Visiting Speakers

February 27, 2015

The 2015 Edwards Family Lecture in Business Ethics

David Dick
(Department of Philosophy and Haskayne School of Business, 
University of Calgary)

"The Hobbesian Approach to Business Ethics"

David Dick

Abstract: "The Hobbesian Approach to Business Ethics"

When moral theory is applied to business cases it is often ill fitting. Most approaches require commitment to values (such as maximal utility or the good will) that are both foreign to business practitioners and that can require unprofitable actions. This leaves much of business ethics struggling to reply to a particular kind of skeptic who wonders why she should adopt a set of values so foreign and potentially contrary to her values as a business person. This kind of skepticism is even stronger for corporate entities that may be incapable or legally prohibited from advancing values other than shareholder return.

Here, I argue that this kind of skepticism can be answered by adopting an approach to business ethics inspired by the moral and political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Following interpreters like Gregory Kavka and Edwin Curley, the Hobbesian approach is a rule-egoist one that grounds reasons to behave well in one’s long term self-interest. The strength of this approach is that it can give reasons for the skeptic to behave well without forcing the adoption of a new set of values. Because it builds on the values business has already adopted, it can apply to both the skeptical business person and the abstract corporation.

Taking Hobbes’s texts as inspiration instead of gospel, the approach need not adopt each of Hobbes’s claims, but a surprising number of Hobbesian doctrines can be adapted seamlessly to the business environment.

The Hobbesian approach will not recommend a single, sovereign regulator to be obeyed absolutely, but instead finds each business person or firm in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma where the gains of short term defection are massively outweighed by their consequences for long term flourishing. Here, it is one’s reputation (rather than one’s sovereign) that gives reason to behave well. Too much defection and damage to one’s reputation and one might lose any willing cooperators in commerce, being left to a “financial state of nature” where a firm’s life will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

The Hobbesian approach to business ethics just is the “business case” for ethics made at the level of moral theory. As such, it is potentially subject to the same sort of objections that it is empirically naïve and mercenary when being good is contingently not profitable. Once again, the Hobbesian approach provides resources to answer these charges. Beyond the empirical work done to substantiate the way that doing good can offer both reputational advantage and protection, Hobbes’s own “reply to the Fool” can be adapted to claim that the promised gains from potential misdeeds can never be both so great and so certain to rationally outweigh the damage to reputation they risk. Furthermore, Hobbes’s political arguments to show the self-interested benefits to be derived from a peaceful and stable polity are easily applied to the marketplace, suggesting the proper role for government regulation.

In short, I here argue that the Hobbesian approach is the best and most promising for business ethics.

3:30 to 5:00 PM
Goodspeed Theatre (Room 18), 
Edwards School of Business


"The Counterfeiting Problem"

David Dick

Abstract: "The Counterfeiting Problem"

Despite discussion from distinguished figures in the history of philosophy (Aristotle, Locke, Smith, and Marx), the philosophical question of how money gets its value has become underexamined of late. This paper divides the potential answers to this question into two camps. Advocates from the “backing” camp insist that money gets its value by standing in for another commodity that “backs” it. Against this view, advocates from the “functionalist” camp take monetary value to be held up by nothing more than a social convention that permits any given thing to function as money. After arguing that a functionalist analysis can overcome two fatal problems for any backing account, this paper points out that counterfeit currency poses a new problem for the functionalist account of monetary value. This problem could be solved by resorting to the backing view, but not without resurrecting that view’s insoluble problems. The counterfeiting problem leaves us with two unsavory options in understanding monetary value. The first is to endorse a kind of backing view to account for counterfeits, but thereby inherit the philosophical and empirical endemic to those views. The other is to endorse a functionalist account but thereby have to deny the possibility of counterfeits. While there is an asymmetrical dependence between the functional value of counterfeit money and the functional value of legitimate money, it seems that it is not one that can ultimately resolve this paradoxical result.

12:30 - 1:30 PM
Friday, February 27
Arts 607

March 5, 2015

New Feminist Research Lecture

Mary Bunch,
SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Sexual Diversity Studies, 
University of Toronto

"Julia Kristeva, Disability, and the Singularity of Vulnerability"

7:00 PM
Murray Library, Room 102

Sponsored by Women’s and Gender Studies, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture and Creativity, the Humanities Research Unit, the Department of Philosophy, Disability Services for Students, USSU Women’s and Pride Centers, and the Role Model Speaker Fund

For more information, contact Prof. Marie Lovrod

March 6, 2015

The 2015 Walter Murray Lecture

James R. Brown
(Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto)

"Mathematics and Ethics: Pure vs. Applied"

James R. Brown

Abstract: "Mathematics & Ethics: Pure vs. Applied"

Philosophers and mathematicians distinguish pure from applied math in very different ways, which leads to different epistemologies of math. Ethics, which also makes a similar pure-applied distinction, is a better model for how philosophers should think of math. There will be lots of examples, but they should be largely accessible by everyone.

3:30 PM
Edwards School of Business (ESB), Room 112


"Thought Experiments and The Poverty of Empiricism"

James R. Brown

Abstract: "Thought Experiments and The Poverty of Empiricism"

The central question involving thought experiments is this: How is it possible to learn something new about the world just by thinking? The aim of this seminar will be to illustrate through examples how it is that empirical experience plays such a small role in the progress of science, especially physics. The examples will be mainly non-technical and should be accessible to everyone.

10:00 AM
Saturday, March 7
Arts 298 (Deans Board Room)

Department Colloquia

Fridays, 3:30 - 5:00
All talks in Edwards School of Business (ESB) Room 112 

Sep. 19 Brian Zamulinski "Morality as Natural Constitution"
Oct. 24 Emer O'Hagan "Self-Unity, Identity and Self-Accounting"
Nov. 7 Geordie McComb "Demons and Details in the Laboratory of the Mind: Can Complex Literary Fictions be Thought Experiments?"
Nov. 28 Derek Postnikoff "Metametaphor: An intriguing reflexivity"
Jan. 16 Peter Alward "Is Semantics a Mistake?"
Jan. 30 Shane Hickey "Painfully Good: The Moral Dimension of Aquinas' Pain"
Mar. 13 Ryan Doran
(University of Regina)
"Demonstrative Reference and Speaker Intentions"