International Society for Philosophers

Philosophy for Business
electronic journal

ISSN 2043-0736

Home/ Archive

Philosophie & Wirtschaft


Daniel Silvermintz

Tom C. Veblen

Marco Senatore

Peter S Borkowski

Dena Hurst

Sean Jasso


Geoffrey Klempner

[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 52
23rd April 2009


I. 'Philosophy in the Business Arena' by Geoffrey Klempner

II. Review of Adela Cortina 'For an Ethic of Consumption' by Maximiliano 

III. Introducing Dena Hurst, Guest Editor



There has been a longer than normal gap since the last issue of Philosophy for 
Business went out at the end of January. Some readers may be aware that my
wife June Wynter-Klempner passed away in March. June was diagnosed with 
metastatic liver cancer in July 2008. There is a tribute in Issue 142 of 
Philosophy Pathways:

Also in March, my article, 'Philosophy in the Business Arena' appeared in Vol. 
4 No. 1 of Philosophical Practice, Journal of American Philosophical 
Practitioners Association. The article is reproduced in full here, with kind 
permission of the APPA. I would also like to take this opportunity to express 
my gratitude to Editor Lou Marinoff, and to Guest Editor Gerald Rochelle who 
offered valuable advice.

In response to my article, I received an email from Dena Hurst, from the John 
Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government, Florida State University. Dena 
said that she had visited the Pathways web site: 'I was both pleased and 
disappointed to find what you have created -- pleased because I have been 
playing with a business plan for a similar service over the past 4 months and 
disappointed to find it is already being done!'

It was agreed that Dena would act as Guest Editor for the next issue (53) of 
Philosophy for Business. Below is a short statement from Dena outlining her 
interests and approach. Dena has also joined the ranks of the Pathways Mentors,
and has already taken on her first Pathways student.

I have also been asked by a P4B subscriber to conduct a survey of how many 
recipients of P4B are on Linkedin, as he wishes to start a discussion group on 
questions around business ethics and the philosophy of business. If you are on 
Linkedin, please email me at

Geoffrey Klempner




Writing this essay has been difficult and painful. Seeking to obey the Socratic
maxim, 'Know thyself' has inevitably led me to grapple with my own shortcomings 
as a would-be practical philosopher. How did I get here? How did I come to be 
doing this? Led initially by intellectual curiosity, I found myself 
increasingly fascinated by the world of business, which simultaneously attracts
and repels me. I am uncomfortable in the role of 'philosopher of business'. I 
would prefer the label, 'metaphysician', were not the idea of metaphysics so 
widely misunderstood.

I also have a case to make, although it is not one that would be very popular 
in today's climate. I am not a quietist. I believe that change is needed, but I
also reject the simplistic view of the philosopher 'offering ethical advice' 
which many subscribe to. The many don't appreciate the difficulties in the way 
of applying philosophy to the business world. Companies seek the advice of 
consultants because they want answers and solutions. They are driven mainly by 
the needs of the moment, the need to compete and survive. If you tell your 
clients that the ethical dilemmas they face have no answers, you will quickly 
be shown the door.

This essay is therefore written against a background of what I perceive as a 
deep difficulty with the very idea that decisions made by business people -- in
particular, decisions which have ethical consequences -- can be argued out and 
rationalized, as if all one had to do was obey the injunction to 'think clearly'
and everything will become clear. That is one of the main faults of 
philosophers when they try to be helpful and offer practical advice. Not 
everything can be 'understood', not every action can be justified or explained.

For example, a piece of practical wisdom which many business people take for 
granted is that you can't always do the ethical thing, when the cost is too 
high. Even ethics has a price. In a good year, you can afford to budget a bit 
more for ethics, in a bad year less. Before ethics comes survival. Ethics aside,
we really do not understand what drives us at the deepest level. We make 
theories about our motivations and test them -- or at least we think we do -- 
but the result is more often than not a foregone conclusion. We love material 
things for no other reason than that they are lovable.

The only certain truth is that we do business because we can. Like philosophy 
itself, trade and exchange is one of the fundamental manifestations of human 
freedom. Like philosophy, commerce is an activity which human beings invented. 
Today, we live with the consequences -- good or bad -- of that invention. As a 
consequence, we inhabit two irreconcilable worlds. We are assailed by dilemmas 
which we cannot solve because we ourselves created the conditions which gave 
rise to those dilemmas in the first place -- far too long ago in the past to do
anything about it now. We have no alternative but to live with ambivalence and 
uncertainty. But we can do more than just make the best of it. We can 
rediscover the fundamental maxim that drives philosophy; that respect for truth
is more important than the practical need for certainty; that it is better to be
ignorant and know that you are, than it is to think you have the answers when 
you do not.

