Ethics without Philosophers (the Appalling State of Affairs in Business)
This article was published in Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies 25 January 2012
Could someone without a business degree become a marketing consultant? No? Then how is it that people without philosophy degrees are becoming ethics consultants?  Is it that people don’t know that Ethics is a branch of Philosophy just as Marketing is a branch of Business? Doubtful.
Is it just the typical male overstatement of one’s expertise?  Perhaps. Is it that people think they already know right from wrong, they learned it as children, there’s really no need for any formal training in ethics? Possible. I have certainly met that attitude in business ethics classes and ethics committees. 
Or is it that ethics consultants (advisors, officers, practitioners, and so on) don’t really act as consultants about ethics? They act as consultants about managing ethical behavior. No, not even that. Ethical consultants, practitioners, officers, focus on how to increase the likelihood that employees will follow some specific professional code of ethics or, more likely, the ethical rules the company’s elite want them to follow.  
As far as I can see, business ethics taught by business faculty, ethics programs run by managers, and so on – any applied ethics taught by non-philosophers – is superficial at best.  First, following a code is just an appeal to custom, an appeal to tradition, which philosophers consider a weak basis, an error in reasoning: just because most people do it that way, doesn’t mean it’s right; just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right.
Second, legal moralism is prevalent: if it’s legal, it’s right, and if it’s not illegal, it’s not wrong. Few philosophers (and I daresay few intelligent people) accept this equivalence of moral rightness and legality. After all, slavery was once legal, and even at that time many considered it wrong and had excellent arguments to support their position (which is, to some extent, why the law changed – ethics should determine law, not the other way around).
Third, the so-called ‘media test’ and ‘gut test’ are essentially nothing but appeals to intuition, which is nothing more than childhood conditioning that makes us say X ‘feels wrong’. I think it far better to approach ethical issues with thought, to consider the many rational approaches to making decisions about right and wrong, such as an appraisal of values, principles, consequences, and so on.
A second weakness of ethics as done by non-philosophers is that what takes place is usually preaching not teaching. That is, course material consists of ‘This is the right thing’ and ‘Do this in this situation’ – professors simply convey simply the current conventions and standard practices and legal obligations. The underlying principles and values are unexamined, and likely to be inadequate or contradictory in any case.
The human resources director or management executive is simply not equipped to examine the principles and values enshrined in the code she or he advocates , nor to approach an ethical issue with any rigor (for example, to figure out whether affirmative action programs are really fair, to determine if a proposed advertising campaign is really coercive, or to decide if anticipated environmental destruction is ethically justifiable), let alone teach various ways of making decisions about right and wrong.
Not only are they equipped to approach ethical issues with rigor, they look at the principles and values involved in such approaches; they would consider whether one should conform to the codes that are so taken for granted by those in business, whether those codes are at all adequate. A philosopher’s focus is thus more fundamental. And therefore prerequisite. That is why the business ethics as done by non-philosophers is so alarming: it’s building a house without a foundation – or, rather, convincing people to live in the house, without examining the foundation.