of
meaning (freedom, responsibility, democracy, nature, respect, life, equal
rights, health, mobility...).

Viktor Frankl distinguishes between three different types of values:

     Creative values: commitment to an undertaking that is
     larger than we are. We look outward and orientate ourselves
     by something that is not a part of us, thereby reaching
     beyond ourselves.
     Experience values: love towards people -- for example,
     fellow employees -- dedication to truth, justice, beauty,
     thankfulness, empathy, forgiveness, etc., thereby looking
     beyond ourselves.
     Hardship values: the ability of man to convert a tragedy,
     on a human level, into a triumph. The ability to accept the
     inevitable without letting it paralyze us and to be able to
     reach out and grow.

All three types come in useful in the entrepreneurial world and life in general.

Frankl's system covers all the different stages of life. His concept is not
just a fair-weather friend; it can come in especially useful when one finds
oneself in a taxing situation and pushing at (one's) limits.

So, the complete chain of cause and effect must be:

     Values (=units of meaning) => commitment (greater cause)
      => meaning (=motivation) => achievement =>
     happiness/ success

On the one hand, orientation according to a greater cause, respecting the plane
of meaning is a basic ethical principle that must be fulfilled if one wants to
respect the fact that human beings are guided by meaning. On the other hand, it
is an intrinsic concept of motivation that is to say ethical demands and
intrinsic motivation both fall into an integrative concept of entrepreneurial
theory. The motivation has to be intrinsic, because we cannot force others to
find meaning in something. However, it is possible to find, or from an
entrepreneurial point of view to create, the framework that supports the
finding of meaning. There are several ways of going about this.

Guidance by values offers us further advantages, because the more values we are
guided by, the surer our 'meaning orientation' fundament is. If we only focus on
one value and if for some reason it falls away, our meaning orientation will
fall apart too. If we have several values guiding us, then we can use these as
a base to find new meaning.

Elisabeth Lukas, Frankl's best-known disciple, said that it has been

     ...proven that people with a meaningful task are prepared
     to step back and leave their personal needs unsatisfied if
     need be. Physical and mental comfort play a secondary role
     in the quest for meaning. By contrast, failure to succeed
     in this quest for meaning cannot be compensated by any
     psycho-physic form of comfort.

To conclude this part:

The shift from a direct orientation towards happiness and success to an
orientation towards meaning and achievement is inextricably connected with a
radical change in the way we perceive the world. Today many people consider
that the world owes them something, that they have a given right to happiness.
Frankl turns this perception around by 180 degrees. The world does not owe us
anything -- we're not the ones who should be making demands. If anything, it's
life that's asking the questions. And by responding to life's questions, we're
taking on responsibility for our lives.

This turnabout in perception leads us away from an outlook based on demand,
consumption and possession to an attitude of service towards the world.

A service attitude helps open our eyes to the possibilities around us to become
part of a greater cause, to enter into life, to participate in the world and
thereby -- in a real entrepreneurial sense -- help shaping it.

 II. The connections between meaning and success from a corporate point of view

Companies and other corporate institutions and organizations are always formed
and supported by people -- decisions are always made by people. The markets are
also made by people and do not follow natural laws; they follow our laws and
rules. We form them and are responsible for them.

For this reason it is legitimate to transpose the question of meaning, the
question of undertakings and the demands of life from the level of the
individual to the level of companies and other corporate entities.

To support this I've compiled a list of quotations by renowned entrepreneurs
and I'd like to tell you right from the start that the degree with which these
statements issued by leading businessmen match what Viktor Frankl says about
the attitude of the individual with regards to meaning and success,
respectively meaning and happiness, had me fascinated from the moment I came
across them. The quotes played an essential role in the forming of this meaning
orientated concept.

