An ethical duty of open-mindedness

In his latest post on the Ethics Unwrapped web site,    Professor Robert Prentice   of the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business addresses the increasing polarization in   U.S. politics from the perspective of some important emerging areas of psychology.  He discusses The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt of NYU’s Stern School of Business, a favorite of the COI Blog (see posts herehere, and here ), and a paper by Dan M. Kahan of Yale Law School,  which I look forward to reading.

Near the end of the piece, Prentice proposes “that it is the ethical obligation of citizens of any democracy to seek out factual evidence on both sides of important policy debates, to study it carefully, and to evaluate it as objectively as possible,”  and asks readers if they agree with this.  I enthusiastically second the motion.

Of course, getting there from here is a daunting prospect.  Indeed, while enlightening, Haidt’s showing how much our current moral standards have their roots in evolution can also be discouraging, given how long evolutionary change can take and how pressing are some of the problems that can only be addressed through open-mindedness (particularly with respect to climate change and our national debt). So, an ethical crusade for objectivity needs all the help it can get.

As odd as it will sound to some, I do think that business ethics can offer a helping hand to political ethics.  That is, through the enforcement of standards relating to discrimination, conflicts of interest and other areas of law and ethics, individuals in the business world are routinely pushed and pulled toward non-biased thinking, to the point that it becomes a habit for many.

I don’t for a moment suggest that the mission of those standards has been accomplished.  Indeed, the COI Blog has had numerous posts on the forms of bias that underpin behavioral ethics in business settings and has also suggested that when it comes to one ethical duty – that of honesty – the world of work might benefit from the habits of mind developed at home.

But  compared to the realm of politics, the business world is a veritable temple of reason and objectivity.  And, the everyday experience of countless individuals in the workplace may provide a foundation upon which to build the important duty of open-mindedness that Prentice proposes.


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