Business Ethics: A Trojan Horse?

by Oscar Williams



Peter F. Drucker has been acclaimed as the "foremost philosopher of American Society" by economist Kenneth Boulding. Drucker has long been an advocate of a more humane and responsive capitalism. He surprised many when he published a biting critique of courses taught in business ethics. Drucker argues that courses offered in business ethics so focus on the social effects of business decisions that they teach the student how to justify almost any act if it can be shown that the act will result in "benefits" for a number of people. These courses are teaching students "a set of ethics for those in power" which differs from "the ordinary demands of ethics which apply to them as individuals." A strength of Drucker's criticism is that it highlights a key problem with consequentialist ethics: consequences are hard to predict. Even if the immediate consequences are predictable, the long-term consequences are often impossible to assess accurately. Drucker appears to be arguing that one of the two classic theories of obligation, the one stressing that rightness or wrongness resides in the action itself, is more appropriate than the other. The theory of obligation known as the deontological theory, is in marked contrast to the theory of obligation developed by the utilitarian school of thought. The utilitarian approach, known in the philosophical literature as a teleological theory, is condemned by Drucker for its proclivity to moral laxity and its openness to abuse by ideologues.

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