Food for Thought: Love and Respect

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been pretty busy delving deep into the abyss that is business ethics. It has me curious at to who is reading publications such as The Journal of Business Ethics: businessmen or philosophers? My money is on the latter. And oh look I’m off topic already and I’ve barely started…

A N Y W A Y S . . .

I’m a big fan of Immanuel Kant. I’m not going to pretend that his ideas are the be all and end all of moral philosophy but they certainly do provide an excellent framework for determining how you should treat others. Whenever something has thrown me for a loop (ethically speaking), going back and reading Kant reminds me of how the world should be (providing it were all sunshine and daisies and everyone was required to study moral philosophy).  For those that are not familiar with Kant, allow me to introduce you to the Categorical Imperative. There are three formulations, but I just want to go over the first two. Ok now…

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.”

In simplespeak this means don’t do things unless you think it should be ok for everyone to do it.

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

In simplespeak this means don’t use people.

The idea of treating others as ends rather than means has many implications in everyday life, but for Kant it is not enough to simply not treat one as a means. It is a twofold process. To be indifferent to someone means that you are not treating them as a means, but you are also not treating them as an end. For Kant we are morally responsibly for treating ALL people as ends. What this means is that we should find ways to promote the positive and negative freedom of individuals and be concerned for their physical and moral well being.

I am currently in the process of doing research for a paper applying Kantian ethics to corporate employee relations (fun right… I think so). So far a lot of what I have read relies heavily on this second formulation of the categorical imperative, and there was a citation from an article by Ornora O’Neill that really caught my eye in regards to how it relates to everyday life. Simply put O’Neill said that benevolence (and in turn-morality) creates a tension between love and respect. We are morally compelled to care about the well-being and happiness of others (love), but we should not go so far as to assume we know what is best for them and force our ideas of happiness upon them. Rather, we should allow them the autonomy and independence to seek out their own happiness (respect) (providing they are acting as moral agents).

I bring all this up because I feel that I see a lot of “you should do this” “you shouldn’t do that” “I think that’s wrong so you are wrong” in today’s society. In a country so deeply divided on every. single. issue. this doesn’t come as a surprise. I think that part of the problem is that we have had the “love” part drilled into our brains so much that it has stymied the “respect”. We are so self-interested and concerned with our own way of life that we fail to see the merit in ways that differ. This is not to say that we should tolerate morally reprehensible behavior in the vein of respect for individual autonomy, but we should recognize that we are all of different paths with varying experiences, purposes, capital, beliefs, etc. And to assume that there is only one way to properly live life is…for lack of a better word (and for minimal shock value) arrogant. What we should strive for as rational, moral people is a minimal level of physical and moral welfare for EVERYONE regardless of any differences among us.

In an effort to practice what I preach I will say that I am not telling you that you NEED to do this, I am merely opening your eyes to a different way of moral thinking. Take it or leave it.


*If you are interested, this is the citation for the article I was reading today…*

Bowie, N. E. (1998). A Kantian Theory of Meaningful Work. Journal Of Business Ethics17(9/10), 1083-1092.