Certifying Virtue

Kenan Institute for EthicsTwo weeks ago I was at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, in part to participate in a panel discussion called “Certifying Virtue.” The panel was basically about the challenges faced by various attempts to certify particular consumer goods as having been ethically produced.

My excellent co-panelists were Greg Dees (director of Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship) and Tim Büthe (Assistant Professor in Duke’s Political Science department). The panel was organized and moderated by Kenan’s Lou Brown.

My own comments focused on:

  • The large number of value-dimensions along which different consumers might want assurances about the things they buy.
  • The epistemic problems involved in figuring out how to measure the things you might want to certify (e.g., measuring “environmental impact”).
  • The moral problem that arises when 2 or more desirable characteristics conflict (e.g., “wild” vs “organic” salmon — you might want both, but no one fish can be both wild and organic.)
  • The role of brands and certification schemes as “value-alignment” mechanisms, helping consumers find producers with whom they want to do business.

The panel was videorecorded, and the resulting 90-minute video is here, on YouTube: Certifying Virtue

2 comments so far

  1. Paul Chippendale on

    Worthwhile exercise. My solution to this is to certify the ethical process used. that is, organisations get the “ethical certification” if they can demonstrate they have standardised “ethical assurance” processes built into their management systems–similar to the approach used to certify Quality.

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Paul:

    Well, that’s a whole category of solutions. But it’s one that faces a host of challenges, both epistemic and moral, as noted above.

    Chris.


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