Few moral questions have greater bearing on the conduct of our everyday lives than questions about the morality of lying. These questions are also important for ethical theory. An important test of any theory of right and wrong is whether it gives an adequate account of the morality of lying. Conceptual questions about the nature of lying are prior to questions about the moral status of lying. Any theory about the moral status of lying presupposes an account of what lying (...) is. (shrink)
The recent accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and other corporations have helped to fuel a massive loss of confidence in the integrity of American business and have contributed to a very sharp decline in the U.S. stock market. Inasmuch as these events have brought ethical questions about business to the forefront in the media and public consciousness as never before, they are of signal importance for the field of business ethics. I offer some observations and conjectures about the bearing of (...) the recent scandals on the literature on business ethics. I defend the following contentions: 1. Recent events reveal serious weaknesses of the stakeholder theory about the social responsibilities of business which lacks prohibitions against fraud and deception. This is a glaring deficiency of standard versions of the stakeholder theory, but it is easily remedied by adding explicit prohibitions against fraud and deception. In addition, recent events highlight the stakeholder theory's very naive and unrealistic hopes and expectations for business executives as moral arbiters and agents of social improvement. 2. Recent events do not constitute an objection to the shareholder theory about the social responsibilities of business, however, these events make evident the implausibility of strong versions of the invisible hand theory. 3. Schemes of payment and reward often create perverse incentives for individuals to engage in unethical conduct. 4. Both the shareholder theory and the stakeholder theory need to add a constraint that requires executives to respect the professional obligations of employees. (shrink)
This paper addresses the following three claims that Frankfurt makes about the concept of bullshit:1. Bullshit requires the intention to deceive others.2. Bullshit does not constitute lying.3. The essence of bullshit is lack of concern with the truth of what one says.I offer counterexamples to all three claims. By way of defending my counterexamples, I examine Cohen’s distinction between bullshiting and bullshit and argue that my examples are indeed cases of bullshiting that Frankfurt’s analysis is intended to cover. My examples (...) of bullshitters who are very concerned to say only things that are true show that Frankfurt is mistaken in claiming that the “essence” of bullshit is lack of concern with the truth of what one says. (shrink)
My interest in the issues considered here arose out of my great frustration in trying to attack the all-pervasive relativism of my students in introductory ethics courses at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I am grateful to my students for forcing me to take moral relativism and skepticism seriously and for compelling me to argue for my own dogmatically maintained version of moral objectivism. The result is before the reader. The conclusions reached here (which can be described either as (...) a minimal objectivism or as a moderate verson of relativism) are considerably weaker than those that I had expected and would have liked to have defended. I have arrived at these views kicking and screaming and have resisted them to the best of my ability. The arguments of this book are directed at those who deny that moral judgments can ever be correct (in any sense that is opposed to mistaken) and who also deny that we are ever rationally com pelled to accept one moral judgment as opposed to another. I have sought to take their views seriously and to fight them on their own grounds without making use of any assumptions that they would be unwilling to grant. My conclusion is that, while it is possible to refute the kind of extreme irrationalism that one often encounters, it is impossible to defend the kind of objectivist meta-ethical views that most of us want to hold, without begging the question against the non-objectivist. (shrink)
It is common for people to misstate their bargaining positions during business negotiations. This paper will focus on cases of the following sort: I am selling a house and tell a prospective buyer that $90,000 is absolutely the lowest price that I will accept, when I know that I would be willing to accept as little as $80, 000 for the house. This is a lie according to standard definitions of lying-it is a deliberate false statement which is intended to (...) deceive others. I will defend the following two theses:a. Appearances to the contrary, this kind of bluffing typically does not constitute lying. (I will argue that standard dictionary definitions of lying are untenable and defend an alternative definition hinted at, but never clearly formulated by, W. D. Ross. On my definition, deliberate false statements about one's negotiating position would rarely constitute lies in this society.)b. It is usually permissible to misstate one's bargaining position when one has good reason to think that one's negotiating partner is doing the same and it is usually impermissible to misstate one's negotiating bargaining if one does not have good reason to think that the other party is misstating her position. (shrink)
