Corporate Eye

Please: No More Ethical Businesses!

thinking ape

An interesting blog on Apesphere caught my eye last month.

“Has “CSR” become a code word for “profit trumps ethics”?” asked Andrew Newton, before reaching this rather worrying conclusion:

CSR has become shorthand way of saying a company’s ethical behaviour is only useful if it preserves or enhances the company’s bottom line (paraphrase)

Companies exist to make a profit, period.  But should every business decision have to produce a maximised return on investment?

If you scratch the surface of many companies’ CSR policies, you soon discover that underneath it’s little more than donating money to worthy causes.

While this is admirable, it has nothing to do with changing corporate behaviour and the decision-making process.

Worse than greenwashing

This isn’t just greenwashing.  Greenwashing is a marketing ploy through which a company intentionally attempts to deceive customers by adopting the green trappings of an eco-friendly company.

This is a real failure by the commercial world to understand that CSR means businesses decisions should be guided by wider considerations and not just profit alone.

That’s not to say that companies should become charitable institutions; far from it.  But if responsible behaviour requires a cut in profits, then a CSR business should take the cut in profits and understand there’s more to life than money. NOTE: a profit is still made!

Nor is this charitable giving, scheme membership or standard compliance. It requires every single business decision to be measured against a notion of responsibility alongside the financial return on investment.

But isn’t CSR Ethical Imperialism?

Injecting ethics into a business seems like the next, most logical thing to do.  After all, ethics is all about morality, and without that how can you define responsibility?

The big trouble is that ethics is also about culture.

Consider the USA, UK, South Africa and Japan, or Venezuela, India and China.  None of these share the same culture.  All have a political system founded upon the specific ethical considerations of their population in general.

Western proponents of ethical business need to be careful that they’re not advocating a form of imperialism.  Neither capitalism nor communism are perfect enough to fit every human society on Earth – nor are western business ethics.

Chiquita’s Ethical Dilemma

One example of how unsuited ethics is for the corporate world is the plight of international banana magnate, Chiquita.

In 2007 they were fined $25m for supporting an illegal terrorist organisation in Columbia – the AUC and they now face protracted lawsuits from Colombians claiming damages.

Chiquita first started paying “danger money” to the AUC in 1997, as the Colombian civil war reached it’s most recent peak.  In 2001 the AUC was officially recognised as a terrorist group in the USA, making such payments illegal.

That still leaves 3 years before Chiquita stopped making the payments and informed authorities that they had been the victim of extortion in 2004.

Ethically, what else were Chiquita supposed to do?

Refuse to pay danger money, leaving their employees open to attack and kidnapping?  Withdraw completely, abandoning thousands of people and leaving a hugely profitable business in paramilitary hands?

In 2001 they published their first Corporate Responsibility report, which embraced the SA8000 standard.  Tellingly, this states that in 2000 one of their Colombian plantations couldn’t be assessed “due to safety concerns”.

Chiquita are judged (quite fairly) to have broken the law and are now faced (quite rightly) with a multitude of legal cases from Colombian families.  However, trying to enforce embedded ethics onto business will only encourage multinationals to fight shy of being in a similar situation, not encourage them to remain engaged.

So Please, Less Ethics…

This is why ethics should be left out of business.  When faced with difficult decisions all ethics does is muddy the waters with compromises which make no-one happy.

Instead of trying to recreate the 19th century ethical business models to support industrial manufacturing, companies ought to be inventing 21st century business models needed to support an exploding global population.

These sustainable business models must be based upon sustainability: the principle that you only take what you can replace or what will “grow back” naturally.

Which means founding all business decisions upon a sustainable “return on resources” alongside the traditional return on investment.

… And More Sustainability

So, please, less of the ethics.  Ethics are a personal belief, founded upon one’s life experiences and culture.  They are not a universal language.

