Last Updated 13 Jul 2020

Norman Bowies morality, Money And Motor Cars Summary

Category Money, Morality
Essay type Summary
Words 618 (2 pages)
Views 309

In Norman Bowie's “Morality, Money and Motor Cars,” the author examines the ethical and moral assumptions that have been used to criticize business practices that run contrary to environmental welfare and other matters of social justice. Effectively speaking, what Bowie does is to criticize the critics, who all too often, make the presumption that special obligations to community needs and higher moral standards should be the requisite of business decisions without any regard to profitability and other measures that have direct bearing on business itself.

Bowie's piece should not be grossly misread as justification for indifference to the consequences of business, but rather an inquiry into the political and economic considerations that weigh each business decision and the need to measure them according to those dimensions instead of on vaguely idealistic parameters that have not been accounted for by economics or enshrined by legislation. The author prefaces his arguments by noting that the illegal dumping of toxic waste is more accurately a violation of the law than it is a disregard for any special obligation to the environment.

In effect, he is arguing that the violation of any higher principle is irrelevant since the business in question is already confronting the spectre of illegality. The author also emphasizes a distinction between failing to meet moral obligations and actual negligence, noting that one is not necessarily an extension of the other. Furthermore, his argument rests on the unstated premise that in most cases, environmental impacts are externalities in business operations: businesses can only favor decisions that ensure their profit.

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As such environmental impacts are generated by a business so long as they are not in violation of laws and other standard moral obligations, and the consumer society accepts them, either by turning a blind eye or by refusing to pay for environmentally friendly options. (485-487) Bowie steadfastly maintains that environmental responsibility is a collective responsibility, and as such, his argument is not meant to absolve corporations, but emphasizes the importance of consumer advocacy and government responsibility.

If anything, the failure to stymie environmentally adverse business endeavors is a failure of these parties to cooperate on such matters: consumers act in ways contrary to their professed environmental values, governments fail to implement the proper laws and businesses leverage their political influence to dilute regulatory measures. As such, each party fails to recognize where they intersect within the public sphere and the common good.

Sagoff (312-313) notes that individuals behave the way they do because of a disconnect between identifying as consumers pursuing the good life and citizens interested in the good society As such, Sagoff maintains that the values we profess to be ideal cannot be confused with individual lifestyle preferences. As such, were one to reconcile Bowie's views with those of Sagoff's – which is not to say that they are very dissimilar – the picture which results is that individuals must pursue the good life in a manner that does not violate standard moral obligations nor neglects environmental welfare.

Individuals have no special moral obligation and environmental welfare should be assessed in relation to its legality. However, another way of reconciling their views could yield a more critical portrait, which is that public values must be consonant with private behavior for any meaningful progress to be made in securing the welfare of the environment in matters political and economic.


Bowie, Norman. “Morality, Money and Motor Cars. ” Honest Work: A Business Ethics Reader. Ed. Joanne B. Ciulla, Clancy Martin & Robert Solomon. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press Canada, 2006. 485-491. Sagoff, Mark. “At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima or why political questions are not all economic. ” Business Ethics: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management. Ed. Alan Malachowski. London/New York: Routledge. 2001. 311-323.

Norman Bowies morality, Money And Motor Cars Summary essay

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