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The Cultural Dimension of Business Ethics

4.0 Cultural relativism / ethical universalism 

Are there any universal ethical judgments ?

Kant would argue yes, and for that matter many moral philosophers would agree. If ethical judgments are based on human experience will they be tainted by the subjective cultural lens its looking through ? When we speak of the human rights charter, this is an attempt to normalize ethical judgments . The relationship between ethical theories of evaluation of an ethical dilemma and the cultural dimension (context of interpretation) must be explored.  

The paradox lies in forms as structures are universal in nature, but the moment the structures are filled in with content, relativism arises. In cultural terms the dimensions such as time, power, kinship, etc. are structures found in all cultures, however, once you start filling in the concepts, language, habits, etc. the differences arise. The sports industry in a study shows how some companies develop their own codes of ethics or adopt the industries codes.21

Globalisation may be business’ response to universalism; Trying to normalize activities in various industrial and service sectors could create a common base of norms & values simplifying ethical decision making as well as preventing ethical dilemmas. But how would we arrive at these norms ? By general consensus and customary practices ? What would yield the maximum happiness or fulfill ‘the good life’ ? What would be the guiding principles ? Capitalism and maximizing profits? A charter drawn up by all, the U.N., to create a consensus ? 

A response to the universal/relative schism is ‘situationalism’22 . No claims for universality, but rather concentrate on the specific context and find an appropriate response. It’s a pragmatic approach with a results orientation . This is a position commonly used in business ethics as the fight between universalism and relativism carries on.  

What are the cultural and ethical limits ? Culture as the ‘context of interpretation’ sets the stage and dialogue. This lens coated reality represents the values & norms that guide our behaviour. We can be blinded by the narrow vision that ensues. Ethical decision making can be affected by culturally held values & norms as well as by the ethical theory used in its decision making (deontological, utilitarian, etc.).  

Today’s modern war for human survival is fought in the battle fields of business. (Several companies earnings are greater than the GDP of some countries). Darwinian thought espouses both ‘survival of the fittest’ along with the level of adaptation to the environment. A multitude of cultures have responded to these Darwinian principles in many different ways in terms of earning & maintaining a livelihood. These particular responses give rise to certain practices and values. How we earn our living becomes the essential question (the maintenance of the human species in Darwinian terms). For most the answer lies in ‘work’, an activity that is valued and practiced differently worldwide. Managing the world’s resources, including human resources, is relegated to governmental institutions and corporations, both strongly influenced by their respective cultures.

Cultural relativism has significant consequences on ethical evaluations. Globalisation may offer an alternative, but can also create a prison keeping or putting different cultures behind bars.  

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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Philosophical Coaching

Bilingual French/English

Using philosophical skills:
– Dialogue
– Analytic thinking
– Philosophical Schools of Thought : existentialism, phenomenology, Dasein analyze, Greek philosophers, etc.

Guided by Gale Prawda, Ph.D.:
– Certified philosophy practitioner, SCP,U.K.
Founder café philo in English : Paris, London
Socratic Dialogue Facilitator, Oxford U.K.
Lecturer on Business Ethics, Cross-cultural Management and Communication, Philosophy & Business Strategy





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