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Introduction

A balancing act

In his essay, “Values in Tension: Ethics Away from Home,” Thomas Donaldson considers the moral dilemmas that arise when conducting business in cultural situations different from one’s own. He suggests that we should avoid the extremes of metaethical relativism (what is morally right and wrong is determined solely by one’s own culture) and absolutism (there are definite moral rules that do not differ according to circumstance). Donaldson includes absolutism in an idea he calls “ethical imperialism,” which is absolutism, plus a couple other ideas.

Instead, we should be guided by several objective moral values and principles that, as it happens, seem to be included in some form or other in the moral code of every culture. He lists and explains these shared values on pages 53-54: “respect for human dignity, respect for basic rights, and good citizenship.” Donaldson calls these “core human values.”

Acting in accord with these values while simultaneously respecting the distinctive practices and customs of other cultures and respecting the values of one’s ownculture is a delicate balancing act.

Resolving conflicting values

With those shared values in mind, he suggests that we should consider several factors when we encounter moral dilemmas that arise when conducting business in cultural situations different from one’s own.

First, we should determine if the conflict is due to differences in economic development, which he calls “conflict of relative development” (57-59).

In such cases, the differences in moral expectations and practice are due to differences in economic development. So in such cases, while doing X may be considered wrong in one’s own culture but not wrong in another culture, this is due to the fact that one’s own culture has sufficiently advanced economically, which (for example) makes more risky and dangerous working conditions unnecessary. Simply put, there is enough wealth to absorb the added expenses that comes with safer working conditions without any serious economic downside. This may not be the case in less economically advanced societies. In their context riskier and less safe working conditions may be permissible.

Other differences in moral expectations and practices may be due to “conflict of cultural tradition” (58-59).

In such cases, Donaldson suggests asking two questions: (1) “Is it possible to conduct business successfully in the host country without undertaking the practice?” and (2) “Is the practice a violation of a core human value?” Only if one is able to answer “No” to both questions is it possible to engage in the practice in question.

The following flow chart may help to visualize Donaldson’s suggestion.

Donaldson chart.JPG

Specific learning outcomes

  1. Identify the three principles that must guide ethical behavior in business.
  2. Identify the three core human values shared by many cultures and religious traditions.
  3. Identify reasons Donaldson gives for whether cases he discusses are or are not morally prohibited
  4. Distinguish conflicts of relative development and conflicts of cultural tradition

First paragraph

Respond: Rehearse some of the basic concepts explored earlier. Explain and distinguish the following concepts: metaethical relativism, metaethical objectivism, situation relativism, and situation absolutism. In explaining these, assume that your reader is a friend also attending college but who isn’t taking a philosophy course. She asks you what you’re studying and you try to tell her by explaining these concepts.

Second paragraph

Earlier, we discussed several ways that metaethical objectivists can try to show that deep similarities in moral values underlie many of the differences in actions and behaviors we see across cultures.

Respond: Explain two of these ways. It’s fine to use the same examples used in the podcast. Try to describe these two strategies and the examples in your own words, however.

Third paragraph

Respond: Explain to your reader Donaldson’s distinction between conflict of relative development and conflict of cultural tradition. How does Donaldson propose to resolve each type of conflict?

Fourth paragraph

Any discussion of Donaldson’s ways for resolving these types of conflict will inevitably require explaining what he calls “core human values.”

Respond: Explain those three core human values.

Fifth paragraph

Now, you’ll apply Donaldson’s method of resolving conflict with an actual case. To prepare, read the article, “Fire Reveals Chemical Dangers in Garment Supply Chain,” Wall Street Journal (March 8, 2019) regarding a recent event in Bangladesh.

Respond: Summarize the situation, noting the important moral or ethical aspects of the situation: What decisions were made that led to this? What allowed this? Why was this practice economically beneficial? Who is vulnerable, who is harmed?

Sixth paragraph

The situation described in the article concerns storing chemicals in residential areas and how this conflicts with moral expectations in other societies discussed in the article, such as Western societies in which the major corporations are based

Respond: Is this a conflict of relative development or a conflict of cultural tradition? Explain why you think this. Then, depending on which type of conflict you classify this practice, continue with the process suggested by Donaldson for resolving the conflict. Supposing you were the CEO of a company, would it permissible for your company to do business with companies that engage in such a practice? Why or why not? What should you do?

Note: You’re not required read the following article by Mary Gentile, but you may find her discussion helpful in thinking about this issue: “Talking About Ethics Across Cultures (Links to an external site.)

Notes

  • Please do not add either an introductory or concluding paragraph. Part of the reason for asking you to write the assignment with the specified paragraphs is to make grading more efficient.
  • Once you’ve written your responses to the individual questions within each paragraph, revise each paragraph so that they flow well and form cohesive and comprehensible paragraphs rather than disjointed sentences. The paragraph should be able to “stand by itself” if it were read by someone who didn’t have access to any of the other paragraphs you wrote or assignment description itself. Then goal is that someone who did not know what you were being asked to write about could read and understand your essay easily.
  • Then make sure to include transitions between your paragraphs. For example, you could introduce paragraph three by saying something like “Matthew Crawford, in his discussion of motorcycle repair, expresses thoughts about the value of work that touches on some of the points made by Pence and Veltman …”
  • For any quotations or references, cite the page number (of the original pagination if there is one–not the pdf page) in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. For example, “Crawford says that blah blah (5).” Since the author is obvious and there’s only one essay by Crawford, you don’t need to include the name of the essay.
  • You may not use or consult any other source outside the essay referred to in the instructions for the assignment.
  • Write complete sentences and paragraphs. Do not write lists or bullet point outlines.
  • Make the effort to make sure that what you say makes sense rather than trying to say as little as possible.
  • See the explanation of the rubric criteria for additional suggestions on writing excellent essays.

Rubric

PHIL 230 Essay 3 rubric (Summer 2020)

PHIL 230 Essay 3 rubric (Summer 2020)

Criteria Ratings Pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeSummary of metaethical concepts: Accuracy and completion

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeReview of cultural similarities: Accuracy and completion

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeTwo conflicts: Accuracy and completion

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeThree core human values: Accuracy and completion

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeSummary of situation: Accuracy and completion

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeApplication of Donaldson to situation: Accuracy, integration, and completion

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeOverall completion, clarity, and organization

3.0 pts

Good; excellent

2.0 pts

Compentent

1.0 pts

Need improvement; unsatisfactory

0.0 pts

No Marks

3.0 pts

Total Points: 21.0

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