“The Catholic intellectual tradition is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give you,” business ethicist Paul Voss told students at Christendom College on March 15. His talk, entitled “To Hell and Back: Catholicism, Liberal Arts, and Business Ethics,” explained how the wisdom and ethics of the Catholic intellectual tradition has the ability to shape the future of business for the better.
“Whether you’re Catholic or not, the Catholic intellectual tradition provides us with a framework for understanding the complexities of the world and helps us stand up to today’s chaos-filled environment,” he said.
Voss is the President of Ethikos, an ethics consulting group, and an Associate Professor at Georgia State University. A gifted public speaker and award-winning teacher, his clients include the FBI Labs, General Electric Energy, British Petroleum, the Home Depot, Visa, the Federal Railroad Administration, and many others.
Voss explained that the current recession is not, as some people are claiming, the result of increased greed. He said that the recession was the result of a culture, which lacked ethics and wisdom.
“The way we think and relate to each other creates a culture and that culture, for better or for worse, will enhance or detract from our spiritual and materiel well being,” Voss said.
He explained that there were ethical hazards in the business and banking culture.
“In business, an ethical hazard is when we actually provide an incentive for people to engage in unethical or reckless behavior,” he said.
He sighted the housing market as an example of a market wrought with ethical hazards. Banks recklessly financed people’s homes at 100 percent. Since so little was invested in the home, people were encouraged to default on their loans. People had little incentive to stay in the home. The housing market would not have collapsed had those involved behaved ethically and wisely, he said.
Using Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric, Voss sighted three elements that can guide markets and individuals: ethos, logos, and pathos. Voss explained that ethos is who you are—your appearance, reputation, and performance, as a person or a company. Logos is what you know or what you offer through special skills, a product, or even knowledge of the Faith. Pathos is an awareness of the audience or emotional intelligence, how the audience or consumer relates to you.
He sighted the recent scandals surrounding Toyota, AIG, and Tiger Woods as examples of pathos being damaged due to either corrupt ethos or logos.
“Ethos, logos, and pathos—which of those three areas need the most work,” Voss asked the students. “I would guess that it is not going to be your logos. Your curriculum here is so robust that you are going to come out of here as some of the most educated Catholics in North America. I also suspect that it’s not going to be your ethos. From what I have heard and seen, you seem like dignified, holy, serious, and authentic Catholics. I think the biggest challenged for you will be the pathos.”
Voss warned students that it is hard to stand up against the world, but that “we can’t have our education be a diploma that hangs on our wall. If we haven’t internalized it and moved it out into the culture, we’ve failed as educated human beings.”
He entreated students to stand as shining examples of how Faith and Reason can operate in this world—how people can make money fairly without exploiting other human beings.
“If we can do that, then we can be successful.”
Students were excited and enlightened by Voss’s words. Junior Troy Spring felt particularly motivated.
“It’s not every day that you hear an encouraging talk that’s about business being integrated with the Faith,” Spring said. “I am going to be sharing this talk with my friends back home.”
This talk is available for download at Christendom on iTunes U.