Aesthetics and Ethics: You Can't Have One without the Other
Taylor, Steven S., Elmes, Michael B., Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry
Special Issue on Aesthetics and Ethics
As the old song Love and Marriage tells us: you can't have one without the other. Such is the case for aesthetics and ethics and we have too long suffered from the divorce of the two that came with the enlightenment (Wilber, 1998). In this special issue, we sought to mine the rich vein where aesthetics and ethics meet - to look at this relationship that so much of modern organizational scholarship has ignored. Of course, not everyone has ignored it. Brady (1986) broached the subject and concluded that "ethics is fundamentally aesthetic, and the categories of right and wrong ultimately are reduced to the beautiful and ugly (p. 340)". The authors here do not find the relationship to be quite as simple as that, but there is a persistent theme that aesthetics and ethics are bound with each other and with the instrumentality that drives many of the processes and decision factors in business and management.
We start with Bathurst and Edwards' (this issue) illustration of how aesthetics and ethics work together in Aotearoa/New Zealand's Treaty of Waitangi. Using the metaphor of the carver, they consider the Treaty's role in fostering a rich and complex dance among the instrumental, aesthetic, and ethical dimensions of ethical dilemmas in New Zealand - which are applicable to dilemmas in other parts of the world. The tensions within the dance do not resolve, but rather play together in fruitful ways.
Ladkin (this issue) then suggests that moral perception is much like aesthetic perception and managers can be taught moral perception in the way that artists are taught aesthetic perception. Just as artists learn to stay with the evidence of their senses in order to see the world afresh, managers can learn to stay with their senses in order to cultivate their moral perception and see their own world in moral as well as instrumental ways. Yet as with any art, often it requires intention and practice to cultivate the aesthetic sensibility and skill that managers need before they can perceive the moral dimensions of the issues they face.
Finally, Kimball (this issue) offers a first person account of the complex interplay between aesthetics and ethics in her own efforts to make a work of art that included rats. She starts with the idea of creating an artwork that includes live rats running through tubes and wheels, but is quickly faced with both ethical and instrumental issues. Her stoiy shows us a first hand account of Bathurst and Edwards's complex dance of tensions between aesthetic, ethical, and instrumental concerns as well as how an artist practices Ladkin' s understanding of moral perception. …