Instead, let’s have more sustainability.  Let’s preserve the raw materials (mineral, animal or human) upon which all businesses are founded and ensure profits can be sustained for generation after generation.

And, as Andrew implies, let’s get away from our obsession that the bigger the profit, the better the business.  As someone wiser than I recently said:

There are many things which money can buy, and a few things it cannot.

But there’re many more things which money should never be allowed to buy.

Photo credit: Thinking Ape by flasporty from flickr under Creative Commons Attribution License

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.

Excellent post Chris. I think that with you post you point out that there is a big difference between, Ethics, CSR, Sustainability, and even “Going Green.” There need to be more of a focus on sustainability to show true social responsibility.

As far as you thought on Chiquita, I was completely ignorant of the situation. You pose an interesting argument. I do agree that forcing the Western standards of ethics upon the whole world is not the right thing to do. However, I don’t know if I fully agree with your less ethics statement – I am still digesting that one.

Overall great post!

really important…. really really important…. fantastic post!

I’m glad you enjoyed the post THansen & henryandjane :)

I think the Chiquita situation escaped the most intense spotlight because they fessed up to it, rather than were caught. If you’re interested in learning more a recent edition of “People and Power” contains many salient facts.

My overall objective is always to get people to think about what ethical business means, not agree with my personal opinion. Therefore, I look forward to reading everyone else’s thoughts. Best wishes, as always.

Erm, sneaking in…..
Actually I agree with you. I know my business is called Ethics Trading but “Ethics” are a very personal thing and one person’s stand on something will be different from the next person’s opinion. It’s become another soap box and band wagon for big business to jump on.

My business’s “Ethics” are set out in the simplest terms I could think of here: where it states:
“Ethics Trading is committed to trading transparently.

Ethics Trading is committed to dealing with business partners who cause no harm to the earth, it’s ecosystem or it’s varied peoples and cultures. “

Really well thought out post.

The engine of modern society has increasingly, over the last 50 years, ‘taken out’ as much as it can for today, without a care for tomorrow. Business/Commerce stretches back almost to the beginning of mankind and is an indispensible part of our lifecycle.

Until recently, Japanese companies always used to develop long term 50+ year business planning models. Generationl planning.

Your sustainability arguement goes hand-in–hand with generational planning.

Chris, that is an excellent piece and food for thought indeed.

More sustainability? Yes.

Less ethics? No.

If big business seems to have “poisoned the well” of the ethical “banner” then that’s absolutely no good reason to move on and find another well. What happens when corporates move in to the arena of sustainability and poison that too? Where do we have to go to then? Anywhere? Nowhere?

Because some businesses are so big that they can successfully “greenwash” it doesn’t mean we should give up and leave them to continue in that vein. More than ever they should be monitored & redressed, people should be made & kept aware.

You say that companies exist to make a profit. Period. True. And why not? If, after paying the staff & all the bills there is no profit how could a company striving to make green & sustainable products, for example, ever invest in R&D to make greater & greener efficiencies? The profit motive there is for ethical & sustainable purposes.

Where the big guys fail is the maximisation of the profit, the expansion, the domination, the amount of time, money & effort spent on convincing an ever-expanding audience that the company/product is ethical & sustainable when none of it is; It’s all about the integrity & the honesty.

Often I find myself in conversations where I have to prefix ethical, sustainable, responsible, CSR etc with the words true, genuine and real; that shouldn’t have to happen. When we can have the hostages “ethical” and “sustainable” released from their corporate captors then we can enjoy them as they really are before they become too distorted…

Sustainability should be at the top of the business agenda but ethics in business has its place too; if it needs careful consideration for personal & cultural boundaries then so be it. Let’s think and then do, that’s what we’re here for.

Once again, very inspiring. Thank you, Chris :)

“So, please, less of the ethics. Ethics are a personal belief, founded upon one’s life experiences and culture. They are not a universal language.”


“But there’re many more things which money should never be allowed to buy.”

