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The article “Can We Teach Character? An Aristotelian Answer” written by Edwin M. Hartman in 2006 provides an invaluable insight into the issue of developing character. The central theme of the article is the idea that living by certain values might be conducive to having a happy and fulfilled life. The author challenges the common belief that business ethics cannot improve character by simply teaching principles that could serve as guidance for a moral agent in various situations inside and outside the commercial environment (Hartman 69).
Hartman agrees with Aristotle on the question of teaching particular attitudes that on appropriate occasions would be a mark of good character. Like the philosopher, he believes that morality can be encouraged by developing proper dispositions. Hartman acknowledges that it takes a specific type of person to refuse all moral considerations and opt for devastatingly harmful objectives in the zero-sum game of the business world (69). He concedes that taking an ethics course will not sway such a person’s opinion.
The author encourages a reader to think of a company as a small community that might either benefit from the personal virtues of each member or suffers over a sum of joint egoism. Hartman teaches his readers that having a good character is more important for leaving a meaningful life than serving self-interest the result of which might be unpredictable (71). The writer makes a strong emphasis on the fact that humans are social creatures and argue that acting morally is an important part of belonging to a community (Hartman 71).
Hartman teaches the reader that it is necessary to develop an intuitive sense of morality that might be helpful in a situation where it is hard to act due to conflicting principles (69). He stresses that it is particularly important to choose a job that would be in line with an individual’s moral values (Hartman 79).
Hartman argues that acting by one’s moral principles helps to have a happy and meaningful life (Hartman 69). He states that an ethical person always tries to be guided by certain principles; however, simply providing someone with a set of rules will not improve their identity and moral judgment (Hartman 69). The consistency of one’s character could be achieved through the prolonged process of getting accustomed to particular predilections leading to positive emotions. His argument is supported by Aristotle who suggests that people are not morally responsible for our feelings because of their involuntary nature (Hartman 69).
Nonetheless, everyone should be accountable for their actions which usually do not exceed the scope of conscious control (Hartman 69). It naturally follows that attitudes towards ethical behavior could be developed by proper application of moral precepts. It is fair to say that strength of this argument could be verified by empirical observation.
I remember not being able to enjoy listening to classical music; however, I was happy enough to have a roommate who turned me into a life-long fan of British and German orchestras performing works of the baroque period composers. Initially, it was an extremely odd experience of listening to rubatos and ritenutos uniquely interpreted by different performers, but after I had familiarized myself with a sufficient number of symphonies I developed a taste for peculiarities of various orchestras and conductors.
Radcliffe shares Hartman’s belief that virtue can be acquired (qtd. in Wilburn 5). He compares the proses of practicing moral behavior to the process of getting accustomed to initially unappealing things like drinking wine (qtd. in Wilburn 5). It can be argued that a weakness of Hartman’s argument is eliminated by Radcliffe’s point, and it has to do with the fact that people preferring utilitarian concepts might become accustomed to following principles that are beneficial for others but harmful for themselves.
The knowledge from this article could be used to demonstrate the value of a business ethics course to students. The writer provides a set of well-structured arguments that support his main premise: living by certain values and beliefs might be conducive to having a happy and fulfilled life. The article could also be used as a primer for students taking a course in business ethics. It could help them understand why such courses could help improve their character by teaching them how to properly question their values and align them with actions in all situations.
It is important to realize that even though every person is open to numerous avenues of moral reasoning that might be based on a variety of principles, it is possible to evoke in them a desire for improving their character. It could be said that this article provides a well-balanced framework of arguments and ideas that help to think about the entire field of business ethics. Moreover, it would be hard to imagine a student who after getting acquainted with Hartman’s view of the subject would not start questioning their assumptions about ethics and morals.
Hartman, Edwin M. “Can We Teach Character? An Aristotelian Answer.” Academy of Management Learning & Education 5.1 (2006): 68-81. Print.
Wilburn, Brad K. Moral Cultivation. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007. Print.