Posted: July 19th, 2023

Ethics and Language  Peer Reviewed Journal

Sandel or Stevenson

Globalization has brought the world closer in communication, economics, politics, and especially business. The Internet and technological improvements have allowed instantaneous communication almost anywhere. The idea of globalism continues to break down cultural barriers, and even psychological and philosophical differences. As this continues it will be essential for organizations to not only understand, but embrace cultural differences and styles. The changing demands of global stakeholders require new ways of approaching our views of human nature, conviviality, and how we look at basic human values across the globe.

One view comes from Michael Sandel, professor of philosophy at Harvard University. In his book, Justice, Sandel argues that humans are by nature set in certain cognitive presumptions that it is impossible to have what John Rawls called a “veil of ignorance.” Instead, as in ties with our family, we are “wired” in making presumptions within the social groups to which we belong. Sandel gives us a stern critique of three ways of thinking about the concept of justice: 1) the utilitarian perspective that tells us justice is whatever action ends up being the greatest good for the greatest number of people; 2) the connection many have between a connection with justice and freedom and implies that only through freedom can a just act occur, and; 3) justice as being inexorably tied to virtue and the pursuit of happiness. Instead, justice is connected to more complex sets of precepts — which Sandel finds in Shakespeare, the Simpsons, Jack Benny, Winnie the Pooh, and even former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings (Sandel, 2009). We find relevance in all these issues on a regular basis, whether we deal with issues in the corporate world, our daily lives, or the expectations we have of our political and social leaders.

Another view, albeit earlier in the 20th century, comes from Charles Stevenson, professor at the University of Michigan from 1946 to 1977 and suggested in an early essay that emotivism tells us that any ethical theory should explain three things; 1) intelligent disagreement may occur over moral issues; 2) moral terms like ‘good’ or ‘evil’ actually encourage that action, and; 3) that the scientific method is not sufficient for verifying any moral issue. Ethical statements express the speaker’s feelings, and are actually more than statements of action, but instead statements of proper behavior. For instance, if someone asks us to close the door, there is an implication that there is something wrong; but the reason behind closing the door may have a myriad of other issues (temperature, privacy, power, etc.) (Stevenson, 1972). Certainly, in a world in which moral ambiguity is commonplace, a framework or reference for moral analysis is relevant and necessary — particularly as we begin to include concepts from other societies.

Clearly, Sandel is more readable for the modern audience. Despite dealing with some very serious topics, he does so in a manner that is approachable for the lay reader. His greatest gift, though, is making the complex issues of philosophy (e.g. metaphysics, communitarianism, existentialism, etc.) relevant to issues that are current and impact our lives. For example, humans have debated the concept of right motives since before Aristotle. Aristotle’s concept of justice and relationship to teleology, though, can be quite complex. Sandel uses the children’s classic Winnie the Pooh to illustrate that it was justice to get the honey. Pooh had no realization that the bees might need or want the honey, or that other creatures might have a claim on it as food, just as he did. Instead, Pooh believes that the honey is there “And the only reason [he] knows of it is so he can eat it.” Now clearly, Pooh is not evil, but Sandel helps us understand that it is the perception that also governs the outcome.

The modern world is awash in issues surrounding utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number of an action and its results) and/or deontology (it is the action that sets the moral tone, not the result). This makes Sandel quite relevant to the contemporary audience for, like his example of a Stradivarius sitting in a museum to be admired; it does no good to anyone to have ideas or instruments on display unless they are going to be used by people. In this case, Sandel’s book would be used, discussed, and be more utilitarian, than Stevenson; not to take away from the importance of Stevenson’s debate.

Finally, one other reason that Sandel should be a robust part of any undergraduate curriculum is that he asks us to look at ideas using a critical approach. This view tells us to process information in an analytical manner, bring past knowledge and outside materials to bear, and use a process to not accept the status quo, but to delve deeper into the meaning of ideas and events. This approach is certainly not easy, but does offer one more satisfaction in a daily philosophical journey through life.