Direct quest for happiness and success:
     Prof. Dr. Fredmund Malik is a co-founder of the
     systems-oriented management concept developed at the
     University of St. Gallen: 'One cannot stop anyone running a
     business from putting profit first and using the company to
     achieve maximum gain. Well-known theories to this effect
     are so plausible that they're hardly ever questioned...
     Again and again, however, it has been proven that both the
     profit motive as well as the economics of maximum gain are
     insubstantial. Not only that, they are misleading and
     dangerous in more than one way. Profit as a main target
     undermines a business's profitability and carries the risk
     of ruin with it.'[5]
Meaning and success by serving a greater cause:
     George Merck II, 1950: 'We try never to forget that
     medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The
     profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have
     never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it,
     the larger they have been.'[6]
     David Packard, 1960: 'I think many people assume, wrongly,
     that a company exists simply to make money. While this is
     an important result of a company's existence, we have to
     go deeper to find the real reasons for our being. As we
     investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that
     a group of people get together and exist as a company so
     they are able to accomplish something collectively that
     they could not accomplish separately -- they make a
     contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is
     Henry Ford, 1916: I don't believe we should make such an
     awful profit on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but
     not too much. I hold that it is better to sell a large
     number of cars at a reasonably small profit... I hold this
     because it enables a larger number of people to buy and
     enjoy the use of a car and because it gives a larger number
     of men employment at good wages. Those are the two aims I
     have in life.'[8]
     Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras (1994): 'Contrary to business
     school doctrine, maximizing shareholder wealth or profit
     maximization has not been the dominant driving force or
     primary objective through the history of the visionary
     companies... Yes, they seek profits, but they're equally
     guided by a core ideology -- core values and a sense of
     purpose beyond just making money. Yet, paradoxically, the
     visionary companies make more money than the purely profit
     driven comparison companies.'[9]
     Walter Bockmann: 'Companies like other social organizations
     can be understood as 'social systems'. They have borders
     that separate the inside from the outside... Within these
     systems, so-called purposes are fulfilled. Overall, the
     meaning of these systems is to be of service towards the
     systems that are on the next higher level, that is to say
     towards the outer world.'[10]
Meaning as an essential motivational force:
     Walter Bockmann: 'If you want performance, you have to
     provide meaning!'[12]
     Jim Collins: 'Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away
     from themselves and into the larger goal of building a
     great company. It's not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or
     self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious -- but
     their ambition is first and foremost for the institution,
     not themselves.'[13]
     F. Malik: 'To contribute to a greater cause results in the
     motivation that is needed in an organization -- the type of
     motivation that is independent of any form of reward or
     motivating behavior by superiors. Awareness of a greater
     cause, serving it, and the consciousness of contributing
     something important to its creation, its sustainment, and
     success are forces largely independent of the daily
     interplay of motivational skills. Based on this a much more
     stable and lasting motivation will be formed, stronger than
     the motivation which is brought about by other so-called
     Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras: 'People still have a
     fundamental human need for guiding values and sense of
     purpose that gives their live and work meaning. They have a
     fundamental need for connection with other people, sharing
     with them the common bond of beliefs and aspirations. More
     than any time in the past, employees will demand operating
     autonomy while also demanding that the organizations they're
     connected to stand for something'.[15]
In short, we arrive at the conclusion that in the long run both on a corporate
and individual level we can apply the same chain of cause and effect:

     Values (=units of meaning) => commitment (greater cause)
      => meaning (=motivation) => achievement =>
     happiness/ success


Anker H., Der Sinn im Ganzen. Bausteine einer praktischen Lebens- und
Wirtschaftsethik, Munster, 2004.

Bockmann W., Vom Sinn zum Gewinn. Eine Denkschule fur Manager, Wiesbaden, 1990.

Bockmann W. Sinnorientierte Fuhrung als Kunst der Motivation, Landsberg/ Lech,

Bruckner Pascal, Verdammt zum Gluck. Der Fluch der Moderne, Berlin, 2002.

Collins J.C., Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last. Successful Habits of Visionary
Companies. New York, 2002 (1994).

Collins J., Good to Great. Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Other's
Don't. New York, 2001.

Czwalina J., Zwischen Leistungsdruck und Lebensqualitat. Warum der Markt keine
Seele hat..., 2003, Oberursel.

Czwalina J., Wenn ich noch mal anfangen konnte...' Lebenswert leben, Moers,

Diller S., Shedroff N,. Rhea D., Making Meaning. How Successful Business
Deliver Meaningful Custormer Experiences, Berkeley, 2006.

Frankl, Viktor E. Gesammelte Werke, Teilband 1:...trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen/
Ausgewahlte Briefe 1945-1949. Herausgegeben von A. Batthyany, K.-H. Biller, und
E. Fizzotti. Bohlau, Wien 2005. ISBN 3-205-77351-9.

Frankl, Viktor E. Der Mensch vor der Frage nach dem Sinn. Eine Auswahl aus dem
Gesamtwerk. Vorwort von Konrad Lorenz. Serie Piper 289, Munchen, 1979-2006 (19.
Auflage). ISBN 3-492-20289-6. Sonderausgabe Piper 2005: ISBN-13:
978-3-492-04818-7; ISBN-10: 3-492-04818-8.

Frankl, Viktor E. Das Leiden am sinnlosen Leben. Psychotherapie fur heute.
Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1977-2006 (28. Auflage). ISBN 3-451-04859-0.

Frankl, Viktor E. Der Wille zum Sinn. Ausgewahlte Vortrage uber Logotherapie.
Hans Huber, Bern-Stuttgart-Wien, 1972-1997; ISBN 3-456-81165-9. 5. Auflage 2005
(broschiert): ISBN 3-456-84173-6. Lizenzausgabe: Serie Piper, Munchen 1994; ISBN

Frankl, Viktor E. Psychotherapie fur den Alltag. Rundfunkvortrage uber
Seelenheilkunde. (Psychotherapie fur jedermann). Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau,
1971-2000 (7. Auflage). ISBN 3-451-04896-5.

