Op-Ed: The Philosophy of Corruption

01.12.2023 (Caucasian Journal). Caucasian Journal is starting an Op-Ed Section, which welcomes free opinion articles by experts from various fields. 
Our today's Op-Ed author is Fady ASLY, Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce in Georgia (ICC Georgia). 
Fady Asly
As usual with Op-Ed articles, the opinions and thoughts expressed in them reflect only the author’s views. Feel free to comment using the form below or in our Facebook or LinkedIn. If you are interested in contributing your own article for publication, you are welcome to contact Caucasian Journal.

The Philosophy of Corruption  
by Fady ASLY

We hear about corruption every day, and often take it at face value without really understanding what it means from the human point of view.

My article aims at explaining corruption from the point of view of morality and of the degradation of the corrupt individual.

The notion of corruption is as old as humanity and morals; we have heard it since biblical times. Since Genesis, the submission of Adam and Eve to the temptation of the forbidden fruit and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden is, in fact, the mark of our corruption, meaning our distance from the good.

Over the centuries many philosophers have mentioned corruption; Pascal in the 17th century used to blame humankind for its propensity for envy for vice, and Thomas Hobbes said: “Homo homini lupus”, implying that humans are wolves to other humans.

Liberal philosophers of the 18th century thought along the same lines, Helvetius wrote an amazing line regarding this matter, he said: “If the physical universe is subject to the law of movement, the moral universe is subject to the law of interest”.

Liberal philosophers believed that it would be useless to turn humans into virtuous ones because it simply won’t work, and that instead of improving the vices of humans, we have to accept them and deal with them. This means finding a way to regulate human vices without impeding social cohesion.

All this brings us to the need to define corruption:

Corruption means to go against one’s principles and moral values in exchange for material benefit.

We would say that someone is corrupt if, for instance, they will agree to lie in exchange for money, or when they will agree to “turn a blind eye” for benefits; or when they will use their authority to gain some favors.

What constitutes the essence of corruption is not only to act against morality or to be simply dishonest, but to be dishonest in exchange for material gains.

The corrupt individual is someone who would do something for material interest that they wouldn’t do if this material interest wasn’t offered.

Being corrupt is to accept doing things knowing very well that those things are against morality, it is to accept doing something at a time we know that it is wrong.

The corrupt football referee, the corrupt judge, or the corrupt politician knows perfectly well that what they do is not correct; they know perfectly well that they can’t refer to any moral system to justify their corruption.

That’s why corruption stands among things that are very negatively perceived in our societies, because if we can buy someone’s conscience with money or dictate their behavior remotely, this means that this person has rejected their conscience, and if they rejected their conscience, they have lost something fundamental in their status as a human being, since what characterizes a human being is their ability to say “no”; it is their ability to place values above materialistic issues, in other terms, not to be slaves of interest.

A corrupt person is someone whose conscience is sellable, and what do we buy from a corrupt individual? We buy the silence of their conscience, and if we can buy the conscience of a person and subject this conscience to the desire of another conscience, then anthropologically, this means that the person is not entirely a person anymore; it means that this person is not their own master anymore, but that they have become the servant of an external conscience who has the material means to possess their conscience.

Corruption is when your conscience chooses freely not to be a free conscience anymore.

This is what Hegel described as a “servile conscience”, a conscience that renounces its own sovereignty and sells itself to the one who offers the highest price.

Immanuel Kant used to say that moral values are what make the difference between a person and an object, and therefore if you throw a stone into the water, the stone has no means to deviate from the trajectory that you gave it, because the stone has no conscience and therefore no will that emanate from its conscience to determine its own trajectory.

But you can’t do the same for a free human being, because the human being is not only a physical body but they also have a conscience, and because they have a conscience, therefore their actions are determined by their will.

We can’t manipulate a human being like an object because humans are not puppets, they have their own conscience and their own will, and therefore, the only way to manipulate a person in the literal sense, like an object, is to manipulate their will, it is to convert their will.

If you find a way to influence the will of an individual, you don’t need to force them anymore to do what you want; all you have to do is to propose an offer that they can’t refuse, an offer that will weigh on their scales heavier than their own moral conscience, and once you control their will, you control their behavior and you control remotely their actions; this is how you turn an individual from being a human to becoming an object.

Corruption is when a person freely accepts becoming an object, agreeing freely to sell their freedom, as only a free being can be prone to become corrupt, because only a free human has the possibility to sell their conscience, thus choosing freely to reject their principles.

If corruption is so badly perceived and viewed by many as a “moral ugliness”, it is because the corrupt has willingly given away a part of their humanity and its related freedom.

We can’t respect a human who has become an object, because we don’t respect objects; we respect humans for their conscience and their morals.

Corruption is not doing things that are viewed as being illegitimate, because the notion of legitimacy is very abstract, corruption is when we go against our conscience, against our own understanding of legitimacy because another conscience has the power to buy our consent.

Corruption is when your conscience chooses freely not to be a free conscience anymore.

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