Skip to main content

Faculty Workshop Series - All Past Events

Print PagePrint Page

 

Past Workshops:

Spring 2017

Against Pay Secrecy
March 3, 2017

Speaker: Dr. Jeffrey Moriarty, Bentley University

Abstract: Many firms keep pay secret. They do not make information about what their employees are paid available inside or outside the firm, i.e., to other employees or to the public at large. Indeed, many firms discourage their employees from, or sanction them for, disclosing their pay. Against this, I argue that there are good moral reasons for firms to be open about pay. By “open” I mean that workers should be able to access information about pay. Pay openness prevents injustice, promotes autonomy, and increases efficiency. Minimally, workers should have access to information about what their co-workers are paid. Ideally, pay be should be public information, available to anyone who wants it. To achieve this goal, it is not enough for workers to have a right to disclose their salaries. Firms must be assigned a duty disclose this information.

 

Fall 2016

On the Relative Insignificance of the Corporation's Governmental Provenance
November 4, 2016 

Speaker: Abraham Singer, University of Rochester

Abstract: Corporations cannot exist, scholars rightly note, without being constituted by government. This is an important and provocative insight. However, many scholars have taken an unmotivated further step, and claim that corporations require different norms than other market actors by virtue of this governmental provenance. While corporations do require different norms than market transactions, I argue that their governmental provenance has very little to do with this. Like corporations, markets and contracts also require government for their creation. Therefore, even if corporations were merely nexuses of contracts, it would be no principled argument against governments intervening and structuring them in some particular way, since the things that corporations were made of would themselves have a governmental provenance. Our coercive social institutions are pro tanto justified in re-arranging both corporate and non-corporate market activities in favor of various normative values we may hold. The corporation is special only insofar as it depends on a more proximate form of government action, therefore offering a more direct means for effecting changes in the economy; it’s instrumental, not principled. In a similar vein, however, the various concerns that would outweigh government from intervening into the market too much –namely, a concern for allocative efficiency– must also figure into the normative principles that should structure corporate institutions.

 

When and How Corporations Became Persons under the Criminal Law, and Why it Matters Now
October 28, 2016

Speaker: W. Robert Thomas

Abstract:  The Supreme Court concluded in 1909 that a corporation, like an individual, can be held criminally responsible for its misconduct. Yet even now, corporate-criminal liability has yet to overcome the same skeptical argument it faced then — and, for that matter, for centuries prior. The skeptic’s challenge appears as simple as it is persistent: Lacking a mind distinct and independent from its constitutive stakeholders, a corporation cannot produce the sorts of intentional attitudes needed to satisfy the law’s mens rea component. In other words, a corporation is straightforwardly incapable of satisfying one of criminal law’s most basic requirements. Accordingly, to the skeptic the very idea of corporate-criminal liability is, and always has been, pure nonsense. 

Though it presents as a simple, common-sense challenge to a corporation’s ability to intend — criminally or otherwise — unpacking the skeptic’s critique quickly implicates profound considerations regarding the nature of personhood and proper methods of attribution. Animating the dispute between skeptics and proponents of corporate-criminal liability is a disagreement over how to evaluate personhood, and further how one’s conception of personhood licenses attributions of actions, attitudes, and ultimately responsibility to the entity in question. This brand of disagreement is nothing new: These themes recur throughout Western thought and extend far beyond corporate law, from Plato’s Phaedo to Boethius and Bartolus of Sassoferato, from Thomas Hobbes to John Locke. Given the intellectual lineage behind what is otherwise an ordinary policy disagreement, perhaps it should not be terribly surprising that skepticism about corporate-criminal liability was never put to rest. 

I don’t expect that we can break this conceptual stalemate all at once, if at all, to solve the challenge facing corporate crime. More to the point, we don’t need to. As it turns out, in taking up this very dispute at the turn of the 20th century, courts and legislature sided with the proponents of corporate crime in a way that the skeptic cannot, or at least should not want to, unwind. The proponents of corporate-criminal liability did not just win the policy fight; they did so in a way that rendered the skeptic’s position incompatible with broader theoretical commitments that are now instrumental to the modern corporation.