 Philosophy for business

Five years ago I decided to branch out and discover something about the 
business world. Many of my distance learning students are in business, and I 
was curious to find out what makes them tick. What do business people really 
want? How can someone spend their working life wheeling and dealing? Don't they
ever get bored with doing the same thing, over and over? What's the great 
attraction about wearing a suit? So in November 2003 I launched the Philosophy 
for Business e-journal, under the umbrella of the International Society for 
Philosophers. The list of subscribers is diverse, including students and 
lecturers of both philosophy and business studies, CEOs, board directors and 
managers, public servants and members of the professions.

The week before I started this essay, the Sheffield University list server sent
out issue 47 of Philosophy for Business with articles, 'The Business Virtues',
'Homosexuality and Business' and 'Permission to Steal'. No subject is taboo, so 
long as it treats issues in business from a broadly philosophical perspective. 
Considering that the last time I taught at the University of Sheffield was over
a decade ago, I am fortunate to get this extra support. I don't need the 
university's approval for what I publish.

For the last dozen or so years I have been running my own e-learning business 
in competition with the universities: the Pathways School of Philosophy. On the
Internet search engines, Pathways is neck and neck with the Open University and 
the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. Our courses are good 
value for money, considering that Pathways does not receive any grant funding 
or money from the taxpayer's purse. Google is a great leveller.

In my piece for Practical Philosophy, 'Pathways to Philosophy Seven Years On'
(Geoffrey Klempner 2004a) I go so far as to describe myself as a businessman. 
But the truth is I am not, and never will be. I realize that now, having had 
the chance to go out into the world and engage with the genuine article. I have
met business people who are dedicated and talented. They could have excelled in 
any number of fields, but they chose business. I've met many more who were good
enough -- the indispensable small part players who know their place in the 
scheme of things. Either way, I don't measure up. So I am writing as an 
anthropologist of the business world, rather than as a native interpreter; what
I say has to be treated with the same scepticism and caution that one treats any
foray into anthropology, especially when it is done by a philosopher.

My father Paul Klempner, a mining engineer who wrote a column on gold shares 
for the Financial Times, acquired a small company manufacturing spares for 
earth moving equipment in his middle years which became our main source of 
income. In his youth in Austria he had dreamed of training as an architect, but
Adolf Hitler put paid to that plan. In 1936 he emigrated to South Africa where 
he completed his apprenticeship in the gold mines, then set up his consultancy 
in Johannesburg. Finally he left South Africa in 1949 when the National Party 
won the general election.

Though I perceive my father as having been a somewhat reluctant businessman, as
a result of his efforts our family lived comfortably. We rode around in a red 
Jaguar and enjoyed holidays in San Tropez. I learned my first lessons in 
business from my dad; the most important lesson of all is that work is hard. 
This said to his adolescent son who entertained absurd notions about making a 
living as a creative photographer taking photos of clouds and trees; then, 
later, equally unrealistic ideas about being a philosopher pondering the 
meaning of life.

I also learned from my dad the value of being meticulous and keeping a good 
filing system -- advice which has stood me in very good stead. Academics can be
notoriously messy and disorganized. It's a waste of effort if you're always 
losing stuff. You need to conserve your energy for the important things.

Wittgenstein used to tell his students that 'philosophy is hard'. It takes an 
effort to go deep, just as it takes an effort to swim under water. I imagine 
that most of those reading this article would agree. But then again, 
philosophers would, wouldn't they? What do they know about the real world? 
Philosophy isn't work, something you do in order to live and make a decent life
for yourself and your family. 'Wittgenstein gave all his wealth away. He never 
had to pay private school fees,' my father would have said.

 The inverted world

I want to talk about practical matters. But I also need to say something about 
the crazy philosophy of money; because we are so brainwashed, we have lost the 
capacity to see its craziness. In its various incarnations, the market place 
seems to me an elaborate fairy tale, facades behind facades, the opposite of 
reality. Yet that is the world that one meets up with every day. It is in your 
face, there's no escape. For all practical purposes, a dream from which you 
never wake up is no different from reality. Or is it?

Money not only talks, it philosophizes. Money makes ugliness beautiful and the 
giftless talented. Marx said that, in his essay on Money in 1844 Manuscripts
(Marx, 1964). It doesn't matter how stupid you are; with enough money, you can 
have the IQ of a genius. Money is a genius. Money is the genie let out of the 
bottle. Money is the first and last explanation, the ultimate justification for
every action. Nothing is as rational as money. Nothing is rational except money.
In line after searing line, the young Marx pours out his anger and scorn on the 
institution of money and all that it stands for. In the world of money, every 
value is reversed. Not since Diogenes philosophized from a barrel has 
materialism been subjected to such withering critique.

To the more cynical observer, Marx's essay reeks of envy and ressentiment. Yet,
allowing for the hyperbole, I believe he saw something real and terrifying: a 
vision of what the world is, or could yet become. Grant the institution of 
money and you grant everything. You grant all this. The world of money is a 
world turned upside down. But if everything is 'down' then there is no 
difference between down and up. To us today, a world without money is simply --

Economic thinking is one of the primary manifestations of the philosophy of 
money; even charities can't escape it. No director of a national charity would 
dare stand up and defend wasting hard won donations on projects that are not 
fully worth the money spent on them. There's no room for hurt feelings. 
Professional philosophers are so-called because they practice their vocation --
for money.

