Gilbert Harman essays a thorough rebuttal to Robert Solomon’s thesis. Harman’s major objections are toward Solomon’s underestimation of the empirical threat to virtue ethics, and “his a priori claim that empirical research cannot overturn our ordinary moral psychology is overstated”. (Newton, et. al., 2011, p.77) Harman also notes an attribution error in Solomon’s argument, in that, the latter overplays seemingly obvious differences in character traits between people. Harman also questions the adaptability and relevance of the Milgram, Darley and Batson experiments, upon whose results Solomon constructs most of his analysis. As Harman succinctly concludes his essay, “Aristotelian style virtue ethics shares with folk psychology a commitment to broad-based character traits of a sort that people simply do not have. This does not threaten free will and moral responsibility, but it does mean that it is a mistake to base business ethics on that sort of virtue ethics.” (Newton, et. al., 2011, p.83) Despite this pessimism with the existing corporate structures, Harman ends on an optimistic note by allowing for the possibility of a model of virtue ethics in which virtuous behavior is socially supported and sustained.
Having scrutinized the presentation of both the authors, I am inclined to agree with Gilbert Harman when compared to Robert Solomon. It is difficult to imagine how individuals can assert their personal moral values and virtues in a corporate environment that has a distinctly limited vision and goal – mostly economic. The term ‘economic’ is the key here, for it is the most compelling reason why the discourse of personal virtue ethics is not compatible with business goals. Business corporations are economic institutions, whose major purpose is to garner short-term profit. It celebrates the principle of ‘Greed is good’ with no hint of embarrassment. In this milieu, a worker will have to leave out his individual framework of morality when he enters the premises of a corporation.
Even the sense in which business corporations view human beings – resources and commodities fetched from the labor market – makes it highly incongruent with morality in the conventional sense. The ‘market’ is much hailed by the political system and is promoted as a mechanism through which industrial production is increased and quality of our lives enhanced. But it also corrupts an individual’s character due to a reward system that works by way of benefiting those who ‘beat the system’. This was alluded to by Karl Marx when he talked about the commoditization of labor. Marx had “insight into this process. In an era in which the market is virtually deified, we need to understand how insidiously it eats away at our humanity and transforms us into caricatures of human beings.” (Carson, 1995)