Common Morality

Common Morality is the body of moral rules governing ordinary ethical problems. These are the rules we live by most of the time, and which we can use to understand managerial problems in ethical terms. Let’s briefly examine some basic principles of common morality to see how they work.

Promise keeping: Most people want to have some assurances that other people will do what they say. Without the simple convention of promise keeping, social interaction would grind to a halt business would be impossible. Every moral theory thus asserts at the very least, that human beings should keep most of their promises most of the time. Insider trading becomes such a scandal in part because those who were caught has promised not to engage in such activities.

Normal evolvence: Among other things, rights and duties provide ways of preventing violent conflict. If we constantly had to worry about our basic physical safety, we would be much less willing to trust other people and to engage in complex dealings that might involve disputes with them. Most moral theories thus require that most people, most of the time, refrain from harming other human beings.

There are, of course, exceptions. We allow the police to use force to subdue criminals; we accept wars that we regard as just; and we let people defend themselves when they are attacked without cause. But morality requires us to avoid violence is setting disputes.

Mutual Aid: Human communities are sustained by the recognition that people depend on each and help each other. Blood donation and the United Way are good examples. According to the principle of mutual aid, individuals should help one another if the cost of doing so is not great.

Respect for persons: Common morality also requires us to regard other people as ends in themselves, not as mere means to our own ends. Treating people as ends involves taking them seriously accepting their interests as legitimate, and regarding their desires as important.

Respect for Property: Property plays a prominent role in capitalism. Underlying the idea of property is the principle that most people, most of the time, should get the consent of others before using their property. If you think of people as owning their own bodies, respect for property is a corollary of respect for individuals. At Kinko’s the issue is the respect for copyright holders and their copyright as property.

The Morality of Care: Recent theorist such as Carol Gilligan and Nell Noddings have argued that common morality of rules and justice – is only one perspective for reasoning about morality. They have suggested an alternative mode of reasoning called the ethics of care. Gilligan proposes that three are two strands of moral theory – the justice perspective and the care perspective with the justice perspective more typical of men and the care perspective more common among women.

People operating from the justice perspective emphasize separateness from others and an autonomous life. They see the solutions to moral problems as a balancing of competing rights in a formal and abstract manner. In contrast, the care perspective is characterized by a sense of connection to others, a life of love and caring, and a view that moral problems arise from conflicting responsibilities, which often require subtle interpretation of relationships.

People who take the justice perspective fear entangling connections to others. They want to protect the rights that preserve separation. Those operating from the care perspective, on the other hand, fear that a morality based on rights and non-interference will sanction indifference and unconcern. People who take the justice perspective criticize the care perspective as being inconclusive, ambiguous, and inconsistent because of its situational emphasis. Those who operate from the care perspective see the justice orientation as un-feelings, unemotional and afraid of commitments.

It is important to realize that both perspectives are used. Perhaps eventually a more comprehensive theory will integrate the two views. For now, we must strive to understand people with a perspective different from ours and try to reach mutually satisfactory solutions.