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Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business

Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business

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by Michael E. Berumen

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Being good is not good enough to be moral. In Do No Evil, Michael Berumen debunks the notions that moral judgments are subjective preferences and that there are no universal standards of morality. He analyzes leading normative theories and gives biographical highlights on several important philosophers. Berumen then sets forth his own theory: the only basis for


Being good is not good enough to be moral. In Do No Evil, Michael Berumen debunks the notions that moral judgments are subjective preferences and that there are no universal standards of morality. He analyzes leading normative theories and gives biographical highlights on several important philosophers. Berumen then sets forth his own theory: the only basis for universal morality is the avoidance of death and suffering, in contrast to conventional conceptions of promoting good, which he shows cannot form a basis for universal rules of conduct.

Berumen then examines the concepts of property, exchange, competition, and inequality, and shows why capitalism occupies the default position of morality, and why socialism is problematic. With that said, he also explains why property rights are not unlimited, and how morality serves to constrain capitalist acts.

The last part of the book deals with business-related topics. Berumen demonstrates that a business is property and not primarily an instrument for delivering social justice, and he covers such areas as governance, fiduciary responsibility, marketing, globalism, the environment, duties to animals, and moral courage.

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Kirkus Discoveries
An effective integration of ethics, morality and business practices including extensive discussions of social justice, animal rights and the environment the author elucidates the many layers of the managerial and corporate environment, deftly analyzing the fiduciary, social and moral relationships between the players in a corporation. A fresh, convincing ethical examination.

