Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can Business Ethics Be taught?

Clifford Orwin doesn't think so. This is what he has to say:

Ethics is a serious business. And that's why, reading in last weekend's Globe and Mail about the gurgling wave of ethics education sweeping North American business schools, I had to laugh.
“MBA programs around the globe,” wrote Joanna Pachner, “are rushing to prove that they teach students to be good – not just rich – by revamping their curriculums and encouraging debates about ethical corporate behaviour.”

At the same time, she said, MBA students are busy doing their part to prove their moral bona fides, mostly by composing earnest oaths. “I solemnly swear … never to become Bernie Madoff,” as her article was wryly headlined.

Forgive me if the spectacle of MBA students taking oaths to be ethical fills me not with reverence but with giggles. Oaths: Aren't those what people take in courtrooms? And yet the lying there continues apace. Who would be at the head of the line to swear never to become Bernie Madoff if not Mr. Madoff himself?

I'm not suggesting that business students are bad people, or that those who would teach them to be good are any less competent than the rest of us. It's just that the whole notion of teaching ethical behaviour rests on a fundamental misconception – namely, that ethical behaviour can be taught.

Read it all here.

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