Despite my own personal reservations about entering into the fray, I would like
this article to serve as a guide for the would-be philosophical practitioner who
is looking to find gainful employment in the business arena. There are rich 
pickings to be had, for the philosopher who has the right attitude and 
temperament. (I am not being ironic or tongue in cheek when I say this.) If you
are one of the lucky few with the right combination of talents, you can indeed 
have your soul and sell it.

 Importance of praxis

I am not writing this out of any mere desire to be useful -- as if philosophers
need to apply their intellects once in a while to practical matters in order to 
justify their existence. Most business readers will not 'get' this, but these 
words are not for them. I am assuming a reader somewhat like myself, curious to
know, to understand -- as I was, when I started out on this strange trek. Nor 
indeed do I feel any particularly strong urge to actively go out and help 
people. My experiences have confirmed what I always suspected: that I would not
make a very good philosophical counsellor. As I remark in my 2004 article, I 
engage my students in vigorous philosophical dialogue; I am not there to listen
to their personal problems.

What I have come to believe in my bones, and despite my diffidence, is that 
philosophical understanding does not occur in a vacuum. It has a point, a 
purpose. Philosophical inquiry whose primary focus is not in its very core and 
essence practical is not merely an idle game or waste of time: it fails by its 
own rigorous criterion of truth. In other words, truth is praxis, or it is 

You may think you've heard this before. Marx said something similar in his 11th
Thesis on Feuerbach (Marx 1969). And before Marx, Epicurus. Unlike both these 
worthy philosophers, however, my primary focus is not altruistic. I believe 
that the lives of business people could be better than they are in lots of ways,
but that's something they will have to discover for themselves -- or not, as 
the case may be. At least most of them are not suffering desperate living 
conditions or going hungry.

Perhaps closer than Marx is the British philosopher John Macmurray, in his 
philosophy of 'the self as agent', expounded in his Gifford Lectures 1952-53
(Macmurray 1957, 1961). According to Macmurray, understanding the grand concepts
of metaphysics -- space, time, causality, substance -- depends on grasping the 
fundamental truth that the standpoint of the self is primarily that of an agent,
and only secondarily that of a subject of experience. What is most 
significant about Macmurray's approach is what he avoids: the Neo-Marxist idea 
that you have to act before you can understand, in order to 'change your state 
of consciousness', or the Hegelian notion of the self as related to society as 
an organ is to the body, which receives poignant expression in Bradley's 'My 
Station and Its Duties' (Bradley, 1927).

My primary motive is to advance my own understanding. I am a seeker rather than
a helper. But I also accept Macmurray's dictum, in the Introduction to The Self 
as Agent: 'All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all 
meaningful action for the sake of friendship' (Macmurray, 1957, p.15).

 Metaphysics of business

     Human beings are world creators. One of the worlds that 
     human beings have created is the world of money, 
     commodities, trade, exchange. To me, it's a world full of 
     beauty and ugliness in equal proportions, messy, flashy, 
     exotic, scary. No-one who has made their home in this world
     would see this the way an outsider -- and being a 
     philosopher makes me by definition an outsider -- can see 
     I regard the business arena -- the world of buyers and 
     sellers, bosses and workers, producers and consumers, the 
     world of money -- as nothing less than an ontological 
     category, a way of Being. It is not accidental to who we 
     are. It defines the way we relate to each other and to the 
     world around us. But it is not the only way of Being. There
     are other ways, and the most fundamental of these is ethics.
     (Klempner 2006)
I suspect that not a few practical philosophers harbour a natural hostility 
towards metaphysics. That is understandable. The metaphysician doesn't aim for 
practical consequences. Metaphysical theories are not evaluated in terms of 
their utility. Despite that, I would strongly endorse Iris Murdoch's view that 
ethics needs to be rooted in metaphysics (Murdoch, 1970, 1992). This, for the 
sake of understanding which is for the sake of action. In Naive Metaphysics
(Klempner 1994) I offer a defence of an objective view of moral judgement. My 
argument for the necessity of a defence would be the same as the one Plato 
gives in Meno: beliefs which lack rational grounding have a treacherous 
tendency to 'run away' (Plato, 97e-98a).

Metaphysics is the science of truth. If truth is praxis then metaphysics is the
science of praxis. But no-one is saying that it is necessary to understand in 
order to do. You don't learn to ride a bicycle by studying the physics and 
mechanics of bicycles. If there is, as I believe, a metaphysics of the business
world it doesn't follow that business people need to be taught metaphysics in 
order to do business, or in order to do it better. Yet, all the same, 
metaphysics is necessary -- for those, like myself, who discover that they
need it.

