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Do very large corporations have a duty to be ethical and to involve themselves

Do very large corporations have a duty to be ethical and to involve themselves in charity? Is the duty of a pharmaceutical company which makes life-saving drugs more than the duty of a company which produces 'unnecessary' items, like a company that produces sparkly party hats, even if both are the same size, make the same profit, etc?

This is an interesting question. Actually, I think you're asking two different questions here: (1) Do corporations have a duty to behave in an ethical manner, and (2) Does ethical behavior necessarily involve charity?

The answer to the first question is certainly that corporations do have a duty to behave ethically. They have duties, for instance, not to include false or misleadings statements in their advertisements, not to use harmful chemicals in their products (whether these products are life-saving drugs or sparkly party hats), not to contaminate the water supply, and so forth. The second question is more difficult. After all, ethical theorists disagree about whether and to what extent individuals have a positive duty to give to charity (or, more generally, to be beneficent). And even if you're convinced that individuals do have such a duty, that hardly settles the question of whether corporations have one as well.

I tend to favor utilitarian or consequentialist moral theories. A utilitarian might argue that the best overall consequences would come about if corporations concentrated all of their energy solely on their business and left the charity to the owners or shareholders who receive the profits of this business. This sort of focus on business would insure that the profits available for donations to charity are as large as possible. On the other hand, if the CEO of a corporation has sufficient reason to believe that the shareholders will not donate a significant share of the profits to charity, then perhaps he or she has an obligation to order donations from the corporation itself. But this raises a host of ethical questions concerning the obligations executives have regarding shareholders.

To what extent should an organisation or company aligned with a religious order

To what extent should an organisation or company aligned with a religious order be subject to general employment law? For example, in a general workplace, if someone became pregnant outside of marriage, there would be no issue in terms of their employment/maternity rights, etc. However, if someone works for a church organisation and the church believes that sex before marriage is wrong, condoning this scenario would be contrary to the belief system in place. I believe that any religion-based discrimination is wrong but I was wondering how one might philosophically justify this sort of dilemma.

Discrimination is wrong if it has no basis in a solid ethical reason for treating people differently, so I don't think you are right in saying that "any religion-based discrimination is wrong". A religion is entitled to take a negative view of a particular sort of behaviour and then to discriminate against the actor, and the distinction you draw between religious groups and others is not that relevant here. I work for a secular and public university in America, but could not insist on my right to lecture in German, for instance, if the reasonable expectation is that I would teach in English, nor to invite students for tutorials at 4 am, when the working hours of the institution are different. Nor do I think I could display in my office pornographic images or fly a swastika flag from my window. Why not? Because as you say "this scenario would be contrary to the belief system in place". Here we need to distinguish between minor and major deviations from the norm. The former is alright while the latter does raise serious difficulties.

Of course, someone who works for a church organization and who goes awry might reasonably expect to be forgiven.

From an ethical standpoint, to how much effort must I go to return an

From an ethical standpoint, to how much effort must I go to return an overpayment from my employer? I received an overpayment of $10,000 in a summer paycheck (the bonus should have been $10,000 paid over two months at $5,000 each; instead it was two months at $10,000 each). I promptly reported the overpayment to payroll, but several months later, they still haven't done anything about it. I was taxed on the overpayment as income. Is it ethically incumbent upon me to follow up until they take the money back, or is there a point at which it's reasonable for me to keep it?

We should all have such problems! You promptly took the appropriate steps to alert them of the error, and I suppose that is that. If I were you I would ensure that they got the message, by asking them to confirm its receipt, and then the ball is very much in their court. It is a bit like going to a party and having someone spectacular fall for you. You may not feel you deserve it, and you may make no attempt at portraying yourself as any better than you really are, but if fortune smiles on you on that occasion, why not enjoy it?

Karl Marx based his claim that all workers are exploited within

Karl Marx based his claim that all workers are exploited within capitalism, upon the assumption that the value of a product is basically determined by the amount of labour put into it. More specifically, the value of a product equals the cost of raw materials, usage of means of production (both factors are more or less constant) and then extra value added to it because of labour (e.g. coffee is worth more than the mere sum of water and coffee beans; the extra value is created by grinding the beans, ...) The point then is that a worker's wages are typically less than the extra value of the product added by labour. Hence the worker is performing some of the labour for free, hence exploitation. Now my question: I can see the reasoning behind this, but I question the assumption that the value of the product is determined by the amount of labour put into it. For example, suppose one worker is digging for gold, while another one is digging for stone. Let's say the labour they do is roughly comparable, yet...

Surely the value of a product is far more than just the value of the labour involved in it, as the example you produce suggests, even for Marx. Workers are exploited if they are not paid what they contribute to increasing the value of the product. The arbitrary difference between the value of gold and stone is a good example of how capitalism affects the basic values of essentially similar products and what makes it arbitrary is perhaps not unrelated to the similar amount of labour involved in both.