This Article offers two contributions to the debate over corporate-criminal liability: one conceptual, and one practical. First, the same argument embraced by today’s skeptics was tried but rejected in the late 1800s, when the practice of holding corporations responsible first developed. Courts previously receptive to the skeptic’s reasoning abandoned the view — and more importantly, the relationship between personhood and attribution underwriting it — as increasingly untenable amidst a changing economic environment in which commercial corporations transformed from tiny, narrowly constrained, quasi-state entities to sprawling, sophisticated, dominant participants in the national marketplace. Meanwhile, the gradual embrace of corporate liability, both in tort and crime, is intimately connected to the simultaneous demotion of corporate law as a regulatory tool. The turn towards corporate-criminal liability thus reflects a broader abandonment both of a long-dominant conception of personhood and of an approach to corporate regulation rendered ineffective by the development of what has become the basis for our modern corporate law. In a slogan, corporations today are persons under the criminal law not because they have always been eligible, but rather because they became eligible.

Second, a clear theoretical understanding of how and why courts first held corporations criminally responsible has profound consequences for how and why we continue to hold them responsible today. Most directly, recognizing the conditions under which corporations became persons for the purposes of criminal law removes from contemporary debates one complaint with modern practice, and does so without having to resolve some deep metaphysical truth about the ultimate nature of personhood. Today’s skeptic of corporate capacities presupposes an outdated premise about how capacities should be attributed to a person, the abandonment of which is pivotal to creating and maintaining modern corporate law and today’s commercial corporation. Taking seriously the skeptic’s position, on this discovery, threatens to undermine the conceptual foundation integral to a regulatory framework making commercial corporations what they are today. In addition, taking seriously courts’ actual reasoning in holding corporations criminally responsible unearths both a method and rationale for continuing to do so, which is rooted in a constellation of fairness considerations towards individuals that, although mostly lost to history, nevertheless applies more strongly today than ever before. Commitment to this qualified anti-discrimination norm applies at least as powerfully today as it did a century ago: Far from being a once-excusably incoherent, now-superfluous practice, corporate-criminal liability has as much reason to exist today as it did upon inception.

 

The Problem of Punishment
October 14, 2016

Speaker: John Hasnas, Georgetown University

Abstract: In the philosophical literature, the "problem of punishment" refers to the effort to determine the morally proper purpose of criminal punishment. Is it deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation, or some combination of the three? This is not the problem I intend to address in this essay. This type of search for the proper moral justification for criminal punishment rests on the underlying assumption that criminal punishment is, in fact, morally justified. In this essay, I will explore the more fundamental question. The problem of punishment I intent to address is the problem of demonstrating that criminal punishment in morally justified in the first place.

I will argue one of the essential characteristics of a liberal society is that the state is prohibited from imposing any particular conception of morality on the whole of the citizenry. A liberal state must be a morally neutral state to the extent that this is humanly achievable. On the other hand, a liberal state is authoried to provide security for its citizens - in Lockean terms, to protect citizens againt the inconveniences of the state of nature. Thus, a liberal state may legitimately take the actions necessary to protect against the harmful and rights-violating conduct of their fellow citizens. But tha tpower does not in itself entail that the state may impose punishment on its citizens. The liberal state would be empowered to punish its citizens for rights-violating transgressions only if doing so were necessary or were at least the most effective means of providing such protection. But whethere this is the case or not is an empirical quesiton.

If, as a matter of fact, a non-punitive legal system (or other system of providing order) of law was a more effective means of reducing violence and maintaining a peaceful society than a system of criminal justice, then the liberal state would not be justified in imposing crmiinal punishment upon its citizens. Such punishment would constitute the unnecessary infliction of harm. Thus, the real problem of punishment is showing that criminal punishment is actually necessary to the maintenance of a peaceful society.

I believe that it is not, and that both the history and the present state of the Anglo-American law clearly demonstrates that it is not. Hence, in this paper, I will argue that a liberal state is not justified in administering a system of criminal punishment.

 

May a Government Mandate more Extensive Health Insurance than Citizens Want for Themselves?
September 23, 2016

Speaker: Alex Voorhoeve, London School of Economics

Abstract:  Many governments require citizens to be insured for a minimum set of health care interventions. What, if anything, justifies this limitation on freedom? And if it is justified, how should governments determine the content of the mandatory minimum package? In this paper, I critically analyze the following, well-known liberal egalitarian answers to these questions: (i). Unfairly differential health risks and “adverse selection” in the insurance market together create a problem to which forced insurance is the solution; and (ii.) A government should mandate the package that a representative prudent and adequately informed individual would wish to purchase for themselves if they were placed in fair conditions of choice with relevant information.

