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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Conflicts of Interest: A Kantian Explanation

In a conflict of interest, either two duties conflict or a duty conflicts with self-interest—whether the “self” be an individual or an association of individuals (e.g., a department or an organization). Where two duties conflict, that which corresponds with the wider “constituency” is presumed to be ethically superior to that which is relatively narrow. For instance, a duty to society is typically thought (admittedly by the public) to ethically supersede a fiduciary duty to stockholders. This assumption is problematic because property rights are not charged with putting society first. Therefore the question of which duty is superior ethically-speaking may come down to one’s vantage-point. To be sure, the duty that is further from one’s self-interest can be said to be superior in most ethical theories with the notable exception of egoism. That theory defeats the typical ethical take on conflicts of interest even where a duty is pitted against self-interest itself.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.