In reality, managers and many of the people they deal with – staff, clients, peers, suppliers – are burdened by the moral confusion. Confirmed in their nihilistic worldview by movies, TV, and social media, and frequently dysfunctional relationships, many people lack empathy and compassion, and in some cases this can border on the psychopathic. Unsurprisingly, people like this tend to be resentful of authority and are often disengaged in the workplace. Devoid of a knowledge of history, they lack vision, and can be quite fatalistic about the eternal present they inhabit, being driven largely by instant gratification, and by extension, money. In short, all kinds of relationships, not only work-related ones, are bound to abrasive and unreliable when they involve people in this state of mind.
The kind of life they lead can hardly be thought of as human flourishing. Moreover, the right of the individual to choose that is today held up as the only unquestionable good is exposed as utterly fraudulent for the simple reason that people in that state of mind are ill-equipped to make rationally informed choices.
People who blindly reject the classical worldview as old hat, should pause to reflect on the fact that frequently used terms like authenticity, integrity, vision, strategy, progress, and teamwork are all teleological concepts. Moreover, managers find that cutting through the confusion by recourse to enduring truths of natural morality promotes harmony and productivity.
Increasing numbers of secular academics agree with Alasdair MacIntyre’s point that the breakdown of ethical discourse in the West stems from the failure of modern thinkers to put a purely rational ethics in place of the traditional morality that was based on natural law. The current confusion is prompting many to reconsider the Aristotelian virtue ethics of the teleological worldview, seeing human beings as having a natural potential for mental and moral excellence, and recognizing the moral implications of that understanding.
In 2005, a Harvard Business Review article reported “an emerging global consensus” in business ethics. Working from 23 source documents, including codes of conduct from the world’s leading corporations, the team of researchers gleaned 130 precepts that they distilled down to just eight basic principles. They admitted surprise at the remarkable consensus, and the fact that the eight basic principles echoed classical ideas on ethics and law. They also conceded that a world-class code is no guarantee of world-class conduct.
In essence, the eight principles identified i.e. the fiduciary principle, property principle, reliability principle, transparency principle, dignity principle, fairness principle, citizenship principle, and responsiveness principle, boil down to two ancient injunctions regarding human relationships – honesty and justice. And those two injunctions are rich in implications for managers.
Explaining the dynamics of moral choices, C S Lewis likened ethics to a fleet of ships. First, the ships must avoid collisions, which equates to social ethics. Next, they must be shipshape and avoid sinking, which relates to personal virtue. And finally, they need to know where they are meant to be going, which is about their ultimate purpose in life. In our world today, there is plenty of guidance on the first issue, next to nothing on the second, while the third is buried in the moral confusion that spawns the unhappiness of our deeply troubled society.
Unethical behaviour in business does untold damage: people are hurt, productivity and profitability suffer, the law is scorned, moral failure further perverts the lives of the perpetrators, and free market capitalism suffers yet another suicide attack. It is absurd to have our work, something so crucial to human flourishing, actively eroding our humanity.
Is it really too facile to say that the way out of the morass is plain to see, but that most people simply don’t want to accept the reality. The modern West prefers not to address the ultimate questions relating to the origin and nature of human rationality on which its very existence depends. The result is the corruption of reasoning and debate, and a descent into the abyss of irrationality, manifested in the epidemic of psychological deformities, social dysfunction, and political chaos.
Cut it any way you like, but if you want civilization, you have to have objective moral norms based on unassailable absolute principles.