Basically, what you are saying boils down to:
I don’t agree with the ethics currently in use, please adopt _my_ ethics and follow them.

You’ve dressed it up in a lot more words, but that’s the drum you’re beating.

Sarah, Paul, HelpSaveBees and Scott — thank you very much for your comments.

If we are not to move away from “Ethical Business” then what, I wonder, should form the foundation of the ethics to be employed?

For instance there are societies out there which:
— believe in mutilation of those caught embezzling
— rely upon the use of “backhanders” to sweeten any commercial deal
— think usury is a sin

You may not like these, but this does not make them empirically wrong.

This (Scott) is why I prefer sustainability. It is something which can, in fact, be emeasured and reported upon, where ethics cannot.

Hi Chris,

Very thought provoking article. A good starting point for debate on the subject.

I have a theory, not yet properly thought out, that when you approach a given problem with rigorous logic (OK I’ve already contradicted myself there) but include all significant related factors for consideration (i.e. many many), including the hopes and aspirations of all stakeholders, i.e. the “soft” factors and further the needs of future generations, then the conclusions could be, in a sense, ethical.

While cultural ethics differ widely, I believe there is and should be a fundamental core set of shared ethics, or perhaps values is better, as we all share and rely upon common global resources for our survival. This sharing is not possible without some fundamental shared values. Perhaps a lack of such is one of the biggest issues we currently face.

The hallmark of modern global issues is that they have as their common cause a mode of thinking in which certain highly significant factors, for instance the environmental rammifications of a business activity, are ignored for seemingly pragmatic reasons. However on closer examination, the pragmatism is almost always shown to be nothing more than a narrowing of focus down to that which is convenient for individuals or groups with administrative control with regard to more or less short term goals while ignoring those factors the inclusion of which would make the activity unprofitable, for instance, but which through whatever means can be “externalized”. This selective blindness is one type of behavior that could be considered “wrong” in a shared core value set. If you cannot consider all the factors, then you should not be doing business, for instance (in other words get help from other agencies).

A couple of things, I understand what you want to say about diversity which I agree with completely. A diversity of solutions, and social structure and ethics, morals, etc. are after all types of solutions, is essential to the sustainability of any activity in a changing environment, such as the continued existence of humans on Earth. However I also subscribe to George Soros’s concept of “radical fallibility” which says that solutions which seem perfectly valid in the short term and/or within a narrow scope can in fact be radically wrong and self destructive, an idea which history fully supports. I think, for instance, one of the countries you mention is a textbook example of this phenomena in that they, in the 60’s and 70’s, embarked on a program to eliminate their traditional (classical) ethical system and are now realizing what a terrible mistake that was as they open their markets and are trying to reintroduce specifically that ethical system in schools.

I think there are some hidden assumptions here. One is that a given economic activity (business) must always be continued, on the one hand because of obligation to, say, shareholders, and on the other because of an obligation to the community where the activity takes place. The further, and more insidious assumption in my opinion, would be that the administrators, owners, etc, of an activity must continue in that capacity at all costs if at all possible, often with political ideology part of the reasoning. I believe that this ignores radical options, which I wont go into, which are ignored in the same way that the study of economics has long ignored for instance the fact that natural resources are not capital. This to me is the true “ethical imperialism” or imposition of values, i.e. the imposition of the Chicago school on, basically, most of the world through various forces.

These are times when we really need to think out of the box.


This posting confuses me a bit. I guess I’m not sure what you mean by “ethics.” What you say about ethics doesn’t fit with most of what I know about it. Maybe you could clarify what you take “ethics” to mean.

Your posting says it would be right to have less ethics in business. But ethics is about doing what’s right. So, in effect, you’re arguing that it’s right to do less of what’s right. That’s self-contradictory.