Ruthless Overlords of Silicon Valley


According to the article “The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley,” the corporate founders of the new digital age have tried to present themselves as benign leaders, more devoted to intellectual excellence and social good, rather than the ruthless pursuit of profits. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said this directly: “simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services” (The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley, 2012, Newsweek). However, the authors of this Newsweek editorial state that this rhetoric is a facade for the actual agenda of organizations such as Google, Apple, Zynga and Facebook. The authors term these new Internet companies as just as unregulated and powerful in their influence over our lives as the robber barons of old. As an example of their profit-focused initiatives, Apple is taken to task for “systematically outsourcing the assembly of iPhones and other gadgets to contract manufacturers like China’s Foxconn, [so] Apple has shaved its overall cost of production and plumped profit margins for shareholders” (The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley, 2012, Newsweek). The authors also critique the muscle that Google and other companies used in stopping SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which could have shut down websites if the sites were accused of having pirated content. However, given the sweeping and vague nature of the bill, faulting Silicon Valley for opposing the bill hardly seems fair. According to SOPA, “if an intellectual property rightsholder thinks a site is ‘promoting’ infringement, that party can go to court to seek an order forcing payment processors and ad services to choke off financial support to the site” even before a trial (McSherry 2012).

Throughout the article, the authors fault the companies for trying to make a profit. “Tellingly, big profit-driven sites like Google expressed sympathy but didn’t go dark [protesting SOPA] — while the notably nonprofit Wikipedia, which had no revenues to lose, did switch off in protest” (The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley, 2012, Newsweek). If Google and Facebook did not make a profit, users could not enjoy their services. Is trying to merge the social good of spreading information across the globe and making the world smaller while still sustaining the profits of shareholders to be faulted? A more legitimate critique is the potential impingement of privacy of some users. However, the most egregious violation cited in the article is one made by the major tech companies, but a small start-up called Path.com which was “uploading users’ entire contact databases to its servers without permission” (The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley, 2012, Newsweek).

The Newsweek authors also fault Silicon Valley companies for retaining a high degree of control over their ventures, or segregating “investors into the stock-market equivalent of first- and second-class citizens” which, in the case of Facebook means that Zuckerberg’s share carry “10 times the voting power of the stock being sold to the public” (The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley, 2012, Newsweek). But this is not necessarily a bad thing, given that more control may mean that the company is better able to remain true to its original ideals. Being profitable and socially responsible is not necessarily incompatible, which the authors seem to assume.

The 7C’s of the business world is defined as being concrete, clear, complete, correct, concise, considerate, and courteous. The companies cited in the article are certainly not without fault in upholding these tenants, but they have never denied the fact they are for-profit entities. And by lumping all Silicon Valley companies into one entity, the article commits more faults than the specific organizations it criticizes by creating a ‘straw man’ against which he argues. Furthermore, Mike Daisey’s expose of Apple facilities has been completely debunked, and necessitated a retraction from NPR (Peralta 2012). Not only the major corporate players opposed SOPA, but many free speech advocates as well, and its major supporter was Hollywood, which wished to preserve its own economic interests. Although the companies cited in the article are major profit-making entities, they have also had a clear social role in making the world smaller and facilitating the free flow of information. The recent Arab spring was called a ‘Twitter’ and ‘Facebook’ revolution,’ after all, which is testimony to the democracy fostered by online communication and which was facilitated by the free and open exchange promoted by Silicon Valley companies.


Characteristics of effective communication: 7Cs. (2008). MBA Notes. Retrieved:


McSherry, Corinne. (2012). Proposed ‘anti-piracy’ legislation dangerous and unconstitutional.

US News & World Report. Retrieved: http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-congress-pass-anti-online-piracy-legislation/proposed-anti-piracy-legislation-dangerous-and-unconstitutional

Peralta, Eyder. (2012). This American Life retracts Mike Daisey’s Apple Factory Story. NPR.

Retrieved: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/03/16/148761812/this-american-life-retracts-mike-daiseys-apple-factory-story

The ruthless overlords of Silicon Valley. (2012). Newsweek. Retrieved:


Sandel, C. (2010). Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? New York: Farar, Straus and Giroux.

Stevenson, C. (1972). Ethics and Language. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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