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Do No Evil : Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Berumen boils the most important ethical concept down to a simple rule of conduct: don't harm others unless it's justified. This, he says, is something all rational agents can understand and do all of the time, unlike those rules that would have us promote what we imagine to be a benefit. While he separates it into several distinct rules, he argues it is the only universal ethical rule that is possible. He does not base his doctrine on rationality, but on impartial rationality. In fact, he says it's perfectly rational to be immoral in many imaginable cases. However, one cannot be impartially rational and immoral. He argues that impartiality requires us to extend what would otherwise be rationally prohibited, namely, harming oneself, to other people, even other animals who can suffer. The key to being a moral agent, he argues, is rationality, but the key to being a moral subject of what he calls the moral realm is to be capable of suffering. I definitely recommend this book. It is refreshingly cogent and well written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find most philosophy books I have read to be stuffy and unclear, and the ethics books not very helpful, full of obvious or useless things. This one is different. I think the author does a splendid job tying ethics to common sense. Berumen clears a lot of cobwebs on the matter. All the same, he does not make being ethical any easier, just understanding it. That's the first step.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Berumen sets forth his theory in three parts, progressing from the abstract to the concrete. In the first part he discusses questions regarding the foundation of ethics...what are ethical judments and facts; are they simply emotions or nonsense; how does logic pertain to them; and is a universal ethic possible. He concludes that an ethical judgment can be meaningful, logical, and universal. He then shows how rationality requires certain beliefs, and how these formthe foundation of universal ethical rules when we marry them with the princple of impartiality. Berumen demonstrates that rationality, alone, does not require morality or impartiality, but it does allow them. One must choose to be impartial or moral, and the basis might well be utilitarian or the intuition that one's own significance is no more significant than another's in the eyes of the universe. He comes up with a series of rules that fit well with common sense and the princples we all learn as kids, don't kill, hurt others, lie, steal, and so forth. Obviously, they do not always apply; for example,lying in order to hide people from murderers. Such violations are permissible only when we can prescribe it as a universal rule, one that complies with logic. In the second part, Berumen examines the most general aspects of economic theory using the ethical princples in the prior one. He concludes that capitalism is the default position of ethics, primarily based on his theory of property...and the injunction that we cannot steal or prevent another from exercising his liberty without violating the moral rules, violations that are permitted only when we can come up with a universalizable prescription. It is this latter point which negates the idea of absolute property rights. However, while theoretically possible, socialism is morally problematic becuase we must justify taking property and limiting liberty as universal prescriptions in each instance, for there is no general maxim to overrule the rules against theft and limiting liberty, thus making it improbable that such a system could be devised. In the last and third part of his book, Bermen deals with various practical business issues. He says that ethics in business is of special import because in modern society business affects us more than any other kind of institution. He shows that business is property, not a voluntary association or social arrangement in the same sense as governent, and shows that a lot of the stakeholder theories rest on mistaken assumptions about the nature of a business. His princpal thesis is that business people are moral fiduciaries by virtue of their relationship to others, and that they have special obligations as a result. I think this is one of the most comprehensive books on ethics I have ever read, and certainly one of the best written. He does not shy away from dealing with a number of issues other than economics and business, especially in the first part of his book. Berumen's style is both clear and engaging, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a wide-ranging treatment of ethical theory and application.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author is certanly a wonderful writer. He has a unique ability to make complex ideas understandable. I think his description of Kant's philosophy is one of the best I have read. Berumen's central thesis is that evil, or more specifically, not causing evil, is more important than promoting the welfare of others. He shows that rationality or reason is not sufficient to justify universal moral princples, however. To do that we must also employ the principle of impartiality, which enables us to extend what is rationally prohibited to anything that is capable of suffering or dying. Evil, in fact, is defined as suffering and dying. Berumen's analysis and justification of the first princples of capitalism is especially good. He shows that property ownership is the default position of morality, for his moral rules forbid one from taking another's property or restricting his use of it without justification, a justification that is subject to Hare's princple of universal prescriptivity... a variation on Kant's categorical imperative. The author also makes a number of interesting observations about how ethics applies to business. I was especially appreciative of his analysis of a business mission and the fact that not all business endeavors are moral, even though we might well not make them illegal, for, sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease, which is to say the institutions and restraints on freedom necessary to enforce the laws can end up being more problematic. I found the chapters on moral courage to be very interesting. He rightly points out that knowing what to do is not enough; actually doing what is right is the central issue, and what distinguishes the truly virtuous from the rest of us is when doing what is right requires great courage. I cannot think of any more important lesson for people in business.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book. Berumen writes very clearly. The book covers a lot of ground with some pretty deep philosophy and at the same time he manages to make the subject relevant and useful. It is divided into three sections, one dealing with theoretical ethics, another with economics, and the most practical or applied section deals with business. Berumen is not only a philosopher, he has had years of experience in business. Some of the stuff at the beginning of the book won't appeal to those who are not philosophically inclined or who are impatient with theory, but to those who are, I think you will find his detailed attacks on relativism and emotivism to be very convincing. His justification of a normative ethic relies on combining principles of rationality with impartiality. This results in a set of rules that are more or less universal and can only be violated (justly) with a Kantian kind of formula. His central thesis is that not committing acts of evil, basically causing unjustifiable death or suffering, is the most important part of morality, as opposed to promoting this or that idea of what is good, where we tend to have many different and sometimes conflicting ideas. Berumen says that rationality requires certain thing of us, such as avoiding unnecessary pain, and impartiality directs that sensibility to others. However, there is no rational "requirement" to be moral...to accept impartiality. The author's justification of capitalism is one of the best I've come across. It is in some sense reminescant of Ayn Rand in that his justification is a moral one, not a utilitarian one a'la Friedman and others. But his is more complete than Rand's and less reliant on fuzzy ideas about man's purpose and such. He basically sums it up by saying that fairly acquired private property, the use of it, and the exchange of it are the default positons of morality and that any impingement on these things must be justified. With the latter in mind, he does not promote absolute property rights. The last part of the book is the practical stuff dealing with the business environment. One of the most interesting chapters deals with the idea that a business is essentially a min-republic or a means of carrying out social justice, which Berumen eschews. This book will appeal to scholarly types as well as those general readers interested in philosophy, economics, and business. I recommend it highly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ethics for clear and free thinkers. The author shows that morality does not come from on high, but from human rationality and the acceptance of the fact that one human's interests are no more important than any other's. He gives a well-reasoned justification for capitalism, but wisely rejects unbridled capitalism, realizing that moral principles serve to constrain 'capitalist acts.' He also makes a number of useful observations on how we ought to behave in a business setting, along with some interesting insights into the kinds of problems one encounters there. Well written, some typos, highly recommend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Berman makes the point that ethical princples are closely related to common sense, in that we shouldn't do to others what would be irrational to do to ourselves without justification... but he goes a step further and says we should be able to make our prescription or exception from a rule universal for the particular situation. This is a philosophy book people