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Courses on ethics ? But why ?

Sanjay Trivedi
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Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 22
I dont know if I am looking at this in a narrow minded way, but are ethics courses really needed in colleges? Is it not as simple as using sense and doing the right thing ?
Anyway, what difference would such a course make ? I am sure many people do the right thing only because they dont have the guts/brains to do wrong or they are scared of the consequences.
Many people, given half a chance, would resort to unethical behaviour.
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11499
    
  16

I don't think the answers are always as clear cut as you think. a poor example...you discover your company is doing something illegal. Let's say it is harming the environment somehow. You can tell the proper authorities, which will lead to fines. Since your company is small, it can't afford the fines, so it would go out of business and you would loose your job. So would the other 20 people in the company, including the person who just bought a new house and someone else who just had triplets.

However, the damage is minor. No people or animals are being hurt, just some plant life that is an invasive species anyway.

What should you do?


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William P O'Sullivan
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Joined: Mar 28, 2012
Posts: 859

Most US companies now, have to, and it is mandatory for the employees to complete said courses.

I just finished one on bribery. It is for compliance purposes and I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Pat.
W. Joe Smith
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Joined: Feb 10, 2009
Posts: 710
Sanjay Trivedi wrote:I dont know if I am looking at this in a narrow minded way, but are ethics courses really needed in colleges? Is it not as simple as using sense and doing the right thing ?
Anyway, what difference would such a course make ? I am sure many people do the right thing only because they dont have the guts/brains to do wrong or they are scared of the consequences.
Many people, given half a chance, would resort to unethical behaviour.


I actually minored in ethics in college, and there is more to it than making ethical or unethical decisions. It is more about understanding different ethical standards, and how someone with one ethical philosophy might differ in opinion from someone with with totally different ideals.

For instance, say a company produces a medicine that treats a painful, deadly disease that affects 25% of the population. However, the only way to make this is to displace a small tribe of natives, maybe 100 individuals, from their homeland they have lived in for thousands of years. Some ethics systems would say it would be unethical not to produce the medicine, because the amount of positive outweights the negative. Other systems, however, would say it is unethical to produce the medicine at all because it causes harm to someone.


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Bear Bibeault
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  67

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Sanjay Trivedi
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Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 22
fred rosenberger wrote:I don't think the answers are always as clear cut as you think. a poor example...you discover your company is doing something illegal. Let's say it is harming the environment somehow. You can tell the proper authorities, which will lead to fines. Since your company is small, it can't afford the fines, so it would go out of business and you would loose your job. So would the other 20 people in the company, including the person who just bought a new house and someone else who just had triplets.

However, the damage is minor. No people or animals are being hurt, just some plant life that is an invasive species anyway.

What should you do?


Ideal answer - Request the company to do the right thing or even create the fear of consequences. If pro-environmental measures cost much less than the legal punishment, then encourage them to do the right thing.
Try to look for another job if the company does not listen. If this fails, then pass a tip to someone in the media secretly. Maybe even create awareness in the people who may be potentially harmed by it, by having informal conversations with them. eg Going to the villagers and making small talk with them and later informing them about the possible dangers.

Real answer - If all fails, and I have a family to support, then keep quiet and forget everything. If majority of us told the truth, we would be jobless. I hate being the lone fool to raise her voice and get harmed while the others continue to lead normal/indifferent lives.
Sanjay Trivedi
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 22
William P O'Sullivan wrote:Most US companies now, have to, and it is mandatory for the employees to complete said courses.

I just finished one on bribery. It is for compliance purposes and I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Pat.


I dont worry about it too, as long as those courses are free and are restricted to 2-3 pages. Bottom line - i dont want to waste money and time on it.
Those company wasted their resources and their employees time. US companies can bribe people in India with ease if the need arises, as of now. See the bofors guns case as an example of swedish bribery.
Tim Moores
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Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 2408
A good introduction to moral dilemmas in general if you can spare 23 minutes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2010/05/100423_will_you_kill_big_guy_one.shtml
Paul Clapham
Bartender

Joined: Oct 14, 2005
Posts: 18989
    
    8

Sanjay Trivedi wrote:Is it not as simple as using sense and doing the right thing ?


