PHIL215 Lecture Notes - Lecture 25: Professional Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Moral Hazard

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7 Dec 2016

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Our Darker Side
We can directly observe the actions of others as well as their consequences. But we cannot
directly observe the inner lives of others which provide explanations to their actions.
However, we often ascribe inner attributes (intentions, characteristics, beliefs) to others. For
example, we often think that the poor are lazy and have low moral values.
Fundamental Attribution Error:
o When we explain the failures of others we often look at internal factors (laziness,
incompetence, lack of motivation, addition) rather than external factors.
Self-Serving Bias:
o When we explain our successes we often look at internal factors (intelligence, work
ethic, talent, persistence) rather than external factors.
o When we explain our failures we often look at external factors (pointing blame on
other people or circumstances) rather than internal factors.
However, often the nature of our success does depend on external factors (residential
segregation, quality of schooling, family structure, social capital, inequality).
Integrity is displayed through 6 main characteristics:
1. Honestly (you don’t need to work to keep your story straight)
2. Trust (
3. Responsibility (
4. Fairness (
5. Respect (
6. Courage (
Milgram’s Experiment ***
Kitty Genovese ***
We have ethical obligations to avoid harm, prevent harm, remove harm, and do good.
“Concern for others seems to extend our minimum ethical obligations beyond not
participating in evil to preventing harm. Whistleblowing is an attempt to avoid, prevent, and
perhaps remove evil. The question then arises, why should I be the one to blow the whistle?”
(Text, 254)
There can be overlap between how we behave as private persons and members of
communities. Like our ethical obligations, we have personal responsibilities to
avoid/prevent/remove wrongdoing as well as do good.
Ethos is the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and
aspirations (goals). The presence or lack of this creates a reputation.
Because it is easy to diffuse responsibility, organizations must establish ethos from the top
down, asking themselves “what do we want to be known for?”
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There are two kinds of codes. A code of conduct is specific, expresses rules, and enforces
conformity and uniformity. On the other hand, a code of ethics is general, expresses values
and principles, and empowers use of judgement.
The Limits of Rules
There can be skepticism, concession, and rebuttal about codes of ethics and conducts.
Thus, a code of ethics should not make grandiose claims, but rather must be reachable in
order to give people something to aim for.
Another concern about code of ethics is that they will simple encouraging nuisance
behaviour. But a code can never be comprehensive (since it can’t anticipate what has yet
to be encountered, it’s reactive). A code of ethics cant solve everything but it does create
the ethos for an organization.
Some may believe codes replace judgement with mindless compliance. Thus, a code must
not simply be a list of dos and don’ts. That’s why codes of conducts must be informed by the
values in a code of ethics so everyone can know where they stand.
There can be a problem when rules are made without any consideration of the
circumstances. Rules cannot replace judgement.
A code of ethics
o Represents the ethos (culture/aspirations) of an organization
o Requires actions from those within an organization
o Can build trust with an organization’s stakeholders
o Goes beyond rules to give guidance where there are no rules
o is a way for an organization to empower their employees to make ethical decisions
Consider if only executives made ethical decisions for an organization. This is very inefficient
and a recipe for stagnation.
Ethical decision making is not just a matter of common sense! You must develop good
judgement to succeed in roles with increased responsibility.
The Risks of Group Work
Practice self-policing. Remember, everyone has a price so don’t fool yourself. Your
complicity can be bought.
The pillars of morality include reciprocity (fairness) and empathy (compassion) where people
learn to cooperate and share as well as understand that favors should be returned.
Displaying these characteristics are signs of being social creatures.
Risks of group work:
1. Moral hazard (this can arise when the solution to a particular problem shields the agent
from the full consequences of their actions, thereby incentivising more of the same
problematic behaviour)
o People will let their guard down when they are protected. Consider the statement
“if you want more house fires, sell more fire insurance”.
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o Consider sport examples head injuries are a problem, helmets are a solution, but
then aggressive play increases and so does the intensity of head injuries.
o We must establish a balance between risks and incentives.
2. Free riders benefit from a common/public good (without sharing or contributing toward
providing it) or the work of others (without paying a fair share of the cost).
o There is a threshold of assistance people are willing to give.
o Refusing to maintain a solution because it gives opportunity for moral hazard or
free riding can cause greater harm in the end. Just because people may abuse a
solution, it doesn’t make it invalid.
o A proper solution requires prudential reasoning. But understanding how to respond
to changes in incentives that the solution may cause requires ethical reasoning.
3. End-justifies-means thinking
o Many think they can act unethically now and will change their ways once they
are successful. But unethical behaviour becomes a habit that is hard to unlearn.
o Success is not a state of being, nor is failure. Rather, they are continual processes.
Thus, developing good habits will foster success.
o If you are committed to “success at all costs”, you will be committed to acting
o Someone else’s unethical behaviour does not justify your own.
4. Seductive thinking
o This is the mindset that says “do onto others before they do onto you”. But pre-
emptive strikes can poison an environment.
o Unethical means does not lead to good ends, but rather desired ends. We
sometimes consider what is good and right to be what we desire.
5. Unhealthy competition
o In the face of potential loss, some may feel the need to go to extreme measures
that risk harming others in order to win.
o This unethical behaviour can feel justified as a means of success (picking the
dominant strategy). But often the dominant strategy is not the solution that exhibits
the most integrity or morality.
6. I’m not a chump!
o When faced with competition, we often feel inferior to others and thus feel forced
to go out of our way and behave unfairly in order to prove our superiority.
Negotiations and Strategies
Players may change values for a better outcome (no concern for that of others).
Players may make a strategic move (guarantee cooperation by influencing opponent to do
what you want) to foster integrity and fair competition.
Players may negotiate is it okay to compromise on ethical issues?
“I believe that I am right. I wouldn’t knowingly believe anything that was wrong. You
disagree with me. Therefore, you are wrong.” This is a problematic way to think!
We have a tendency to think that our interests are incompatible. Yet although we often
have entrenched positions, we may have some underlying interests in common.
Interests can be totally aligned, partially aligned, or totally opposed.
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