Philosophers are the experts in unmasking, at revealing the reality behind 
deceptive appearances. Generally speaking, however -- at least, from my 
experience -- people like to keep at least some of their illusions. After all, 
believing that it is worthwhile getting out of bed is itself a kind of illusion.
(A somewhat irreverent aside: I am reminded that Descartes did his most 
productive thinking snuggled up in bed. That would be a difficult way to run an
office.) Clinically depressed people are not wrong in their conviction that they
see the bare truth about things. The world is various shades of grey before we 
human beings actively go out and paint it in the colours of our desires. It is 
cruel, one of the less attractive manifestations of the philosopher's will to 
power, to want to force people's eyelids open, so they see our actual world as 
it really is.

What I have come to realize is that grasping the nature of the business arena
-- something which is very far from being apparent despite the fact that we live
and breathe it -- is fundamental to understanding what we human beings 
essentially are, our very existence. The business arena is the a priori 
possibility of a certain kind of being which stands in stark contrast to our 
ethical being. But more of that later.

 Prospects for a philosophical consultancy

In my travels, I was lucky enough to have my own informant, a business person 
with whom I was originally hoping to set up a philosophical consultancy. We had
many discussions about what it was that business people 'really need', without 
ever coming to a definite conclusion. It is difficult to tell someone that they
need to change while they continue to insist that they are perfectly happy as 
they are. Tell a business person that they are 'in denial' or protecting 
themselves behind a shield of self-deception and they will laugh in your face. 
In the end, it comes down to the power of money and the illusion that you must 
be doing well, if you make a good income from what you do.

The most important lesson I learned concerns confidentiality. In the business 
world, anything resembling personal information about a business person is 
potential dynamite. Knowledge is power, and as a business person any slip that 
you make, any information you intentionally or unintentionally let out, is 
ammunition for your competitors. When information is released -- and you will 
find plenty in the business magazines or business sections of newspapers -- you
can be assured that it is carefully vetted PR. Even so, it is evidence of a kind,
if you know how to read it: testimony to the ideology and often distorted 
self-image of business people.

The worry about confidentiality is a source of very considerable resistance 
that any philosophical practitioner will encounter in taking on business people
as clients. As a rule, the higher you go, the more resistance you will encounter
and the greater effort you will have to make to establish trust. If you follow 
the practice of some philosophical practitioners and liberally season your 
published articles with case histories, you will quickly find yourself out in 
the cold. Discretion is paramount.

Yet business people are prepared to seek help, and at various meetings and 
conferences I talked to a number of individuals who showed a genuine interest 
in the idea of dialogue with a philosopher. As I learned, the business person's
weakest spot is the fear that they will fall off their horse; that they will 
make a bad judgement call and lose their job or their business will go bankrupt.
Hand in hand with success in the business world goes a nagging doubt: in 
order to succeed, you have to dream of failure. You have to remind yourself 
over and over again of all the different ways in which things could still go 
wrong despite all your careful preparations, and yet find the courage to go 
forward and face whatever comes.

As you might expect, many business people project an image of toughness and you
will have to persuade them to put down the mask. When they do, you will find 
there is much to admire. All the intellectual skills that we value in the 
sciences or the arts -- analytical ability, the ability to communicate face to 
face or in writing, resourcefulness and creativity -- are sharpened and honed 
to perfection. This wouldn't need saying, were it not for the considerable 
prejudice within the academic world against the world of business.

In the end, our optimistic plans for a consultancy didn't work out. In 
retrospect, I think I was temperamentally unsuited to getting down in the 
trenches and dodging the missiles and bullets. Yet I am grateful for the chance
to get an insider's view of the business world and the opportunity to try out 
all my well-rehearsed philosophical gambits on the most challenging subjects I 
am ever likely to meet.

 Business people

Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle for any would be philosophical consultant 
is grasping how the world appears from the business perspective. I would say 
that it is harder for a philosopher than for any other professional. I have 
tried to give some indication of the reasons why. It has to do with the issue 
of money and the intensive focus on profit; the world as a market place. Once 
you are in the market place, the money game takes over. You are no longer in 

Yet there are philosophical practitioners today working with business people. 
At a conference in Amsterdam, I got to know one redoubtable woman in her 60s 
who offers intensive coaching to CEOs. This particular lady is highly regarded 
amongst those in the know, but you won't find her on the Internet or in the 
Yellow Pages. At this level -- and indeed to a significant extent in business 
generally -- personal recommendation and reputation are the only things that 
are taken seriously. Web pages and publicity handouts are for the hoi polloi.

How to get inside the mind of a business person? The first thing that needs to 
be said, by the philosopher, or the historian, looking at human conflict over 
the centuries, is that men like war. Business is exciting because it takes on 
the aspect of war. Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall
Street (Stone 1987) tells his wide-eyed protege: 'I don't throw darts at a board.
I bet on sure things. Read Sun Tzu, The Art of War. Every battle is won 
before it is ever fought.' Whether you are selling, negotiating or directing 
you are engaged in a battle of wits, you are looking for an edge. That is the 
essence of contest.