Well, no, it isn't. It isn't always obvious to people what "the right thing" is, and in fact there may be no "right thing" in some cases. It's true that people will often not do the right thing, especially if the cost to them of doing it is too high. So there are at least two reasons for the ethics courses: (1) It helps people to identify what the "right thing" is, or to evaluate the values of the various "right things" involved in a situation; and (2) it provides the employer with a consistent way of evaluating people's actions ("You took the ethics course, you should have known not to treat your assistant in that odious way, so you're fired").
Tim Moores
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Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 2408
I'm not a religious man, but for a long time now I've been of the opinion that we could dispense with just about all laws if everyone adhered to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, chiefly the Golden Rule, but the rest as well.
Ernest Friedman-Hill
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  34

The field of social psychology is a rich one, and some great strides have been made in recent years in understanding ethical systems and how children come to understand and function within them. It has become quite clear that "right" and "wrong" are ultimately social constructs and can be defined very differently in different cultures. There is a great dichotomy between those cultures that favor the group over the individual, and those that favor the individual over the group. When those cultures interact -- and conducting business across the ocean can be sufficient cause for this to happen -- ethical behavior becomes a complex area.

That said, the number one reason that companies require ethics courses is Paul's #2: it's a way of informing employees of what behavior is expected them, so they can be fired for the breach.


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Sanjay Trivedi
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Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 22
Ernest Friedman-Hill wrote:The field of social psychology is a rich one, and some great strides have been made in recent years in understanding ethical systems and how children come to understand and function within them. It has become quite clear that "right" and "wrong" are ultimately social constructs and can be defined very differently in different cultures. There is a great dichotomy between those cultures that favor the group over the individual, and those that favor the individual over the group. When those cultures interact -- and conducting business across the ocean can be sufficient cause for this to happen -- ethical behavior becomes a complex area.

That said, the number one reason that companies require ethics courses is Paul's #2: it's a way of informing employees of what behavior is expected them, so they can be fired for the breach.


Agree.
Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4659
    
    5

I worked at a large International company that refused to pay bribes to get contracts. Even here in the US, that cost the company some work, but the whole company culture said it was better to not be in those parts of the business where paying bribes is required.

When it was looking to grow internationally, after starting in Canada, then the UK and later western Europe, the policy worked well.

When they wanted to grow into southern and eastern Asia, it failed completely. The local business practices in many areas were that money always changed hands for helpful middlemen, problem solvers, etc. Perhaps its not a bribe as much as a commission paid to some local who knows his way around the license bureaucrats.

Who am I to say that the American company's corporate ethical rules were appropriate globally?
Henry Wong
author
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Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 19067
    
  40

Ernest Friedman-Hill wrote:The field of social psychology is a rich one, and some great strides have been made in recent years in understanding ethical systems and how children come to understand and function within them. It has become quite clear that "right" and "wrong" are ultimately social constructs and can be defined very differently in different cultures. There is a great dichotomy between those cultures that favor the group over the individual, and those that favor the individual over the group. When those cultures interact -- and conducting business across the ocean can be sufficient cause for this to happen -- ethical behavior becomes a complex area.

That said, the number one reason that companies require ethics courses is Paul's #2: it's a way of informing employees of what behavior is expected them, so they can be fired for the breach.


My company also requires that an ethics course be taken every year ... what bother me for a few years, was that it was the exact same course. Can't they, at least, change the examples a bit? This year, it was only 80% the same, and it felt like it was a refreshed course... it's amazing how you can like something when you go in with extremely low expectations...

Henry


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Tim Moores
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Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 2408
Henry, is the syllabus even up to Enron, Worldcom, Bernie Madoff yet? Not sure what you do, obviously, so there may not be similarities, but I have to go through similar motions, and they seem un-updated for years. Just curious if it's the same everywhere.
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
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Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24187
    
  34

Pat Farrell wrote:
When they wanted to grow into southern and eastern Asia, it failed completely. The local business practices in many areas were that money always changed hands for helpful middlemen, problem solvers, etc. Perhaps its not a bribe as much as a commission paid to some local who knows his way around the license bureaucrats.


