[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 (http://www.isfp.co.uk/businesspathways/issue11.html) ]
The meaning of one’s life is a matter of perspective. There is nothing in our world of existential 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 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 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. 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.
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.
 The existential refers to the subjective or inter-subjective reality of human existence.
 “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).
 “Positioning involves making choices – choosing one or two important things to concentrate on and doing them extremely well” (Russell and Taylor 2000:32).
 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).
 “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