Ethics Guy: Doing Well
By Doing Good
Conventional wisdom argues that ethical decision-making is
exceedingly difficult—but according to Bruce Weinstein,
Ph.D, better known as “The Ethics Guy,” it is actually
quite easy. “Most of the time we know what the right
thing to do is,” he argues. “We know not to cheat,
to lie, to take what doesn’t belong to us. We know we
should return the ten dollar bill the clerk gives us by mistake.
We can already tell the high road from the low road—it’s
just a matter of which path we follow.” Weinstein has
made a career out of urging people to choose the high road.
“It turns out that when we take the high road, we benefit
ourselves professionally and personally as well,” explains
the Georgetown-trained bioethicist. “Not always in the
short run, of course, but in the long run. All you have to
do is look at the business people who chose the low road—Kenneth
Kay, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, the executives from Adelphia,
WorldCom, Martha Stewart. When people act unethically on the
basis of short-term self-interest, they lose. When they behave
ethically, they come out ahead in the end.”
This positive, self-enhancing
message is the wisdom that Weinstein brings to businesses,
schools, and non-profit organizations across the nation. It
is also the subject of his forthcoming book, Life Principles:
Feeling Good by Doing Good, which describes the five ethical
precepts that Weinstein believes are common to all cultures
and religious traditions. Yet most people know Dr. Weinstein
primarily as the voice of moral insight on CNN’s “Ask the
Ethics Guy” and in the Knight Ridder/Tribune newspapers.
Here, he answers questions from the public and offers his
insight into the issues of the day.
Weinstein’s stated mission is to bring ethics to ordinary
people. He distinguishes his role from that of the nation’s
other ethics personality, Randy Cohen at the New York Times. “Randy
Cohen is the ethicist. He speaks to a limited, high-brow audience.
I wanted to be ‘The Ethics Guy’ because I wanted
to speak to the rest of the world.” He compares his
methods to those of Oprah Winfrey: He wants to present important,
complex ideas in a way that enables mass audiences to understand
and appreciate them.
Our society’s most pressing moral shortcoming, Weinstein
argues, is a pervasive unwillingness to confront the wrongdoing
of others. “Think about the ethical scandals of the last
few years,” says Weinstein. “For every Andrew Fastow
or Jeffrey Skilling, there were a lot of other people who knew
something was amiss and did nothing.” This indifference,
he argues, is ethically unacceptable. “Edmund Burke warned
us that ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
is that good men do nothing.’” Weinstein believes
that too many good men and women are still doing nothing. “You
don’t have to live your life like Mother Teresa,” he
adds. “But you do have an obligation to respond to
wrongful conduct. How you respond, of course, is a more difficult
Yet Weinstein believes he has human nature on his side. When
he speaks throughout the country, he makes a point of asking
business professionals why they behave ethically, and he
says the overwhelming majority provide self-referential answers: “Otherwise
I couldn’t look myself in the mirror in the morning,” “Because
if I didn’t, I couldn’t live with myself,” etc.
In other words, people want to do right. What “The Ethics
Guy” does is remind them that by doing right, they
will also maximize their own personal welfare.
How did Dr. Weinstein become “The Ethics Guy”?
Through ten years of hard work, he admits. I was teaching college,
he says, and at some point it struck me: “Why not make
the world my classroom?” Over the following decade, he
built up a substantial national following. He has written for
and/or been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street
Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor
and Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition
to his CNN duties, he has appeared as an ethics analyst on
such shows as ABC TV’s “Good Morning America,” and
the Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor.” Dr.
Weinstein is currently a W.K. Kellogg National Fellow and
lives in New York.
“The Ethics Guy” is as down-to-earth as his title
sounds. Despite his thriving business, Weinstein urges people
interested in having him speak to contact him directly. “Give
them my personal phone number,” he says. So here
it is: 212-706-3832.#
Jacob Appel, a graduate of Harvard Law School, teaches ethics