Let's say I like, but don't need, a piece of software. If, after shopping around

Let's say I like, but don't need, a piece of software. If, after shopping around, I find the lowest price is way, way beyond what I'm willing to pay for it and so I decide not to buy it. Then, I find an opportunity to download it from the internet for free. If I download it and use the software I realise I'll be breaking the law. But, from a moral perspective, how should I be judged? I haven't really deprived the software developer as I wouldn't consider buying at the current price. Nor has the developer lost any material possessions. Nor have I given money to any criminals. Plus, if I commit to buy the software should it ever become what I consider to be "affordable" they won't lose any future income either. Again, how would you judge this behavior from a moral perspective?

Let’s begin by asking where the copy of the software on the Internet came from. Presumably someone purchased a licensed copy. Typically, commercial software licenses limit further reproduction and distribution. So the original purchaser agreed to the conditions of the license, and consummated that agreement when installing the software. More directly: The purchaser promised not to further distribute it. So you’ve come across this software on the Internet, and you know that its availability is the consequence of someone’s broken promise. You did not make the promise, but you are knowingly benefiting from someone else’s moral failure. Compare the situation from buying a used car from someone who stole it, and you know the car is stolen. You may know as well that the original owner is fully covered by insurance, and will not suffer any financial loss. Is it morally o.k. to buy such a car? Does it matter that you wouldn’t have purchased the car from another source because you aren’t willing to pay the market rate?

1.) Would you label free market/vanilla capitalism (however you choose to answer

1.) Would you label free market/vanilla capitalism (however you choose to answer) as moral or immoral? Now, is it more or less moral in comparison to its alternatives, such as socialism and all its variations? 2.) Is it moral/immoral to infringe upon property rights in the name of the "common good"? Thank you for your time. I am a student with a strong interest in governmental philosophy and appreciate the concise answers your website provides. Sincerely, Alexander C. R.

Okay, here's a concise answer: Immoral, unless certain predictable consequences are mitigated or corrected. Why? Well, it depends precisely what you mean by capitalism. If one takes a pure form of market capitalism, I'd say it's immoral because it makes no evaluative judgments that take into account the distribution of goods and services or costs and benefits, the suffering of various actors, or considerations of flourishing. Says the radical capitalist: whatever outcome the market produces is okay. I disagree. I think that because of (1) the profound importance in human life of the issues and (2) the intimate connection between (a) economic matters like distribution and (b) moral matters like need, fairness, flourishing, justice etc. the operations of a capitalist economy must be regulated, guided, and directed to produce morally desirable outcomes. In particular moral considerations should guide economic activity to produce outcomes that are fair, moderate and equitable, outcomes that promote human flourishing for a maximally large population, and outcomes favorable to the eco-systems of the Earth. (In this, I'm pretty clearly opposed to philosopher Robert Nozick's position. He argues that so long as the process is free that take outcomes are proper. I think he's wrong about freedom and about outcomes.) About socialism, well, again it depends upon how you define the term. There are, really, countless kinds of socialism. From where I sit, I'd say that there are forms of socialism that are better than capitalism and forms of socialism that are worse. My own sense, is that maximally centrally planned socialisms are generally undesirable. What seems to work best is a kind of hybrid of socialism and capitalism. Let's call it the mixed economy. The salient argument in political economy, then, shouldn't be socialism or capitalism. It should be what mix of the two works best, how should they be mixed to achieve the best outcome.

Is it immoral to infringe upon property rights in the name of the common good? No. I think there are many issues where the common good trumps property rights. But that doesn't mean that it always trumps property rights; in some cases I think property rights win. That's because it has proven, I think, undesirable in ordinary circumstances both to eliminate property rights altogether and to make them inviolable or sacrosanct. So, again, I don't think the argument is property rights or not. The argument is precisely when does the common good trump property rights, and when do property rights trump the common good. Drawinig that line is where the fun really begins.

Put simply: does demand justify supply? If I sell an item - for instance, a

Put simply: does demand justify supply? If I sell an item - for instance, a computer-games machine - for a price that is much higher than either the RRP or the shop advertised price, and am able to do so given the scarcity of the item and the large demand for it, can I justify this by simply claiming that the fact that a person is willing to buy for that price justifies my selling it to them? Can this question be resolved so simply?

You are right to worry that this question cannot be simply resolved. In the case of the computer gaming machine, it seems reasonable to let demand determine the price. Even though people may very much want these new technological toys, nothing bad will happen to them if they cannot get them. But suppose we are talking about a scarce drug that has the potential to cure a life-threatening illness, such as bird flu? Or what about the resources (space in a car, or gas, say) to flee a city about to be overrun by an invading army? Those who hold these scarce and potentially life-saving resources are in a position to exploit the vulnerability of those whose life depends on having access to them. Whether it is morally acceptable for demand to determine price depends on whether the thing is needed or merely wanted; and if it is needed, how acute that need is. This means that, as you suspected, there can be no simple answer to your question.

