Target knows. Apple Computer knows, too. So do LinkedIn, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Expedia, national and local political campaigns, and dozens of other organizations that all generate enormous economic, social, and political value. They know that that the age of Big Data is here and it’s here to stay. The swelling ranks of organizations that increasingly depend on big-data technologies include dozens of familiar names and a growing number you’ve never heard of.
Philosophy and business don’t always get along well. Philosophy is generally not much concerned with the practical implications of its investigations and, conversely, business is often deeply interested in the tactical outcomes of its operations.
And ethics is a loaded word. Preconceived notions of what ethics mean, even as a le gitimate field of study, often make people shy away from it as a topic of discussion. It’s hard to talk about what we don’t fully understand and even the word itself can sometimes imply judgment: do-this-don’t-do-that kinds of directives and obligations. And we all frequently chafe when we think we’re being told what to do.
This book tries to diminish these difficulties. Not because they are difficult (ethical inquiry can be hard work) but because they create barriers to helping organizations benefit from philosophical thinking and inquiry. And there are plenty of benefits. The primary characteristic of my approach was to recognize that business contexts, markets, companies, cultures, geographic distinctions, and organizational size and maturity all contribute to an unwieldy set of complex and different circumstances. Circumstances with which you are much more familiar in your own case and therefore more qualified to determine how best to inform your organization’s operations with ethical inquiry.
People often ask me: “how did you get from a degree in philosophy to consulting?” The answer varied and evolved over the years—mostly as consequence of me learning more about how to answer the question. And it bears on the relationship between philosophy and business in general and ethics and big data in particular.