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Ethics Is Serious Business

Why ethical dilemmas can be so taxing to resolve

Everyone knows that an organization cannot function without physical infrastructure communications, transportation, computer technology and the rest. Yet we rely equally on social infrastructure. It consists of the social practices that allow us to relate successfully to coworkers, customers, investors and the community at large.

Building and maintaining physical infrastructure requires a certain kind of know-how, which we call engineering. Maintaining our social infrastructure also requires know-how, because we must develop ground rules that make our social practices sustainable. The field that provides this kind of know-how is called ethics.

This means that ethics is serious business. Ethical dilemmas are at least as hard to resolve as engineering problems, and at least as urgent, particularly in our complex and fast-moving world. They require careful analysis, not gut feeling or simplistic platitudes. When does online data harvesting become invasion of privacy? When does pharmaceutical pricing become price-gouging? When does cost saving become worker exploitation? When does product promotion become false advertising? When does socializing become sexual harassment?

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