Frankl, Viktor E., Im Anfang war der Sinn. Von der Psychoanalyse zur
Logotherapie. Ein Gesprach. Munchen, Zurich 19974, ISBN 3-492-20520-8

Malik, F., Fuhren, Leisten, Leben. Wirksames Management fur eine neue Zeit,
Stuttgart/ Munchen, 200110.

Malik F., Motivation durch Sinn', in: M.o.M. Malik on Management, Nr. 2/ 97.

Pircher-Friedrich Anna Maria, Mit Sinn zum nachhaltigen Erfolg. Anleitung zur
werte- und wertorientierten Fuhrung, Berlin, 2005.

Smith A., Theorie der ethischen Gefuhle, nach d.Aufl. letzter Hand ubers. u.
mit Einl., Anm. u. Reg. hrsg. v. Walter Eckstein, Hamburg 1985.

Smith A., Der Wohlstand der Nationen. Eine Untersuchung seiner Natur und seiner
Ursachen. Neu aus dem Englischen ubertragen nach der 5. Aufl. (letzter Hand) und
mit einer Wurdigung von H.C. Recktenwald, Munchen, 1974.


1. Bruckner P., Verdammt zum Gluck. Der Fluch der Moderne, Berlin, 2001.

2. Frankl Viktor F., Der Mensch vor der Frage nach dem Sinn, Munchen, 200214.

3. Frankl Viktor E., Man's Search for Meaning, New York, 1985.

4. Bruckner P., Verdammt zum Gluck. Der Fluch der Moderne, Berlin, 2001.

5. Malik Fredmund, 'Gewinn -- bestens bekannt und doch unverstanden', in:
M.o.M. Malik on Management, Nr. 7/ 2001.

6. George W. Merck, Speech at the Medical College of Virginia at Richmond,
December 1, 1950, courtesy Merck & Company historical archives, quoted after
Collins, James C. und Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last. Successful Habits of
Visionary Companies, New York, 2002 (1994).

7. David Packard, speech given to HP's training group on 8 March 1960, courtesy
of Hewlett-Packard Company archives, quoted after Collins, James C. und Jerry I.
Porras, Built to Last, (1994) 2002.

8. Quoted after Collins/ Porras, Built to Last, (1994) 2002.

9. Collins/ Porras, Built to Last (1994) 2002.

10. Bockmann Walter, Vom Sinn zum Gewinn. Eine Denkschule fur Manager,
Wiesbaden, 1990.

11. Lukas, E., Lehrbuch der Logotherapie, Munchen/ Wien, 1998, S. 39.

12. Bockmann, W., Sinnorientierte Fuhrung als Kunst der Motivation, Landsberg/
Lech, 1987.

13. Collins J., Good to Great. Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Other's
Don't. New York, 2001.

14. Malik, F., Fuhren, Leisten, Leben. Wirksames Management fur eine neue Zeit,
Stuttgart/ Munchen, 200110.

15. Collins/ Porras, Built to Last (1994) 2002.

(c) Dr Heinrich Anker 2007




 From Aristotle to Sarbanes-Oxley: Living the New Corporate Virtue

At a 2003 management symposium that featured one of Peter F. Drucker's last
lectures, the famous management professor responded to a student's question on
ethics by grumbling, 'There are no ethics in business.' Then Drucker abruptly
ended his talk. What did he mean? Why did he say this two years before his
death? Was the corporation dying? Had it lost its virtue from the Enron era?
Could Sarbanes-Oxley help bring accountability and virtue back to the boardroom?

This article examines the question, 'Does good behavior pay off?' Aristotle
teaches us that being good yields happiness and excellence in work and life.
Sarbanes-Oxley asserts that being good strengthens accountability among
executives, stakeholders, and investors. The future of the corporation rests on
its ability to perform successfully for all of its constituencies: customers,
employees, and investors. In addressing this critical issue, this article
examines the concepts of codes, cooperation, and culture -- each a key element
in fully understanding how best to manage the virtuous corporation of tomorrow.


Codes -- Cooperation -- Culture

 On Codes: Sarbanes-Oxley and the ethic of compensation

From the time of Aristotle 2300 hundred years ago to the present, we have been
taught codes as ethics -- tools for self-regulation. For example, the doctrine
of the mean, which helps us stay within the 'rules' of the virtues such as
justice, courage, and trustworthiness, is the ancient comparison to the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), codified in 15 USC Sec. 7201, Title 15 'Commerce and
Trade', Chapter 98 -- Public Company Accounting Reform and Corporate
Responsibility. SOX, with all of its implicit costs, is the legislative 'code'
for the new corporation -- influencing management teams to prioritize
accountability for sustainability, credibility, and integrity among the many
stakeholders of the corporation.

