October 19, 2018
Hartman, Edwin M. (2006). Can We Teach Character? An Aristotelian Answer. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(1). 68-81
In the Edwin M. Hartman’s article, “Can We Teach Character? An Aristotelian Answer discusses and expands on examples regarding how following Aristotle’s teachings of virtue ethics can help a person strive to be more ethical and, as a result, achieve eudaimonia, or human flourishing. Through lifelong learning, a person can learn to hone one’s strength of character and improve on weaknesses while being nurtured by the right people to become virtuous. In this paper, we will be examining Hartman’s article’s strength and weaknesses and find out what it truly means to be virtuous.
During my childhood, there were many rules both in and out of home that I were required to follow and have carried with me through the rest of my life. Many of these rules, one could say, were very Aristotelian in nature. They were there to keep me from doing the wrong thing, and, over time, these experiences were ingrained into my personality, subconsciousness, and character. Although living with these rules my entire life, I never fully understood why people hold certain values until I learned about ethics in BUS 102. After learning about a few ethical theories, I learned that Aristotle’s principles one about one’s character and personality traits where a virtuous character has virtuous traits and vice versa. Since Hartman’s article is written with a heavy emphasis on Aristotle, I will be judging the article based on my knowledge of Aristotle’s teachings.
Hartman places a huge emphasis on Aristotle’s teachings when discussing and teaching readers, particularly business-oriented individuals, on ethical behavior. To Hartman, someone’s ethical makeup is a person’s actions and motivations for their actions that drive character development. However, Hartman realizes that giving individuals freedom to create and follow their own principles isn’t consistent nor reliable when discussing what truly makes a person virtuous. One of many examples that Hartman gives is, “a generous person happily lends money to needy friends even if they may not be able to pay it back.” (Hartman, 1). While this example does outline a virtuous trait, it can be left for misinterpretation, which may lead to an excess of virtue. Additionally, many people hold many beliefs and principles on what is truly ethical. It could be based on what their idea of what right from wrong is, or what their religion tells them, or what the law states. This massive discrepancy can lead to misconduct to huge corporate scandals to other man made disasters which emphasizes the importance of teaching proper ethical courses to everyone. Hartman wants everyone to critically evaluate what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Only by then, can a person can be on their way to being virtuous.
Hartman’s principle of analyzing one’s action stems from Aristotle’s teachings. Aristotle’s teachings of virtue ethics, in summary, is to know what to do at the correct times, in the correct way, to the correct people. For example, one of Aristotle’s virtues is courage. In an instance, a person wants to separate two people fighting on the streets, but realizes quickly that the person maybe in danger if the person rushes in to separate them. Instead the person calls for help and the fight is dispersed by officers. In this scenario, running away would be cowardice, a deficiency of courage, while running into disperse the fight is reckless, an excess of cowardice. Aristotle would say this person carried out a virtuous task by properly evaluating the situation and did what was necessary to restore the peace onto the streets. Hartman holds the same ideals in that a person needs to critically evaluate their course of actions to determine what needs to be done. In short, this principle could be summarized as wisdom. However, this principle isn’t enough on its own to determine a person to be virtuous. In order for a person to be virtuous, that person must have true strength of character and the desire to do good to be truly virtuous.
In order to understand virtue, we must know what it means to have strength of character or integrity. Hartman describes this as having a set of principles that are followed consistently with minimal, if any, deviation at all. For example, Hartman gives a situation where a health conscious person is having breakfast and their choices are granola or doughnuts. A person with a consistent character should and would choose granola without fail. However, a person without consistency or strength of character would most likely waver and choose a doughnut instead. Hartman and Aristotle both realized that having a coherent and consistent personality is a vital part of being virtuous. However, like with wisdom, having integrity isn’t enough to make a person virtuous. It is the amalgamation of wisdom, integrity, and the desire to to good are what makes a person truly virtuous. Although simple in nature, these principles can be very difficult to do and, therefore, requires practice over a lifetime to hone and develop.
Humans are innately social creatures and learn through observing and imitating. As a result, communities and families have an overbearing influence on who a person becomes as they grow. Hartman insists that people grow in communities and organizations that uphold virtues so the person can, in turn, get the practice they need to be a virtuous individual. In order for this to occur, communities need to be more involved in ethical behavior and reward noble behaviors or enact policies that promote good virtues. For example, giving recognition for an employee for their ethical behavior or giving benefits to ethical employees
Hartman emphasizes the importance of teaching ethics to everyone, not just business students. It is imperative that people get a solid ethical foundation before entering the workforce in an industry. Similarly to what Aristotle said, the path to a virtuous and happy life is the continual practice of good character and morality and must start within the household by parents. Ethics courses, while helpful, does not and should not replace a lifetime of learning. Although it seems inconsequential at first, learning Aristotelian ideals can help an individual make the right choices in their future. For example, learning ethical behavior can help an aspiring corporate manager or executive on what kinds of choices they should during times of difficulty. Their decisions not only affect people within their company, but also third parties with a vested interest in that company. This was the case with Enron and Arthur Andersen. Arthur Andersen was the auditor for Enron and was paid by Enron to essentially not do their jobs. As a result, thousands of people lost money from the worthless stocks and employees lost their jobs and any other assets tied to their respective companies when Enron and Arthur Andersen went out of business. Additionally, the accounting industry, as a whole, lost a lot of reputation. Although this scenario was extreme, it was possible because key agents greed overtook their ethical principles. On a smaller, more personal note, I was working for a restaurant where some of the floor staff were actively stealing tips and keeping it for themselves for a month. When the problem got too large, the company did an investigation and found three people responsible. As a result, their paychecks were withheld, fired, and blacklisted in the area. This was a case where the employees had weak strength of character and didn’t evaluate their decisions before enacting on it. This personal experience reflects Hartman’s article and essentially encompasses the article’s central theme.
Conclusively, Hartman’s article attempts to show the relevance of proper ethical behavior in society. Although not a substitute, ethics courses can help students develop the skills necessary to be ethical in any given situation, business-related or otherwise. The article taught me that critical analysis of future decisions, knowledge of virtues, and strength of character supported by an ethical community can help a person develop and flourish into a lifetime of happiness.