The Ethics of Competition in Business: A Perspectivist Approach


[Published in P H I L O S O P H Y   F O R   B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736 Issue Number 11, 29th August 2004 ( ]


The meaning of one’s life is a matter of perspective. There is nothing in our world of existential[1] experience that is not a matter of perspective. The goal we set in life, the aspirations we conceive, the decisions we make are simply matters of perspective. In other words, human existence is actually signified individually from the point of view of the signifier. One’s perspective is generally conditioned by her/his social relations (Marxian; behavioristic), the collective memory shared in the morphogenic field of a community (Jungian theory appropriated by Rupert Sheldrake), and the genetic components that constitute a human individual.

The human existential world is hence a situation where we find a multiplicity of perspectives. And having an existential world like this, we can in effect say that there is really nothing in it which could be called absolute and objective (except of course those non-existential or scientific and analytico-mathematical matters) states of affairs. We are living in an existential world where we can only approximate the true, the good, and the beautiful. Epistemological, ethical and aesthetic evaluations and judgments in this reality are therefore fundamentally subjective/inter-subjective and thus, relative to someone’s (or a culture’s) perspective.

It is in this light that being within the range of the same human existential world, business in general, and business competition in particular, as well as the ethical valuation that we apply to both, are all matters of perspective and, hence, are relative.


The competitive market[2] is a free arena of business exchange where the goal of every participating product distributor or service dispenser is to achieve maximum profit to improve the business further in terms of innovativeness, effective market strategizing and efficient product/service promotion and delivery. This situation calls for the sensitivity, readiness, aggressiveness and shrewdness of the business firm and the essential personnel who constitute it because the name of the game is competition. In a competitive state of affairs, positioning[3] plays a very vital role. “A firm’s positioning strategy defines how it will compete in the marketplace. An effective positioning strategy considers the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, the needs of the marketplace, and the position of competitors” (Russell and Taylor 2000:32).

The entire situation, therefore, calls for a morality that is relative to the needs, goals, objectives, strategies and implementation of plans of a particular business firm without ignoring that the same state of affairs is likewise true and obtaining in other business firms within the same business category. We call this type of morality ethical perspectivism.[4] Perspectivism in morality schematizes the moral conviction of employees in a business firm to take a strong bias toward an advocacy of the firm’s credibility and “greatness.” The very business firm where they work is actually their corporate perspective. Therefore, anything done favorably to promote, enhance and uplift the “greatness” of the business firm is morally good and right from its point of view or perspective.

Ethical perspectivism, however, sees all competitors to be on the same competitive platform and everything done in the spirit of competition is considered good and right. In the realm of business in general, and in the arena of business competition in particular, no objective or universally valid moral principles are tenable. There is no right or wrong apart from what a business competitor perspectivally considers to be right or wrong in the light of what is beneficial and advantageous to its highest interest. In the realm of business, ethical perspectivism is appropriated to achieve competitive advantage.[5]

A businessman or someone who is an employee of a business firm looks at the business world where s/he is in from the perspective of his location and her/his aspirations and performance should be determined by such perspective. It is therefore morally right on her/his part to aim for the empowerment of her/his business organization on the one hand, and for the disempowerment of its competitors on the other hand. It should always be borne in mind that the business arena is a competitive market where the perennial goal is the achievement of a competitive advantage. In this context, ethical perspectivism sees the value of requiring a business firm to stretch its resources for higher profits. It likewise aims to inspire employees to conceive of novel and more effective ways to satisfy customers.


However, it is important to distinguish the difference between the moral and the legal. Ethical perspectivism is appropriated in the present discussion strictly within the bounds of the legal–i.e., within the parameters of what is accepted in the business realm as legal on the basis of certain laws enacted for such purposes. Deceptive and fraudulent strategies used in business are considered illegal and must be condemned.

“Yet we must also acknowledge and caution that fraudulent practices do exist in business and companies do use deceptive strategies to gain advantages over their competitors. While one company may not practice them, it alone cannot prevent its competitors from doing so. Similarly, while a country may have rigorous and strict rules governing and policing fraudulent practices, cannot dictate that other nations follow suit. What is more important and useful is to tackle them head-on” (Wee et al 1991:264).

Within legal bounds, ethical perspectivism in business competition establishes a morality that is determined by the perspectival goals of a particular firm to achieve a competitive advantage over its competitors. Through ethical perspectivism, what matter most are the quality of the product/service and the name of the business firm in the market. It is therefore morally right to be seriously concerned about them.


[1] The existential refers to the subjective or inter-subjective reality of human existence.

[2] “A market where each economic agent takes the market price as outside of his or her control… The usual justification for the competitive-market assumption is that each consumer or producer is a small part of the market as a whole and thus has a negligible effect on the market price” (Varian 1999:285).