One of the targets of Sarbanes-Oxley is the ethics of excessive or ambiguous
executive compensation packages. For example, In the case of SOX, bad corporate
behavior can mean forfeiture of executive compensation including jail time as
stated in Title Three of the Act.

 Pay and Performance

In essence, pay is tied to performance. In sales, if you don't sell, you are
fired. In operations, if you operate inefficiently, you are no longer needed.
In finance, if you run the company into the ground, you are generally fired --
at least at the middle management level. Do well and you keep your job, or
perhaps your responsibility may grow in the company and you will make more
money. CEOs and their executive colleagues often earn high salaries plus
bonuses and stock option packages that pay significantly higher than a more
traditional managerial job. Do boards of directors have codes for hiring? Not
really. They base compensation packages on a successful executive track record,
the prestige of the candidate, the potential big ideas that the candidate may
possess, and the network of resources and assets that a candidate may bring to
the table.

A wide range of literature exists on the subject of executive compensation. For
example, most recently Bebchuck and Fried argue that the traditional shareholder
maximization model is still supreme and that CEOs are hired to drive the company
with this credo in mind.[1] This concept is not new. Baker, Jensen, and Murphy
contend that 'many organizations do not do a good job of tying pay to
performance',[2] which is exemplified in the many instances that when corporate
performance declines, compensation for the executive often holds or increases.

For example,

   - As of fall, 2006, shares of supermarket chain Albertson's
     have fallen 39 percent over the past four years. Despite
     this dismal record, Albertson's CEO and Chairman Larry
     Johnston was paid a total of $76.2 million in that time.
   - Under CEO Peter Dolan's watch at Bristol-Myers Squibb,
     shareholders have seen the stock decline by 48 percent over
     the past four years. In that time, Dolan took home $41
   - Sun Microsystems paid its CEO, chairman and founder Scott
     McNealy $13.1 million a year over the past four years, even
     as Sun's shareholders lost 76 percent of their money.[3]

It is indisputable that the above statistics make no economic sense, no
practical sense, and clearly no moral sense. What does make sense, however, is
that good behavior is being bolstered by codes such as Sarbanes-Oxley operating
in such an apparent sphere of influence that the current theory or paradox of
executive compensation and its disparate ties to performance are being laid to
rest. For example, SOX has impacted the New York Stock Exchange's new listings
standards by requiring newly listed companies to create a compensation
committee comprised solely of independent directors, whose minimal duties
include setting the CEO's compensation. This committee must also adopt written
[codes] specifying their own roles, duties, and powers. Finally, the committee
is also charged with hiring compensation consultants, a task usually left to
management, but now entirely separate, and including canceling the practice of
CEOs sitting on interlocking boards.[4]

This section has focused on codes and their importance. Next we address the
question of authenticity of the codes. How authentic are codes of conduct? Does
the CEO follow the codes? Sarbanes-Oxley's codes require transparency,
accountability, forfeiture of bonuses, creation of and compliance with relevant
codes of ethics. The New York Stock Exchange has also produced a recent code
containing compensation requirements for the NYSE. New evidence through SOX
shows that compensation now provides more objective oversight than formerly was
the case. Thus perhaps we can infer that investor confidence has a higher
probability of increasing. Now we move closer to the answer of 'Does good
behavior pay off?'

 On Cooperation: the ethic of community

Why cooperate? Psychology, sociology, political science, economics, and
anthropology teach us that human beings are social animals. We do well in
groups. We converse, we network, we share labor, we grow families, we build
organizations. Corporations also do well in groups. However, in the old
corporation, the groups were different, much more utilitarian in scope and
providing factors of labor often in an industrial setting in which tasks and
functions 'ran the mill.' In 1954, Peter Drucker predicted that the knowledge
worker would replace the old model and that thinkers and entrepreneurs would
push the industries of tomorrow forward.[5] Fifty-three years later, Drucker's
prediction holds: knowledge and entrepreneurship are the primary impetus for
sustaining the growth and competition factors of production.

Thinkers also perform best in groups. If groups are good for human development,
then how are they good for business development? Groups are essentially
communities indirectly and directly influencing the members of the community
with the desired goal that individuals will do the right thing for the greater
good of society. Accomplishing the goal of carrying out 'social goodness'
provides individual opportunity derived principally from the healthy exchange
of goods, services, labor, discussion, ideas and humor. In essence, successful
commerce requires good behavior to reach the payoff of the creation of a good
community. Ethics in business (or commerce) is achieved by 'creating the right
kind of community'[6] rooted in shared ideals of what is right and wrong. Laws
and codes help individuals know their limits and encourage people to cooperate
with each other to sustain a balanced coexistence. Adam Smith's invisible hand
reminds us that we can't coexist without the baker's bread and that
consequently, the baker can't make bread without our exchange. Hence,
cooperation has a higher degree of payoff than avoidance.