Ethics: I write people's life stories for a living. I've been working with a man

Ethics: I write people's life stories for a living. I've been working with a man for two years, great guy, 78, who wanted to add a joke section to his book. My books are not commercially published, just for families. I was enthusiastic until he started telling the jokes, many of which are racist and one includes the N word in the punchline. I once told him that I was having trouble with some of his jokes, saying, "Let's just say I was raised by two civil rights activists." He said, "You have to be professional about it. This is my story, not yours." That's true. Very true. But typically my name goes on the book under the title, "as told to____" One option is to leave my name off. This is my livelihood, I'm a single parent and he's a big client, so I have to think this over carefully. Very very difficult for me to think of typing those jokes but I don't want to sell out my own values. On the other hand, I'm not going to change him, don't want to change him--I'm the witness of his life, not the judge. The...

Insofar as you function as a witness, as someone to whom a story is told and who recounts it, I see no ethical problem. Reporters and journalists interview rather worse characters than your client, type up the sometimes dreadful things their sources say, and then publish it all. There nothing unethical in giving an accurate portrait of a flawed person or life.

Your case is different in at least two respects. You accept money from the person you are portraying, and you may be expected to (and perhaps usually do) present your characters more favorably than you would do if you sought a balanced and accurate portrait. These two respects may or may not be related. Quite apart from the money, there are reasons to present an old person in favorable light to his or her family, including those who will read the story much later.

Both differences make your situation ethically problematic. By portraying a racist in a favorable light, you may appear to share his attitudes and reinforce them in others. By accepting money for a favorable portrait, you may misrepresent or "sell out" your moral convictions. Leaving your name off the cover does not address these problems. What you do is not made morally more acceptable by the fact that no one knows who you are.

A good way to avoid these problems might be to bring into the story your reaction to his jokes. For example, you could include somewhere in your account of your conversations about his life that little exchange you recounted in your question. This would make quite clear where you stand. And it would also make quite clear your mutual understanding: that he hired you as a professional, to convey his story, not to approve of it.

Imagine I am a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company and I spend 25

Imagine I am a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company and I spend 25 years working on a drug that will cure a disease. I patent my work, but the patent only lasts for 8 years. In that time, the pharmaceutical company sells the drug at a high price but uses most of its profits to fund more research. After 8 years, anyone can replicate my drug. Why should I allow generic brands, in that 8 years, to make my drug? I know many more people would have access to it if I did, but at least when my company is in control of it there are quality controls and secondly, my work is not only funding more research but is something I invested a great portion of my life in. Is it fair to argue for generic drugs in that case?

Your reasoning appeals to a false dichotomy. You assume that either we give monopoly pricing powers to inventors and thereby effectively deny access to recent drugs to poor patients or we allow generic companies to compete and thereby effective deprive inventors of their rewards and of funds for new research ventures. But there are further options.

One would be to allow generic companies to compete immediately (thereby reducing the price of a new medicine to near the marginal cost of production) and then to reward inventors in another way, for example with a reward (out of public funds) proportioned to the impact of their invention on the global disease burden. All patients would benefit for much cheaper access to recent drugs, and taxpayers would pay a little more. Millions of lives would be saved through this innovation -- not merely because poor patients get access to cutting-edge drugs, but also because biotech and pharma companies would gain an incentive to research remedies for the diseases that predominantly affect the poor.

So, while I agree with you that inventors should be rewarded -- for fairness to them and also for encouraging and enabling new research ventures -- and also agree that the quality of pharmaceuticals (whoever produces them) must be strictly maintained, I don't see how any of this needs to come (as it now does) at the expense of poor patients.

Is global capitalism workable?

Is global capitalism workable? That is, if capitalism is a system where most of the economic activity is based on self-interest, are the kinds of restricting factors like social welfare, laws, charity and human instincts enough to stop the polarizing of wealth, destruction of the environment and stuff that we see?

To take a different line, those defending capitalism would argue that despite its inequalities and inefficiencies, it nonetheless produces more overall wealth than any other economic system. There is no reason why that wealth should not subsequently be distributed in fair and sensible ways, provided that such an allocation does not interfere unduly with the production of yet more wealth. In fact, some capitalist societies have been rather good at doing this, and there seems no a priori reason why all could not. After all, it might strike people that what you call unbridled self-interest involves social security, protection of the environment and so on. It is not in most people's interests, after all, for the streets to be unsafe due to poverty or the ice caps to melt and drown us all.