Teaching ethics

While we are on the subject of humanity (Yueyue) in China, it occurs to me that we need to teach ethics not only to the Chinese but to many on Wall Street as well. Unfortunately teaching ethics is not as easy as teaching Mathematics — there is more of a cultural/religious context — but IMO every educational system should place as much emphasis on ethics as on the hard sciences. And ethics should be a compulsory subject in most university degrees — especially business and sciences.

It is a long time since I studied ethics but have never forgotten the outstanding example set by a handful of British Quakers more than a century ago. Some of their businesses have enjoyed tremendous success and are now household names in the UK — Cadbury, Barclays, Lever — demonstrating that ethics and (long-term) success are not strange bedfellows, but go hand in hand.

Some are simple examples of altruism like the model village William Lever built in 1899 at Port Sunlight to house workers from his soap factory.

Others showed how to behave when confronted with an ethical dilemma. Cadbury had opposed the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. His biscuit factory was in dire straits and about to go under when he received a huge order to supply British troops in South Africa. He now faced a moral dilemma: either go against his principles or go out of business and lay off his workers. He resolved the conflict by accepting the order — enabling him to keep the factory afloat and his workers from losing their jobs — but on the condition that he would only cover his direct costs. He refused to take a single penny of profit on the entire contract.

There are examples of altruism, self-sacrifice and moral courage from many nations and religions. Feeding students a steady diet throughout their education would go a long way towards ensuring that our next generation of leaders, both in politics and business, show more humanity and compassion toward their fellow man.

3 Replies to “Teaching ethics”

  1. Totally agree… these “trading”, for want of a better term, companies seem pretty ruthless in their actions not really careing that people can be hurt by their chasing the amlighty dollar.

  2. In life there are natural consequences that teach morality, but when government says that for example, incompetent businesses can keep profits but will be saved from losses natural consequences are lost along with fairness and natural ethics.

    1. I agree with your sentiment, but the terms “natural justice” and “natural ethics” always make me shake my head. Spend a night camping on your own in a game reserve and you will understand how foreign these concepts are in a natural environment. The primary ethic is to survive at all costs.
      What we refer to as natural justice are actually co-operative tribal norms that evolved over the last 50,000 years — and are still evolving.

Comments are closed.