Calling contest in the business arena 'war' also highlights the fact that 
no-one has agreed what the rules are: for example, what counts as hitting below
the belt. Trying to make others respect your rules is just one more aspect of 
the contest, just another stratagem. The worst thing for a philosophical 
practitioner to be -- the thing that no-one wants, even if they say they do -- 
is to be the one who comes in from the outside and tries to be a rule maker (a 
warning to would-be 'business ethicists').

But things are changing. As the big corporations increasingly realize the value
of co-operation -- even while they compete to sell their goods side by side in 
the market place -- the proponents of the traditional warlike virtues are 
beginning to look more and more out of touch with reality. Tactics and strategy
of today's global marketplace dictate a more subtle approach, one where the 
traditionally feminine virtues of empathy and conciliation come into their own.

All business people are motivated by the desire to compete and excel; but when 
all is said and done the final arbiter of success or failure is money. Greed is
the fundamental guiding principle. You want to maximize profit. This isn't about
survival, or having as much as you can use, or even getting what you want. The 
principle of greed is excess and abundance -- much like the principle of life 
itself. We are shocked when Gordon Gekko in Wall Street shouts to his audience 
of excited shareholders, 'Greed is good! Greed works! Greed is right!' because 
we were always taught that greed is a sin. But that is precisely the 
proposition that Gekko is denying.

 Seeking self-understanding

Human beings have an urge to rationalize their actions after the event; and 
no-one more so than business people. And for sound practical reasons. Every 
decision has to be justified and defended in the boardroom or to your superiors.
In any well-run company today, performance of managers, executives and sales 
staff is continually monitored and put under the microscope. The dead wood is 
thrown overboard, the high performers rewarded. The focus on results -- the 
bottom line -- is unremitting.

However, there is a big difference between coming to a philosophical counsellor
as a business person seeking to improve the way they live through rational 
reflection, or as someone merely seeking to improve their performance in the 
business arena. It no more follows that you will live better if you succeed in 
the business arena, than it follows that you will improve the quality of your 
life if you become a champion on the sporting field or a pop star.

The urgent question a philosophical counsellor will ask you is why you want to 
succeed, why indeed, are you prepared to sacrifice so much for the sake of 
success. It is worth reminding ourselves that this is a vice (if one can 
presume to call it that) from which professional philosophers themselves are 
not immune; witness reports of the growing use by academics of all disciplines 
of medications developed for patients with neurological disease or impaired 
brain functions, in order to improve their intellectual sharpness and 
performance in the publishing race or in the seminar room (Academy of Medical 
Sciences, 2008).

We admire the Olympic athlete for their single-minded pursuit of arete, because
we value outstanding performance in any field of human endeavour. Surely, we 
ought, consistently, to adopt the same attitude to the talented business person
who overcomes every obstacle in order to get to the top? But then again, what is
the big deal if in the end it is all about money? What is so admirable about 

In striving to answer these questions, the philosophical practitioner is 
entering into a moral miasma, where nothing is what it seems. What is it that 
the ambitious business executive really wants? What is the primary motivation? 
Is it excellence? Fame? Power? Wealth? Do they know? It might be all of these 
things and more. A heady cocktail indeed.

 The business arena

I hope that the reader is beginning to feel a sense of confusion and 
disorientation similar to my own when I first set out. We admire what business 
people are able to do yet at the same time feel repelled by their narrow world.
We accept that there is something worth striving for -- in striving to be good 
at business -- yet recoil at the blinkered materialism of the market place.

The breakthrough for me came when I formulated the theory of the business arena
(Klempner 2004b). I realized that attempting to adapt ethics to business is 
futile. Ethics -- I mean real ethics, the ethics of I and Thou -- in a sense 
breaks down in the business arena. The ethical obligations of players in the 
business arena are not non-existent but they are limited, in order to allow for
competition and the possibility of winning and losing.

The metaphor I used was that of a boxing ring. If you see that your competitor 
is on the ropes, you don't bend forward and stretch out your hand. That is the 
time to move in for the kill:

