Time for a Philosophy Check?

Were Socrates alive today, dressed in a suit and commanding consulting fees, he might tell us the unexamined corporation is not worth joining. He wouldn’t be alone in his thinking.

Organizations all over are turning to philosophy to help them create codes of ethics. Just ask the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA), which uses philosophy principles and practices to counsel organizations, associations and even elected officials about ethics.

“Some people think of philosophy like golf – ‘If I have more time I’ll pick it up,'” says Lou Marinoff, president of New York City-based APPA. But it’s more a necessity than a luxury. We all make decisions based on our own principles and ethics. Having a philosophy, Marinoff says, is like having a body – everyone has one and needs to get it checked out every so often to make sure it’s working.

But why the resurgence in philosophy’s popularity? It actually dates back to the 1700s, when politics began to move away from its association with theology, which delivered its own moral code. Then business was constrained by politics, which had its codes of law and ethics. In the last half of the 20th century, business has seceded from politics and even begun to rule it – consider globalization and the diversity of the workplace – leaving the business world without a moral code.

To help organizations relocate those morals, APPA philosophers use toolkits containing a combination of the systems and methods of the great thinkers and more general guiding principles. But those who have bad college memories of heavy philosophy tomes and incomprehensible lectures need not fear. “They don’t have to read Plato’s Republic,” says Marinoff. “We’ve done that for them.”

Enlightened executives would do well to heed the APPA’s latest motto: “A virtuous workplace is more functional than a vicious one.” And you e-mail, right? Therefore, you are.

Visit www.appa.edu.