Ethics in Business Essay

The Dimensions of Justice, an article found in What’s Right and Wrong in Business by R. Gomez, is a detailed discussion on the three types of justice (called dimensions by the article title) that are found in all business environments. In the article, Gomez compares and contrasts the three, giving examples of each to prove his claims. Using this article, through the relationships that are made by Gomez, and using the examples that he makes, it is possible to discern and to draw a parallel between his account of what justice is, and that of Aristotle’s, using his discussions, given in his texts in Book V, of Nicomachean Ethics. To do this, we will first look at justice as accounted by Aristotle, and then define justice in accordance with Gomez, and finally we will compare and contrast these two articles to learn the true meanings of justice and, ultimately, discover if Gomez’s arguments are grounded in Aristotle’s ethical background pertaining to this topic, and see if any significant differences arise in their explanations.

Aristotle introduces the idea of justice by expressing that we must focus on three questions. He says “the questions we must examine about justice and injustice are these: what sorts of actions are they concerned with? What sort of mean is justice? What are the extremes between which justice is intermediate?” These appear to be the most important questions posed by Aristotle in light of this topic. But first, it is important to define justice according to Aristotle. He tries to first define justice as a state where we act justly and perform just actions, and wish what is just. Therefore injustice is a state where we act unjustly and perform unjust actions, and with what is to be an injustice. But these definitions, although they appear simple enough, do not fully describe what justice is, according to Aristotle, so we need to dig further.

Aristotle argues that when we are talking about states of things, and what is defined in that state, there is a state opposite to this. For example, if I say that I am in a state of happiness, then I am feeling joy within myself. Since the state of happiness has a contrary state, unhappiness, then I would be feeling sad within myself. This rule also applies to justice. Using the definition above, we say that justice implies just actions. So, using this idea of opposites, injustice implies unjust actions. It is important to make this inference early on, to better understand the relation of the two states which are inherently different ideas.

What kinds of actions does a just person perform to show the reason that he is in a state of justice? The just person will follow the laws of his own place in which he resides, including that of the city, state, and even country, given that those laws are considered just in and of themselves. What I mean by this is that laws are made and are focused on two main principles, according to Aristotle. The first of these is that they are created with the purpose of the benefit for all persons in society. The other possibility is that laws are made for the benefit of the lawgivers and those who are affiliated in the law being created. The first possibility is true in goodness, as justice is served in the design of the law being given, to benefit all people, and thus the just person will follow it, to give that law justice. However, if the just person notices rather keenly that the law that is being given is unjust, in that it benefits only the lawgivers instead of the population in general, then this law is most likely unjust, and the just person will probably not follow it. However, if it is noticed by the just person that the lawgivers have put forth the law in order to benefit the population as a whole, even though the people do not notice this benefit, the just person will follow the law. For example, a law might be passed that says that if the lawgivers’ country is being attacked on its homeland by an opposing country, then a draft will be issued, requiring all men of age eighteen to twenty-one go into the military and bear arms and fight for the country, then this law is just, as it is for the good of all, including the lawgivers, even if the people do not believe that war is appropriate, or do not think that such young men should fight untrained in a war. As this law is attempting to preserve the country and those who live in it, it is a just law, and the just person will obey it. So it is clear what a just person would do in these situations. A just person is a lawful person. But what would an unjust person do? It is appropriate to say that, using the idea of opposites as stated earlier, an unjust person is an unlawful person, and would not follow the law, even if it is a just one. An unjust person would probably think of how the law could benefit him, rather than the population that surrounds him, which includes him and that person would be unjust in either following the law only with the intent to gain benefit from it by individuality, or even not follow the law at all. A just person would follow the just law, not seeking personal benefit, but that for all.

In discussing the unjust person searching for personal benefit, it is safe to say that that person would be concerned with what can give that person an advantage over others, for that person’s personal profit. For example, a person might find a twenty dollar bill on the floor of a supermarket, and thinking only of himself, pocket the cash and walk away, thinking that he just profited from going into the supermarket in the first place, thereby causing an injustice. However, a just person would, after discovering the bill, would take it to the lost and found counter and give it to the person in charge, and a justice would be done, not to say what the person in charge of the lost and found counter would do with the cash, but the justice has been accomplished with the mere action of the person, who knows that he has done a good deed that will most likely benefit the person who lost the money. He did not seek personal gratification but did what a just person would naturally do.