I begin by discussing views about the permissibility of lying by political leaders. Sections II and III address historically important lies and lies about history and the historical record. These two categories overlap - some lies about the historical record were historically important events. In section IV, I discuss the related notion of half-truths and give examples of misleading/deceptive half-truths about history. In the final section of this chapter, I briefly discuss the obligations of historians to give truthful accounts of (...) historical events. (shrink)
The ethics of sales is an important, but neglected, topic in business ethics. I offer criticisms of what others have said about themoral duties of salespeople and formulate what I take to be a more plausible theory. My theory avoids the objections I raise againstothers and yields plausible results when applied to cases. I also defend my theory by appeal to the golden rule and offer a justificationfor the version of the golden rule to which I appeal. I argue that (...) salespeople have prima facie duties to do the following: 1. warncustomers of potential hazards, 2. refrain from lying and deception, 3. fully and honestly answer questions about what they are selling,and 4. refrain from steering customers toward purchases they have reason to think will harm the customers. The paper concludes with a brief appendix that discusses the implications of the ethics of sales for the social responsibilities of business. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the 1986 Amendments to the False Claims Act of 1863, which offers whistle-blowers financial rewards for disclosing fraud committed against the U.S. government. This law provides an opportunity to examine underlying assumptions about the morality of whistle-blowing and to consider the merits of increased reliance on whistle-blowing to protect the public interest. The law seems open to a number of moral objections, most notably that it exerts a morally corrupting influence on whistle-blowers. We answer these objections (...) and argue that the law is not objectionable on these grounds. Since there are no compelling moral objections to the law, it is appropriate and acceptable to judge the law in terms of its economic costs and benefits. We assess the most salient of these and conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. We suggest that a mechanism similar to the Act should be considered for protecting stockholders’ interests in the private sector. We conclude by making several proposals for improving the existing legislation. (shrink)
Standard definitions of lying imply that intending to deceive others is a necessary condition of one's telling a lie. In an earlier paper, which appeared in this journal, Wokutch, Murrmann and I argued that intending to deceive others is not a necessary condition of one's telling a lie and proposed an alternative definition. In a reply which also appeared in this journal, Gary Jones argues that our arguments fail to establish the claim that it is possible to lie without intending (...) to deceive others, and that the objections which we raise for standard definitions apply equally to our own. The present paper argues that one can lie without intending to deceive others. I concede Jones' second criticism and propose a new alternative definition. (shrink)
tentment and its relationship to the notions of happiness and the good life. Many philosophers have argued that the concept of happiness can be defined or analyzed simply in terms of "contentment" or "being satisfied (or pleased) with one' s life."' Others have made the more modest claim that being satisfied with one' s..
This paper presents an analysis of bluffing in labor negotiations from legal, economic, and ethical perspectives. It is argued that many forms of bluffing in labor negotiations are legal and economically advantageous, but that they typically constitute lying. Nevertheless it is argued that it is generally morally acceptable to bluff given a typical labor-management relationship where one's negotiating partner is familiar with and most likely employing bluffing tactics him/herself. We also consider whether it is an indictment of our present negotiating (...) practices and our economic system as a whole that, given the harsh realities of the marketplace, bluffing is usually morally acceptable. (shrink)
This paper has two distinct objectives. (1) I defend an analysis of the concept of a conflict of interest. On my analysis the concept of a conflict of interest is broader than is generally supposed. I argue that a very large class of cases not ordinarily regarded as conflicts of interest should be so regarded. Conflicts of interest are an integral feature of many professional relationships and do not (as is often supposed) require the existence of external financial or personal (...) relationships. (2) I defend and explain the commonsense view that conflicts of interest areprima facie wrong and argue that in ordinary cases it is wrong, all things considered, to allow an avoidable conflict of interest to occur. I attempt to establish these claims on the basis of weak and relatively noncontroversial assumptions. