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The Cultural Dimension of Business Ethics

3.2 Evaluating ethical situations  

Situation 1 : Who’s Desk is this anyway? case comes from The Ethical Manager20

A doctor found incriminating information /documents on a colleague’s desk while looking for some patient files. This information corroborated his suspensions. He disclosed this information to his supervisor who he thought should take action and dismiss his colleague. The supervisor wasn’t as certain. Her concerns dealt with the way in which the information was discovered breaking the ‘privacy’ policy. Could she use this information if she obtained it unethically ? 

Ethical Evaluations :

utilitarian : Firing the doctor for professional misconduct would be conceivable as it would evaluate the situation on ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’

The patients and hospital staff, etc. outweigh the doctor and his immediate family.

Deontological : Which rule would be considered ‘prima facie’, the most important; If respecting ‘privacy’ is the most important rule then the information obtained could not be used against the doctor in question. If ‘misconduct’ is considered the most important rule then firing the doctor would be appropriate.

NORM : what rule could we come up with that would be acceptable to all stakeholders.  

However, the actual situations sometimes draw out different ethical issues from the ‘same’ event. In situation 1 Who’s Desk is this ? The notion of privacy is culturally defined. The level of misconduct, authority, and loyalty also vary depending upon the culture. The right to privacy at work is linked to the question : is one’s desk considered private or public ? 

Being able to choose between ethical theories of evaluation most appropriate for the ethical issue at hand might help, but wouldn’t be sufficient in itself. We’d have to compare the different cultural definitions of the values & norms in question in order to extract the universal principles underlying them.

For example, in situation 1, the notion of privacy in U.S. culture is very strong, thus the desk is considered an extension of that privacy. Whereas in another culture such as Japan where office space is open the desk would be considered as more public.  

The different ethical theories demonstrate how we can arrive at different decisions based upon the specific method of evaluation used. It is as though, the theories themselves structure the analysis from the beginning and thereby influence the decision. Should happiness in one case or obeying rules (doing one’s duties) in another be the underlying principles in moral reasoning ?

1.0 Cultural dimensions of Business Ethics  
1.1 Cultural dimensions impact on management 
1.2  Management & ethics 
2.0 Culture & cultural dimensions
2.1 Culture as context of interpretation
2.2 Cultural dimensions
3.0 Ethics & ethical theories
3.1 Ethics in moral choice : what is ethical? / what is an ethical issue?  
3.2 Evaluating ethical situations
4.0 Cultural relativism / ethical universalism

About Gale Prawda
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