Morality in Learning Organisations LO18057

Richard C. (
Sun, 10 May 1998 18:17:29 -0700

Replying to LO18027 --

Hi, Dale--

Dale Emery wrote:

> > Principle of Harm (do not harm others)
> In my fantasies, I sometimes imagine a world with one law: do not harm
> others. My fantasy loses most of its gleam when I realize how much effort
> it would take to decide what constitutes harm.

take the easy way out, and just decide this one for yourself (in lieu of
deciding what it is for others). It's quite easy for me to understand
this, because I find it easy to choose between harming and not harming
others. I choose "not harming" most of the time--actually, I choose to
avoid "unnecessary violence" to others (including my environment).

> > Principle of Autonomy (permit and encourage others to act rationally)
> Hmmm. What does "rationally" mean?

I have always accepted autonomy as a given among all living
beings--especially human beings. I don't worry too much about the
rational part (my modification); I'll know when your behavior seems
irrational to me, because it limits my ability to act autonomously. A
quote (or a paraphrase) that demonstrates this principle (I think)--"I may
not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to
say it." Voltaire, I believe (?)

> > Principle of Confidentiality (keep confidential information in proper circles)
> Okay. Now we get to sort out what "proper circles" means.

Again, we don't need to sort it out. Just sort it out for yourself. If
you need to clarify with another person (like me, for instance, if we're
involved in sharing confidentialities), then, let's ensure we share this
ethical principle beforehand.

> > Principle of Lawfulness (do not violate the law)
> I don't like this one. It presupposes that the law is strongly connected
> with morality, and I'm not ready to accept that.

well, I empathize with your feeling. In business, though, indeed in much
of life, lawfulness is an appropriate behavior. We may disagree on the
applicability or validity of law . . . and autonomy certainly is a
principle which can come into conflict with this one (remember Thoreau?).
Thoreau, and his philosophical descendents (Ghandi and King), never
proclaimed unlawfulness. They only condemned unlawful laws--using higher
realms of morality as the standard by which to measure those laws. This
is a reason for thinking about ethics before the dilemmas arrive, though,
so you (I) can articulate why a law may be immoral, yet still accept other
laws as binding.

> > Right to know
> Right to know what?

the right to know whatever it is you want to know, without violating the
other principles and rights.

> > Right to privacy
> > Right to free expression
> > Right to due process
> > Right to safety
> > Right to own property
> > Right to make a profit
> > Rights of future generations
> This last one doesn't seem like the others. It doesn't say what the
> rights are, it just says who has them. What rights? Does this mean that
> even people who do not exist have rights?
> I've noticed something odd about rights. If I say, "I have the right to
> live," that seems to be asserting something about me. But what it really
> asserts is a limitation on the behavior of everyone *but* me: no one is
> permitted to take my life. Every other right works the same way.
> How come we express "rights" this way, instead of saying what is really
> going on, that we're limiting each other's behavior?

Rights are ornery critters, aren't they. Many of these have become
"rights" only in the last two centuries, or so, among many cultures. Some
are not culturally relevant still, to many people, while others have been
cultural values in some societies for hundreds of years. For instance,
the right to own property is very euro-centric. The right of future
generations is common among many indigineous cultures. I believe that
among several native American peoples, there is a saying that decisions
must be made not only for today, but with thought given to the next seven

What's very important, Dale, is that each person reflect on her or his
principles, values and ethics and sort them out individually; and that
organizations openly discuss and disclose the ethical principles, rights
and values that are appropriate within the organizational context.

thanks for your comments.


"Do not fight too much with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war."
-Napoleon Bonaparte

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