Yup. And a lot of corporate ethics policies actually allow for the possibility of paying small "fees" of this type for innocuous things like getting a package delivered or clearing customs. Regarding higher-level influence-peddling, though, many Western companies will draw the line at that.
Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4659
    
    5

Ernest Friedman-Hill wrote: allow for the possibility of paying small "fees" .... higher-level influence-peddling


So small bribes are good, and big, effective bribes are bad. That makes a lot of sense.

Of course, US law requires US companies to have policies just like @Ernest says.
Sanjay Trivedi
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 22
Pat Farrell wrote:I worked at a large International company that refused to pay bribes to get contracts. Even here in the US, that cost the company some work, but the whole company culture said it was better to not be in those parts of the business where paying bribes is required.

When it was looking to grow internationally, after starting in Canada, then the UK and later western Europe, the policy worked well.

When they wanted to grow into southern and eastern Asia, it failed completely. The local business practices in many areas were that money always changed hands for helpful middlemen, problem solvers, etc. Perhaps its not a bribe as much as a commission paid to some local who knows his way around the license bureaucrats.

Who am I to say that the American company's corporate ethical rules were appropriate globally?


In an ideal world, what your company did was right. But you lost the opportunity to grow, grow in a developing country. Corruption in India is severe. But attempts are being made to solve that problem. Until its fixed, think of bribes as a one time cost to a get better future for your company.
Jesper de Jong
Java Cowboy
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Aug 16, 2005
Posts: 14432
    
  23

Sanjay Trivedi wrote:Until its fixed, think of bribes as a one time cost to a get better future for your company.

But the problem is that as long as companies continue to pay bribes, the problem will not be fixed...


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dennis deems
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Joined: Mar 12, 2011
Posts: 808
Tim Moores wrote:I'm not a religious man, but for a long time now I've been of the opinion that we could dispense with just about all laws if everyone adhered to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, chiefly the Golden Rule, but the rest as well.

You need to spend a good long time studying human psychology, particularly the work of Milgram, Philip Zimbardo and "the power of the situation".
Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1390
Very little of what I've read on ethics is useful. The typical approach is:

(1) Describe an ethical dilemma.
(2) Enumerate your options.
(3) The correct (i.e. ethical) option is the one in which you screw yourself.

A useful book would give advice for avoiding getting into ethical dilemmas in the first place.
Steve Luke
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Joined: Jan 28, 2003
Posts: 4181
    
  21

Frank Silbermann wrote:A useful book would give advice for avoiding getting into ethical dilemmas in the first place.


That would be easy:

How to avoid Ethical Dilemmas
By Steve Luke

Chapter the First
Don't interact with other people.

Afterward
Also, avoid interacting with animals, plants, or rare dirt.


Steve
Frank Silbermann
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Posts: 1390
Steve Luke wrote:
Frank Silbermann wrote:A useful book would give advice for avoiding getting into ethical dilemmas in the first place.


That would be easy:

How to avoid Ethical Dilemmas
By Steve Luke

Chapter the First
Don't interact with other people.

Afterward
Also, avoid interacting with animals, plants, or rare dirt.
Even while interacting with other people, there are often ways by which someone who thinks ahead can reduce his exposure to ethical dilemmas. Courses on ethics should provide specific tactics.

BTW, I've read that in traditional Japanese culture the most honored way of responding to a serious ethical dilemma is suicide.
Ryan McGuire
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Joined: Feb 18, 2005
Posts: 1013
    
    3
Frank Silbermann wrote:
Steve Luke wrote:
Frank Silbermann wrote:A useful book would give advice for avoiding getting into ethical dilemmas in the first place.


That would be easy:

How to avoid Ethical Dilemmas
By Steve Luke

Chapter the First
Don't interact with other people.

