When Company Values Falter

When we talk about cases of clear fraud or criminal misdoing, it seems so easy to say, “What was wrong with these evil people?” But when they’re in the moment, they’re saying to themselves, “I have to do things for these investors” or “I have to do things for my employees to keep things going.” It’s the concept of escalation of commitment; at first you had very small things that would get covered up and justified, but then the amount of deception gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Theranos might be a good example of this. The people who founded that company had good intentions, right? They wanted to develop medical testing and products that would benefit the world. They believed in it. And either for the mission, for the long-term viability of the company, or for the employees, you can see how they end up making mistakes and unethical actions even though they began with good intentions.

Ken Shotts quoted in Fast Company

The First CRISPR baby

Eventually, a CRISPR baby will be born.* The (new gene-editing) technology is too easy. There is no world government to stop its use; many argue no one should do so anyway. At the point that baby emerges, perhaps modified to evade a particular disease or perhaps even to look a particular way, theoretical debates will become real. 

 Jennifer Doudna knows the influence she and her fellow scientists have is diminishing every day. “I would hope this would be used to create cures, to help people,” she says. Even if the technology is not quite there yet, CRISPR could eventually do plenty else besides. Every week a new paper is published finding more genes that influence looks, intelligence, stamina, even sexuality. 

“The dystopic view would be IVF clinics that offer parents a menu of options for kids,” she says. “Nobody has kids by sex anymore. You go to a clinic, pick from a menu, say, ‘I want my kid to be this tall, have this colour of eye, this level of IQ,’ and all those sorts of things. I think that would be terrible.” 

Tom Whipple writing in 1843 magazine 

*Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies  MIT Technology Review 


Are personal and professional ethics related? Ashley Madison may have the answer

A study out of the University of Texas at Austin took a look at the names revealed in the Ashley Madison hack.  Ashley Madison is the online dating service for marital affairs. The researchers wanted to know whether the CEOs and CFOs who used the site "were more likely to do dishonest things.. they looked to see whether the firm was the target of a class action lawsuit or the firm had made financial misstatements," NPR's Shankar Vedantam reports.

What did they find?  It turns out the corporate leaders who used Ashley Madison were more than twice as likely to engage in corporate cheating and misconduct. They also found this group more likely to be risk-takers when it came to innovation and research.

Bottom line: "Our findings suggest that personal and professional ethics are closely related (and) support the classical view that virtues such as honesty and integrity influence a person’s thoughts and actions across diverse contexts.”

You can read the study for yourself here.

Stephen Goforth

Ultimate Reality

Is the universe an impersonal mass of energy functioning according to a set of unbending laws? An illusion? A collection tradition built on our relative perspective of the world? The random result of a primordial cosmic sneeze? The purposeful work of a master Designer? Or something else altogether? Not all of these options can be true, so we have to make choices.

First, how does God communicate his ethical desire? Are God’s demands somehow imprinted in our minds at birth, so that knowledge of right and wrong is something like an intuition? Perhaps God’s will comes to us through nature, and we pick it up through careful observation and processing of the world around us. Maybe God sends the message through Scripture or his church. Or perhaps the means by which God communicates his truth is more like a story that gives us a new identity. Ethical theory involves discussion of how we gain moral knowledge, and where we come out on this decision will determine the source we look to for authority.

A number of ethical theories we will consider might be called “God-optional.” They can accommodate belief in God, but they may be (and often are) outlined without any mention of God.

If a person believes that God does not exist or that God’s existence is irrelevant to ethics, this opens the issue of where right and wrong come from. If we reject God as the ultimate reality, we eliminate one possibility of explaining the origin of right and wrong, and will need to decide among the remaining options. Is human thought the most fundamental reality of the universe? If so, does something become right by our determining it to be right or by collective decision?

Or we may conclude that traditional ways of thinking about ethics are wrong-headed. Perhaps right and wrong are words we use to modify the actions of people. Nothing is actually good or bad in a moral sense. These are simply labels we attach to actions we want to encourage or discourage. In short, we need to recognize that in every ethical system there is a connection between a concept of ultimate reality and the origin of right and wrong.

Getting the right answer depends on asking the right question.

Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics

you can't opt out of life

Imagine that three people see a twenty-dollar bill on the front seat of an unlocked car. Each person walks past and leave the cash there. Why? The first person wanted to take the money but passed up the opportunity for fear of punishment if caught in the act. The second rejected the temptation out of a conviction that God makes certain rules that people are to follow, and one of those rules is that we shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to us. The third refrained from taking the money because of empathy—awareness of how frustrated and angry she herself would be if some of her money were stolen.

The action is the same for each individual—no one took the money. But people do things for reasons and the reasons behind the same action in the case above vary significantly. The bumper-sticker-sized version of the first person’s ethics is “Whatever you do, don’t get caught,” while that of the second person is “Thou shall not steal.” The final persona builds her morality around “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These different reasons grow out of differences in theories about what constitutes right behavior.

Though none of the three people may have been immediately conscious of these theories at work, the theories were there, and they guided each person’s behavior.

Also consider the motives or the reasons behind the action.

Why they did what they did—the theoretical basis of their actions—is significant.

The reality is we must make decisions about the ethical issues confronting us, and we must have a theoretical foundations on which to build and evaluate these decisions.

In other words, the issue is not whether we have a theory, but whether we are conscious of the theory we do have and believe it is the best available guide for our life. We do not choose to be ethicists; we cannot opt out of that. The real question is whether we are going to be good ethicists.

Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics

Bumper Sticker Catch Phrases

We need to be careful about staking the important ethical decisions in our lives on bumper sticker catch phrases. The problem is that the ideas expressed in these bite-sized pronouncements have broader implications.

While the ethical aspect that is explicit in the bumper sticker may look good at first glance, other ideas that follow from it may not be so attractive. Most of us have heard or used the cliché “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and it can sound like worthwhile advice. But what if the standard practices of the “Romans” stand in direct conflict with your moral or religious convictions? The is why we need to get behind the cliché’ itself.

Before we commit ourselves to any bumper sticker, we want to make certain that we can accept all that is implied in the slogan.

Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics

The order of the soul

The function of man is an activity in accordance with a certain arrangement or order in the soul (according to Aristotle). That is why Aristotle can conclude that the human good is an activity of soul in accordance with virtue: for virtue is a certain organization of the soul. How this order is instilled in man’s soul is a central issue of ethics. Of course, the exercise of the virtues will often involve man’s practical reason. But if the practical reasoning did not flow from a certain organization of the soul, it would be empty. In fact It is because a man’s life has a certain order that he is able to reason about it: the logos (or rational principle) in his mind will reflect the logos in his soul.

Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Know