The Spirit of Liberty – and Ethics

Learned Hand – considered by many to be the greatest of all US judges – once famously said:  “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.”   This is a spirit which sadly seems as distant from us today as it ever has been before.

Of course, Hand’s primary concern was the realm of politics/governance, not business ethics. But, as discussed in prior posts the various spheres in which ethics operates – not just political and business, but also personal –  can overlap with and support each other, at least to some degree. They can also undercut each other, when not done right.

I believe that – at least for some companies – humility should be a core value.  (I do see it at some companies, but not many.) As noted in an earlier post:

First, humility is a logical and arguably inevitable response to the vast body of behavioral ethics research showing “we are not as ethical as we think.”  Thinking and acting with humility is indeed a way of operationalizing behavioral ethics. (For a list of behavioral ethics and compliance posts click here l

Second, humility is well suited for addressing ethical challenges that are based not on the purposeful failure to be honest but on the less well-appreciated dangers of being careless.  Recognizing the limits of one’s abilities – which is part of being humble –  should help underscore the need for carefulness.

Third, humility has the potential to resonate deeply in our political, as well as business, culture. By this I mean humility can help form part of a broader mutually supporting relationship between business ethics and ethics in other realms.

Finally, humility can support relationships of  trust. As described in a recent post, such relationships can be an essential foundation for prosperity in many ways.

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