[3] “Positioning involves making choices – choosing one or two important things to concentrate on and doing them extremely well” (Russell and Taylor 2000:32).

[4] Ethical perspectivism is the moral theory that judgment of what is morally good or bad, right or wrong, is a matter of human interpretation. “[P]erspectivism is the theory that there cannot be any uninterrupted ‘facts’ or ‘truths’, because everything we encounter is seen from one perspective or another” (Lawhead 2003:135).

[5] “Competitive advantage implies a distinct, and ideally sustainable, edge over competitors… Real competitive advantage implies that companies are able to satisfy customer needs more effectively than their competitors” (Thompson 1997:52).


Lawhead, William F. 2003. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach (Second Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Russell, Robert and Bernard W. Taylor III. 2000. Operations Management. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Thompson, John L. 1997. Lead with Vision: Manage the Strategic Challenge. London: International Thomson Business Press.

Varian, Hal R. 1999. Intermediate Economics: A Modern Approach (Fifth Edition). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Wee Chow Hou, LeeKhai Sheang, Bambang Walujo Hidajat. 1993. Sun Tzu: War & Management. Singapore:Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa 2004

A Religion-Free Society?


“Religion is the opium of the people.”
— Karl Marx

“I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

“Religion is like a pair of shoes…..Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”
— George Carlin

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”
— John Lennon

Thinking of a religion-free society automatically reminds me of John Lennon’s immortal “Imagine” where one stanza says: “Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion, too.” Very idealistic indeed. Though I wouldn’t venture to opine at this initial moment that such is an impossibility. Neither David Hume would, had he been around armed with his theory of causality which distinguishes constant conjunction from necessary connection. In the realm of necessary connections–the technical field of logical analysis–impossibility is reckoned only in contradictory expressions, propositions and arguments. While in the realm of constant conjunctions–the world of human experiences–anything conceivable, i.e., imaginable, in the mental space that doesn’t violate its logical configuration is possible to be or to be made to exist in reality. Within the context of this Humean theoretical platform, it is not impossible under normal circumstances to conceive in one’s mind the being of a society where there is no religion at all.

Before proceeding further in the present discussion, let it be made clear at this point that I am using the term “religion” in its basic sociological sense as an institutional organization of faithful believers holding a set of doctrinal beliefs–virtues and values–and dogmas (or so-called “eternal principles”) as well as practising certain established rituals and observing fixed holy days (or holidays, if you will) of solemn importance, among other salient components exclusive to the organization’s systemic structure. Apparently, the meaning of religion, in this scope and limits, doesn’t include personal religion which particularly depends on the faith-experience or spiritual beliefs of an individual person which is a matter of subjective conviction. In other words, religion in the present context may not totally equate with individual spirituality. However, a deeper consideration of which could be of fundamental significance if viewed from the perspective that institutional religion basically emanates from such kind of individual subjective spirituality.

There seems to be a natural religious impulse within the mental constitution of every human being that is endowed with a consciousness capable to be aware not only of the phenomena of external realities but likewise of its own consciousness. Self-reflectiveness spontaneously draws the human individual to a realization of both her/his outer and inner strengths and limitations in a universe whose mysteries s/he seemingly can never comprehensively fathom and ultimately master even in several lifetimes. In this situation of givenness, s/he is not alone; the entire humanity is with her/him as s/he is in reality a part of that humanity. And in a myriad of pockets of humanity, like-minded individuals are drawn together and find themselves amazingly sharing similar ideals, wishes and hopes from the most microcosmic to the most macrocosmic levels of existence. From this point onward lies the trajectory that leads to consolidation where similar religious impulses that now converge as a unified form of higher spirituality evolves into a formidable institutional power called religion.

This trend has always been present since time immemorial in successive generations of practically all social formations on planet Earth. In this connection, it seems like thinking and imagining a religion-free society is by and large just a fanciful musing of idle dreamers who’d rather choose to be left alone in their schizophrenic fantasies. So that despite the robust efforts of the so-called freethinkers of modern or post-modern category to stamp out religions from the face of the Earth, the whole commitment is an exercise in futility and the more these freethinkers unite and push their agenda further as they organize into united fronts, the more it becomes obvious that they in the process are unwittingly on the way to the formation of a new kind of religion. With this in mind, what we could imagine at this point is the emergence of a religion that may not have the trappings of the old traditional ones but still an institutional organization whose members hold a set of non-negotiable beliefs and non-compromisable principles as well as practising certain ceremonies and observances of paramount importance, among other practices exclusive to the organization’s systemic structure.

