Is Good Character Important?

The great debate among ethicists is between Kantians – Deontology – and Utilitarians – interest.

Pure morality as an abstract form of thought true at all times and all places is juxtaposed against materialism and self-seeking in this world so fallen from a religious and idealistic perspective.

Business ethics and corporate social responsibility have been stuck in the quagmire of irresolvable irreconcilability between ethics and profit-seeking. How could they ever be integrated?

If one backs away from this confrontation of the intangible and the tangible, there is the approach of praxis – what works? Can a case be made that ethics “works” which does not slide all the way down into self-delusion and expedient rationalization of why what I want is the “right” thing to do?

Looking at what will work raises a perspective of science – say, laws of motion or chemistry which lead from here to there on a predictable basis.

Individual character – the ethos which drives our preferences and decision-making – might work as such a natural law. If I know your character, I can reasonably accurately predict your behaviors.

If you work for me and I know your character, I will have a sound basis for trusting or not trusting you to do what the firm wants and needs and not to get us all in trouble through your indiscretions and malfeasance.

Heraclitus said that character is fate or destiny. In the Greek, his point is more active: character is our daimon – our driving spirit, setting our course in life.

If we focus on character and if all people are helped to have good character, then the output of our social endeavors will be constructive.

The way to moral capitalism, therefore, might be through character education.

Oh, that’s just what Mencius, Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius and Adam Smith recommended for living the good life.