Commerce students will no doubt face ethical dilemmas when they enter the working world, and with this in mind three academics from UCT – Dr Greg Fried, Dr George Hull and Jimmy Winfield - have launched a book to help them face these challenges.
Published by Fairest Cape Press, Business Ethics & Other Paradoxes: How Philosophy Answers Questions about the Ethics of Business is useful for teaching ethics and critical thinking skills to undergraduate or postgraduate students as well as business professionals.
It is authored by three academics - Jimmy Winfield from the College of Accounting, and George Hull and Greg Fried from the Department of Philosophy. It draws on their years of experience jointly teaching the course Business Ethics to students.
The moral challenges facing business graduates in their vocations have become increasingly apparent in recent years. Business professionals are required to take decisions that affect not only their own welfare, but also that of their colleagues, employees, investors, and society at large. In addition, businesspeople increasingly have to give an account of their behaviour, from an ethical point of view, in the public domain—whether to government and regulators, or to an often highly cynical wider public via the media.
But the magnitude of the task of introducing a constructive but manageable ethics component into a business or accounting degree is often underestimated. Such courses tend to veer towards two extremes. On the one hand, they can be excessively focused on the codified rules and procedures of specific professions, at the expense of providing tools for the reflection required to understand why certain acts are right or wrong, and at the risk of failing to equip students and trainees for situations not covered by the various codes. On the other hand, they can be excessively preoccupied with highly abstract ethical theories, and the abstruse arguments and often bizarre examples and counterexamples academic ethicists make use of in their battles with one another in academic journals.
Business Ethics & Other Paradoxes is a book which recognises the fundamental difference between training someone in ethical thinking and training them to follow accounting procedures. But it also acknowledges that an acquaintance with abstract ethical theorising is not enough to prepare businesspeople to handle ethical dilemmas. It does not seek to conceal the fundamentally contested nature of moral ideas behind simplistic decision-procedures. Rather, it is guided by the fundamental belief that the best way for anybody to learn to behave ethically is for them to acquire the ability to think deeply and critically about whatever ethical questions confront them. In a series of lucid and accessible chapters, illustrated by real-life business examples, Business Ethics & Other Paradoxes seeks to equip its readers with the key ethical concepts and forms of argument they will need to think critically about any ethical problem.
Prof Don Ross (Dean of Commerce and Professor of Economics at the University of Cape Town, Program Director for Methodology at the Center for Economic Analysis of Risk, Georgia State University) writes:
“This book stands out from the competition by being grounded in real issues that contemporary businesspeople—and their regulators, and customers—actually worry about and wonder how to think clearly about. So it's not just for students signed into courses; executives, junior and senior will also benefit from reading it.”
Jonathan Wolff (Dean of Arts & Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at University College London) writes:
“I was not at all looking forward to opening a book called 'Business Ethics' although the sub-title '& other paradoxes' gives an intriguing clue about its approach and style. As it turns out, it is quite unlike many texts on business ethics, which are written by rather world-weary business school academics, used to focusing on practical dilemmas of business. It is written by philosophers who can think, who can write in a fresh, clear and amusing style, and have the skill to show how high level, abstract, philosophical thought helps illuminate the moral ground on which business takes place. Business cannot isolate itself from wider moral and political questions: for example modern business assumes that property rights have a moral foundation, and left to itself it is likely to widen inequalities. This book helps show that business ethics is not only about fair dealing between business people. It does not neglect the micro-issues of business ethics that other texts discuss, but rather situates them in the context of centuries of sophisticated philosophical discussion. It is an ideal textbook for those who see courses on business ethics as having a dual purpose: not only to educate students about how to conduct themselves in business, but also to introduce them to philosophical thought and reasoning.”
Tessa Minter (CA(SA) and Deputy Dean (Academic) of Commerce at the University of Cape Town) writes:
“An amazing text that is unusual in the way that it combines the demanding intellectual rigour of the discipline with the accessibility of the content through considered use of context and language suitable for a diverse audience in terms of academic level and background. … The discussion questions are so pedagogically sound and scaffolded that one cannot avoid learning and enjoying the journey. I believe that Chapter 5 should be required reading for all University students irrespective of discipline. Definitely a book to be recommended to professional colleagues, friends and students alike. A rare achievement.”