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The following appeared as part of a company memorandum.
“Adopting an official code of ethics regarding business practices may in the long
run do our company more harm than good in the public eye. When one of our
competitors received unfavorable publicity for violating its own code of ethics, it
got more attention from the media than it would have if it had had no such code.
Rather than adopt an official code of ethics, therefore, we should instead conduct a
publicity campaign that stresses the importance of protecting the environment and
assisting charitable organizations.”
Discuss how well reasoned... etc.
This company memorandum suggests that, in lieu of adopting an official code of ethics, the company should conduct a publicity
campaign that stresses the importance of promoting certain societal interests. The reason for the suggestion is that an official code of
ethics might harm the company in the public eye because a competing company received unfavorable publicity for violating its own
ethics code. This argument is unconvincing, since it depends on several unwarranted assumptions as well as arguing against its own
First of all, the author unfairly assumes that the two companies are sufficiently similar to ensure the same consequences of adopting an
ethics code for this company as for its competitor. The competitor may have adopted an entirely different code from the one this
company might adopt—perhaps with unrealistic standards not embraced by any other companies. Perhaps the competitor’s violation
was extremely egregious, amounting to an aberration among businesses of its type; or perhaps one notorious executive is solely
responsible for the competitor’s violation. Any of these scenarios, if true, would show that the two companies are dissimilar in ways
relevant to the likelihood that this company will experience similar violations and similar publicity if it adopts any ethics code.
Secondly, the author unfairly assumes that the competitor was damaged by its code violation and the resulting publicity more than it
would have been had it not violated its code. Just as likely, however, the violation was necessary to ensure a certain level of profitability
or to protect other important interests. Without knowing the extent and nature of the damage resulting from the bad publicity or the
reason for the violation, we cannot accept the author’s conclusion.
Thirdly, the author’s proposal is inconsistent with the author’s conclusion about the consequences of adopting an ethics code. The author
suggests that, instead of adopting an ethics code, this company should stress “the importance of protecting the environment and
assisting charitable organizations.” This proposal is tantamount to adopting an ethics code. In this sense, the author suggests going
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against his own advice that the company should not adopt such a code.
In conclusion, differences between this company and its competitor may undermine the author’s conclusion that this company should not
adopt an ethics code. To better evaluate the argument, we need more information about the nature of the competitor’s ethics code and
about the nature and extent of the violation. To strengthen the argument, the author must accord his advice with his conclusion that the
company should not adopt an ethics code.