     I have chosen boxing because of the pungency of the 
     metaphor of the boxing ring. It is not an accident that 
     sport takes place in an arena. The architecture of the 
     boxing ring or the sporting arena is not merely utilitarian,
     but is symbolic of the frame which we choose to place 
     around this area of human endeavour. Sport would not be 
     sport, were it not for that frame.
     Sport was an invention, like the wheel. It is possible that
     there is a planet somewhere whose inhabitants have never 
     competed in athletics, or a game, or a martial art. It 
     seems to me far less likely that in our future interstellar
     travels we shall ever find a planet where trade or quid pro 
     quo had not been invented. The very first act of deliberate
     trade created the frame within which business activity takes
     It would be possible -- and this was the young Marx's 
     vision of a communist society where everyone lives by the 
     rule of brotherly and sisterly love, just as Christ 
     preached -- to abolish business, trade and money altogether.
     Just because an activity is natural, inevitable does not 
     mean that human cultural creativity and ingenuity cannot 
     find a way to eliminate it. Should we wish to? To me, 
     that's a meaningless question. Because (contrary to what 
     the older Marx of Capital thought and generations of 
     Socialist governments have taken on trust) we have not the 
     slightest clue how that end state would be achieved. We 
     have no conception of the price that would have to be paid 
     in permanently altering human culture and behaviour in 
     order to reach that idyllic end state. (Klempner, 2004b)
Reading these words now, written when I was just starting out on my adventure 
into the business world, I get a strong sense that I was trying too hard. There
is a name for this kind of discourse: apologetics. I was defending a belief, 
held by a large class of people with the same ferocity and determination as any
religion: the religion of money.

What I would do now -- what a philosophical counsellor offering guidance to 
business people can do -- is challenge in every way and at every opportunity 
the ideological belief that the business arena is the world. That was the 
terrifying vision that the young Marx saw. It is not. It is an artificial 
creation intended to serve our purposes which human beings have become 
enthralled by.

That is all well and good. But there is a down side to the arena metaphor. 
Psychologists have a name for the tendency to take something which has good and
bad aspects and artificially separate out the two sides, in order that we can 
fantasize about a good which is unpolluted by anything bad. The term is
'splitting'. The seminal work derives from Melanie Klein and her theory of 'part
objects' -- the 'good breast' and the 'bad breast' -- but it is not necessary 
to embrace Kleinianism or the idea of depth psychology in order to perceive the
point. It is all-too apparent.

You can see it, for example, in the traditional view of business and money 
taken by Christianity, in its peculiar reading of the 4th Commandment handed 
down to the children of Israel, 'Remember the Sabbath to keep it Holy'. The 
Sabbath day is the day of purity; the rest of the week we scrabble down in the 
dirt. You earn your filthy lucre six days of the week, and on the seventh you 
repent. From my experience, there are many business people who have little or 
no religious convictions who still carry the sense of guilt that this splitting
implies. Defiantly asserting that the business arena is the world -- there is no
'seventh day' -- is merely one way to deny the guilt. That is the gospel of the 
Gordon Gekkos of this world. Ultimately, it doesn't succeed.

What I would offer as an alternative is a positive celebration of the business 
arena alongside recognition that we are not merely players in the business 
arena but ethical beings at one and the same time. In order to play the game, 
we mutually agree to the principle, 'To the winner the spoils, and the best of 
luck to you!' The evils of materialism are not the responsibility of money or 
big business or consumerism. That's just another attempt at denying our own 
responsibility, our own guilt. We can be better than we are, if we recognize 
that money is after all just a tool -- like the wheel -- and, as we have always
been taught, there are many things, like friendship, which money cannot buy.

What does this mean in practice? It would be too facile to say that business 
people must become philosophers. And also arrogant. It is the height of 
arrogance for the philosopher to think that a business person will be improved 
by becoming more like they are; why not the other way round? Wouldn't 
philosophers too be improved by the exchange? It is also facile, because many 
business people are philosophers already; that is the source of their sense of 
guilt. They see through themselves all too clearly. Giving your millions away 
when you retire doesn't make up for all the ethically dubious things you had to
do to make your millions in the first place.

If we are players in the business arena and ethical beings at one and the same 
time, then that is a conviction which cannot be adequately expressed in words 
but can only be shown. Pursuit of profit is what the game requires, but we are 
more than just 'players of the game'. In that case, show it. Don't promote a 
corporate culture where loyalty to the company is the number one ethical rule. 
Loyalty is a virtue, to be sure; but it is only one consideration amongst 
others. Take practical steps to foster ethical debate at every level of the 
company, from the boardroom down to the shop floor. Recognize your finely 
crafted 'ethical codes' for what they are: a mere PR fig-leaf.

Despite everything I have said, I would love, just once, to be employed as a 
philosophical consultant-on my terms. I would tell my clients all that I have 
said here. I would refuse to offer advice, do my best to make everyone 
thoroughly upset, and thoroughly enjoy every minute while I feigned my
'dissatisfaction'. That is the Socratic way. Once the debate is started, things 
can only get better. There will be no sacred cows. The sanctity of the 
environment, racial and gender equality, disability provision, third world 
exploitation are all up for grabs. As J.S. Mill would have observed, there's no
point in believing these fine things if you don't have arguments to defend your 
beliefs. Unlike Mill, however, I don't put my faith in rational argument alone 
leading to the best outcome. My faith is in our human capacity to relate to one
another as ethical beings, in every situation and wherever we may find ourselves;
at work and at play.


