2021 CJBE Annual Conference

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Should Socratic Wisdom Be a Learning Goal in (Jesuit) Business Schools?

For centuries, Socrates has been perceived by many as the embodiment of wisdom. When one looks into his life through the eyes of Plato's Apology, however, such wisdom appears perplexing; it boils down to nothing other than a recognition of his ignorance concerning the most important human issues (Apology, 21d). Interestingly, David Concepcion, one of the most prominent scholars in the pedagogy of philosophy, emphasizes to students that the aim of philosophy is precisely to attain a wisdom that emerges from one’s recognition of one’s ignorance. He has written, echoing Socrates and Bertrand Russell: “philosophy is ostensibly a truth-seeking practice. Yet it seeks truth without assuming doctrinal foundations or the use of the scientific method. [...] [M]ore often than not the attempt fails. Philosophy shows that many things which are thought true are not, but it doesn’t establish very many truths. Philosophy is strange because it is more of a falsity shedding venture than a truth building one. This strangeness confirms for me that philosophy is centrally about gaining wisdom and not truth” (Concepcion 2019, pp. 80–81, cf. Russell 1996, p. 17). To anyone who has attempted to swim in the waters of moral philosophy, Concepcion’s description should sound all too familiar. It is often said (and this is particularly salient in Jesuit institutions) that exposing business students to courses on moral philosophy is valuable. My aim in this presentation is to examine this view. In the first part of my talk, I justify why philosophical inquiry, particularly inquiry into moral philosophy, is inherently puzzling. There are different, compelling, but conflicting moral theories. For instance, consequentialism, deontology, and libertarianism are each driven by a different intuition: promote the overall good, enforce the respect of rights and the fulfillment of duties, or promote individual freedom, respectively. And while each of these intuitions is powerful and compelling, it is not easy to reconcile it with the others. When the moral analysis is applied to issues in business, these complexities are compounded even further. Even though morality is taken to promote fraternity, collaboration, free markets seem to work best in the midst of a competitive and adversarial environment. Similarly, while market prices serve as a powerful mechanism to coordinate extremely complex systems of consumption and production, this coordination activity comes at the expense of basic principles of justice. The efficient allocation resources, promoted by free markets, does not conform with a fair allocation of resources and is often at odds with some of the most salient deontological prohibitions concerning basic human rights or the alleviation of poverty. After recognizing these complexities, after recognizing that moral philosophy in general, and normative business ethics in particular, is difficult and likely to lead to aporia, I explore the question of whether we should teach it. Specifically, I want to explore the following two set of questions: 1. Is it a good idea to teach it? Should we bother to teach moral philosophy? To what extent do students benefit from learning about it it? Is it worthwhile for students to be exposed to it? 2. Is it a bad idea to teach it? It has sometimes be said that teaching philosophy is dangerous (In Plato’s Republic, citizens are only exposed to dialectic at age thirty, only after years of learning about other subjects (Republic, 539b). If this is the case, isn’t it positively dangerous to teach moral philosophy to our students? Is the main danger that we: a) teach moral philosophy in general, b) only teach one (or a few classes) in moral philosophy? c) teach moral philosophy at a stage of development of our students? References Concepcion, David W. (2019). “Reading as a Philosopher.” In: The Philosophers’ Magazine 85, pp. 79–84. Russell, Bertrand (1996). History of Western Philosophy. London: Routledge. 1