Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

By R. M. Hare | Go to book overview

18
ONE PHILOSOPHER'S APPROACH TO BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

18.1. I MUST start by explaining my title. I say 'one philosopher's approach' because not all philosophers agree. There are a great many different ethical theories, nearly all of which have something to be said for them. One has to look at them all and see what truths they bring out, and also what mistakes they make, and try to find a theory which preserves the truths and avoids the mistakes; and that is what I have done ( 12.1).

The best way I can illustrate what philosophy is and how it can help is by taking some problems in professional ethics and talking about them in a philosophical way. Most of my examples will come from business ethics, because that is what I have thought most about. But the lessons I shall draw from them will be applicable to other fields of professional ethics too. I said just now that I shall be applying a particular ethical theory which I think is well supported, being a combination of true insights from the utilitarians and Kant. It is also consistent with the Golden Rule, the foundation of Christian morality and other moralities too: that we should do to others as we wish they should to do to us if we were in their situations. In effect this will lead us, as Kant said, to treat their ends as our ends, or, as the utilitarians say, to do the best we can for them, treating them all impartially (see Chapter 14).

18.2. This brings me to my main illustration of what I have been saying. It is sometimes claimed that the market is a substitute for ethics. It would be, in a way, nice for business people if it were so. By operating in the market, and doing their utmost to secure their own advantage (which may mean damaging other people), they would be doing all that a good business person can be expected to do. They would not have to bother about moral considerations, and that would

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"'One Philosopher's Approach to Business and Professional Ethics.'" From Business and Professional Ethics Journal 11 ( 1992).

-192-

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