Academy of Medical Sciences (2008) 'Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs'

Bradley, F.H. (1927) 'My Station and Its Duties' in Ethical Studies, 2nd. edn.,
Essay V (Oxford University Press).

Klempner, G. (1994) Naive Metaphysics: a theory of subjective and objective 
worlds (Aldershot, Ashgate).

______ (2004a) 'Pathways to Philosophy: Seven Years On', Practical Philosophy, 
6, 1.

______ (2004b) 'The Business Arena', Philosophy for Business, 5.

______ (2006) 'Ethics and Advertising' in Gunning, J. and Holm, S. (eds.) 
Ethics, Law and Society Volume 2 pp. 219-224 (Aldershot, Ashgate).

Macmurray, J. (1957) The Self as Agent (London, Faber).

______ (1961) Persons in Relation (London, Faber).

Marx, K. (1964) 'The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society', in D.J. Struick (ed.)
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (New York, International 

Marx, K. (1969) 'Theses on Feuerbach', in Marx/ Engels Selected Works Vol. I, 
pp.13-15 (Moscow, Progress Publishers).

Murdoch, I. (1970) The Sovereignty of Good (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul).

______ (1992) Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London, Chatto and Windus).

Stone, O. (1987) Wall Street (20th Century Fox film).

Plato Meno (any edition).

(c) Philosophical Practice 2009
Journal of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association

Geoffrey Klempner



Cortina, Adela For an Ethic of Consumption
Montevideo, Taurus Press 2003
ISBN 9974-671-75-2. pp. 349

In the wake of a new millennium, not only has consumption transcended the 
limits of utility and economic profitability but it has also been transformed 
into a life style. Serious problems associated with the environment such as 
global warming, pollution or contamination in rivers, need to be discussed 
along the lines of an ethic for consumption.     

This book, authored initially in Spanish by Adela Cortina, introduces the 
debate emphasizing the need to think about an ethic of consumption for modern 
times. Almost all we have been taught follows the paradigm that economic 
production, consumption and transaction are instrumental in developing the 
economy of nations and redistributing wealth. Popular wisdom is rooted in the 
classical prejudice that more consumption entails more jobs, money and less 
poverty; but what is the role played by ethics in this process? Is possible to 
refer to an ethic of consumption? 

In the introductory chapter, Cortina acknowledges that consumption works as a 
form of communication wherein people transmit the own successes to their 
neighbors. In a material and globalized world, ethics should ask why it is that
whereas many people survive with minimal material resources and on the poverty 
line, others live in an outright opulence. In order to answer that question, 
Cortina structures her work in five sections. In the first chapter, she 
examines how justice, freedom and happiness can contribute for an ethic of 
consumption. In the second, the author seeks to discover the psychological 
motivations which intervene in the logic of consuming. In third and fourth 
chapters, she focuses on the imbalances between the so-called developed 
countries, and developing countries where social and basic needs still remain 
unsatisfied. Finally, Cortina proposes a moral reform to reconsider what are 
the limits of dissatisfaction that a person can bear, dialoguing between the 
different theories in ethics and philosophy.

Consumption is part of social life. We all consume -- even animals and plants 
as Aristotle said -- air, food, water and other resources from the planet. 
However, humankind shows the ability to assign value to the things depending on
their habits or customs. Whether a bunch of tomatoes is worth less than one gram
of gold, depends on how people organize their perception following symbolic and 
abstract reasons. Humans are the unique animals capable of considering things 
symbolically and splitting the world into past, present and future.

On the other hand, the 'era of accessibility' opens the possibility of 
experiencing improvement in the quality of life at the same time as deprivation,
conflict and frustration. In this way, ambiguity is present in everything 
humans do and wherever they go. To give an example, the genetic revolution may 
help to cure some diseases, improving life style and lengthening life 
expectancy, but at the same time, it may contribute to altering the nature of 
humanity increasing the risk of greater inequality.

From Cortina's point of view, free will is an essential component in 
understanding consumption in modern times. The principle of freedom is 
associated with the character that a society has. Like humans, societies are 
characterized by certain features based on many aspects such as language, 
history, heritage and tradition. All these combined values shape an 'ethos' 
which determines which goods are consumable and which are not, which are 
valuable and which are not. Personal choices are not only are influenced in the
market by 'social personality' but also explain consumers' behavior and their 
passion for trade marks.

For better or worse, all consumers have rights and duties that they should 
always observe. In recent years, the responsibility of consumers has been 
studied under the paradigm of sustainability while at the same time 
disregarding all the previous literature in regard to ethics and professional 
codes. As a result of this, abundant specialized studies have emphasized the 
role of material profitability as a vehicle towards development and 
sustainability leaving behind the deeper philosophical questions. In 
recognition to this, Cortina proposes to invert the order and reconstruct the 
basis for an ethic of consumption.