Other studies bring evidence to the table supporting not only cooperation, but
also the importance of commerce with the larger objective of attaining the good
society. For example, among the key findings of a cross-cultural study of 15
small scale societies, Henrich, et al. find that larger cooperation levels
among strangers and familiar groups, coupled with an increased degree of market
integration, result in higher social capital in the aggregate society.[7] The
communities in the aforementioned study are less developed in comparison to the
more contemporary community, or large modern city. It is interesting, however,
that the study's results help ratify the fact that even communities with basic
resources, skills, and capital use commerce and cooperation to gain a more
peaceful, productive, and sustainable society.

Such characteristics of a sustainable society are engendered within the scope
of ethics and social responsibility: essentially, good behavior and the good
life that results from such behavior. If we abide by Hartman's affirmation that
business ethics is about creating the right kind of community, (a life of
virtue, for example) we can more accurately predict that this good life can
only prosper in a good community.[8] Evidence shows that good communities most
often are characterized by a strong rule of law, democratic government
institutions, and a capitalistic (or mixed) economy. Whether in 15 small
developing societies, or in a megalopolis such as Los Angeles, cooperation and
rules and commerce are not only good for business, but they are good for the
wide range of stakeholders reliant on the success of single firms in their
community or on the large conglomerates operating thousands of miles away.

 On Culture: the ethic of corporate purpose

The old corporation had a culture, but that culture often did not shape itself
to become a guiding entity for the sustainability of the firm. Businesses that
have traditionally worked solely toward the profit-based, shareholder-based
paradigm are discovering that they are losing market share, scrambling to
increase sales, and suffering from high employee turnover. In the post-Enron
and SOX eras, the old corporation whose focus was on profits and shareholder
wealth alone is also losing consumer and investor confidence. On the other
hand, businesses that are customer-centric and involve all stakeholders in
company innovations -- ranging from customers themselves, to staff members, to
the CEO -- these are the new corporations that have evolved out of the
traditional hierarchical organization. Such corporations have become the more
empowering companies that value employees more than the board because it is
employees who have the greatest impact on the relationship with the
corporation's most important asset: the customer. Peter Drucker taught us that
the 'purpose of a business is to create a customer'.[9] In line with the other
guiding theories of the good, we can only create customers when we as workers
feel valued ourselves on the job.

This section examines the importance of culture as the key to guiding the
organization toward the new corporate virtue in which excellence is part of the
'corporate way.' Those firms that achieve excellence, love excellence. Aristotle
taught us that our actions and our reasoning must go hand in hand. For example,
just people love justice.

The notion of a corporate culture is nothing new. However, corporations guided
by the concept of elevating the corporate culture as an entity far greater and
more significant than any single individual, including key executives, are the
companies that not only flourish, but also permeate their cultures with the
products and services they design and produce, then effectively pass along to
the customers that they serve.

Ethics plays a central role in creating authentic corporate cultures, and
powerful leadership is the essential ingredient in creating, shaping, and
sustaining effective corporate cultures. For example, Sims writes:

     Ethical action springs from virtue and ethical consciousness;
     virtue and ethical consciousness are learned from work done
     well; and good work is born in a supportive atmosphere.
     Therefore, the leader of any business must establish an
     organizational culture that encourages people to understand
     the core values of the company to focus on creating a
     quality product and providing quality service and to do
     their jobs better. Only in such an environment will
     individuals choose to act rightly and ethically, and only
     then will businesses thrive.[10]

Price reminds us of the realities and difficulties of achieving ethical actions
by separating what is moral and what is ethical. For example, do good people do
bad things, or can you be unethical, but law abiding? Price clarifies that
'leadership is moral by definition, unethical behavior by those in power must
be something other than leadership.'[11] Accordingly, the good leader (or one
who is simply a leader) is ethical and thus imbues a sense of the good in all
things -- customer service, employee development, organizational improvements,
capital investment, and authentic codes.

Unfortunately, Price is not optimistic about the future manager: ' fact,
given what our leaders can be reasonably expected to know about the nature of
their moral fallibility, they are likely to come off much worse than past
leaders in this kind of assessment of responsibility.'[12] Price bases this
claim on the fact that a practical tool may not exist to help train leaders or
corporate owners to recognize the state of moral shortcomings of their managers
and staff with regard to their virtue state. I would challenge Price by arguing
for the case of establishing codes and consequent cooperative cultures. Good
corporate behavior yields excellence in employees, products and services,
customer satisfaction, and investors.

 Why Focus on Culture?