I’m in the same boat as Chris MacDonald. Ethics, in my opinion and in this case, drives sustainability. Ethics motivates an individual, community or corporation to change it’s current span of thought, and incorporate a new design, a new concept by which to live or lead. If one community litters it’s yards with garbage, it takes the ethical fortitude of a few to find value in the land being used as a depot, and mandate change:thusly creating a sustainable pact by which everyone call live by, and work toward.

Ethics need to be a part of business, Business ethics comes to mind, as many corporations operate under a cloud of financial malfeasance or self-serving acts to improve investor dividends or market share. Ethics keeps them in tow;it forces them to realize that their actions have repercussions . CSR is that umbrella that is best suited to keep businesses and corporations honest. Corporate Sustainability is a byproduct of Ethics, Transparency, and Consumer Actions.

Chris H : wow, that is some manifesto you’ve got brewing there! Personal opinion: you ought to step back from it and blog each item bit by bit, develop each little thought: one per week. I’d love to read the result!

Chris Mac/Terence: I’ve had alot of queries off the blog along the lines of “eh? whatcha on about? don’t understand your take on “ethics””. etc. Let me try and clarify.

There is, of course, room for ethics in business. Ethics are all about right and wrong, and you should always feel as though you are doing The Right Thing.

The trouble is, the definition of The Right Thing changes from person to person, let alone culture to culture. How can a multinational claim to be ethical if it encompasses all these different cultures and people?

There is no empirical definition of ethics, no universal yardstick against which you can measure corporate behaviour.

Sustainability is different. It’s only taking what you can replace or what will regenerate naturally. Measurable .. manageable.

This isn’t to say that businessmen shouldn’t act ethically. Far from it. But ethics is not a natural way to measure business activity .. sustainability is.

Chris (Milton):

Thanks, that helps a bit.

The kind of relativism you seem to be assuming is hard to support. The fact that different people have different views doesn’t mean they’re all equally right. Reasons can be given for why some points of view make sense and are internally coherent and stable, and others are not.

And for what it’s worth, the notion of “sustainability” is far from uncontroversial. There’s an enormous literature on the meaning of that term.

Chris (MacDonald)

Hi Chris,

It’s precisely the fact different ethical viewpoints will be regarded with varying degrees of legitimacy by different people which unpins my view that ethics shouldn’t play a central role in business management.

My wonderful editor here, Lucy, has also disagreed with this post, but being the editor she gets to write an entire blog post in reply! You may like to read and comment: Corporate ethics and the art of balancing (

Sustainability is, in my view, fairly easily defined .. but that may be a discussion for another post :)

Best wishes — Chris.


The implication of your claim — “ethics shouldn’t play a central role in business management” — is that lying, cheating, and stealing would all be fine management policies. The fact that ethics is hard is no reason to give up on it altogether. Again, I have the feeling that you’re working from a seriously non-standard understanding of what ethics is.

You’re talking about a form of ethical subjectivism that’s very hard to support, philosophically or practically.


p.s. for what it’s worth, the focus on sustainability (under whatever definition) as the only thing that matters is far from universal. It’s the conclusion of a particular ethical argument, and not an uncontroversial one. It’s not at all clear why we owe anything at all to future generations; I’m not saying we don’t…I’m just saying that the arguments for that conclusion are not exactly straightforward.


Hi Chris,

I’m rather surprised, and a little taken aback, by your response. I didn’t intend to imply that ethics shouldn’t play any role in business management, nor did I advance an argument that sustainability is all that matters. What I said is that I believe sustainability should be of greater importance to a business’ decision making process than ethics.

I’m sorry if this didn’t come across clearly. I’m a journalist and as such my instinct is to inform and provoke debate, not cover every single angle or come to a conclusion everyone can agree with.

You’ve questioned my understanding of ethics; my (admittedly slightly old) copy of the OED defines ethics (as opposed to “ethic” or “ethical”) as: “the science of morals”. All discussions about sustainability aside, I’m as uncomfortable with a company whose guiding principle is the interpretation of morality as I am with a “church” whose guiding principle is the interpretation of economics.