I will argue that answer (i) is incomplete because it ignores the social effects of health insurance. These social effects have the character of public goods, whose provision is underprovided when individuals are free to make their insurance decisions independently. I shall also argue that answer (ii) is incorrect because it fails to adequately compensate for differential brute luck. Rather than appealing to what a representative prudent individual would want for themselves, we should design the mandatory package by appealing to a pluralistic egalitarian view, which cares about improving people’s well-being, reducing unfair inequality, and maintaining egalitarian social relations.

 

Just and Efficient Taxation: A Desert-based Approach
September 16, 2016

Speaker: Thomas Mulligan, Georgetown University

Abstract: Few public policy debates generate more severe or more regular outrage than taxation.  But despite this salience, and the clear moral dimension of tax policy, philosophers have rarely weighed in on this central element of political life.  Economists, on the other hand, study tax policy in detail--but they almost always do so within a utility-maximizing normative framework which most moral philosophers, and the public, would reject.  In this paper, I consider rebuilding taxation upon a normative foundation of desert.  I argue that such an approach better accords with people's intuitions about justice; is conceptually compelling; and leads us to several policy prescriptions which are both politically palatable and economically efficient.  If we want to take desert seriously, we must levy taxes on economic rents, negative externalities, and inheritance.

 

Spring 2016

Liberty and the Constitution
April 29, 2016 

Speaker: Michael Moore, The University of Illinois College of Law

Abstract:  The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage decision last term is used as a  springboard into a general discussion of whether there is a general right to liberty in morality and in American constitutional law.  The paper preliminarily discusses two items: first, the place of the right to liberty in the American constitutional tradition; and second,  whether moral and political philosophy has a proper place within constitutional reasoning.  Two moral rights to liberty are described: a “derived” right to be free of state coercion for any action unless that coercion is motivated for the state by proper reasons; and a “basic” right to do certain actions free of state coercion no matter how that coercion is motivated for the state. Both rights are also found to be part of the right to liberty protected in American constitutional law.

 

Crowdfunding for Medicare: Ethical Issues in an Emerging Health Care Funding Practice
April 12, 2016

Speaker: Jeremy Snyder, Simon Fraser University

Abstract:  This papers offers a brief overview of the benefits of crowdfunding websites and contrasts these advantages with the many ethical concerns they raise. It argues that health system policy members should understand medical crowdfunding as a symptom and cause of rather than solution to health system injustices, and work to address the injustices motivating the use of crowdfunding sites for essential medical services. Despite the ethical problems created by these sites, individual users and donors need not refrain from using them to fund essential medical care but do take on a political responsibility to address the inequities encouraged by these sites. The paper concludes with suggestsions for some responses to these concerns and future directions for research.

 

Allowing the Wrong, to Bring about the Good
March 18, 2016

Speaker: David Faraci, Georgetown University

Abstract:  My first goal in this paper is to defend the claim that reasonable moral theories—importantly, even consequentialist ones—can exhibit a striking structural feature I call axiological asymmetry: The evaluative ordering of states of affairs differs from the deontic ordering of actions which (are expected to) bring about those states of affairs. In particular, I look at cases where at least one impermissible action generates greater expected value than at least one permissible action. My second goal is to illuminate some implications of axiological asymmetry for applied ethics. The paper’s title reflects one of these implications: In certain cases, we produce the most good by allowing others to do wrong. The other broad implication is that it can be reasonable even for consequentialists to accept certain views about the ethics of exploitation. Specifically, I argue that the so-called Non-Worseness Claim, which has been taken by many to motivate denial of the wrongness of various intuitively exploitative practices, does so only on the assumption that there can be no axiological asymmetry. 

 

Justice within the Firm: What Wilt Chamberlain Owes his Teammates
March 4, 2016

Speaker: Abe Singer, Georgetown University

Abstract: In this paper I propose an alternative to the normative vision of corporate relationships implied by the dominant law and economics paradigm. After explicating the economic theory of the firm and corporate governance, I argue that its inability to account for power or authority  comes from a theoretically incoherent view of corporate efficiency. I argue that it implicitly rests on an argument similar to Nozick's famous Wilt Chamberlain argument and that this argument is not up to the task that Chicago economists need it to be. In its stead I offer an alternative view of the corporation, grounded in explicitly cooperative norms. This alternative vision would imply a very different normative approach to corporate governance; by way of concluding, I sketch out the basic parameters and desiderata of such an approach.

