Ethics Blogs

(This posting overlaps substantially with something I wrote for the Newsletter of the Canadian Society for the Study of Practical Ethics.)

Blogging has taken the world by storm, but has frankly barely generated a breeze in academic ethics. The biggest, best, and most popular ethics blog right now has got to be the blog written by the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics ( Glenn McGee and his colleagues crank out an impressive volume of high-quality commentary on a range of bioethical issues. It is a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in bioethics.

My own efforts have been focused on “The Business Ethics Blog”. My inspiration for starting a blog came from my dismay at not finding any business ethics blogs to speak of out there. Given the popularity of the medium, I was sure that when I finally got around to looking, I’d find dozens of blogs about business ethics and corporate social responsibility. My initial search turned up almost none, so I took up the challenge myself. I’ve since found a few decent ones – both academic and non-academic – that I now read almost daily.

But in general, there just aren’t a lot of ethics blogs, and even fewer good ones. I think this is a serious lacuna. Critics, of course, have already been trumpeting the “death of the blog.” Blogs, they say, are mostly vapid, self-indulgent exercises in unwanted opinion-sharing. And that’s mostly true. But that doesn’t mean that all blogs are useless. Blogs of the “guess-what-my-cat-did-today” variety are incredibly common, and even the best of them lose their charm after a couple of days. But clearly not all blogs are of that variety.

I think thoughtful ethics blogs by people with a background in ethics have the potential to be incredibly useful. First, of course, a good blog is a great way for readers “in the business” to keep up with current events and current controversies. Reading the AJOB blog is my primary means of keeping in touch with events in the world of bioethics, now that I’ve shifted most of my research to the world of business ethics.

Secondly, blogs can be useful teaching tools. One friend tells me he’s using my business ethics blog as a source of up-to-the-minute case-studies for discussion in one of his classes. Of course, a blog will never provide the kind of in-depth analysis and historical perspective that a good case book does; but then again, case books tend to be full of examples – the Ford Pinto, the Exxon Valdez – that happened before the current crop of undergrads was even born.

Finally, I think high-quality ethics blogs make a serious contribution to public discourse. A good ethics blog doesn’t just alert people to stories; a good ethics blog should provide at least a little educated insight. So, when a story pops up about the “dangers” of videogames? Here are the basics – a few sentences – of the ethics of product safety. A story about accusations of conflict of interest? Here’s at least a definition of the concept. I find I use my blog the way I use media interviews: not as a chance to give in-depth analysis, but as an opportunity to give just enough insight to raise the average educated person’s understanding of a given story one notch, to show that there can be more than knee-jerk moralizing when it comes to ethically contentious issues.

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