Family Values: Not What You Think

family valuesI wish Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift hadn’t called their new book Family Values. The title makes it too easy to pass over this important examination of the ethics and morality of family relationships in the mistaken assumption that it’s just another empty contribution to what passes for political debate. I hope the subtitle, The Ethics of the Parent-child Relationship, will catch enough eyes to bring the book to the fore because this work has something important to say, and whether you agree or not, it’s worth a healthy debate.
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In Defense of Lying

On more than one occasion, Talking Ethics has looked at the ethics of telling so-called white lies that may seem like they’re not doing much harm—“Dinner was delicious.” “I like your new haircut.” In doing so, we found that our readers (a self-selected group who take their ethics seriously) generally frown on lying of any kind, though most reject the absolutist view of Immanuel Kant and others who insist lying is always wrong because it undermines trust and constructive discourse. Now comes a new study suggesting that not only is lying sometimes okay, but it actually can be the right thing to do.
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The Redskins Need a New Name

The NFL season is still more than a month away, but here in football-crazed Washington, the Redskins already dominate the sports pages. And with that kind of coverage staring me in the face every morning, I can’t help thinking anew about the team’s controversial name—specifically, whether its continued use constitutes unethical behavior.
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The Slippery Slope in Business Ethics

Tempted to take an extra shampoo bottle from your hotel room? Or to say you’ve got a bad headache so you can leave work early to get ready for a big date? Be careful. What may seem like a small ethical transgression now could lead to much bigger problems in the future. At least that’s the result of a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Researchers trying to understand big corporate scandals found that when a small ethical sin goes unchecked, bigger sins are much more likely to follow.
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Business Ethics: Some Progress, But….

Corporate compliance officers—those hard-working, well-intentioned executives who worry about obeying the law and acting ethically—have had some good news recently. There are definite signs of progress on several levels. But some very high-profile failures, most notably the scandal at General Motors involving faulty ignition switches, make the rest of us wonder whether progress is really being made. The answer, I think, is, “Yes, but…” There are signs of improvement, but there’s still a long way to go.
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The Ethics of Charitable Giving

Most of us would agree that sharing our good fortune in the form of charitable giving is an ethical thing to do, maybe even an ethical requirement. If we’re blessed with more money than we need, whether by hard work, good luck, or a combination of both, we ought to lend a helping hand to those who need it. Right?

But what does it mean to have more money than we need?
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No Free Pass for Lying Politicians

When we conducted an informal survey last year asking people when it’s okay to tell a white lie, a large majority, 71%, came down hard on politicians, saying it’s wrong for them to shade the truth, even when it’s just a matter of emphasizing facts that support their point of view and ignoring those that don’t.

But lying by politicians remains rampant. Continue reading

Five Ethical Failures in the Sterling Affair

The NBA’s decision to ban Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a reasonable first step, but it doesn’t begin to deal effectively with the underlying problems – or even address some of the ethical failures by the too-many actors involved.

Five separate failures immediately come to mind.
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Getting Help With Ethical Issues

Most of us know the difference between right and wrong, and can easily decide what’s ethical in a given situation if the problem is simple and straightforward. But when a complex dilemma leaves you uncertain, there are some tools that can help you work your way to a good decision. They can’t tell you what to do, but they can certainly help you figure it out for yourself.
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Ethics Gone AWOL at Toyota, GM

I was cleaning out some old files today when I came across a seven-year-old article reporting that top business schools were adding more ethics courses in the wake of the 2007 Enron scandal. The article, by Jeffrey MacDonald in the Christian Science Monitor, went on to quote critics saying the courses wouldn’t do much good. Boy, did that turn out to be true.

What could be more depressing than the twin scandals at Toyota and General Motors?

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Sales and Marketing: An Ethical Nightmare

I don’t envy those of you who earn a living by selling something. I never have—always knew it was an ethical minefield—but my appreciation for your dilemma has grown immensely as your problems have become mine.

Within the next few months, my first novel will be published and I’m getting ready, reading tons of information on how I’m supposed to promote it, create buzz, persuade people to review it, win fans, and ultimately convince a fair number of people that it’s worth their time and money.
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Taxes: Your Annual Ethics Test

Many ethical dilemmas land on our doorstep when we least expect them, but there’s one that arrives with dogged regularity—the annual income tax return.

While there are thousands of strict regulations and rules, and many checks and balances, a lot depends on our own integrity. With the Internal Revenue Service able to audit so few returns, the tax code becomes dependent to a surprising degree on the honor system, and that can lead to strong temptations to cheat.
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‘Cheater’s High’ Can Trump Guilt

Want to know the best way to prevent people from cheating? Don’t try too hard to stop them.

A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the worst thing an employer, a teacher, or a business can do is to set up an elaborate system to catch cheaters. People will inevitably rise to the challenge – not because they need the financial benefit of cheating but because they enjoy the high of beating the system. Take the challenge away and a lot of the cheating will vanish on its own.
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