Most laws are designed to teach people to do actions that will appear virtuous, even if people do not think about it at first. For example, as Aristotle puts it, “of a brave person—for instance, not to leave the battle line, or to flee, or to throw away our weapons; of a temperate person—not to commit adultery or wanton aggression; of a mild person—not to strike or revile another; and similarly requires actions in accord with the other virtues, and prohibits actions in accord with the vices.” This explanation leads us to discern that the just person is the virtuous person, and the opposing argument reigns true as well, that the unjust person is the anti-virtuous person. Aristotle continues, making a large leap forward, but justifies his notion, that justice is the most superior, of all of the virtues. He is saying that justice can be considered a virtue, and it is supreme of all of them. He then launches forward, as if his leap wasn’t enough to keep us on our toes, saying that “justice is complete virtue to the highest degree because it is the complete exercise of complete virtue.” He explains this by telling us that the person who just has all of the virtues and is, in fact, virtuous in and of himself. And the unjust person shows the opposite of what is considered as virtuous, that being his vice and this vice flows out from himself into others he is associated with as well.

Aristotle says that there are two main types of justice in the political system, the first being the equal distribution of small honors and wealth. The second includes the modification of transactions, in which there are two parts to this: voluntary and involuntary transactions. Voluntary transactions would include the sale of property, loans made by two parties, donating money to a just cause. Involuntary transactions can include such things that might be just or unjust, such as robbery, treason to one’s own country, and imprisonment (but this crosses a fine line between justice and injustice, as it is sometimes difficult to justify the means by which a person is sent to prison). So, in the political system, as this is generally where laws and those lawgivers that make them come from (as most politicians), it is important to play the part of the just person, as this will affect all of the society that you deal with, sometimes even including the very country that you live in.

Justice is intermediate, in Aristotle’s views, in that it the state of justice must benefit two parties equally, not unequally, for that would be an injustice. The equality must be related to something of importance and focused towards two parties or persons, groups, etc. Using this idea, the just person must be concerned with equality and the unjust with inequality.

One other 1point that Aristotle points out is that “it is possible to do injustice without thereby being unjust.” What does he mean by this? How can a person perform an act of injustice, without being called unjust? Aristotle says that this statement is true of the politically just. He makes the distinction of what we mentioned earlier, that those who are just allowed the law to abide in their lives. The just person has the law in that person’s affairs. For example, a lawyer, who uses the appropriate laws on his side, is just, because his practice is solely based on the laws. But it is possible indeed that the just can commit an injustice, but still be just in essence of himself. For example, a person who steals from the IRS by lying on his taxes, but is not a thief. Aristotle talks about an interesting idea, that perhaps it is not always the actions by which a person is considered just or unjust, but maybe it is also the feelings that a person has towards the actions that he makes. Also, Aristotle mentions that the ruler of a country who truly just does not make a substantial profit for himself, but for those he rules, because the ruler is proportionate and equal in his transactions.

Aristotle says that justice is a mean, in that “the just person is said to do what is just in accord with his decision, distributing good things and bad, both between him and others and between others. He does not award too much of what is choice worthy of himself and too little to his neighbor (and the reverse to what is harmful), but awards what is proportionately equal, and he does the same in distributing between others.” Therefore, the just person is virtuous in himself and his actions, and through these actions and intentions, the means for the just person are realized most effectively.

Now that we discussed in detail Aristotle’s views on justice and injustice, it is time to take a shift of focus and look at R. Gomez’s ideas pertaining to the dimensions of justice of that which he explains in detail in the article. Gomez first tells us his definition of justice, that being “that which is due.” He explains that there is another common definition of justice that is understood by most. This definition is simply understood, using three kinds of justice (which he calls the dimensions of justice). These include commutative justice, distributive justice, and general or legal justice. Gomez discusses each in light of a business perspective.

Firstly, Gomez wants to tell us of the relationship between the three kinds of justice. He says that every human is subject to these three types, in that they govern that human’s daily life. He says that to determine the importance of each of these justices, one must look at that human’s life with other people. As the idea of justice directly correlates with that of another individual, another human being.