 

Promises Schmomises
February 12, 2016

Speaker: Heidi Hurd, The University of Illinois College of Law

Abstract: In this piece I argue that it is confused to think that promises qua promises have any moral force at all.  Promises are nothing more than theoretically authoritative predictions that often invite reasonable reliance.  If one should keep a promise (or provide compensation of equal value to performance), it is solely because one’s promise has wronged another in a non-promisory manner—that is, by inducing adverse reliance either culpably or in a manner that is unjustly enriching.  On this view, one is morally free to break an unfortunate promise so long as one restores the promisee to a position that is morally equivalent to the one in which she would have been had one’s promise not been made.  While this view finds happy harmony with the prevailing theory of efficient breach that has preoccupied many contract law theorists in the law and economics tradition, the harmony is coincidental.  The theory that I advance does not depend upon a version of utilitarianism that licenses (or demands) decisions that result in a preference-maximizing distribution of resources.  Instead, the theory derives from a deep-seated distrust of the rationality of following rules, including self-imposed rules, together with a robust conviction that one must navigate through life without making others worse off along the way.  While it is at odds with the standard account defended by moral philosophers and contract law theorists, I argue that the view that promises are never more than “schmomises” is both normatively superior to the standard philosophical account and better explains the core doctrines of contract law than does either the standard philosophical view or the prevailing utilitarian theory upon which law and economics scholars rely.  At the end of the day, however, the view does not so much provide a defense of contract law as a reason to collapse contract law into tort law.

 

From Bungee Cords to Safety Nets: Downward Mobility and Distributive Justice
February 5, 2016

Speaker: Govind Persad, Georgetown University

Abstract: Many of us fear downward social and economic mobility—losing our jobs, dropping from the middle class, going from homeownership back to a rented apartment or from a private car to the bus. Fictional accounts demonstrate this fear’s psychological power. Ethnographies and journalistic work detail the lives of those who drop down. And the governments of developed democracies spend hundreds of billions protecting individuals from downward mobility or cushioning its impact. Yet philosophers, in contrast to playwrights, journalists, and policymakers, have said little recently about downward mobility.
 
This project brings the resources of analytic political philosophy to bear on the active policy debate surrounding downward mobility. It pursues three objectives:
 
1) Elucidating, reconstructing, and classifying the arguments employed in defense of protecting individuals against downward economic mobility. (I call such protection “status maintenance.”)
2) Showing that these arguments are largely unpersuasive.
3) Proposing revisions to our social institutions that deemphasize protection against downward mobility.
 
 

Responsibility Without Culpability
January 15, 2016

Speaker: Keith Hankins, University of Melbourne

Abstract: Causal responsibility is sometimes thought to be necessary, but not sufficient for moral responsibility. One of these theses – the first – is controversial. The other is not. In this paper, however, I argue that there are cases where causal responsibility is sufficient for moral responsibility. To defend this claim I draw a distinction between three separate (though related) roles that blame plays in conveying information to others, and I explore the ways in which the norms governing our responses to accidents are mediated by the opacity of our intentions.

 

Fall 2015

Does Corporate Moral Agency Entail Corporate Freedom of Speech?
September 25, 2015

Speaker: John Hasnas, Georgetown University

Abstract:  In Citizens United, the Supreme Court held that corporate speech is entitled to the protection of the First Amendment. The Court's argument was that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing the viewpoint of any speaker on political subjects and that corporations are speakers with their own viewpoints. This argument has been subject to severe criticism on the ground that corporations are not speakers with viewpoints. Contemporary advocates of corporate moral agency argue that corporations possess the three characteristics that are necessary for moral responsibility–autonomy, normative judgment, and the capacity for self- control–and hence, that corporations are "conversable agents" that speak with voices of their own. In this article, I contend that the argument offered by advocates of corporate moral agency both undermines the primary criticism of Citizens United and provides a reason to believe that it is correctly decided.

