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Racism and Business Ethics
Despite a myriad of laws outlawing discrimination and protecting civil rights, racism continues to pervade all aspects of American business.
This can be seen in the pay disparity between the races, the ongoing discrimination against black men seeking employment and lack of racial minorities in upper management and other decision-making positions in industry.
This paper uses the utilitarian and value judgment theories to examine the ethical nature of racism in business. The first part of the paper evaluates how these two ethical traditions would view racism. In the second part, the paper looks at the various methods for addressing racism in American business, focusing on diversity training and affirmative action. It then evaluates the rightness of these programs, both from a utilitarian and a values-based ethics.
In the conclusion, the paper argues for a combination of diversity training and goals-oriented affirmative action as an ethical way to address the pervasive problem of racism in American businesses.
Racism and "values" ethics
Aristotle's value-based ethics is premised on a system that allows human happiness. Aristotle believed that happiness is based on human nature. The nature of happiness is itself based on human nature. For Aristotle, happiness can only spring from the rational part of the human soul and is therefore a goal unique to humans (Grant 1989).
Aristotle believes that every person actively pursues happiness. However, he also believed that true happiness could only lie in realizing the intellectual needs of the rational or human elements of the soul.
On a larger scale, the pursuit of individual happiness through an intellectual life contributes to a civilized and ethical society as a whole. In fact, happiness is impossible outside the state, since humans are political and social animals (Grant 1989). Happiness is thus something to be continually strived for, through the active life of a rational and virtuous human being.
For Aristotle, true happiness only derives from a person's virtue which he defines a person's excellence in fulfilling a particular function. Thus, a "happy" person is active in accordance with his or her best virtue (Grant 1989). In this moral state, an individual is able to perform his or her proper function well.
In this light, racism emerges as incompatible with Aristotle's value-based ethics. Through the lens of racism, a person is evaluated not according to his or her best virtue. Instead, a person is judged according to the false value of skin color.
Such an action is not moral because it causes harm on two levels. First, since an individual could only achieve happiness through fulfilling their virtue, racism serves as a significant obstacle to individual human happiness.
In addition, Aristotle recognized that humans are social animals, who derive happiness from pursuing values not just for themselves but for their family and community as well. In Aristotelian values ethics, racism prevents individuals from enacting their best virtues.
This denies them the opportunity to contribute their virtue to the greater community as well.
Utilitarianism and racism
In the second chapter of Utilitarianism, philosopher John Stuart Mill (1987) wrote, "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." Following his predecessors, such as David Hume and Jeremy Bentham, Mill referred to formulation as the principle of utility
Upon first reading, the converse Mill's principle of utility is that actions which do not produce happiness for the greatest number is wrong. However, this is a simplistic reading of Mill's formulation because Mill placed a greater premium on the effects of one's action. If an action produces more beneficial effects than harmful ones, then according to the principle of utility, the action is right. When the amount of harmful effects exceeds the beneficial ones, then an action is wrong (Mill 1987).
In the second chapter of Utilitarianism, Mill explained how the principle of utility should prioritize the results or consequences of an action over the motives of the actor or agent. This formulation refutes most of the classical theories on morality that preceded Mill. According to utilitarian philosophy, a person may appear morally good because he or she acts based on good intentions. However, the action is separate from the worth of the actor or agent. Thus, a morally good person may still be capable of actions that cause others a great deal of harm (Mill 1987). Mill's utilitarian philosophy would thus judge this person's actions as wrong despite the agent's good motives.
Mill's formulation provides a useful basis for evaluating the morality of racism, both in general and in the American business world.
Clearly, any supposed benefits of racism are outweighed by its harmful individual and social effects.
Thus, according to utilitarian principles, people who sought to continue racist practices such as a segregated workplace may have had legitimate motives, based on their religious beliefs or their fear of introducing social disorder. However, according to Mill's perspective, the result of these prohibitive actions was that society lost the potential contributions of minorities.
Using Mill's formulation, utilitarian principles show that the harm created by denying these contributions to art and science far outweighed any potential good that resulted from maintaining the status quo. When judged by the principle of utility, the racist and discriminatory practices are thus morally indefensible attitudes that failed to promote the higher good. Despite their supposed legitimate motives, people who continued racist practices in their institutions were thus committing morally indefensible acts.
In summary, when judged by both Aristotle's values-based ethics and Mill's principle of utility, racist business practices emerge as morally indefensible acts.
For an Aristotelian ethicist, racism bars people from fulfilling their virtue. As such, racism is a significant obstacle to both individual human happiness and the well being of the social organism.
Viewed from utilitarian principles, the morality of racial practices hedge on its greater social benefits or harm. While a segment of society would benefit from maintaining the racial status quo, the greater portion of society is harmed. First, the discriminated minorities are denied chances to participate in public and economic life. Second, society as a whole is prohibited from benefiting from the potential contributions of these minorities.
Combating racism in the workplace
While discriminatory and racist practices generate controversy, the methods used to fight them are no less controversial. For example, many critics of affirmative action programs charge that such measures give rise to a "reverse discrimination," thus continuing to maintain social inequity.
This section of the paper evaluates the morality of affirmative action programs and diversity training through Aristotelian value-based ethics and Mill's utilitarian principles.
In the polarized debate over affirmative action, it is easy to classify the opposing sides as two extremes - where one favors equality and one favors racism. This, however, is a simplistic definition and is far from accurate.
In the book Equality Transformed, Herman Belz (1991) presents two clashing views on the nature of equality. One theory, which Belz associates with conservatives such as Mississippi senator John Stennis, saw equality as a question of individual rights. The focus was on nondiscrimination, in providing equality of opportunities in areas such as employment. By removing the obstacles to discrimination, many conservative theorists believed that every person - black or white - would thus have equal opportunities for advancement.
The concept of equality underwent a radical re-definition during the Kennedy administration. Courts and public policy makers moved away from personal discrimination to adopt the "disparate impact" theory of discrimination on racial minorities as a group. Under this new, group-rights based theory of discrimination, "equal opportunity" gave way to an emphasis on the equality of results (Belz 1991). The previous focus of granting citizenship rights to African-Americans now gave way to an emphasis on equalizing outcomes or results. This equality of results was often achieved through systematic racial preferences.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted Executive Order 11246 in 1965, it was this group-rights based theory of equal rights that became enshrined in the policies of affirmative action.
Aristotelian values ethics and affirmative action
The Aristotelian emphasis on value-based ethics supports the "equal opportunity" aspect of affirmative action. When applied to hiring, Aristotelian ethics recognize that if faced with racism, many minorities thus would be prohibited from using their virtue. Viewed in this light, Aristotelian ethics support the "equality of opportunity" approach espoused by classical views regarding affirmative action.
This values-based ethics would thus endorse what law professor Paul Butler terms "process-oriented affirmative action policies" (cited in Williams 2000). Under these policies, employers are charged with ensuring that their job openings are advertised widely to reach ensure that interested minority applicants can submit applications. Likewise, college recruiters must take special care to visit high schools with high minority populations, to ensure a racial balance in their applicant pool. Process-oriented affirmative action policies focus on making sure that all applicants are subject to the same tests, skills and interviews, to ensure every candidate receives fair and nondiscriminatory treatment.
However, Butler also identifies a second type of affirmative action.…[continue]
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