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PGP-18-234 Individual Learning Paper – EiB Varun Singh


The deepest conundrum of Life – Ethics

Ethics was this one jargon-like word for me when I was first introduced to the curriculum pertaining to ‘Ethics in
Business” and I wondered whether it was actually feasible to have such an intangible aspect of something that is an
indispensable part of everyone’s life be taught as part of an MBA curriculum. To be judged on how I perceive
ethics was something I made my peace with as I had seen similar aspect been followed with the Civil Services
Examination where the prospective civil service aspirants are given situations where they have to take the most
ethically appropriate decision a civil servant is expected to follow through and I wondered whether the concept
of ethics can really be taught in an environment like classroom. To be honest, I was not even sure whether I can
differentiate between the meanings of Values, Morals and Ethics. For me, all three were something that can be
used interchangeably. This myth was finally dispelled by Professor Pawar where he accepted that confusion
between these terms is inevitable and there have been instances when they are used interchangeably albeit in a
wrong way and there is a complex yet distinct line that differentiates these terms from each other. Ethics is
something which emphasises on the decision-making process for identifying, differentiating and disassociating
right from wrong, which on occasion might be an issue of weighing the pros and cons or the competing interests
and values. Morality on the other hand, is something of a puzzle of conduct based generally on doctrines, generally
religious in nature, which often home in to our ethical decisions. In a similar vein, values are something more of
an intuition, our own personal principles and fundamental beliefs that come from within the soul. Suggesting
everyone in during the session to identify their own unique mix of values that matters most to us helped me to
self-reflect and internalise and using the ViA (Value in Action) survey, I was able to understand myself better.

Going back to the introductory session by Professor Rattanani, where the first myth related to ethics as being a
subject that can’t be taught in a class was debunked and we got to know how everything that makes up the modern
system of ethics was being developed from the ages of Machiavelli and Socrates and we were finally introduced
to the first major modern theory in ethics pertaining to “trolleyology” which presents a prime example of not
able to zero in on a completely right decision. We are pitched against the uncomfortable situation where there are
real consequences with unavoidable collateral damage. This seriously yanked me from a state of idealism and I
was able to connect it to many similar anecdotes where what I felt was the right thing to do was not the best
possible solution for all the stakeholders but was the best possible solution with which I can come to terms with.

Although, it still left a doubt as I could see that even with such entrenched and well established roots of ethics in
daily life, business performance has always trumped over taking an ethical path and there have been so many
PGP-18-234 Individual Learning Paper – EiB Varun Singh

recent cases like the Volkswagen emission scandal has definitely played a role in me being sceptical about the
efficacy of ethics in today’s business environment. But after digging through a few of the prominent global firms’
efforts in making ethics a way of business, it was heartening to see robust whistle-blower system being adopted
by Daimler and other global giants that are able to stand rock solid as independent check on the firm’s business
activity in general. This led to me being fully supportive of the notion that the ethos of ethics can be nurtured
through the teaching medium as well which will ensure that individuals are updated with what is perceived or is
right ethically in this environment as the world is ever-changing and what might have been right ethically 25 years
back might not make sense in today’s volatile environment.

In the subsequent sessions, we were given a purview that ethics is not only about your personal beliefs but is a
multi-pronged conundrum which was summarised as the four spheres of executive responsibility in a business
environment which was explained to us through the Apple-Tim Cook case, a prime example where we sometimes
need to weigh in all the possible beliefs and responsibilities encompassed in an ethical environment and select or
go through with the option which is in the best interest of the most stakeholders in that situation and aptly
summarised in the quote by Mr. Cook, “Some things are hard, some things are right and some things are
both, this is one of those things.” In other words, it offers a perspective on how an individual needs to weigh
in the different dimensions of responsibility that he/she are obliged to consider. Each sphere is, in numerous
ways, a nearly comprehensive moral universe – its own domain of strong duties, commitments, norms of
behaviour, human relationships, personal aspirations and choices that bring happiness and suffering to others.

During these sessions, through various scenarios, including the cases of a female employee on her purported
promotion party had to enter through a side door in a men’s club and the case of a high ranking police official
taking a call to quell the unrest in his subordinates over a fellow police officer being killed by suspects and in
retribution killing them in a setting of fake encounter showcased how the four commitments sometimes send out
contradicting signals and in these type of situations, there is a need to navigate this space in a way which does not
violate any of the executive responsibility while going through with the best possible alternative that aligns to our
own personal beliefs as well. These four commitments or spheres often collide with each other which generally
create difficult dilemmas for people concerned. In some situations, there is no feasible win-win situation, and the
best way of resolving one might involve bringing harmful consequences to some. Hence, to navigate such a space,
we make use of asking four questions that provides a basic framework to assess the best possible way to resolve
a dilemma with least collateral damage. The first question that Mill’s concern of morality of consequences
which encompassed the meaning of utilitarianism which stresses that a morally good action will inevitably bring
the best possible solution with least harm and bring the best consequences while the second question focusses on
the morality of rights which empowers us into believing that we and others have the rights to be treated with
appropriate respect. The third question deals with the idea of integrity where identifying the course of action
which we can live with, without inducing remorse and helps us identify a situation which is consistent with the
kind of community we are seeking to develop. Finally, the fourth questions enables us to seek practicality and be
pragmatic about identifying a solution that will work in the current situation checking most of the conditions that
we deem necessary. There might be better solutions on paper but feasibility is one differentiating factor that makes
a solution realizable. In conclusion, it’s unreasonable to say that we will be able to identify a solution that will let
us keep our hands completely clean but these four questions impart an aid for judgement and take the most
ethically appropriate decision amongst other alternatives.

In the end, I can confidently say this course of study has been more of a wake-up call for me as even with a
substantial work experience spanning close to 3 years, I have encountered many such scenarios where I faced
ethical dilemmas and I was able to handle them adequately, some efficiently and some in not so-ideal manner but
understanding and dissecting those issues and being able to decipher where I went right and where I could have
done better is something that has been a major takeaway for me throughout the course of this subject.

PGP-18-234 Individual Learning Paper – EiB Varun Singh

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