PURPOSE OF THIS WEBSITE
The comments and analyses published on this website are directed at a general level
at the abuse of the words "ethics" and "business ethics" for PR purposes.
More specifically, this abuse is demonstrated and illustrated by giving detailed reports on how the German chapter of EBEN has engaged in systematic censure; the sidelining and active discouragement of critical voices among its members and of networking; and the fundamentally uncritical treatment of corporations and established interest groups, including those offering (bogus) ethical advice and training. Indeed, it provides a
case study in unethical governance.
This is all the more scandalous and contemptible given the presumed high moral purpose of an association that boasts the terms "ethics" and "network" in its name. The website contains detailed personal attacks on the individuals primarily responsible for the abuse. However, they represent a corrupt culture that was detectible even at the outset, although the evidence for this is more anecdotal.
Note that the English language version is not identical with the German.
The official name of the association that stands accused is:
DNWE Deutsches Netzwerk Wirtschaftsethik – EBEN Deutschland e.V.
(EBEN = European Business Ethics Network)
Apart from providing a rare contemporary case study of how the good intentions and hard work of some have been undermined by opportunists posing as ethicists, the website seeks to be an exercise in practical – or "applied" – ethics. It should provide a basic understanding of – and approach to – ethical thought generally, spelling out certain matters which should not be controversial. It argues for an appreciation of ethics as essentially the area in which the recourse to rules of various kinds breaks down; or else of ethics as a borderline zone in which each generation discusses anew what belongs to the spheres of regulation and consensus, and what is best left to individual discretion.
Although these are complex issues, they are not infinitely so. They require attentiveness and patience but, given these, it is possible to arrive in a timely fashion at an appreciation of ethics which should not be controversial among mature thinkers. (Where one stands on specific issues is another matter, and certain issues will for ever remain contested, not least because society, especially a good society, is – necessarily – made up of many different kinds of people.)
A comprehensive understanding of ethics must also encompass the concepts of character and judgement, combined with an account of the virtues. Ethics involves necessarily not only one's own behaviour towards others and society at large, but also, on occasion, the construction and expression of moral judgements on others. In many circles it is considered to be in bad taste to pass judgement on other people (presumably since none of us is perfect). Whereas hesitancy and suspension of judgement must often be commended, the author argues a blanket refusal to form and express judgements to be itself a dereliction of moral duty; it is cowardly, and whereas we are all sometimes cowards, and often wisely so, we can also rise to the occasion and risk the censure of those who are ignorant or whose views are less considered than our own.
A key definition of ethics is as the critical reflection on – and the development of – the moral attitudes that we have grown up with or that we find around us in society. In general usage there is an ambiguity in the very word "ethics", reflected in the way "ethical" is used as an evaluative term. This is one of the matters touched on in the essay, available on this website, The Fog of Moral Rhetoric. One might counter a common misapprehension by stating that ethics is not about being nice to people; nor indeed it is about sibling love, unless this be understood as the tough kind.
Given this definition, a core task for those engaged in ethics would be to combat ideologies and fundamentalism, including concealed fundamentalism. It might indeed be argued that fundamentalist thinking is scarcely less prevalent in contemporary western culture than it is among those traditions that are more generally considered to be fundamentalist. In the contemporary world we see this indeed in the rapid and high-minded recourse to rules and principles, or else to "values", as if there was not a problem about when one value, rule or principle should take precedence over another. A word of caution is in place, however, about the other extreme, that of obscurantism, where everything is made more complicated that it need be; where novel languages ("discourses") are invented superfluously like fashion accessories; and where there is an endemic refusal ever to take a stand.
There is – or will be shortly – material elsewhere on the website on the specific issues facing business ethics and related topics such as the nature and future of professions. Whereas the above reflections are intended to be as consensual as is possible without descending into platitudes, this other material is avowedly controversial.
Paul Charles Gregory
Formerly Hamburg and Berlin, since 2017 Haute-Loire, France