I see that Obamacare is a great example of the divide between the masculine idea of “follow the rules” and the feminine idea of “get the right result”, Justice versus Mercy, Playing Dodgeball versus Playing House, Let ‘em Learn versus Keep them Safe. Conservatives look at the botched bill and say, “Tough— repeal it if you don’t like it” and Liberals say, “Hey, it’s the spirit of the thing that counts and you should let us change it to what we ought to have thought about earlier.”
I was just thinking this morning about how Methodists and Roman Catholics both think that Christians can achieve moral perfection. They aren’t Pelagians, because they think that God is a necessary part of this. But with a little nudge of God’s grace to get you started, you can become morally perfect through one’s own striving. The Roman Catholics even think you can become more than 100% perfect. They say you can accumulate so much merit that you can give away some of it for other people to use.
I think a good way to describe this perfectionist heresy is that it changes the old saying about genius a bit, to say:
“Moral Perfection is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
In the shower this morning I thought of a way to teach business ethics to our undergrads (and MBA students too maybe). I actually like the idea of teaching it as all or part of a course. But what is far more important is to stop any student from getting into the habit of cheating, and to teach them all that any cheater gets into big big trouble.
We have an honor code already, which is a good start. But what we really ought to do is to list any cheating incidents on the student’s official transcript, a moral grade to go with the intellectual grade. Or, if you like, an “asterisk” of the same kind that casts doubt on a baseball player’s batting average if he is found to have used steroids. If I were hiring a student, such information would be as important to me as his grades. It might even be more important, since I could give the student an interview or a test to see how smart he is, but I won’t know before hiring him how honest he is.
Such a plan has about a .002 chance of being adopted by the university as a whole. Administrators don’t, I think, care that much about cheating, but they do care a lot about having more record-keeping work to do and about exposure to litigation.
At IU, however, the business-school has higher standards than the rest of the university, and maybe we could do it. We have that Honor Code, after all. I don’t think we can require students to sign onto it,but they all do. We could do something like this:
Any student may voluntarily agree on becoming a Business major that any disciplinary actions against him will be publicly available (or, perhaps, available to anyone to whom he releases his transcript, or to any registered recruiter). If he does not agree, a note to that effect will be put in his records. Recruiters will be notified of the possibility of getting the disciplinary records, and of the optional nature of the release.
I have not had any trouble with cheating in any of my classes of business majors at Indiana (I did have some trouble at UCLA with MBA students). I had a lot of cheating in a large business prerequisite course I taught, though, including from students who clearly were or were likely to become majors. I think a new release policy would have a substantial effect on instilling ethical behavior in our students, and that might be as important as any of the coursework we teach– not just morally, but as a contribution to the economy.
Suppose Smith tells Jones something in confidence. Jones then reveals the message. Is it ethical for Smith to deny having informed Jones, causing Jones’s revelation to lack credibility?
Or suppose Jones tortures Smith to get him to reveal his secret mission. Is it ethical for Smith to lie to Jones?
Or suppose that Smith and Jones are enemies, and Jones is a vile person. When Smith says to Jones, “What I am telling you now is the truth,” is Smith obligated to then tell the truth?
In both cases, a useful framework for thinking about the situation is the common law of contracts. The common law reflects fairness and efficiency, and has been thought out over many years in addressing lots of difficult situations in a consistent way.
The way to use the insights of contract law is to think of Smith and Jones as making a contract. Smith agrees to tell Jones something, and Jones agrees to do something for Smith in exchange. An implicit part of the agreement is that Smith will tell the truth.
In the case of the violated confidentiality, Jones has breached the contract by revealing the information publicly. Smith is therefore released from his obligation to tell the truth and back Jones up. If one party to a contract breaches seriously enough, the other party need not perform.
In the case of the torture, the contract is made under duress. Smith is therefore not obligated to perform his side by telling the truth.
In the case of the vile Jones, the contract is valid. Contract law does not allow breach just because the other party is a bad person.
David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin’s Cathedral, a book about the usefulness of religion as an evolutionary adaption, harshly criticizes Richard Dawkins for sloppiness in thinking about religion and evolution. This is part of Dawkins’s contempt for group selection, which is misguided. Click here to read more