Perhaps, the most realistic thing we could dare say at this juncture of humanity’s cultural evolution is the fading away of certain religious beliefs of ancient vintage that have been overwhelmingly subdued and swept away by science into the dustbin of impracticability and irrelevance. But in the light of the principle of evolution that has continually been operating in the world, religion will simply go through the process of mutation and transmutation depending on how it satisfies the physical, mental and spiritual longings of humanity. In the final analysis, a society that is free from religion will remain to be an unachievable ideal of romantics undyingly enthralled by John Lennon’s poetry.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 13 January 2015

The Role of Language in Ideology


“In public affairs men are often better pleased that the truth, though known to everybody, should be wrapped up under a decent cover than if it were exposed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world.”
David Hume, The History of England

“One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm.”
— Karl Marx, German Ideology, Chapter 3 (1846)

“Ideologies, however appealing, cannot shape the whole structure of perceptions and conduct unless they are embedded in daily experiences that confirm them.”
— Christopher Lasch

An ideology–i.e., “a set of doctrines or beliefs that are shared by the members of a social group or that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system” []– is expressed, communicated and diffused through language. In the process, an ideology creates its own “language-game” (cf. Wittgenstein) shared by its so-called believers. In its language-game are certain technical terms whose meanings are basically distinct from a common understanding of similar terms used in ordinary everyday conversations. In a way, an ideology may be easily noticed and identified through the set of jargons it has commonly been using. In this sense, we could say that an ideology has a life of its own. When an advocate of an ideology is making some statements on or about the ideology he is supportive of, hearers who have already become more or less familiar with such an ideology can automatically recognize what the speaker is saying through the terminology used.

On the one hand, we may correctly say that language serves as a vehicle of an ideology but on the other, an ideology may also be viewed as a vehicle of its own language. The distinct character of an ideology to conceive a language specifically consistent to its motives and objectives is a leading factor for such an ideology to carve a niche for itself. As time passes by, people reach a point of getting used to certain expressions and jargons markedly influenced by and hence identified with an ideology. In such a case, their understanding just comes in a spontaneous manner and in a lot of instances their responses, whether favorable or adverse, exactly hit the target. They don’t really have to get into an in-depth examination to make an automatic judgment for a widespread comprehension of an ideology’s character is self-contained in the language where its main principles are couched.

However, it is not always the case. We in the modern–even post-modern–world have been bombarded by a flurry of ideologies which in many cases are of different political shapes, colors and sounds. Their varied presentations and representations through their respective language-games are all superficially pleasant and acceptable to the generally less critical and less discriminating minds. The language each of them uses must sound nice and aggreable to the listeners. In most–if not all–cases, ideologues use a language that appeals to the common understanding of ordinary people. This is a basic strategy to make sure that ordinary people will never know the hidden meaning of the discourse the messengers deliver.

As a case in point, the ideological foundations of fascism and nazism in Mussolini’s La dottrina del fascismo and Hitler’s Mein Kampf respectively used a language supportive of and dedicated to the principles of the value of human dignity, popular empowerment, economic progress, social stability and cultural pride. This is the kind of language palatable to the general idealism of a country’s citizens. But getting more deeply into the concealed nitty-gritty reveals to us the diabolical design of these ideologies which in reality is the opposite of its professed ideals. In many recorded instances ideologies use deceptive language in their equivocal discourses. In doing so, they resort to thunder-stealing to formulate their propagandas on platforms that are very easy for the generally uncritical masses of people to accept and swallow hook-line-and-sinker.

Focusing on this matter brings us to an important philosophical concern as we get more interested in the task of unraveling the meanings of discourses. It is basic in philosophy to examine by analysis and evaluation a message and get to an exact understanding of its meaning. This distinct philosophical consideration is technically known as “linguistic analysis” which particularly highlights the exigency of understanding facilitation through meaning clarification. In other words, we have to capture the intended meaning of a set of concatenated statements to be able to truly understand in absolute terms the sensibility of a discourse. It will surely be a total misunderstanding and thus a gross misrepresentation of the real message of a discourse if such is interpreted without due respect to its language-game.

It is a major caveat emptor to every listener or reader of a message to really comprehend the messenger’s meaning. The issue of understanding another person’s statement is not simply a case of having my own understanding of it but more a matter of being able to grasp what the other person truly wants to say. Borrowing a technical term from the discipline of literary critical analysis in philology, such method of hermeneutical (interpretive) approach is called exegesis. In doing an exegesis, respect of contextual dependence is a fundamental consideration. Understanding the meaning of a discourse is hence a matter of being able to comprehend its context right at the start. My take or understanding of another person’s particular statement must not be my own opinion but an exact replication of the meaning s/he wants to convey. My personal opinion about such a statement is a different matter as it is an expression my own evaluation of that statement whether my evaluation goes for or against it. This view of the matter under consideration is very important for my evaluation of a discourse or a statement to be both meaningful and in order.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 6 January 2015