Commutative justice is the justice of contracts. For example, one party wants something of another party, and that other party wants to make sure it is receiving something equal in return for what it was that the first party desires. So, a binding agreement is made to assure that each gets what is equally deserved. The contract might be a “hard, carbon copy,” or it might be a verbal one. This is justice because, as Aristotle puts it, the truly just person desires equality, as the unjust person wants inequality or some profit for himself that is unequal to another. The just person seeks no profit for himself (as that would make him greedy and non-virtuous), but seeks equality for all parties. Gomez tells us about three types of demands that a business person would have to face in the commutative justice perspective. The first of these is demands towards suppliers, “meeting the agreed price for the money, merchandise, or services obtained;” towards clients, “supplying the merchandise or rendering the services agreed upon at the set price, without defects, of the right quality;” and towards stockholders, “declaring dividends if any, “ as well as transparent relations with stockholders and the clients. He expresses the importance of having the right quality in the items being exchanged or services being rendered. He says that there is usually a minimum standard for quality control that society maintains to keep the consumers happy. For example, food that is sold in the supermarket that is fresh, such as fresh fish and meat, must not be past the expiration date, as determined by the laws of society, or it will become bad meat or fish and cannot be sold, as the quality of these fresh goods has been compromised. And it is always more just and virtuous to keep the quality of an item or service well above the minimum standard, to keep the consumers and clients happy.

Distributive justice is the justice of the distribution of benefits and burdens. This could include proper wages and salary for hired employees (and equal salaries for all employees who perform the same job), and tax deductions for donating to a just cause. Two examples Gomez gives are towards a company’s personnel, the people who work for that company. So anything relating to and concerning the company’s workers, such as fair wages, social security, and general costs for a sense of community within the company, such as pizza parties or promotions for good workers, must maintain good quality, and thus be the justice of the company. The other example he gives is towards those who are competing against the company; what is normal for fair and just competition between those companies. For example, in a political setting, when one runs for president, he is running against others who desire that particular position as well. There is a sense of competition here, and it is important to maintain justice within it—to compete fairly and justly and virtuously. After discussing the examples of distributive justice, Gomez says that this form of justice seems to be quite problematic. He says this because “there are at least two notions of a business enterprise: that of a corporation that contracts work in exchange for a salary; or that of a community of persons closely linked by a common task.” He enlightens us to what he means, saying that “both notions are not always equivalent to legal institutions, in the sense that a business enterprise, for example, may truly function as a community and yet maintain a salary structure. Conversely, it is possible for a cooperative not to function as a community. On the other hand, the existence of a salary structure does not always mean that human work is treated as a mere commodity.” Here, Gomez is trying to give an explanation to possibilities of conflicts within the distributive form of justice.

One practical example of this is the Salvation Army, as well as other entities of this nature. The Salvation Army does well in the community and provides a strong sense of community for those who experience its good works. There are still employees of the Salvation Army, and they are with a salary. So one must be careful when discussing the distributive aspect of justice, as there may be ethical dilemmas attached and one must spot these early on in order to maintain their sense of being just and noticing the possible justice or injustice of those organizations or entities. One other aspect of distributive justice that Gomez notices is that distributive justice includes the relations of businessmen with other businessmen who are competitors. It is important to make clear the ethical dilemmas caused by such a competition and to know what is just and unjust by each businessman’s actions and intentions. There are many cases of unfair competition, and once recognized, should be avoided, such as industrial espionage. This is where one business learns secrets about another competitor company through someone who works within that competitor company and uses those secrets to make the company more competitive. This, obviously, is unethical and unjust, as it utilizes unfair competitiveness (and sometimes even illegal situations arise) and should not be tolerated, as the unjust would do this. Another example pertains to state law in Idaho. This law says that any person who desires a job can, in effect, take over someone else’s job, and declare that he will work less than that employee, so for example if the employee at a job is working ten dollars an hour, and minimum wage is seven, then someone else can come in and declare they want to work for eight dollars an hour and get that job, thus the person who was working would lose it. This is a blatant example of an unethical and unjust law, as well as an unjust practice and unethical business enterprise.

According to Gomez, there are two forms of legal justice. The first is towards the state as a legal institution which represents the community, through the fulfillment of the laws and regulations of that state, and secondly, through the just payment of what is due, called taxes. So, according to Gomez, one who pays his taxes and obeys the laws and regulations of where he lives is being just, and one who does not is unjust. One can recognize why it is important to pay taxes, if one focuses closely enough on the act of paying them, and the consequences of such, pertaining to good consequences, such as better roads, fees paid for services rendered by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and other protectors of the United States as a country. It might, however, be more difficult to figure out why it is ethical to follow the laws of a given state if they do not appear to be just. It might be even more difficult when these laws pertain to businesses and the services they provide. But to determine which law is justly followed, and which law is unjust to mankind is in the hands of the lawyers. It is the business’s job to figure out how to follow the laws of the state most properly, so they do not become unjust and lose their population of consumers and clients.

