Monday, May 22, 2006

Handshake Ethics

I just reread the tagline on this blog. The one above this post that goes …Life, Philosophy ..etc . Well I have dealt a little with life, plenty with rugby and a bit about beer but haven’t written much about philosophy much at all lately other than a tangential reference to Daniel Dennett a couple of posts ago. But I should write about it more since it’s something that I’m quite well trained formally trained in. Anyway I’m currently a year & a half into reading for an MPhil in Ethics and have been devoting quite a bit of time looking at globalisation and ethics.

I have been trying to find a model of business ethics that takes into account a wide range of cultural differences and may work in the South African context. I’m leaning toward a theory called “Integrative Social Contracts Theory,” ("ISCT") developed by Donaldson and Dunfee in their book “Ties That Bind”.

I had an essay to write for last Friday and came up with this sentence:

“It is in these economic communities, and in the often unspoken understandings that provide their ethical glue, that they believe many of the answers to business ethics quandaries lie.”

I then concluded : “By understanding these ties and behaving as we would when we shake someone’s hand, and operating consistently on this basis organisations can behave ethically in a global context.”

As you can see I’d almost convinced myself that there was some theory that could work. But then this weekend I got to thinking that I don’t really always trust the bloke that I’m shaking hands with (or else I wouldn’t bother with all manner of legal backup). So I guess it is back to square one. Again.


Third World Ant said...

The handshake is a gentlemanly accord. Like the etiquette of martial arts or war many years ago - certain rules were followed, but at the end of the day all parties concerned wanted to kick each other's asses.

After all, how many handshakes did we see between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat?

There is some ethics involved, I guess it's just how you define ethics: I'd say in business it's defined as kicking your ass according to agreed rules (and applying the policy of "if you don't notice what i have/haven't done, i'm not going to point it out to you"), rather than the more stringent 'morals' we tend to equate with ethics.

That said, I'd hate for you to become a cynic on the matter - don't be jaded! Find the light at the end of the tunnel, and then share it with the rest of us!

ATW said...

That's sort of the whole idea of ISCT. That there is some understanding and trust behind a handshake. And that is what we are after - increased trust. So it's taking that understanding as being common ground and then using it as a reference point. I'm not terribly cynical (although I have been at times) but do have this dread that everyone is driven by self-interest(as evidenced by your observation of the policy of "if you don't notice what i have/haven't done, i'm not going to point it out to you"). Putting reins on this self interest is the difficulty. This holy grail (ie an ethical framework that works)is probably more difficult than finding a good cup of tea.

Third World Ant said...

Have you ever watched the documentary 'The Corporation'? Truly fascinating stuff. When you realise that in business, people 'wear'/adopt a persona that is dictated by what their companies expect them to portray in public. Given that the corporation is not a moral being, but just a profit-seeking entity, the corporation's representatives are expected to act in a self-interested way (after all, making profit always occurs at the expense of more altruistic endeavours - such as giving the extra money back to the needy etc). I guess this would suggest I'm absolving people of their lack of integrity when it comes to business interactions - not so, I think it takes a particularly special person to maintain all their principles in business, especially when it could be to their detriment. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that the people acting with lack of ethics in the business environment act that way outside of it. The adage is true: money is the root of all evil.