Nov. 26, 2020

The 2020-21 Ethical Leadership in Business Speaker Series

Business and ethics do not mix, or do they? Dr. David Dick discussed Business Ethics and the Separation Thesis
Dr. David Dick

Dr. David Dick

On October 30, 2020, Dr. David Dick kicked off the first Ethical Leadership in Business Speaker Series hosted by the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business (CCAL) on the topic of Business Ethics and The Separation Thesis. The Ethical Leadership in Business Speaker Series provides students in Haskayne’s Master of Management program the opportunity to engage with leading ethics scholars and to dive deeper into core ethical concepts on a more critical level.

Dr. Dick is a CCAL fellow, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at UCalgary. CCAL is bringing in a cohort of prominent ethicists from across North America. The Ethical Leadership in Business Speaker Series focuses on the multiple perspectives of business ethics, with each of the speakers bringing their own unique approach and differing views.

The first discussion focused on The Separation Thesis where students were challenged to reconsider the notion that it is impossible to do business and ethics simultaneously. Throughout the session, Dr. Dick examined moral theories and challenges that individuals go through. This helped students better understand the thought process behind the moral dilemmas and the unethical decision making that may arise from individuals when considering both business and ethics.

Students were actively engaged through the talk and were invited to share questions. The session kicked-off with the introduction of the Separation Thesis, which states that “business and ethics don’t mix”. Although Dr. Dick suggests that the arguments the thesis presents are unworkable and cannot establish the claim that business and ethics do not mix, the Separation Thesis is still being studied today. It is studied because it is still a pervasive belief worth understanding. When we start looking at business ethics through philosophy, we can better understand people’s thought process behind moral dilemmas and unethical decision-making.

 “Morality lives in action rather than an act.” Students were presented with the idea that an action is made up of several components including intentions, acts, and consequences. Any of these might matter for the morality of the action, and different moral theories place weight on each of these components.  Moral theories that focus on consequences are each part of the larger category of consequentialism, while Kantian moral philosophy, a kind of deontology, focuses on the intentions of an action. Students were challenged to consider that there are many considerations to be held, including the ethical implications and morality of a business decision.

For example Utilitarianism is a kind of consequentialism that finds the morality of an action to be entirely determined by its consequences. Utilitarianism urges us to maximize utility, performing an action that generates the best consequences. To help further the students’ understanding of Utilitarianism, a distinction was made between Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. This distinction demonstrated a framework that students can take forward in their future decision-making.

Sophie Baxter, a Haskayne Master of Management Student shares with us, “Dr. Dick’s ethical leadership discussion served as a great introductory tool for those desiring to learn about the impacts of ethics in business. The idea that business and ethics should not be thought of as separate, as explained through the separation thesis gave much to think about. Dr. Dick did a great job of getting us students thinking about the ethical, often forgotten implications of business operations.”

The session left the Master of Management students better equipped to challenge the notion that business and ethics cannot coexist, giving them the tools and valuable lessons of ethics, especially within the world of business where moral dilemmas occur that may seemingly slip past one’s mind when engaged with business.