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Analyzing the Parable of the Sadhu

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Here the question is what action promotes McCoy’s & the hiker’s interest. The main purpose of all the hikers was to travel to Nepal and have a “once in a life time experience”. It is conceivable that this is consistent with everyone’s best interests, while helping the Sadhu is clearly not. Action was ethical. However the fact that McCoy feels guilty reflects that he was unable to promote his long term interest. Hence it becomes ambiguous to justify his actions.

Kantian Ethics: Should abide by the following 2 principles:

*Maxim should become a universal law

*Never treat people simply as means to an end but always at the same time as ends in themselves

In the parable, Stephen says that the hikers would have treated the Sadhu differently if he had been from the same ethnic group as them. However Kantian principle forbids such behaviour. One should treat all equally irrespective of ethnicity, caste, sex etc.

Further, if they were treating the Sadhu as a worthy human being, they should have understood that saving a human life is far more valuable than accomplishing a goal.

Under this principle the action was unethical. However one of the shortcomings to Kantian ethics is that it does not give priority for duties. If as a hiker my foremost duty is to complete my hike then in that case the duty of saving a human life may fall below it. In this case the moral character of a person will tell which duty one must follow.

Veil of Ignorance: The key is that people make decisions based on what is good for their community as a whole, and without regard to their own self-interest (since they operate behind a veil of ignorance and don’t know enough about what would benefit them).

Now suppose that all the 3 hiking parties & Sadhu had met before in Nepal before they were given there identities. In this state all wore the Veil as each was unaware of respective roles & upcoming challenges. A case can be made that all the hikers were ethical. Not knowing beforehand who would need help and who would be able to offer help, no one can be held for the condition of Sadhu. All have equal freedom – no one is forced to help anyone else, nor has anyone been allowed to hurt anyone else.

Given the social inequality in this parable, Rawl’s difference principle is upheld. Sadhu is indeed better off with the inequality. If the hikers were of the same status, then they would not be able to help the Sadhu and his death would have been more certain. Hence we can say that the ‘letter of the law” had been observed.

Utilitarianism: Greatest good of the greatest number

The hikers’ combined enjoyment of this once-in-each-of-their-lifetimes experience, plus their combined absence of pain in not risking their own safety, plus the assuagement of guilt which each was allowed by doing the little each one did for the Sadhu, may, despite the continued danger to the Sadhu involved in this choice, easily sum to a larger utility than would helping the Sadhu minus the expense of the hike and risk to the hikers.

Rule may be adopted such as the following, which could easily justify the actions of the hikers:-

“Whenever I am hiking in a difficult terrain which is exotic for me, under brutal weather conditions, and believe that I will not have an opportunity to repeat this rare and wonderful experience, I will aid a stranger in need to the extent that I may also finish the hike while it is possible for me to do so”. This can be generalized and still be relevant.

Act utilitarianism: Consequences of a particular event

The case does not provide details about the feeling of guilt by New Zealanders, Japanese or the Swiss. However Stephen does feel guilty and he should have tried to garner support to help the Sadhu. But he failed and hence he may be considered guilty. But then Stephen was the only one who actually realized the seriousness of the situation. He was the one who was morally awake and realized that his duties towards a human being are more important than any other super ordinate goal.

However none of the rules explain the relevance of the story to the corporate world. By contriving the story into a “quandary” which can be solved by the application of a rule, these theories divorce the dilemma from the context. Consequently the analogy which McCoy draws between that context and the corporate/bureaucratic one is warped. As the story is colored by a rule-based analysis, each hiker has only an abstract moral obligation toward the Sadhu, but in McCoy’s version the hikers have individual values based on a set of shared goals. One can draw their own conclusion, but we claim that McCoy’s narration of how those few moments were actually lived on that icy mountain path, of how that monumental choice was made, and of its deeply troubling consequences, stands in stark rebuttal of rule-based arguments that justify the minimal actions of the hikers. Their very understanding of moral obligation fosters neglect for cooperative efforts and for inter-subjective relationships. Rule-based analysis conceptualizes a moral question as arising for a generic agent in total isolation – one who is totally context-free, character-free and who gets his or her moral clues only from his or her innate faculty of reason.

How better to understand the Parable of the Sadhu

No moral theory would have forbade the hikers from helping the Sadhu to the meager extent they did so. The relevant distinction in cases such as the Sadhu is not between actions that are right and those that are wrong, but between actions that are merely okay and those that are excellent – between those that are merely justifiable and those that are actually praiseworthy. The Sadhu parable brings into relief our notions about the different moral characters of persons, rather than our justifications of the moral worth of actions.

So long as we limit business ethics to these rule-based theories, it will remain out-of-touch. Rule-based theories overlook the very principle of corporate business practice, namely that it incorporates the various individual efforts, talents and goals of its members into a unity. Unfortunately, the inadequate and unrealistic picture of business decision-making which we derive from the rule-based theories is not an innocuous mistake. It does and has affected the way business people think about ethics. Many have come to think of ethical reasoning as an alien and inept practice, in opposition to the goals of business. Mastering the application of ethical theory becomes, for some, just one more hypocrisy necessary to winning the corporate game. For others, it becomes just a pale and overly long version of their own pangs of conscience.

Only in a notion of virtue, and not in the notions of duty, contractual obligation, or utility, is a distinction made between mere moral adequacies on the one hand and moral excellence on the other – only in the notion of virtue, and not in these other notions, is the inter-subjectivity inherent to business practices taken into account in ethical reasoning.

McCoy suggests that the moral of the story of the Sahdu is that the corporate culture should offer more support and direction for the goals and values of the individuals working within the firm. Management should “be sensitive to individual needs . . . shape them and . . . direct and focus them for the benefit of the group as a whole.” He cites the cause of the hikers’ blameworthiness in the lack of group support for individual conscientiousness. “Without . . . such support,” he claims, “. . . the individual is lost”.

Without recounting the now-familiar story of Johnson and Johnson’s decision to recall and to destroy 31 million bottles of contaminated Extra-Strength Tylenol, we want to close with the observation that, in our view, this remarkable decision Johnson & Johnson board evidences the fundamental business virtues of courage, toughness, and trustworthiness, as well as plain, unvarnished honesty, compassion, and loyalty towards the people that J&J had always placed first in its corporate credo: “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and to all others who use our services and products.”

This took it beyond short term concerns about profit and loss, and it did so because J&J could not see itself acting in any other way. It had developed a culture of care and healing, and with that culture, it had developed the virtues, the excellences, the strength of character to “do the good,” to “do the right thing.” Did J&J serve its self-interest in the process? Yes, and we take pleasure in extolling that kind of self-interest. Self-interest like that is so closely tied to the good of the community, so closely woven into the body of the community, that there is no division of interest, no hostility or antagonism between self and community. Self-interest becomes one and the same with the interest of the community.

On that icy mountain path, the Sadhu was not welcomed by a community. He was attended to by people who were at least as nice as McCoy was; people who met the minimum, but by people who wanted to be on their way and back on track. We are not deprecating their efforts – they may have saved a life. But we do not envy them their special hell – did the Sadhu live or did he die?

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