How do we become law-abiding or customer-focused? How do we adjust our moral
paradigm by directing and steering our focus from the shareholder to the more
important and direct constituents -- customers and employees? Ellsworth
provides us with some helpful insight, first pertaining to 'corporate purpose.'
He writes, '...properly defined, corporate purpose should rarely, if ever
change. This permanence of ends provides continuity amidst strategic
change.'[13] Furthermore, he declares, '...purpose can bring an uplifting moral
quality to a company's mission... and when the human spirit is lifted and human
potential expanded -- when this occurs, individuals exhibit intense loyalty and
commitment to the source of this meaning -- the company.'[14] The result of good
behavior is good business. Furthermore, good behavior is what shareholders
expect and deserve.

Why focus on culture? Culture provides meaning and purpose. Culture is really
all that we have, and if the workplace is where the majority of people spend
their time contributing their personal resources and labor to the betterment of
shareholders, it is the moral duty of the CEO not only to behave well, but also
to steer the organization well for the sake of solid stability among customers,
for the improvement of the lives of the firm's employees, and for society at


The New Corporate Virtue

We acknowledge that in many areas, the situation in 2007 among business,
government, and societal relationships has disintegrated over time to the point
where the recent corrupt corporations are essentially perpetrators of corporate

In the 1990s, the U.S. business community experienced a series of events not
because the economy was sluggish, but rather because a few executives created
cultures where corruption was the 'purpose'. Their failure to see beyond
themselves crippled corporations and their stakeholders.

Finally, evidence exists that morally, U.S. society is changing and now has
higher expectations of the corporation. At the very least, ethics, virtues,
good behavior, accountability, compliance, consequences, and the law -- all of
these characteristics have become part of the daily dialogue in the firm and in
the financial and investment industries. People are talking about ethics because
they have to. And so, this is good.

Does good behavior pay off? The simple answer is a resounding 'Yes!' The
payoff, however, is not necessarily because the firm or the entrepreneur will
earn higher profits or that the firm will be a target for future investment
although indeed these characteristics of good business practices tend to pay
high returns. Why are virtues more central to good behavior than sound
financial strategy? Through Aristotle's influence, among that of others,
virtues have been with us for thousands of years. Ellsworth reminds us that an
organization's roots must be anchored in purpose. He suggests that all of the
winds of change can blow, but the corporate roots are strong when corporate
purpose is well grounded. Virtues are universal roots, and consequently, they
serve as roots from which we can build strong, ethical businesses.

What does the new corporation and its virtue look like? Much about the new
corporation is the same as the old. Corporations are staffed by committed
people, guided by a competitive spirit and by the same entrepreneurship that
created the U.S. and European corporate landscapes. However, the new
corporation features ethics, codes, moral leadership, social responsibility,
and customer centricity to help guide it toward the center to reach its virtue
optimum state and to flourish for itself, its people, and society.

To close, I return to Peter Drucker. I heard him say that 'There are no ethics
in business,' What I learned is that he may in fact have seen the corporation
lose its integrity, but I also know from further research, that Drucker's
insight ran deeper than simply dismissing ethics. He believed that ' has
essentially the same moral responsibilities in business as elsewhere.'[15]
Drucker may have wondered at all the fuss about business ethics. However,
Drucker has provided us vital simplicity. He makes all of this 'fuss' easy for
the future manager: -- be good.


1. L. Bebchuck and J. Fried, Pay Without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise
of Executive Compensation. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004)

2. Ibid., 595

3. M. Brush, 'CEOs Cut Pensions, Pad Their Own,' MSN Money, August 2005, 1-66.
Retrieved January 21, 2006 from

4. NYSE, Listed Company Manual 303A.05 (a) (2004)

5. P. F. Drucker, The Practice of Management (New York: Harper & Row, 1954)

6. E. Hartman, Organizational Ethics and the Good Life. (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1996), 8

7. J. Henrich, R. Boyd, S. Bowles, C. Camerer, E. Fehr, and H. Gintis, eds.
(2004). Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic
Evidence from Fifteen Small-scale Societies (Oxford, UK: Oxford University
Press, 2004)

8. E. Hartman, Organizational Ethics and the Good Life. (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1996), 8

9. R. R. Ellsworth, Leading With Purpose: The New Corporate Realities.
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 9

10. R. R. Sims, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility: Why Giants Fall.
(Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 301

11. T. L. Price, Understanding Ethical Failures in Leadership. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2006)

12. Ibid., 200

13. R. R. Ellsworth, Leading With Purpose: The New Corporate Realities.
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 5

14. Ibid., 21

15. E. Hartman, E. (1996). Organizational Ethics and the Good Life. (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996), 94

(c) Sean D. Jasso, Ph.D. 2007




Moral philosophers love an ethical dilemma. Dilemmas show something deep about
ethics. They make us question our moral beliefs and theories, search for an
understanding of what is going on below the surface. Above all, ethical
dilemmas provide an opportunity for philosophers to test their theories against
real-life hard cases.