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the 1986 Amendments to the False Claims Act of 1863, which offers whistle-blowers financial rewards for disclosing fraud committed against the U.S. government. This law provides an opportunity to examine underlying assumptions about the morality of whistle-blowing and to consider the merits of increased reliance on whistle-blowing to protect the public interest. The law seems open to a number of moral objections, most notably that it exerts a morally corrupting influence on whistle-blowers. We answer these objections (...) and argue that the law is not objectionable on these grounds. Since there are no compelling moral objections to the law, it is appropriate and acceptable to judge the law in terms of its economic costs and benefits. We assess the most salient of these and conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. We suggest that a mechanism similar to the Act should be considered for protecting stockholders' interests in the private sector. We conclude by making several proposals for improving the existing legislation. (shrink)
In a recent paper that appeared in this journal Fritz Allhoff addresses the morality of bluffing in negotiations1. He focuses on cases in which people misstate their reservation price in negotiations, e.g., suppose that I am selling a house and tell a prospective buyer that $300,000 is absolutely the lowest price that I will accept, when I know that I would be willing to accept as little as $270,000 for the house rather than continue to try to sell it. Allhoff (...) criticizes my (qualified) defense of bluffing in my paper Second Thoughts on Bluffing,2 and offers what he takes to be a more plausible defense of bluffing. Allhoffs criticisms rest on several serious misinterpretations of my views. He ascribes to me several arguments that I dont make. He also attributes to me an unqualified defense of bluffing that I explicitly reject. I briefly document this in Section 1. In Sections 2 and 3 I explain and criticize Allhoffs positive views about bluffing and the morality of bluffing. (shrink)
Ian Maitland defends sweatshop labor on the grounds that “A wage or labor practice is ethically acceptable if it is freely chosen by informed workers” (he calls his view “the Classical Liberal Standard,” CLS). I present several examples of economic exchanges that are mutually beneficial and satisfy the requirements of the CLS, but, nonetheless, are morally wrong. Maitland’s arguments in defense of sweatshops are unsuccessful because they depend on the flawed “CLS.” My paper criticizes Maitland’s arguments in defense of sweatshops, (...) but I do not claim that his conclusions are false—I do not claim to have shown that the labor practices Maitland defends are morally wrong. I argue that some of the disagreements about sweatshops between Maitland and his critics depend on disagreements about the answers controversial questions in ethical theory. In the absence of definitive answers to those questions , there are no decisive arguments for or against Maitland’s view about sweatshops. (shrink)
This paper examines several issues regarding deception in advertising. Some generally accepted definitions are considered and found to be inadequate. An alternative definition is proposed for legal/regulatory purposes and is related to a suggested definition of the term deception as it is used in everyday language. Based upon these definitions, suggestions are offered for detecting and regulating deception in advertising. This paper additionally considers the grounds for the generally held but largely unquestioned assumption that deceptive advertising is unethical. It is (...) argued that deceptive advertising can be shown to be morally objectionable, on the weak assumption that it is prima facie wrong to harm others. Finally, the implications of this analysis with respect to current regulation of deceptive advertising by the FTC are considered. (shrink)
A well-known objection to divine will/divine command moral theories is that they commit us to the view that God's will is arbitrary. I argue that several versions of divine will/divine command moral theories, including two of Robert Adams's versions of the DCT and my own divine preference theory, can be successfully defended against this objection. I argue that, even if God's preferences are somewhat arbitrary, we have reasons to conform our wills to them. It is not a fatal objection to (...) divine will/divine command moral theories if they imply that God's will/God's commands is/are arbitrary, to some extent. (shrink)
In arecent paper, Kenneth Goodpaster formulates three versions of the stakeholder theory of corporate social responsibility. He rejects the first two versions and endorses the third. I argue that the theory that Goodpaster defends under the name “stakeholder theory” is aversion (albeit a somewhat different version) of Milton Friedman’s theory of corporate social responsibility. I also argue that the first two formulations of the stakeholder theory which Goodpaster discusses are at most only slight modifications of other theories. I conclude by (...) formulating a fourth version of the stakeholder theory which I believe does constitute a substantial departure from earlier theories of social responsibility. (shrink)
I analyze a well-known and moving passage from John Steinbeck''s novelThe Grapes of Wrath. This passage provides an excellent illustration of one of the central questions about corporate moral agency: Is corporate moral agency anything over and above the agency of individual human beings? The passage in question is a debate about whether or not the actions of a particular company are anything over and above the actions of individual human beings.