can get their arms around. I wish some executives at Enron, WorldCom, among others, and more than a handful of public officials would read this. It would do a lot of good... or should I say...stop a lot of evil. I thoroughly enjoyed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is good in many ways, but the best part is on how individuals and businesses should treat other life forms. The author understands that the ability to reason is not what makes a person an object of morality; that is what enables him to be moral towards others. The fact that someone can suffer is what makes them an object of morality. Most of the stuff on business did not interest me, but the sections on ethical princples and economics did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the battle of which is most important to ethics, evil wins, according to Michale Berumen. His theory basically says we should not cause evil, which he contends is the only basis for general rules that everyone can follow and understand. There is too much disagreement about what is good, and not everyone can promote it. This has significant implications for economics and business if it is the only universal set of princples. For one thing, it shows that capitalism is the default positon of morality, by virtue of the rule against taking justly acquired property or restricting our use of it without justification. For another, it says that performing good works (e.g., tobacco companies funding various social programs) is not as important as not causing evil (e.g., tobacco companies promoting addictive, death-inducing products). This is an excellent book, not only because of the soundness of the theory it proposes, but it is well written and gives a nice summary of the major ethical theories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Do No Evil posits many interesting ideas. Among them is the idea that understanding our rational prohibitions is the most imortant thing in understanding the universal princples of morality. Michael Beruman shows that the things rationality requires us to avoid for ourselves, are the same things we ought not to inflict on others without a justification. This justification must be something we can will as a universal law given the same sorts of circumstances. Berumen's analysis of who is subject to morality is also telling. Unlike Kant and many others, he does not believe one has to be rational in order to be a part of the moral realm, as he calls it; rather, the key questions concern self awareness and the capacity to suffer. Rational parties are the ones who are responsible for behaving toward others in a certain way, but the others might well have limited or no rationality. Berumen rejects the idea of grounding morality in compassion or rationality alone. Compassion is limited and no guarantor of right conduct, and rationality allows many things. Instead, we must join the princple of impartiality with rationality, and thereby extend our own rational prohibitions to others, namely, those who are self aware and capable of suffering. He borrows from Bernard Gert, here, but he differs a great deal on making exceptions to the rules. Whereas Gert invokes a publicity requirement, Berumen requires that we universalize our exception in accordance with logic for the particular facts of the circumstance at hand. This is an excellent primer on the theories of other philosophers, and it is a useful guide for both business people and public officials.
Mentos More than 1 year ago
The problem with many philosophers is that they don't write especially well. It is as though they write to impress other philosophers rather than inform with clarity and well organized thoughts. This book is different from most texts of this sort. It is definitely not philosophy for dummies, but at the same time one need not be a philosopher to understand and benefit from it. Berumen dissects the major ethical theories before illuminating his own, an interesting hybrid of Kant and psychology, with an emphasis on what rationality and impartiality require of us. He then applies this to economics and business practices with some interesting outcomes. He gives capitalism a wide berth, but not unlimited, and he shows with considerable power that property rights are not absolute. Amonng other things he shows that rational agents owe non rational beings certain ethical consideration in a business framework. This is a very timely book and one I recommend to anyone looking for a good primer on the major ethical theories with an interest in how they relate to economics and business.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well organized. Clear writing. Makes complex matters understandable. Incredible breadth of knowledge. Very insightful. I recommend this to people looking for more than the pop philosophy and aphorisms that typify most business ethics books. This has some substance to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is refreshing and signficant that someone finally has written about why avoiding evil is more critical to leading a moral life than doing good. This is an important book and should be required reading for people in business and in government. Berumen makes philosophy accessible, even interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Berumen makes it clear that the point of ethical behavior is not to follow the rules of some authority figure, be it god or man, or to perform good works for others...but to avoid causing others to die or suffer, including anyone who can die (or as he says, lose consciousness) or suffer, in proportion to their capacity for consicousness and suffering, which thereby includes other animals in his 'moral realm.' Berumen's book is one of the most important philsophy books on the subject to have been written in years. He masterfully combines the wisdom of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and R.M. Hare, among others, into a unique approach to justifying ethical rules and solving ethical problems. Most revealing, however, he also makes those of us who have preferred socialist schemes see the error of our ways. I highly recommend this work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's not often one finds a philsophy book that is both readible and relevant nowadays. Do No Evil is such a book. Students of philsophy will find the analysis compelling, especially as it relates to moral relativism and the limits and role of rationality in ethics, and people interested primarily in economics and business will find it both accessible and pertinent. I wish it were a tad shorter. On the other hand, it covers ethics from a to z and much more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With writing easy on the eye and mind, this author hits a home run when it comes to making ethics accessible and useful. He cuts through a lot of garbage and tells us that meaning well and believing or espousing a particular doctrine are insufficient. What counts is how we act, what we really do, not what we believe, say, or intend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author puts together several princples from other theories into a unique synthesis. He takes Kant's deontology and mixes it with Hare's unique kind of utilitarianism, along with some basic princples of psychology (borrwoing from Bernard Gert, among others) and biology. The book is too long. Though he is a good and interesting writer, he has a tendency to make his point over and over again. Still, one of the better ethics books I have seen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author is clearly a Kantian in most respects, but with an interesting twist. He gives suffering equal standing to rationality in determining how we ought to conduct ourselves. Bermen is a very clear and engaging writer, but he needs to get rid of his semi-colon key and discover the comma. His section on our duties towards animals is one of the best I have read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author does a superb job of showing why evil is a more important concept in constructing rules of behavior than good, insofar as evil is considered to be death or suffering. His analysis of Kant is as good as it gets. The justification of property is superb.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was well written and flows nicely, even for the person who doesn't know much about business work ethics. His insight as to how we conduct ourselves during our daily routines should be a lesson for us all. He makes you think.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a clear and well written analysis of ethics, both from a historical perspective and from the perspective of providing us with rules of behavior that can be justified without an appeal to what has utility or some supernatural authrotity. Every policy maker and business leader should read this
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is really good, no pun intended. While it contains some deep and thought- provoking philsophy, it also gives a concrete roadmap on how to act...what to do. So many philosphy books are full of abstract formulas without ever really telling you what to do. This one does. It also shoots moral relativism in the head. It is well written and often humorous. The author's chapter on evil that, among other things, deals with our capacity for evil is especially good and chilling
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a timely book, with so much confusion in the world about what the right thing is. Not only does the author present an understandable theory, it's one that fits very well with common sense. Berumen writes elegantly, and, despite the serious subject matter, his wry sense of humor comes through.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books on ethics you'll find. Not only does it do justice to the more abstruse aspects of the foundations of ethics, it gives a practical guide to behavior for both everyday life and business. I hope he writes more, especially on his political philosophy, about which he gives some hints in discussions of economics. A must read.