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Moral Responsibility In Moral Dilemmas


James (Jes) Staley, the CEO of Barclays plc paid a fine of GBP642,430.00 in May 2018[1], essentially because he tried to find out the identity of the author of two anonymous letters sent to the bank that raised concerns on the hiring of Mr Staley’s friend. When such concerns are raised, typically a ‘Whistle-blowing’ process should be followed.

Contributor: Dev Odedra

With such a conflict of interest (issue involving a friend and duties as CEO), the simpler moral action may have been to take a step back. The moral dilemma was a costly one in this case with a financial cost and damage to reputation: “Should I try and protect my friend or should I do what a CEO must do and act with due skill, care and diligence?”

The question in this case is not one of whether actions were right or wrong but what made them wrong. The study of Ethics, something not mandatory in banks, may help make for more informed decisions, especially given the moral responsibility a CEO has to their employees and shareholders.

The dilemma Mr Staley faced, on the one hand protecting his friend and on the other allowing the whistle-blowing process to take its course without interference, would have allowed for more informed decisions to have been made had he read Jonathan Dancy’s “An Unprincipled Morality”[2]. Although it could be argued that Dancy’s views do not allow for a complete guide on acting morally, in this case, even the awareness of the theory may have allowed for more informed decisions.

In banks certain rules have to be followed and had they been, no dilemma would have existed. The dilemma was a personal one. Possibly out of context but ‘atomism’ states that anything that is a reason to act in a certain way in one situation is always a reason to act in the same way in all those situations when they occur. So if one was to protect a friend in one case, the principle dictates that one would protect a friend in all cases regardless of the circumstance. Context in this case was not factored in.

The argument against atomism is ‘context’ and consideration of the particular situation at hand. This removes the need for principle based moral decisions and in this case would have allowed for a moral decision on the basis of considerations of the specific situation at hand and not based on the principle to protect a friend (e.g. although this is my friend, a have a moral responsibility to act against my personal principle in order to effectively carry out my role as CEO).

Although this short piece doesn’t allow for detailed analysis of all circumstances and facts to be included (e.g. the first of two letters was even discussed and given to a third party outside the bank two days after it was first received) it does highlight that even a basic understanding of ‘moral particularism’ could have allowed for a better moral decision to have been made.

[1] https://www.fca.org.uk/publica...
[2] Ethical Theory, An Anthology, Second Edition. Russ Shafer-Landau, 2013. p772-p775

© Dev Odedra