 

Sweatshops, Exploitation, and the Case for a Fair Wage
October 02, 2015
Speaker: Michael Kates, Georgetown University

 

Libertarianism Excludes Corporations
October 23, 2015

Speaker: Andrew Jason Cohen, Georgia State University

Abstract: In this paper, I show that libertarianism—at least libertarianism defined in a certain way—is incompatible with the existence of corporations.  I begin by explaining what libertarianism is, then explaining the basic nature of legal incorporation, and finally, I show how the former opposes the latter.

Market Failure and Justice: Efficiency and Equality in Business Ethics
November 6, 2015
Speaker: Abraham Singer, Georgetown University

 

Mapping Human Values: Identifying Virtues and Values through Obituary Data-Mining
December 4, 2015
Speaker: Mark Alfano, Delft University of Technology

Abstract: Obituaries are an especially rich resource for identifying people’s values. Because obituaries are succinct and explicitly intended to summarize their subjects’ lives, they may be expected to include only the features that the author or authors find most salient, not only for themselves as relatives or friends of the deceased, but also to signal to others in the community the socially-recognized aspects of the deceased’s character. We report two approaches – one employing expert coding, the other employing machine coding – to the scientific study of virtue and value through obituaries. We begin by reviewing studies 1 and 2, in which obituaries were carefully read and labeled. We then report study 3, which further develops these results with a semi-automated, large-scale semantic analysis of several thousand obituaries. Geography, gender, and elite status all turn out to influence the virtues and values associated with the deceased.

 

Fall 2014

Rawls, Piketty and the Critique of the Welfare State
October 24, 2014

Speaker: Kevin Vallier, Bowling Green State University

Abstract: In Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty argues that, under capitalism, the rate of return on capital has a historical tendency to exceed the rate of economic growth, which generates increasing inequalities of wealth and income over time. These increasing inequalities help capital holders control an increasingly large share of their society’s economic and political resources. Piketty argues that welfare-state capitalism cannot address the challenges posed by this dynamic. Even welfare states will eventually succumb to capitalism’s drive towards unequal holdings. The best solution is a global, annual, progressive tax on capital.

Many contemporary Rawlsians believe that the welfare state is inherently unjust because it permits great inequalities of income and wealth and hope to replace it with a property-owning democracy. Piketty’s work, it may seem, only buttresses their conviction in the need for radical change. But I claim that Piketty’s work has a more ambiguous effect on Rawlsian theories of economically just regime types. While Piketty’s work may somewhat strengthen the Rawlsian critique of the welfare state, property-owning democratic institutions are unnecessary and perhaps even insufficient to manage increasing inequalities. If a global capital tax is a viable solution, Rawlsian justice merely requires adding a global capital tax (and perhaps a thereby funded capital safety net) to the welfare state.

 

Conscience and Complicity: Assessing and Addressing Pleas for Religious Exemptions in Hobby Lobby’s Wake
September 19, 2014

Speaker: Amy Sepinwall, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract: In the paradigmatic case of conscientious objection, the objector claims that his religion forbids him from actively participating in a wrong (e.g., by fighting in a war). In the religious challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, on the other hand, employers claim that their religious convictions forbid them from merely subsidizing insurance through which their employees might commit a wrong (e.g., by using contraception). The understanding of complicity underpinning these challenges is vastly more expansive than what standard legal doctrine or moral theory contemplates. Courts routinely reject claims of conscientious objection to taxes that fund military initiatives, or to university fees that support abortion services. In Hobby Lobby, however, the Supreme Court took the corporate owners’ complicity claim at its word: the mere fact that Hobby Lobby believed that it would be complicit, no matter how idiosyncratic its belief, sufficed to qualify it for an exemption. In this way, the Court made elements of an employee's healthcare package the "boss's business" (to borrow from the title of the Democrats's proposed bill overturning the Hobby Lobby decision).

Much of the critical reaction to Hobby Lobby focuses on the issue of corporate rights of religious freedom. Yet this issue is a red herring. The deeper concerns Hobby Lobby raises – about whether employers may now refuse, on religious grounds, to subsidize other forms of health coverage (e.g., blood transfusions or vaccinations) or to serve customers whose lifestyles they deplore (e.g., gays and lesbians) – do not turn on the organizational form the employer has adopted. Instead, the more significant issue goes to our understanding of complicity: When is it reasonable for an employer (for-profit or non-profit, corporate or individual) to think itself complicit in the conduct of its employees or customers? And when is a reasonable claim of complicity compelling enough to warrant an accommodation, especially where that accommodation would impose costs on third parties?

