Leader: Too much Kant?

March 30, 2007

Plato, apparently, had little time for business and businessmen, believing that only the worst types of people bothered with such stuff. But then he was in the habit of denying the reality of the material world and probably would not have appreciated the finer points of budget forecasting, performance management or Sir Alan Sugar. It is not an attitude shared by Anglia Ruskin University philosophers. They have decided that as thinkers they are not too elevated to consort with commerce and are helping local businesses understand the wellsprings of creativity by applying their philosophical knowledge. Whether that is an inherently more ambitious project than that of their peers at Cambridge University helping BT to increase its customer loyalty is a moot point. But they are both examples of worthwhile applied philosophy. Many philosophers have, of course, chosen to philosophise about the nature of business. Locke, Smith and Marx devoted lives to a subject recently refashioned by contemporary philosophers to address corporate and social responsibility, though a recent paper on the Ethics of Manufacturing and Selling Inferior Quality Merchandise must have been a rather thin treatise.

It is to be hoped, however, that the actions of the philosophers in Cambridgeshire do not lead to those in business doing any actual philosophising. The prospect of industry's finest queuing up to offer "thoughts for the day" is bad enough. But the idea of the human resource manager sincerely pondering happiness, the financial director doubting the profit motive or, perish the thought, the chief executive questioning his or her very existence, is as unnerving as it is dangerous.

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