Lebanese American University


Ethics versus morality: dilemmas in the modern Lebanese workplace

Among the chapter themes are child labor, organ selling, nepotism, monopoly and corruption.

August 6, 2015—

Philippe Zgheib, LAU assistant professor of management and author of a recently published book – Business Ethics and Diversity in the Modern Workplace – about business ethics, has reviewed dozens of cases from a variety of countries and has come to a conclusion. “Universality in ethics is fiction,” he says. “Ethics is relative to the society in which a dilemma is presented, and I couldn’t find a single case that was universal across all societies.”

What is universal in ethics, says Zgheib, is that all dilemmas relate to one of four categories: individualism versus collectivism, long-term versus short-term, truth versus loyalty and justice versus mercy. All four categories are reflected in the various cases presented throughout his book. “These four forms of dilemmas hold true in all countries. The determination of what decisions to make, however, is relativist, and each society, each theory differs.”

Over the past six years Zgheib has written and collated a plethora of examples of the dilemmas faced in the modern workplace, many of which are specific to Lebanon. The book’s 24 chapters are packed with case reviews that draw on press clippings and 1,000 interviews conducted by Zgheib, his research assistants and students. Among the chapter themes are child labor, nepotism, monopoly and corruption.

“Before I started, I was very critical of Lebanon, but when you produce a book like this, you look at the issue from all angles,” says Zgheib, whose book includes cases from other countries, including the U.S., Philippines, Taiwan and Nigeria. “I realized that Lebanon isn’t as bad as we think in terms of corruption, for example.”

Ethics in Lebanon, he says, are guided mostly by morals. However, morality is but one of three dimensions of ethics, the others being legality and utility. “We are bred into issues of morality in Lebanon, but as we grow older and become entrepreneurs, utilitarianism — seeking the optimal satisfaction of maximum welfare for the most number of people — takes precedent and overrides the justice system, which in Lebanon is deficient and untrustworthy.” By contrast, Americans are more often guided by their justice system, because it is reliable. “The strength of the justice system overrides faith in the U.S.,” explains Zgheib.

Cases from both Lebanon and the United States are the focus of a chapter on organ selling, which Zgheib himself finds most fascinating. He draws on the case of a convicted organ “matchmaker” in the States and the story of a man who sold his kidney in Lebanon to support his conclusion that the organ trade is unethical.

Most of the book’s chapters include a background and examples from Lebanon, and all include a case study from a less developed economy and one from a more industrialized economy. The goal, says Zgheib, is to present ethics as an issue of choice and not simply morality. “Ethics is about choosing between two bad but different outcomes, or two good but different outcomes. The whole approach is one of dilemmas, because in business we make dozens of decisions, on the go, daily.”


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