The Rocket Science of Ethics
By George Anderson
Marc Lampe is all business when it comes to a discussion about ethics.
“More than ever before, unethical behavior has the potential to do tremendous harm to our world and humanity,” the professor of ethics at the University San Diego’s School of Business Administration told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We need to find new ways to explain our conduct.”
The new way of explaining human conduct will require ethics to move from common philosophical discussions to a scientific analysis of the subject.
“By better understanding, for example, the evolutionary reasons and neurological processes involved in self-deception and other human traits that lead to unethical behavior, we can develop more effective techniques for educating to improve individual ethical behavior,” he said.
Prof. Lampe calls his work “Applied Evolutionary Neuro Ethics.” It attempts to combine research from fields including psychology, biology, anthropology and sociology to get at the why behind human behavior.
The need for his work is clear, says Prof. Lampe.
“I think we have reached a point where ethics in business is critical. We have seen companies with ethical problems like WorldCom and Enron that have been devastated by it and investors and employees really harmed by the actions of a few executives. If a couple of people in Enron can make small decisions that injure the company, we have to take it seriously. If unethical behavior starts to snowball and everybody rationalizes that ‘everyone does it,’ we’re in big trouble.”
Prof. Lampe wants the students in his classes to come away with five key understandings when it comes to ethical issues:
- Ethics is like rocket science. It isn’t easy and doing the right thing can often be a struggle.
- The more vested your interest, the more likely you are to make bad ethical decisions.
- People can rationalize almost anything when it serves their interest.
- Decisions affect others. Understand how your ethics impact other people.
- Making ethical decisions is easier when you have people you can trust to help you decide what is the right thing to do.
Moderator’s Comment: What aspect of the work being done by Marc Lampe do you find most interesting and what implications does it have for managers in
the retailing and related businesses? –
George Anderson – Moderator
- A real whys guy – San Diego Union-Tribune
- Ethics professor has 5-point plan – San Diego Union-Tribune