The inevitable gap between what’s legal and what’s ethical

Every writer I’ve ever read on ethics in adversarial settings takes explicit note of the obvious: that is it neither possible, nor desirable, in a deliberately adversarial institution to regulate away all unethical behavior.

As Arthur Applbaum puts it in the book that shares the name of this blog, if “the best of regulatory worlds is understood as a set of rules and levels of detection and enforcement that best balances the gains of eliminating the costs and harms and liberty restrictions of the regulations themselves, then the best set of regulations will legally permit a great deal of adversary action that is economically inefficient, harmful, and liberty-restricting.” (p. 196)

So we cannot expect that “the invisible hand of competition, even in a well-regulated market, will channel all adversary action to good ends.”

In this inevitable gap between what’s legal and what’s ethical we can pack a significant percentage of the best comics about business. Like this one from a couple of days ago.

(This comic is reposted without permission and will be removed upon request.)


2 responses to “The inevitable gap between what’s legal and what’s ethical

  1. Bas van der Vossen

    Hi Wayne. Thanks for this post. Here’s a question. – perhaps a silly question. Which of these two ways of describing such cases would you find congenial?
    (i) In adversarial settings it can be permissible to act in ways that are contrary to one’s moral reasons for action. Or:
    (ii) In adversarial settings acts that would in different circumstances be contrary to what morality requires are, in fact, morally perfectly permissible.
    (Or (iii) something else?)

    I’m not sure, I tend to go for something along the lines of (ii), but it seems that the Applbaum quote in your post suggests (i). Just curious.

  2. Pingback: Business Ethics #3- How Do You Play Fair and Play to Win? « The Superhero's Guide to Heroism!

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