Workable Ethics Are Timely, Not Timeless

by Gerard I. Nierenberg

   In our pluralistic world of business people and professionals, no matter how much the limits of authority are strained, no theoretical system of ethics can even begin to meet their needs. Small wonder that the Wall Street Journal, in commenting on the increased interest in courses on “business ethics,” suggested that the coupling of the two words might result in an oxymoron — a combination of contradictory or incongruous words. This may be so when business leaders are tailored to fit into a procrustean bed of traditional ethics. It loses all validity, however, when creative thinking is applied to the ethical problems business executives now face. When they are given the insight and tools to make meaningful decisions, they come through. Most people want to do the ‘right’ thing. Rarely would one intentionally choose the company of wrongdoers.
   Can it be that we are forced to subscribe to William James’s observation, “There can be no final truth in ethics any more than in physics, until the last man has had his experiences and said his last?”


   If olden times were better times, “why did we change them?” Quite simply, we didn’t change them. They changed us, creating new needs to be satisfied and new rewards for business innovators. Moral “laws” also must be adjusted and changed to make the system work. The satisfaction of needs is still a moral goal. Only the method has changed.

Gerard I. Nierenberg, Negotiation Institute, Inc.,
10 East 40th Street,Suite 1308 New York, NY 10016 212.447.0077 fax 212.447.7880
E-mail: [email protected] Web site:

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