What is a dilemma? It is not clear at first sight that the term 'ethical
dilemma' picks out a class of situations which all share the same common
characteristics. In ordinary speech, we are inclined to use the term 'dilemma'
for any decision where we are uncertain which of two alternatives we should
choose. But that won't do as a definition. What is problematic to one person
might be perfectly obvious to another person who has stronger moral perceptions
or insight. In that case, the term 'dilemma' would refer to something merely
subjective in the mind of the agent, rather than an objectively existing
situation out there in the world.

This raises a deeper issue about subjective versus objective which I will
return to later. For now, let's just look and see if we can describe in broad
outline the characteristics which give an ethical decision the aspect of a

Consulting etymology, the term 'dilemma' comes from the Greek: 'di' for two and
'lemma' for proof. A dilemma is two proofs, or reasoned arguments, which entail
logically inconsistent courses of action. In the ideal example of a dilemma,
there is an irresistable case for doing A, and also an irresistable case for
doing B. But it is logically impossible to do both A and B. It follows that
either one case can after all be resisted, or both can. To assert that both
cases are (truly) irresistable would imply the existence of a irresistable case
-- combining the cases for A and for B -- for seeking to do what is logically
impossible: an absurdity.

It is fair to say that the vast majority of cases of moral reasoning are not
like this. Often, when we when we face a tough decision, we weigh the relative
strength of the cases for A and B. The case for A would be deemed sufficient
for action, were it not for the fact that there is also a case for B, and vice
versa. Provided that one case is stronger than the other, however, there is no
real dilemma. We may regret that circumstances were such that we could not
avoid having to choose, but all we were looking for were sufficient reasons for
action and we have found them. It only remains to do what is necessary: to act.

This glib summary hides the fact that decisions like this can cause deep
anxiety and anguish; for example, a manager facing the decision of which of two
loyal employees to make redundant. In truth, there may be very little to choose
between the two individuals. Either employee will be devastated by the
decision. However, a decision must be made, so the only remaining question is
how do decide as fairly as possible, without secrecy or subterfuge so that the
grounds of the decision are clearly understood by all parties concerned.

If a dilemma is not just a difficult or painful decision, are there any genuine
dilemmas? I believe that there are. What all ethical dilemmas have in common is
that, to a greater or lesser extent, the relative strength of the two cases
cannot be meaningfully compared. There is no common standard, no common coin
for evaluating the strength of the case for A against the strength of the case
for B. Whereas the 'ideal' dilemma -- according to our original definition --
pits two irresistable arguments against one another, in real-life cases of
ethical dilemma the two arguments simply do not connect. There is no rational
procedure for comparing them. Let us see how this comes about. I will look at
three imaginary, but hopefully realistic cases:

 Case 1

     A freak accident occurs at a chemical factory with a
     previously exemplary safety record, and a man dies. An
     investigation into the causes of the accident recommends
     measures to prevent similar accidents happening in the
     future. However these changes would be prohibitively
     expensive to implement. The CEO faces the choice of
     closing down the plant with the loss of hundreds of jobs,
     or allowing the plant to continue with changes in procedure
     which reduce the risk but do not eliminate it entirely.

 Case 2

     An investigative reporter gets whiff of a story about
     corruption in a blue chip corporation concerning a board
     member who accepted a free holiday from a company
     negotiating a multi-million pound land deal. The Chairman
     has already spoken to the board member concerned, who
     immediately offered his resignation. Luckily, the deal has
     not been finalised and no harm has been done. On the
     telephone the reporter asks the Chairman if there is any
     truth in the rumour. An admission will send share prices
     tumbling. The chairman can admit the truth, or give an
     innocuous explanation designed to throw the reporter
     off the scent -- a 'white lie'.

 Case 3

     A human resources manager at a laboratory equipment
     manufacturer is faced with a difficult decision regarding
     one of the more senior members of the workforce. Only two
     years away from retirement, the man works with great care
     and dedication but his work rate has declined to the point
     where other workers are beginning to complain. Loyalty to
     the company dictates that the manager makes the best
     decision in the company's interests, and let the man go. An
     alternative, more humane course of action would be to move
     him to a section where his lack of productivity will be
     less likely to be noticed.

Case 1 is an example of incommensurable outcomes. We are asked to determine the
value of eliminating a small but significant risk of injury or death versus the
value of continuing to provide employment. A dogmatic response would be to say
that no value, however great, can be put on a man's life. However, if that
principle were to be put literally into practice, daily life would grind to a
halt. Even if only one person a year died in a car accident, all private
transport would be banned. So, while we pay lip service to the belief that a
human life is beyond measure, in practice decisions are made which are
inconsistent with that belief.

