GMAT : Analysis of An Argument

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An Argument

18. The following is an except from a memo written by the head of a governmental department.

Neither stronger ethics regulations nor stronger enforcement mechanisms are necessary to ensure ethical behaviour by companies doing business with this department. We already have a code of ethics that companies doing business with this department are urged to abide by and virtually all of these companies have agreed to follow it. We also know that the code is relevant to the current business environment because it was approved within the last year and in direct response to specific violations committed by companies with which we are then working - not in abstract anticipation of potential violations, as so many such codes are.


Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underline the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate in conclusion.


In this argument, the head of a government department concludes that the department does not need to strengthen either its ethics regulations or its enforcement mechanisms in order to encourage ethical behaviour by companies with which it does business.

The first reason given is that businesses have agreed to follow the department's existing code of ethics. The second reason is that the existing code is relevant to the current business environment.

This argument is unacceptable for several reasons.

The sole support for the claim that stronger enforcement mechanisms are unnecessary comes from the assumption that companies will simply keep their promises to follow the existing code. But, since the department head clearly refers to rules violations by these same businesses within the past year, his faith in their word is obviously misplaced. Moreover, it is commonly understood that effective rules carry with them methods of enforcement and penalties for violations.

To show that a strengthened code is unnecessary, the department head claims that the existing code of ethics is relevant. In partial clarification of the vague term RELEVANT, we are told that the existing code was approved in direct response to violations occurring in the past year.

If the full significance of being relevant is that the code responds to last year's violations, then the department head must assume that those violations will be representative of all the kinds of ethics problems that concern the department. This is unlikely. In addition thinking so produces an oddly short-sighted idea of relevance.

Such a narrow conception of the relevance of an ethics code points up its weakness. The strength of an ethics code lies in its capacity to cover many different instances of the general kinds of behaviour thought to be unethical - to cover not only last year's specific violations, but those of previous years and years to come. Yet this author explicitly rejects a comprehensive code preferring the existing code because it is RELEVANT and not in abstract anticipation of potential violations.

In sum, this argument is naive, vague and poorly reasoned. The department head has not given careful thought to the connection between rules and their enforcement to what makes an ethics code relevant or to how comprehensiveness strengthens a code. In the final analysis, he adopts a backwards view that a history of violations should determine rules of ethics rather than the other way around.

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