You are currently browsing the Ethics category.
In Barron’s, Paul Theroux argues that 150 years of aid to Africa has not helped much — and may have hurt more than it helped.
Theroux discusses the failure of several recent externally-generated efforts, including Jeffrey Sachs’s top-down Millennium Project and the long history of well-meaning “Telescopic Philanthropists,” as well as Africa’s internal problems of governance.
(1) Charity undercuts self-sufficiency: If goods are provided free by foreigners, local small businesses cannot compete and go out of business. A cycle of dependency is thus created.
(2) Corrupt governments are a major problem: Bribery, oppressive regulations, extortion, and theft on a grand scale are endemic.
So Theroux calls for fresh thinking about how economic development occurs: “the self-sufficiency of ordinary people” must be enabled, by getting the politicians off their backs and asking the well-meaning to stop creating dependency.
In the language of ethics, I’d frame the moral dimension of the overall problem this way: predation and altruism are both problematic, and egoism is the moral and practical framework.
Phrasing it positively: Respect the self-responsibility of individuals and allow them to develop win-win social networks — and they will prosper. Phrasing it negatively: Do nothing that undercuts productivity individually or free trade socially — and people will flourish.
Senegalese-American businesswoman Magatte Wade on entrepreneurship as the fundamental route out of poverty for everyone, not only Africans.
William Kamkwamba’s windmill.
Interview with Phyllis Johnson on entrepreneurship, coffee, and empowering women in Africa.
My “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf].
Posted 6 days, 9 hours ago at 7:26 am. 2 comments
Stoic Week 2013 is from November 25 to December 2. (Yes, that span includes the American Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Hedonism Day, but who says the scheduling gods are perfect.)
I occasionally teach Epictetus (55-135 CE) or Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE) in my courses. So to help you prepare for next week, here are some sample quotations:
Epictetus on philosophy: “If you have an earnest desire toward philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to have the multitude laugh and sneer.” (Enchiridion, XXII)
On what can be controlled: “There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.” (I)
On controlling one’s mind: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.” (V) Also: “As in walking you take care not to tread upon a nail, or turn your foot, so likewise take care not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind.” (XXXVIII)
Including one’s thoughts on mortality: “If you wish your children and your wife and your friends to live forever, you are foolish, for you wish things to be in your power which are not so, and what belongs to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are foolish, for you wish vice not to be vice but something else.” (XIV)
On worrying about the opinions of others: “If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in delivering up your own mind to any reviler, to be disconcerted and confounded?” (XXVIII)
Marcus Aurelius on Man:
* “A little flesh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all — that is myself.” (Meditations, 2,2)
* “In the life of man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful.” (2,17)
* “‘A poor soul burdened with a corpse,’ Epictetus calls you.” (4,41)
* “How small a fraction of all the measureless infinity of time is allotted to each one of us; an instant, and it vanishes into eternity. How puny, too, is your portion of the world’s substance; how puny too, is your portion of all the world’s substance; how insignificant your share of all the world’s soul; on how minute a speck of the whole earth do you creep. As you ponder these things, make up your mind that nothing is of any import save to do what your own nature directs, and to bear what the world’s Nature sends you.” (12,32)
Aurelius on self-mastery: “No one can stop you living according to the laws of your own personal nature, and nothing can happen to you against the laws of the World-Nature.” (6,58)
And on predestination: “Whatever may happen to you was prepared for you in advance from the beginning of time.” (10,5)
One more from Epictetus, quoting Cleanthes on our acceptance or not of destiny:
“Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.”
Both Enchiridion and Meditations are well worth reading.
(My reading of Dominique Francon in The Fountainhead is that she’s a Stoic in her value philosophy; that is, she is trying to achieve apathia in a morally valueless world. Another compelling Stoic in contemporary literature is Conrad Hensley in Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full.)
Posted 3 weeks, 1 day ago at 7:24 am. 1 comment
In 2006, Professor Smith published Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist (Cambridge University Press). In 2007, I reviewed it for the journal Philosophy in Review. Here is an audio version of the review in MP3 format or at YouTube. Eight minutes:
And here is a PDF version of the original print edition.
Related: My other posts and publications on Objectivism.
Posted 1 month ago at 8:22 am. Add a comment
We’ve produced an audio version of my 42-page journal article “Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand.” The entire audio file is one hour and forty-two minutes long, so we’ll post the two major parts sections serially. Here is Part 1:
Part One: On Critiquing Altruism [MP3] [YouTube] [64 minutes]
Three Nietzsches and Ayn Rand
Some Intellectuals on Nietzsche and Rand
Egoism, altruism, and “selfishness”
A Nietzschean sketch
God is dead
Two bio-psychological types
Psychology and morality
Comparing Nietzsche’s and Rand’s critiques of altruism
Rand’s break with Nietzsche’s critique
Part Two: On Egoism
Nietzsche’s rhetoric and system
The Major Differences between Nietzsche and Rand
Are individuals real?
Do individuals have free will?
What is the source of moral values?
How does the self identify its nature and values?
Are individual selves ends in themselves?
Are fundamental values universal?
Are the relations of individuals win/win or win/lose?
Rights, liberty, equality before the law?