As for sustainability, I don’t follow the rather emotive “something for our children” line. For me, it’s a simple question of economic, industrial and environmental common sense. Olaf Stapleton’s 1930s classic “Last and First Men” is as good a vision of the planet we’ll leave future generations as any, but it’s not really my concern. That’s why I’ve never advanced this argument in my piece or any of my comments.

Finally, I note that while you’re happy to take me to task for my point of view (and quite rightly so .. why else would I have posted it if not to provoke debate!) you haven’t advanced a counter argument for why ethics are more important than sustainability. I’d like to offer you the chance to do so in a guest post. If you’d like to take this opportunity please feel free to contact the blog’s editor, Lucy Nixon (

Best wishes


Hi Chris, and Chris.

Just thought I’d jump in on the sustainability comment from Chris MacDonald:

“the focus on sustainability (under whatever definition) as the only thing that matters is far from universal”

I don’t want to divert the conversation, but it seems to me that the perpetuation of our species would be, rationally speaking, a common value for all. Anyone who did not hold that as a value, or ethic, would almost by definition be behaviorally aberrant from an evolutionary standpoint, as those who do not value such perpetuation ultimately eliminate themselves from the gene pool. As sustainability in some form is necessary for perpetuation of the species, again by definition (we cannot perpetuate ourselves in a ecological wasteland), then I would in the end have to agree that any focus on it is therefore a good thing and the only question is how much focus and also how we define sustainability. Any other view, to reiterate, is ultimately not an evolutionarily viable solution/behavior/etc. Granted, there are still those with vested interests and their supporters who choose to either ignore these basic facts or are simply unable to grasp them for whatever reason, thus the “controversy” (which is not in my opinion the ideal word to describe the situation).

Perhaps you can see that by more fully exploring this type of reasoning, you can develop an ethics, a moral science, which is based on physical sciences, but which is also conducive to that which may be considered to be, by some, beautiful in our species, and leads to such beautiful results as a “law of sustainability” which effectively, or functionally, takes into account the soft domains of feelings, community, altruism, etc. that systems of ethics try to grapple with.

Chris (Milton):

Thanks for the encouragement, I think I will take your advice and blog those ideas after I iron them out some more.

Chris (Milton):

Also look into George Soros’s “radical fallibility” concept, which, to rephrase, basically says that things that seem sustainable can in fact be highly self destructive when the effects are, say, measured over a longer period of time. As humans have a notoriously short memory and limited predictive ability, this would be, to me, the primary barrier to giving primacy to sustainability in business activities: those who until now narrowed their vision in scope to ignore peripheral effects of their activities would simply rotate their axis so to speak and talk about sustainability while ignoring the predictable negative effects that could occur beyond the scope (in time) of most peoples imagination (this is already happening in the green movement whenever business is involved, you may notice…).

Chris (Milton):

Sorry if I misinterpreted. I tried not to: that’s why I quoted you directly when you said “ethics shouldn’t play a central role in business management.”

To say that its worrisome for a particular view of ethics — insulated from the scrutiny of a range of stakeholders — shouldn’t dominate business is quite different from saying that ethics shouldn’t play a role at all.

Sustainability: I’m not arguing against it. At all. I’m strongly in favour of it. What I’m saying is that the focus on sustainability (any vision of it) is the conslusion of an ethical argument — it’s far from an alternative to ethics! It’s just one among many ethical values, and certainly not uncontroversial.