Hobby Lobby does not provide the proper guidance for answering these questions, and no wonder: As I aim to argue here, the conception of complicity pervading the treatment of conscientious objection in the law is murky and misleading, and it often yields unjust results. This Article seeks to offer the guidance that the doctrine does not. To that end, it exposes the flaws in the understandings of complicity evident in both the majority and dissenting opinions in Hobby Lobby, as well as in RFRA cases more generally. It then seeks to disagreggate the elements in a complicity claim and to identify which of these deserve to be treated deferentially.

Deference, however, is not decisive. The Article’s second ambition is to expose a glaring oversight in the law’s treatment of conscientious objection – viz., its failure to inquire into how a religious accommodation will affect third parties. Exemption opponents think the law already requires this inquiry. They are wrong, as I aim to show through a critical survey of the relevant doctrine. I end the Article by proposing a revised balancing test – one that reflects a far more nuanced grasp of what is at stake for the objector while yielding far more just outcomes for third parties.

 

Spring 2014

Ethical Blind Spots: A Behavioral Ethics Approach to Understanding Unethical Behavior
March 28, 2014

Speaker: Ann Trenbrunsel, Mendoza Collage of Business, University of Notre Dame

Abstract: This talk will explore the ethical blind spots that prevent us from being the ethical person we want to be or ethical person that we think that we are. Rooted in behavioral ethics, research that examines the contextual and psychological underpinnings of unethical behavior will be explored. The talk will conclude with a discussion of current interventions and why it is that they are not having the impact that is intended and an identification of potential areas for future research.

 

 

Fall 2013

Redefining "Business": Why we need a new definition of “business” to solve the problem of the firm
November 8, 2013

Speaker: Thomas Donaldson, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract: The problems of contemporary economic conceptions of the firm, e.g., agency theory and transaction cost economics, have become increasingly apparent.   Donaldson argues that solving those problems means moving beyond the firm itself to the broader arena of “business,” as well as clearing up key epistemic confusions that have infected contemporary management theory: namely, ones involving dual-epistemic concepts such as “control rights,” “contract rights,” and “duties of agency.”

“Business” must be redefined as “a form of cooperation involving production, exchange and distribution for the purpose of mutual benefit.” Even competitive markets must be viewed as cooperative mechanisms of exchange in which competition serves as an efficiency factor for enhancing mutual benefit. Competition is important, but must be logically subordinated to cooperation when designing theories of the firm and corporate governance.

 

Spring 2013

April 19, 2013

Speaker: Wayne Norman,  Kenan Institute for Ethics,  Duke University

Bio: Wayne Norman (Ph.D. London School of Economics, 1988) is the Mike and Ruth Mackowski Professor of Ethics in Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke. He previously held Chairs in Business Ethics at the Université de Montréal and the University of British Columbia, and before that taught at the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario. He has held visiting appointments in six countries and been published in 10 languages. He has taught mainly in philosophy departments, but also in an MBA program, and a political science department.

 

Aristotle and Business: Friend OR Foe?
April 22, 2013

Speaker:  Fred D. Miller, Jr., Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, University of Arizona

Abstract: It is ironic that Aristotle is often cited as an authority for modern business ethics (to wit, a recent book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors).  For he was as a matter of fact highly critical of the commerce and money-lending in his own day, and he even denied that wage-earners were capable of virtue.    Moreover, his analysis of justice in market transactions served as a point of departure for Marx in developing the own labor theory of value and exploitation theory, which formed the foundation for his critique of capitalism.  There are accordingly two opposed camps in neo-Aristotelian business ethics:  the one anti-business, the other pro-business.  In order to fathom and resolve this paradox, it is necessary to have some acquaintance with the economic and social system of ancient Greece, which reveals that the Greeks conducted some relatively sophisticated business transactions.  Some of Aristotle’s criticisms of these practices (for example, usury) rest on opinions which seemed intuitively obvious to him but which would be challenged by many modern economists.  His arguments also rest on deeper philosophical principles concerning human psychology and ethics, which are still defended by modern “neo-Aristotelians”:  in particular, that human flourishing is a standard for moral goodness, and that virtues of character -- such as courage, justice, generosity, and honesty -- provide a standard for moral rightness.  This leaves us with what Aristotle would call an aporia or puzzle:  Is Aristotle’s virtue ethics fundamentally inimical to a capitalistic system, or is it possible for individuals like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to engage in business and even enter “the Fortune 500” without compromising their moral integrity?  This discussion will consider whether or not gains from trade, collecting interest, commodity speculation, and profit-seeking are defensible in the context of Aristotle’s own ethical theory.