Now that we examined both Aristotle’s and Gomez’s views on justice and injustice, it is time to discern if there are any significant similarities or differences between the two, and how these comparisons relate to the topic of justice as a whole.

It appears evident that Gomez’s ideas on justice are rooted deeply in the foundation that Aristotle makes about the subject. Aristotle says that justice is the highest of all the virtues and for one to be truly just, one must be truly virtuous, and it seems that Gomez upholds this idea as well, as an important characteristic of what a just and ethical business environment should consist of. Aristotle says that “justice is the only virtue that seems to be another person’s good because it is related to another; for it does what benefits another, either the ruler or the fellow member of the community [or business].” And this benefit for another often leads to a benefit for all of society. And in the business world, if all companies are flourishing in their justness, this flows to the goodness of all who are involved in those companies, and a just goodness to all of society.

One other relationship that is noticed between Aristotle and Gomez is the idea that not all laws are just ones. Aristotle says clearly that the laws will benefit either the common good for which the laws concern, or those who are in control. Gomez agrees with Aristotle’s remark, stating that “the sphere of duties of justice (ethics) however, does not always coincide with the sphere of juridical obligations (law). There are mainly two reasons for this: because not everything that has to do with justice is covered in the civil laws, and because some civil laws can be unjust.” After making this statement, Gomez concludes that “the ethical behavior of the businessman can take three forms: the ethical corresponds to what is legal; the ethical goes over and beyond what is legal; and the ethical stand does not follow what is legal, or even resists it.” The idea that both Aristotle and Gomez are trying to express is that is it justice or injustice to disobey a law if that law in and of itself is an unjust law? In the business perspective, it is appropriate to follow all laws, unless they are clearly bent towards those in control, that being the lawgiver. Aristotle agrees, in that, as we made the connection earlier, one who is just as lawful, and one that is unjust is unlawful.

Both Aristotle and Gomez acknowledge the notion of distributive justice, and that this form of justice requires equalities between two parties. Aristotle says that equality requires two things to be called equal in comparison to themselves. And this is important in the business industry when forming relations with one business to another. Another idea pertaining to this is the just worth of what goods or services are being offered. For example, should a person who is the secretary of business be paid the same salary as one who is the vice president of the business? Should the janitor of a company be paid equal to the sales associate or marketing associate of that company? No, because that would be an injustice of different levels of services rendered. If the same service was being offered, then, yes, there should be an equality of pay. But if one service is measured next to another, and one is more important, or more critical for the business to survive, then it would be just to pay one person over another’s a higher wage, for the services that that person offers are different and more important to that business, and those services are unequal to that of certain other employees in that business. Gomez supports Aristotle’s claim clearly, asking the question “Is it just to pay the same salary to two individuals who actually do not have the same output? Is it just to hire the services of personnel on a contractual basis so as not to give fixed work?” These ideas are a real conundrum in the business industry. The answer, to say it simply, is that it is not just to do these things, according to both Aristotle and Gomez.

R. Gomez’s account of justice and injustice, from his article The dimensions of justice, in the book What’s Right and Wrong in Business, does not differ significantly from Aristotle’s account of justice in Book V of his Nicomachean Ethics. It only may differ slightly in terminology. The main difference, if any (and if it is that important to note) is that Gomez’s discussion is based on the justice and injustice of businesses, as Aristotle’s justice and injustice explanations are based on the foundations of such topics. These two men hold the same positions as to what justice and injustice are, and perhaps approach the topic from slightly different angles, but say the same things, that those who are just are lawful in their actions and uphold the virtues, and focus on the qualities of all equal services. The unjust person is the opposite of the just one, in that he focuses on himself more than others, and does not possess some or all of the virtues necessary to be properly justified in society. Both Aristotle and Gomez agree that justice implies that which is due between more than one person, usually between two entities, whether they be two friends or acquaintances, or two business partners, or even two or more competitive companies. Aristotle believes that justice is supreme amongst the virtues, and in thinking about Gomez’s examples, for one to be just in the business environment, one must be virtuous. So it is very apparent that Gomez is well grounded in Aristotelian philosophy, that was most important to him in this article, discussing the fair justice of businesses, and although both Aristotle and Gomez may be approaching the subject from different angles and viewpoints, the overall outlook of the ideas of justice is the same in comparison.

In closing, let us remember the most melodious words that Aristotle used when describing justice in light of virtue: “Justice often seems to be supreme among the virtues, and ‘neither the evening star nor the morning star is so marvelous,’ and [as] the proverb says, ‘And injustice, all virtue is summed up.’”