Afterward
Also, avoid interacting with animals, plants, or rare dirt.
Even while interacting with other people, there are often ways by which someone who thinks ahead can reduce his exposure to ethical dilemmas. Courses on ethics should provide specific tactics.

BTW, I've read that in traditional Japanese culture the most honored way of responding to a serious ethical dilemma is suicide.


So...
On a lonely stretch of highway you see a single-car accident. You could...
A) Try to help, in which case you have (you estimate) a 40% chance of saving the driver's life, a 40% chance of not being able to affect the outcome either way and 20% chance of doing more harm than good.
B) Try to drive to the nearest house to call for help. (You don't know how far it is to the next house, your cell phone battery is dead and you left the charger at home.)
C) Just drive on and try to convince yourself that there was nothing you could do.
D) Commit suicide.

I guess D) is an option, but I don't think I'd choose it.
Tony Jaa
Greenhorn

Joined: Feb 10, 2013
Posts: 19
Tim Moores wrote:A good introduction to moral dilemmas in general if you can spare 23 minutes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2010/05/100423_will_you_kill_big_guy_one.shtml


Silly example. You can make up many such situations.
Tony Jaa
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Joined: Feb 10, 2013
Posts: 19
I just made a post related to ethics right now. If ethics is SO IMPORTANT to you, then why don't you put it (ie ethics course) before HTML5, CSS, Javascript, PHP and MySQL in the job requirements?
How do you even measure the ethical standards of a person? How does a course help you to measure their standard?

Its a lot like love. You choose someone who seems to be fine. Then you date them to find out if they are really good. In the same way, you employ someone suitable who has no crime record. If they do something bad in the company, then
you decide how to respond.

Mike Simmons
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  10
Tony Jaa wrote:If ethics is SO IMPORTANT to you, then why don't you put it (ie ethics course) before HTML5, CSS, Javascript, PHP and MySQL in the job requirements?

Tony, it sounds like you are arguing with someone here. Who? Note that this thread is almost a year old.
Tony Jaa
Greenhorn

Joined: Feb 10, 2013
Posts: 19
Mike Simmons wrote:
Tony Jaa wrote:If ethics is SO IMPORTANT to you, then why don't you put it (ie ethics course) before HTML5, CSS, Javascript, PHP and MySQL in the job requirements?

Tony, it sounds like you are arguing with someone here. Who? Note that this thread is almost a year old.


That is right. I was arguing with all the people who feel that courses on ethics are important at a college level. I think its ok if your employer pays for it and you get courses that are customized according to your industry.
Bear Bibeault
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Posts: 61766
    
  67

Yes, that's it! Put it in the job description! Along with honesty, integrity, fairness, justness, principles, sincerity and trustworthiness.



Seriously. These are things that expected of all employees. It should be expected of all humans as second nature.

Just take the course and get over it.
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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Posts: 11499
    
  16

you know, I think a person who doesn't understand why they need an ethics course is quite possibly the person who MOST NEEDS to take it.
K. Tsang
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Joined: Sep 13, 2007
Posts: 2615
    
    9

Ethics may be common sense but it really is more than that. Making the "right" decision may not necessarily be the "ethical" or even "legal" decision. This is why ethics course teach about whistle blowing (the act of telling some one say authority or boss that so and so about some misconduct).

If you check out those "code of conduct" or ethics code, people's lives may be at stake like engineering ethics.

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Bear Bibeault
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  67

fred rosenberger wrote:you know, I think a person who doesn't understand why they need an ethics course is quite possibly the person who MOST NEEDS to take it.


Winner.
Frank Silbermann
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Posts: 1390
Sanjay Trivedi wrote:I dont know if I am looking at this in a narrow minded way, but are ethics courses really needed in colleges? Is it not as simple as using sense and doing the right thing ?
Anyway, what difference would such a course make ? I am sure many people do the right thing only because they dont have the guts/brains to do wrong or they are scared of the consequences.
Many people, given half a chance, would resort to unethical behaviour.
If it were that easy there'd be no need to spend two hours in church every Sunday.
 
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