“An argument, contrary to a formal demonstration, is never compulsive - there is always something to say in favor of the opposite thesis.”
In organizations, we sometimes see a divide between managers, driven by utilitarian principles, and operational individuals, driven by deontology or duty ethics. Think about the clash between production and safety.
In his classic paper “How do we apply reason to values?”, philosopher and legal scholar Chaïm Perelman stressed the importance of understanding and addressing this kind of divide in ethical perspectives, e.g. between managers and operational individuals in organizations. To bridge the gap between managers, guided by utilitarian principles, and operational individuals, grounded in deontology or duty ethics, Perelman would likely recommend a thoughtful and inclusive approach to argumentation. Here are some suggestions based on Perelman's insights:
1. Acknowledge and respect the existence of diverse ethical frameworks within the organization. Avoid dismissing one ethical perspective in favor of another; instead, recognize the validity of both utilitarian and deontological approaches.
2. Encourage open and constructive dialogues between managers and operational individuals. Provide a platform for individuals to express their ethical reasoning and values, fostering understanding.
3. Identify and emphasize universal values that both utilitarian and deontological perspectives may align with. Illustrate how certain organizational goals or decisions can contribute to the greater good while respecting ethical duties.
4. Apply argumentative schemata to present reasoning that is adaptable to different ethical perspectives.
5. Use commonplaces and analogies to find shared ground and facilitate a more nuanced understanding.
6. Incorporate input from both managerial and operational perspectives in decision-making processes. Strive for decisions that integrate elements of utilitarianism and deontology, finding a balance that considers the greatest good alongside ethical duties.
7. Encourage ongoing reflection on ethical considerations within the organization. Be willing to adapt organizational practices and decisions based on ethical insights gained through argumentation and dialogue.
Promoting inclusive argumentation and recognizing the complexities of ethical reasoning encourages organizations to deal with the divide between utilitarian and deontological principles in a more holistic and understanding manner.
Dekker, S. (2009), Clashing moral values, in: Hindsight, Winter 2009.
Perelman, C. (1955), How do we apply reason to values?, in: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LII, No. 26, December 22, 1955.