Sorry, just one more interruption ;)

Hi Chris (MacDonald):

Is sustainability (and by extension focusing on it) really (only) the conclusion of an ethical argument? This to me is the fundamental question, and my thinking tells me that rather it is the natural, logical conclusion given the finite system in question (Earth). Just as with some other “hotly debated” science in the US (oh its just a theory…) the fact that there are differing opinions does not bring into question reason itself. There is nothing democratic about it ;)

Chris Harrington:

The notion that the Earth is a finite system is a factual claim (it’s actually technically false, I think, since the earth is not a closed system — we get energy from the sun — and human ingenuity can expand possibilities, but for the sake of argument, yes it’s roughly a finite system.) But that, by itself, doesn’t tell you what to do. Facts by themselves never do. It’s actually logically impossible to derive a normative conclusion (about how we ought to behave) from purely factual premises.

So, the idea that we ought to conserve, and conduct business sustainably, is either an undefended bit of foot-stomping, or it’s the conclusion of an argument about what kind of ethical obligations we have. I’d rather think it’s the latter.


Hi Chris MacDonald

Obviously you know more about ethics than I do :) This is Hume’s law that you refer to?

However I simply disagree with your last statement because I subscribe to the idea that the perpetuation of our species is a “law” just like any other law. I believe that correct logical conclusions can then be made which lead directly to the necessity of conservation and sustainability in any activity which uses resources in this *effectively* :P finite system. :) Then and only then, in my opinion, can useful ethical arguments be entertained. So in this way I end up agreeing in a round about way with Chris Milton in a fundamental sense, from which his conclusions with regard to business can perhaps be derived.

But I must express my sincerest gratitude in what an eye opener this conversation has been. To me, the above logic is so obvious as to be not even worth mentioning, except perhaps to the various deniers and those with vested interest in the status quo. I now feel a bit more informed.

It would be lovely if everyone with your logical skills could focus their efforts on establishing the factual basis of the need for conservation and sustainability so that the machinery of the world can be more efficiently be applied to the crisis we face, don’t you agree?

Chris Harrington:

Yes, I’m talking about Hume, for sure. You can’t derive and “ought” from an “is.”

When you say that ” the perpetuation of our species is a “law” just like any other law,” I’m not sure what kind of law you’re talking about.

There are only 2 kinds of laws:
a) Those made by political processes (or, more loosely, I guess, ethical “laws” that we invent to help ourselves get along together).
b) Physical laws of nature, which are not “commands” but descriptions of observed regularities.

I assume you’re talking about something closer to the latter. But then you’re back to Hume. “Laws” of nature are not prescriptive; they’re descriptive.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask, “Why would perpetuating our species be a good thing?” There might well be good answers to that, but there are also other things that matter, like the well-being of the current population, and competing values sometimes mean tradeoffs.


Hi Chris MacDonald,

Yes, I speak in the second sense. I suppose my lack in training in western logic and philosophy and my long term residence in the East puts me at a disadvantage when trying to explain my position in terms of the former.

Perhaps a scaled down example would clarify some assumptions which are based on perhaps, to over generalize, “Eastern philosophy”.

If one takes the statement “the human species must be perpetuated” and replaces “the human species” with “my life” then I assume that the vast majority of people would, when referring to themselves, strongly agree with the statement. So, why is it there can be ambiguity or disagreement when we switch it back to “the human species”? Perhaps the answer to that very question might provide the answer or solution to many fundamental problems that global society faces today.

Traditionally, many Asian spiritual traditions view reality in cyclical terms and often subscribe to a concept of reincarnation in one form or another. At face value it is often quite easy to write such ideas off as outdated superstition. However, if one rather views it as perhaps an attempt by pre scientific peoples to explain the law of conservation of energy and related laws, and by the way certain Buddhist interpretations of reincarnation could almost be described as a rephrasing of the law in spiritual terms, albeit in reference to an intangible concept such as a “soul”, then one is quite tempted to imagine that these Asian spiritualists and philosophers had pretty good intuition in much the same way that classical Greek philosophers did in other areas. This type of thinking deeply informs my interpretation of experience, and is a side effect of near native fluency in an Asian language (in my case Japanese). I do not however, by the way, subscribe to any particular spiritual tradition.

