Conventional ethics and the United Nations debt relief project

Business Ethics 19 (4):437-452 (2010)
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Abstract

It is often assumed that conventional ethics will contribute positively to economics and business, but here, this judgment will be examined. The conventional ethics of our time is dominated by altruistic philosophy, which has deep roots in religion. Such an idealistic ‘altruistic ethics’ especially emphasizes helping the least advantaged. This principle is contrasted with a more profane ‘reciprocal ethics.’ This term is used for the principle of mutual advantage central to a number of significant philosophers. This latter principle is compatible with the practical norms constituting the morals of the market, while the former implies major adjustment of behavior and policies. Many ethicists consider their field to be ‘applied ethics,’ bringing the concrete rules and practices of the economic sector closer to honored first principles of philosophy. Is it reasonable to expect an influence by the ideas of altruistic ethics to improve the morals and policies of the economy? The process of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative of the United Nations illustrates a probably crucial connection with altruistic ethics. Is this project, supported by religiously inspired groups, a sound way to treat a serious global problem? The disadvantages of this project are discussed and alternatives with better potential are presented. The article suggests that altruistic ethics is a dubious foundation for constructive morality and that its dominance in contemporary philosophy constitutes a major obstacle to a more open-minded analysis and sound policies.

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Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Morals by agreement.David P. Gauthier - 1986 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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