Morris, Tom. If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. New York: Holt, 1997.
Greatness is rooted in simplicity. Former Notre Dame philosophy professor Thomas Morris takes the insights from philosophy and applies them to the business world.
Goal of the book: catch the wave of wisdom at work and create the right environment “for ultimate motivation in the workplace” (Morris 9).
Aristotle’s insight: everyone in life is chasing after happiness, however it is defined. Morris lists three basic views:
- Pleasure; this is unrealistic, since most people in the workplace don’t experience one long, uninterrupted wave of pleasure.
- Happiness as personal peace: this is a better view but it still runs short. We do not grow in a state of pure equilibrium.
- Happiness as participation in something fulfilling. It is a joy of creating and participating.
The Four Dimensions of Human Experience
- Intellectual (Truth)
- Aesthetic (Beauty)
- Moral (Goodness)
- Spiritual (Unity)
Key Point: each dimension corresponds to a foundation of human excellence ().
“Truth is that mapping of reality that corresponds to the way things are” (25). Knowledge, obviously, is vital to business.
Truth implies, pace materialism, that men have minds. If men have minds, then we can’t organize the workplace in such a way to think they are mindless machines.
Knowledge might be power, but people draw the wrong inference. It is power, but this power only expands when knowledge is shared (36). When you benefit others, you benefit the network in which you are already embedded.
Beauty might not seem relevant to the bottom line, but aesthetics is usually tied with job performance and satisfaction. In any case, the reverse is true. Soul-killing environments usually affect performance. Think of the Soviet Union. Or in a slightly more humane way, think of Ron Swanson’s office in Parks and Recreation. He has visitors sit in a chair in front of a mounted shotgun.
Beauty isn’t something as simplistic as “being pretty.” Rather, beauty provides the structure and soil for growth and flourishing. This leads to Aristotle’s observation that the polis (or business) is a collaboration or partnership for living well (103).
Goodness and ethics are about creating strength for making proper decisions (120). If ethics were nothing but rules, we’d need infinitely more rules (145). Therefore, ethics needs virtue, or “that deep wellspring of ethical tendency that joins the wisdom to create in us….moral character” (151).
Morris then provides advice on how to create a social context in which virtue flourishes:
- Moral mentors: Network with sages. You can’t just show a new employee the ropes. He might just hang himself. A good mentor cultivates good decision-makers.
- The importance of small details: Take care in little things. Whenever you make a decision, you are always becoming.
- Moral imagination: Cultivate a perceptive imagination. Great art (usually literature) sparks our “imaginative abilities to perceive the ethical implications of what we are doing” (167).
His final section on unity weaves the three transcendentals together.
This is one of those few books that communicate rare, spiritual power. It is the best book on applied ethics I have ever read.
One thought on “If Aristotle Ran General Motors”
Great post. I read that book many years ago. It is an important and valuable book.