Case 2 is an example of a clash between principles and consequences. As a
matter of moral principle, it is always wrong to tell a lie. However, in real
life there comes a point where the price of telling the truth is one that we
are not prepared to pay. The classic example is the one of the axe-carrying
murderer who asks, 'Which way did he go?' Any response other than the literal
truth is a lie. The philosopher Immanuel Kant[1] argued for the dogmatic view
that even in this extreme case, one's moral duty is to tell the truth,
irrespective of the consequences. However, few would embrace that extreme

Case 3 is an example of a dilemma which arises as a result of a conflict of
roles. A manager, just as much as a doctor or judge or teacher or member of the
police force accepts certain duties and obligations as definitive of one's role.
No-one is forced to be any of these things. We freely take up our vocation and
identify ourselves with what we do. But a human being is more than just a role.
The manager is also a responsible citizen, a loyal spouse and caring parent, a
decent human being. These roles carry particular obligations which have the
potential to clash. The dogmatic response, 'Loyalty to one's company overrides
all other obligations in all circumstances,' is simply unacceptable.

In each of these examples, you can ratchet up either branch of the dilemma as
you wish. That is why the fine details have been left deliberately vague. If
you increase either side sufficiently, it becomes clear what action one should
take. But in the middle there is a large penumbra where there are no clear
rules or decision procedures. For each person facing such a decision, there is
a unique cut-off point but no-one can say in advance exactly where this is. We
have to make a choice, and so we act. We can offer reasons for our decision,
but in the face of the impossibility of making a meaningful comparison between
the alternatives any decision is ultimately made 'without reason'.

In this respect, the moral philosopher or business ethicist is in the same boat
as everyone else. The only difference is that when other people give up, the
ethicist doggedly continues deliberating. To the extent to which an ethical
dilemma arises because of confused thinking or insufficient knowledge, the
skills of logic and analysis can render some dilemmas soluble, or at least
easier to grapple with. But in the end, even the ethicist has to make a
judgement call.

I said earlier that I was going to discuss a deeper issue about subjectivity
and objectivity. To say that a decision is made 'without reason', or that for
each person there is a 'different cut-off point' implies that the ground of
that particular decision, made at exactly that point in those circumstances is
subjective. If there were an objective ground, then decisions would be correct
or incorrect, right or wrong in relation to that objective ground. Discarding
the dogmatic response -- which achieves objectivity at the price of being
simply unbelievable -- the existence of an objective ground implies that only
one point on that scale is the right point. You either hit that tiny target
when you make your decision, or much more likely miss. A 'good' decision is one
that does not miss the target by too much.

Moral philosophers impressed by the thought that if ethical decisions are not
merely subjective then there must exist an objective answer in every case, --
whether a human being can ever know that answer or not -- have put forward
various theories in order to explain how such a target for moral judgement
might be defined. Utilitarianism, or the theory that the objectively right
action is the one which leads to the 'greatest happiness for the greatest
number'[2], posits a sum which no human being can ever calculate exactly but
which nevertheless constitutes the ultimate standard for all our moral

An alternative, more subtle response suggested by recent work in the logic of
vagueness, would claim that the 'penumbra' that I have talked about is typical
of vague judgements, which infect every aspect of human knowledge. According to
the Oxford philosopher Timothy Williamson, the only way to save our classic
notions of truth and falsity is to accept that vagueness is merely a 'form of
ignorance'.[3] It follows from Williamson's view that there is a correct answer
to each ethical dilemma, for each precise way of filling out the details, just
as there is a right answer to the question whether a certain minimum number of
grains of sand arranged in a particular way is sufficient to make a heap, even
though we can never know what that answer is.

This is not place to argue these claims. For all practical purposes, such views
seem to me merely myths or pictures, which have no real use in our decision
making. They may help to keep us honest when we face real-life decisions, but
myths they remain. It is one thing to say that we should speak and act as if
there were a real answer to every ethical question 'out there', but quite
another to make that a matter of literal belief. 

I would suggest that there is an alternative way, after all, to accept that a
person's response to an ethical dilemma is 'subjective', in the sense of being
uniquely theirs, without giving up the idea that moral questions have an
objective basis in reality. The objective basis for ethics arises, not from a
precise criterion of ethical evaluation which only God or angels can apply, but
rather by virtue of what it is to be a human subject in relation to other
subjects. On pain of solipsism -- or the belief that other persons are merely
characters in my private dream -- we must accept the validity of ethical
claims. Ethics is something real, as real as the physical world around us. That
is what gives ethical dilemmas their depth; and their tragedy.


1.  Immanuel Kant 'On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives' in
Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics

2. 'Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right
in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce
the reverse of happiness.' J.S. Mill Utilitarianism Ch 11 'What Utilitarianism

3. Timothy Williamson 'Vagueness and ignorance', Aristotelian Society
Supplement 66 (1992). Reprinted in R. Keefe and P. Smith, eds, Vagueness: A
Reader MIT Press 1997

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2007