Traditionally, the 'leisured classes' had enough time to spend in science, 
priesthood, and other aristocratic duties. They found in the control of time a 
sign of distinction and social acceptance. The birth of industrial society as 
well as urban life displaced leisure as conspicuous consumption gained ground. 
The prominence of economic visibility is related to a hierarchal order wherein 
the 'rich' spend their money on superfluous merchandise, while people who buy 
basic goods are catalogued as 'poor'. This modern idea, as Tom Veblen has 
remarked, is copied or emulated by all classes that comprise the social pyramid;
in other words this is the key factor that sustains mass consumption. But 
this is merely a surface manifestation of a much deep-seated issue. 

It is debatable that if the limit of ethics is freedom and responsibility, 
beyond those boundaries modern consumption is characterized by decadence in the
'right of choice'. Today in the industrialized market, quite aside from the 
nature or quality of commercial products, patterns of consumption oblige buyers
to follow socially accepted guidelines. Observing this, Cortina suggests that 
customers should return to the authenticity re-discovering what they really 
want for themselves, rather than their alienated alter egos. For that reason, 
new forms of social identification are strongly needed in a world aimed at 
standardization and the impersonal. 

In England, tea time transcends the boundaries of class membership. Like the 
Saturnalias in the Roman Empire, for a couple of minutes this ritual unites men
from high or low classes in an ethos dignifying the fact that hunger is a shared
value in all them, thus creating a bondage of reciprocity. Although in other 
countries tea is replaced by coffee -- or other beverages -- a similar function
remains. This is because highly-stratified societies (like industrialist 
countries) need a moment and space to adjust certain incongruences. Broadly 
speaking, rituals of this nature have a double aim: on the one hand, it gives 
hope to the poor that a better situation is possible if they imitate the 
wealthier classes; it also reinforces the synergy in a common identity and 

Repeatedly throughout her excellent book, Cortina emphasizes the difference 
between style and form of life. In general, a style of life refers to choices 
in the consumption process; in fact, there are a variety of styles coexisting 
in the heart of a class. In the social world, what today is accepted as a sign 
of honor and status may be rejected at a later date and vice-versa. For that 
reason life style may be seen as a search for exclusivity. By contrast, the 
form of life is characterized by stability and order rooted in culture. 
Heritage and shared values not only are part of an ethos which governs this 
form but also use a common language. In brief, styles of life grant a 
superficial identification whereas forms of life provide societies steady norms
enabling them to avoid fragmentation, making them inclusive.

Life on this planet is characterized by a variety of cultures and language; 
France and England vary in the ways of consuming (style) even if both are equal
in essence (form) as European civilizations. As has been already explained, the 
ethic of consumption should return to the basis of form instead of focusing on 
style. The value of goods and merchandise in the market is just instrumental 
and should be placed at the service of social well-being, individual 
enhancement and self-development. In that way, justice and redistribution of 
wealth are urgently needed in order to reconstruct a fairer society. 

Taking her cue from Sen, Rawls and Streeten, Cortina emphasizes that freedom 
and responsibility in buying goods is based on the belief that consumers are 
not passive actors. They have control of their situation and are able to alter 
the current imbalances and other negative effects caused by an unsustainable 
economy. Happiness is only feasible in the emancipation of consumption. For an 
Ethic of Consumption not only calls for a cross-national understanding beyond 
the economics of capitalism but also emphasizes the importance of psychological
components involved in consumption. A work of this nature is highly recommended 
for all those concerned with ethics and philosophical issues.

(c) Maximiliano Korstanje 2008

Department of Economics
University of Palermo, Argentina




As announced in my Editor's Note, Dena Hurst will be Guest Editor for Issue 53 
of Philosophy for Business. If you have an article or an idea for one, please 
write directly to Dena Hurst at

Dena Hurst writes:

     'For the past fifteen years I have worked with leaders from
     all walks of life -- government, non-governmental 
     organizations, and businesses. During this time my interest 
     in leadership and innovation has become a continual thread 
     in my academic work. What I have learned through study, 
     observation, and experience is that leaders almost 
     uniformly struggle with being able to frame their work in 
     conceptual terms. They often fall into a routine of seeing 
     the proverbial trees that are daily busy-ness and lose 
     sight of the forest that is the whole of their work.
     'I believe we as philosophers can help organizations become
     more efficient and effective, and help individuals become 
     better leaders, in two ways. First, we can share 
     methodologies and techniques that will grow the skills 
     needed for clear and multi-perspective thinking. And second,
     there needs to be a restructuring of the approach to 
     running a business (or a community of people) that 
     emphasizes interconnectedness and interdependency across 
     academic disciplines and between research and practical 
As mentioned above, Dena Hurst is also serving as a Pathways Mentor. You can 
find Dena's personal profile and photo on the Pathways web site at:

I am sure that all the readers of Philosophy for Business will join with me in 
wishing Dena the best of luck in her new assignments. I look forward to a 
stimulating and thought provoking next issue of Philosophy for Business.

Geoffrey Klempner