The author has elsewhere defended the view that accepting a bribe involves the violation of an implicit or explicit promise or understanding associated with an office or position that one occupies and that therefore it is prima facie wrong to accept a bribe. Michael Philips has criticized this position in a recent paper. He argues that (a) there are cases in which accepting a bribe violates no promises or agreements, and (b) there are cases in which there is no prima (...) facie duty to refuse an offer of a bribe. The author offers replies to both of these objections. (shrink)
The proper method for dealing with meta-ethical questions in introductory ethics courses requires that the instructor consider and address at least some of the meta-ethical views most commonly held by the instructor's own students. Too often the meta-ethical views that students bring to their courses are simply ignored,.and the relation of these views to the highly abstruse theories and positions discussed in the readings and in class is not made clear. It may be the case that many popular meta-ethical views (...) are confused, unclear, ill-supported, and subversive to the values presupposed by a rational inquiry into morality. But if this is true, then it is all the more important to address these popular views.' For students' uncritical acceptance of them can be a distinct hindrance to getting them to think critically about moral questions. Many popular beliefs about the status of morality deny the possibility of a rational inquiry about moral questions. These preconceptions must be addressed and attended to, otherwise some of our students are unwilling to engage in the kind of critical and rational reflection'on moral questions that we aim to achieve in courses in moral philosophy. We face a strange situation, in that many of our students come into our classes with the firm, if not always clearly formulated, belief that there is no point in trying to do what we are doing. It is almost impossible to get anywhere in our classes unless we can persuade our students to at least suspend this belief. This paper addresses one set or family of preconceptions about the status of moral judgments which, I think, needs to be considered in introductory ethics courses. My special concern will be the views and attitudes of students who think it objectionable or in some sense wrong to make moral judgments, and, therefore, objectionable or wrong to engage in philosophical reflection which has as its aim the rational justification of moral judgments. (shrink)
In this paper, the author presents a lengthy class handout on moral relativism. The author treats in depth and disambiguates several senses of “moral relativism,” distinguishing between "cultural relativism," "situational relativism," "normative relativism," "metaethical relativism," "moral skepticism," and “irrationalism”. On the basis of the close attention given to these terminological differences, the author moves into a discussion of the question, “Is moral relativism true?” The author argues that while some forms of moral relativism are clearly true, others are clearly false, (...) and that the answer to the question cannot be simply “yes” or “no”. Special attention is given to metaethical relativism, which is framed as the most philosophically challenging and interesting version of moral relativism. (shrink)
Discussions of the problem of evil presuppose and appeal to axiological and metaethical assumptions, but seldom pay adequate attention to those assumptions. I argue that certain theories of value are consistent with theistic answers to the argument from evil and that several other well-known theories of value, such as hedonism, are difﬁcult, if not impossible, to reconcile with theism. Although moral realism is the subject of lively debate in contemporary philosophy, almost all standard discussions of the problem of evil presuppose (...) the truth of moral realism. I explain the implications of several nonrealist theories of value for the problem of evil and argue that, if nonrealism is true, then we need to rethink and re-frame the entire discussion about the problem of evil. (shrink)
An important test of any moral theory is whether it can give a satisfactory account of moral prohibitions such as those against promise breaking and lying. Act-utilitarianism (hereafter utilitarianism) implies that any act can be justified if it results in the best consequences. Utilitarianism implies that it is sometimes morally right to break promises and tell lies. Few people find this result to be counterintuitive and very few are persuaded by Kant’s arguments that attempt to show that lying is always (...) wrong, even if it is necessary to save someone’s life. One thing that makes Kant’s view about lying so implausible is that he is committed to the view that the duty not to lie is always more important than any conflicting duties. Even if we agree with utilitarianism that lying and promise breaking are sometimes morally permissible, we may still be inclined to think that utilitarianism is too permissive about lying and promise breaking. Ross gives the definitive statement of this criticism. He holds that there is a strong, but overrridable, moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises that is independent of utilitarian considerations. Almost all utilitarians claim that there is a strong moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises on account of the direct and indirect bad consequences of those actions. However, utilitarians cannot say that there is any moral presumption against lying and promise breaking that is independent of their bad consequences. Many philosophers think that Ross’s theory constitutes a kind of reasonable middle ground in ethics between Kant’s absolutism and utilitarianism. Ross’s theory is arguably the major ethical theory that is closest to most people’s commonsense moral beliefs. It is noteworthy that the two most important defenders of rule-utilitarianism/rule-consequentialism. (shrink)
Ethical issues in sales are an important and neglected topic in business ethics. Roughly 9% of the U.S. work force is involved in sales of one sort or another. But very little has been written about ethical issues in sales.
Richard Henson has argued that hedonistic-average-act-utilitarianism has the extremely counter-intuitive consequence that certain individuals ought to be killed simply because they are unhappy and because their deaths would raise the average level of happiness. It is argued that Henson's criticisms are correct and that they can be extended to other versions of utilitarianism: total (as opposed to average) utilitarianism, non-hedonistic versions of utilitarianism, and those versions of act-utilitarianism that have originated in the recent controversy about population control.
R. M. Hare's Nora/ Thinking is surely one of the most compelling defenses of utilitarianism to appear in many years. Hare defends utilitarianism at some length against the objection that it has consequences that are inconsistent with our common-sense or intuitive moral judgments. Hare also offers a positive argument for utiTitarianism. In this paper I shall only concern myself with the latter argument. In the first part of the paper, I shall set out Hare's argument in some detail. In the (...) second part of the paper, I shall suggest criticisms of Hare's argument. I shall argue that two of the assumptions upon.. (shrink)