 

Why Elections should be for Sale!: Why We Should Legalize a Market in Political Votes
March 22, 2013

Speaker: James Stacey Taylor,  The College of New Jersey

Abstract: In recent years pro-market philosophers have argued that the legitimate scope of markets is more extensive than we currently recognize, and that markets in goods such as kidneys, sex, and even children should be allowed. Yet even such market expansionists typically stop short at arguing that there should be a market in political votes in which they could be freely bought and sold. In this paper I will fill this lacuna, and argue that both respect for personal autonomy and a concern for human well-being should lead one to support the legalization of a market in votes—at least within modern Western democracies.

 

What Does the ‘Market Failures Model’ Require?
February 22, 2013

Speaker: Chris MacDonald, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

Abstract: With the enunciation of his Market Failures Model, Joseph Heath has given theorists and practitioners of business ethics an illuminating new way of conceptualizing the ethical obligations of business managers. An understanding of business ethics as rooted in the implicit morality of the market offers a substantial improvement over both “common-sense” business ethics and the popular but unhelpful framing of business ethics in terms of stakeholder interests. Unfortunately, although a number of authors have cited Heath’s model, a substantial secondary literature has failed to emerge. This has left many important and interesting questions about the model unanswered. Heath himself has been uncharacteristically unclear, for example, about just what his model requires of managers: there is textual evidence in support of several different interpretations here. In this presentation, I sketch a range of alternative interpretations of Heath, assess their merits, and propose a path forward.

 

Fall 2012

Compensation Ethics, Organizational Attachment, and Reasonable Expectations
December 7, 2012

Speaker: Professor Jeffrey Moriarty, Bentley University

Abstract: If an employee is psychologically "attached" to his firm – if he is committed to it or identifies with it – then his firm might be able to obtain a discount on his labor. That is, the employee might be willing to work for his firm for a below-market wage, or for less than a similarly productive unattached employee. This paper asks: Is it wrong for firms to seek or obtain discounts on attached employees’ labor? On the standard theory of compensation ethics, which defines just or fair pay in terms of voluntary agreements between employers and employees, the answer is 'no'. But I will argue that, in certain circumstances, the answer is 'yes'. Drawing on the work of Scanlon (and others) on promising, I identify and defend a novel principle for evaluating compensation decisions. This is: it is prima facie wrong for a firm intentionally or negligently to lead employees to form reasonable expectations regarding what compensation decisions it will make, and then, without adequate warning, not make those decisions, when doing so is likely to cause employees to suffer losses. I conclude by applying this principle to the compensation of attached employees.

 

Moral Partiality in Business Practice One Perspective on the Financial Crisis
November 9, 2012

Speaker: Alexei Marcoux, Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University Chicago

Abstract: The role of moral impartiality in ethical business practice is both overemphasized and misstated. In his Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective, for example, Norman Bowie justifies his focus on moral impartiality in business ethics by adverting to a handful of examples showing that it is frequently wrongful to favor family or friends in business contexts. From the wrongfulness of extending partiality to family or friends in these contexts, Bowie concludes that “if there is a place for the impartiality requirement in ethics, that place is certainly in the ethics of business relationships” (BEKP, p. 6). One ought to take seriously Bowie’s examples because they refer to pervasive features of business practice. However, I argue that, rightly considered, Bowie’s examples demonstrate more clearly the role of moral partiality in ethical business practice. Thereafter, I: (1) attribute the misstatement of moral impartiality’s role in ethical business practice to a failure to appreciate John Stuart Mill’s distinction between fundamental and secondary moral principles; and (2) indicate the implications of the argument for a business ethics acknowledging partiality’s pervasive role in ethical business practice.

 

Event Image: 
Date: 
Friday, January 20, 2017 - 3:00pm
Event Type: