Research and Intervention Axis: “Ethics Architecture” and “Moral Feelings Education” Notions

Organisational ethics is sometimes, a difficult subject to approach. For some, it feels too “philosophical” and not well adjusted to business reality, even useless for decisions. For others, what is ethical or not seems so obvious that reaching a consensus on values looks relatively easy, if we work on it. For others again, ethics is just a punishment for people that broke the law or rules of a principle considered immutable.

At the research Chair, we use an architecture metaphor to emphasise the importance of the often unknown consequences of the use of conceptions and automatisms of ethics in an organisation. Every style of architecture generated different structures throughout the ages, like the houses in a specific region. And we can live “well” in a Victorian house, an ecological house or an urban loft. But every single of these architectures answer to different needs and generates a different life style. If in some houses, you can easily invite thirty people to dinner during the holidays, in others it’s very complicated. And if a house with a garden offers a more direct connexion to nature, life in an apartment is a lot more limited for that same aspect.

The principle is the same in ethics. Throughout the ages, human civilization has developed different emotional and thinking architectures that were influenced by instinctive urges. Those different “ethics architectures”, that is expressed through different theories and different practices, share and live in our organisations. They also get alongside business partner’s exchanges. And in our complex and globalized world, there are a lot of ethics theories and numerous ethics practices that combine themselves or oppose themselves.

Adam Smith and his friend, David Hume, were the first to propose the social and cultural theory of human evolution. Smith also used the expression “the invisible hand of evolution” to suggest that those moral emotions architectures are often partially visible, but remain strongly structuring. Recent scientific discoveries in neurophysiology and ethology, notably on social empathy, makes him right.

Unfortunately, Adam Smith’s name was associated in some circles to the notion of the “markets invisible hand”, like a call to casino capitalism that we know of today. In a very different way, Adam Smith and David Hume wanted to educate moral sentiments in people at the beginning of the industrial revolution that was emerging under their gaze in Scotland and England. They wanted to push towards a positive evolution of the economic, moral and ecological wealth of nations. And they conceived that the quality of that evolution was partially dependent of moral sentiments of people, whether express individually or collectively, in groups, organisations or societies.

The tool developed by the Chair allows us to make moral sentiments more visible and to, potentially, better refine them. This moral sentiments education brings us to the development of different conceptions and practices, whether it’s inside a business organisation or outside. This education requires the use of different pedagogics, like objective approaches (analysis assessment, measures, and statistics) and subjective approaches (dialogues, literature, artistic workshops). All the Chair’s activities (Research, publications, formation, consultation…) assist people into better understand the influence of moral sentiments for themselves and for others with the objective to refine their ethics conceptions and practices.