It is my general understanding that purely Western logic, contained as it is within the scope of the Western languages from which it was conceived, has the ability to reach completely absurd conclusions, such as the idea that choosing, for example, comfort today over perpetuation of the species tomorrow is a rational option. To self destruct through ignorance and blindness, as did the budding civilization on Easter Island, is one thing. To be able to “logically prove” or even argue it should render one speechless.

Again, I have to ask, how can this even be an issue? I am even taken aback by phrasing the question as “Why would perpetuating our species be a good thing?”. Remember that it is only humans that can even entertain such a question. Every other life form known to us conforms with species perpetuation as a law of nature, and this only breaks down when the environment changes faster than the organism can evolve. We humans, in our arrogance, question it. And certainly if we question the necessity of our own perpetuation than forget about the prospects of other forms of life. This is nothing less than the belief that the world and life was made for us to dominate and control, the belief that rationalized European exploitation of the world in the 19th century (which continues today directly or by proxy), and this belief will, I suggest, lead to our extinction along with the extinction of most of the world’s biodiversity, sooner rather than later.

Again, I reiterate that if you care about life at all, the highest priority should be to establish the factual basis of the necessity of conservation and sustainability. Any consideration of the needs of the present can only be made on the foundation of that factual basis. Yes I know you can argue with that statement from a logical standpoint on many points. But why would you?

I’d just like to add that I am not trying to win an argument here. Rather I am trying to understand your position because quite frankly “I don’t get it”. I think an understanding of your position would be an important step forward in enacting positive change in the world :)

Chris Harrington:

There’s far too much in your comment for me to deal with it all effectively here. But a couple of quick points.

You’re using the word “logic” where you probably mean “rationality.” Logic is about which claims follow from which other claims. (If A then B; A, therefore B, etc.) It’s only as Western as mathematics is. The notation and concepts originated in the West (with Aristotle) but they aren’t particularly Western beyond that. And no, it cannot prove absurdities to be true.
Rationality, on the other hand, is (very roughly) a systematic approach to decision-making or the evaluation of decisions. Most importantly, it’s typically seen as being about deciding what methods are suitable to obtaining what objectives. Here’s where you might find what you call absurdity: standard undestandings of rationality imply that ultimate goals cannot be rationally evaluated. Thus Hume wrote, “‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger” (and by “reason” he meant “rationality.”) You might well find that absurd (i.e., it might take you aback), but so far no one has been able to find any basis for rational evaluation of ultimate goals — and not for lack of trying.

The notion of species preservation you mention is, unfortunately, outdated science. Genes drive animals to reproduce & thus spread those same genes. The continuation of species is an accidental result.

As for your final point, I’ll only say this: my job is to produce good arguments and tear down bad ones. So I’m not very concerned with establishing the factual basis for anything — though I’m quite curious to discover *whether* there is a factual basis for various conclusions.


p.s. Chris, that’s just fine. But do note that I haven’t really put forward much of a “position,” here…except to say that while sustainability is important, it’s not the only important thing in the world.

Chris MacDonald

Thank you for explaining those obviously basic facts to me! This conversation (admittedly hijacked by me from the original point) has been very helpful in pointing out the important holes in my knowledge and “reasoning” (though it doesn’t change my conclusions re. sustainability, just gives me more homework).

Regarding species, I meant what I said as, as you say, “accidental result” rather than “cause”. Obviously species don’t convene meetings to debate sustainability etc.

I guess that my my “beliefs” on these topics are ultimately based on highly subjective intuition and that I am trying to reconcile this with reason. Perhaps the answer to the conundrum presented by Hume lies in somehow connecting intuition with reason and searching for the solution with reason alone isn’t possible.

As for your job I would like to say that you are very good at it, but that would assume that my reasoning provided some challenge which perhaps it does not ….. ;-)

Thanks again!


No problem. It’s good to have to explain occasionally stuff I take as fundamental, but which isn’t obvious to everyone.



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