Slavery and freedom, war and peace
[Thanks to Chris Vaughan for doing the audio production.]
The original print essay [pdf], published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10:2, Spring 2009, 249-291.
My other publications on Nietzsche and Rand.
Posted 1 month, 3 weeks ago at 7:59 am. 1 comment
An audio edition [mp3] of my 2009 essay “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf], first published in Journal of Private Enterprise. Or listen to it at YouTube:
The abstract: Entrepreneurship is increasingly studied as a fundamental and foundational economic phenomenon. It has, however, received less attention as an ethical phenomenon. Much contemporary business ethics assumes its core application purposes to be (1) to stop predatory business practices and (2) to encourage philanthropy and charity by business. Certainly predation is immoral and charity has a place in ethics, neither should be the first concerns of ethics. Instead, business ethics should make fundamental the values and virtues of entrepreneurs — i.e., those self-responsible and productive individuals who create value and trade with others to win-win advantage.
All versions of the essay:
* “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf]. Journal of Private Enterprise, 24(2), Spring 2009, 49-57.
* Also available online at the Social Science Research Network.
* At Amazon in Kindle e-book version.
* Translated into Serbo-Croatian by Alma Causevic.
* Translated into Spanish by Walter Jerusalinsky.
* Audio edition in MP3 format and at YouTube.
Thanks to Christopher Vaughan for his work on the audio production.
Posted 2 months ago at 7:32 am. Add a comment
Professor Capaldi lectured recently at Rockford University on the topic of “The Lockean Liberty Narrative versus the Rousseau Equality Narrative, and How These Narratives Explain Everything.” Afterward we discussed his themes — the conflict between the Lockean and Rousseauian narratives, enterprise and civil societies, the nature of the corporation, corporate philanthropy, cronyism, and more.
Professor Capaldi is the Legendre-Soulé Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University, New Orleans. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has taught at a variety of universities in the USA and around the world, including Columbia University, Queens College, City University of New York, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and the National University of Singapore.
His principal research and teaching interest is in public policy and its intersection with political science, philosophy, law, religion, and economics. He is the author of seven books, including The Two Narratives of Political Economy (2010), John Stuart Mill: A Biography (2004), and America’s Spiritual Capital (2012).
Professor Capaldi’s talk was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. More about Dr. Capaldi here.
Posted 2 months, 2 weeks ago at 8:44 am. Add a comment
In an earlier post I asked, Who is the most loathsome philosopher in history? I suggested that Rousseau and Heidegger be considered top candidates.
Some more data relevant to Rousseau: He made his common-law wife leave all five of their infants at foundling hospitals, on the grounds that they’d be better off there and that he couldn’t afford to raise them.
Had he tried, Rousseau may very well have been incompetent as a father. Yet also relevant are these statistics for one foundling hospital in Paris: “Between 1771 and 1773 the Hotel-Dieu recorded mortality rates between 62 percent and 75 percent. French church registries of the same period show that in the private sector the death rate among infants was only 18 percent.”
(Source: “Children in European and American History.”)
Posted 3 months, 1 week ago at 7:36 pm. 2 comments
This post lists 71 interesting facts about Tennessee Williams, in honor of the 71 years of his life.
Item 19 is: “I don’t believe in individual guilt. I don’t think people are responsible for what they do. We are products of circumstances that determine what we do. That’s why I think capital punishment’s an outrage.”
Williams was a playwright and not a logician, but still: If people aren’t responsible for what they do, then that includes those administering capital punishment. So if one is a determinist, then it makes no sense to be outraged by capital punishment. One has to believe that circumstances lead some people to be murderers and rapists and others to be executioners.
Of course one can reply that circumstances have conditioned one to be outraged by the death penalty, but one would also have to grant equal status to those conditioned to be in favor of it.
The general point: Environmental determinism undercuts any value judgments.
Side note: Item 53 says that Anton Chekhov was a major influence on Williams, Chekhov being “a literary sensibility to which I felt a very close affinity.” That makes sense, given that Williams represents a further position on the spectrum of human pessimism and despair. I’m reminded of Professor Nina Baym’s summary of Williams’s work:
“We are less concerned over contemporary criticisms of Williams’s plays for their violence and their obsession with sexuality, which in some of the later work was regarded by some critics as an almost morbid preoccupation with ‘perversion’ — murder, rape, drugs, incest, nymphomania. We now know that the shriller voices making such accusations were attacking Williams for his homosexuality, which, we must remember, could not be publicly spoken of in this country until comparatively recently. These topics, however, also figure as instances of his deeper subject, the themes of desire and loneliness. As he said in an interview, ‘Desire is rooted in a longing for companionship, a release from the loneliness that haunts every individual.’ Loneliness and desire propel his characters into extreme behavior, no doubt, but such behavior literally dramatizes the plight that Williams saw as universal.” (Nina Baym et al. eds., The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 3rd edition, 1989, p. 2148.)
Note the descriptors of Williams’s universe: violence, obsession, morbid, perversion, murder, rape, drugs, incest, nymphomania, loneliness, plight, and so on.
Posted 4 months, 2 weeks ago at 10:12 am. 2 comments