On Judging and Being Judged
Philosophy has three fundamental branches: ontology, epistemology, and axiology. Ontological questions start, “What Is …?” Epistemological questions ask, “How do I know?” And axiological questions ask, “How do I make judgments?”
The “fun” (i.e., complex) part is that all these questions fold over one another, each poking into the other’s category. So in the branch of axiology called aesthetics, we end up with all three categories of questions each time we ask a question. We might look at a painting in a museum and say “What’s so great about that?” We ask:
- “What is beauty?” (ontology)
- “How do I know?” (epistemology), and
- “How do I judge if that painting is beautiful (or aesthetically important enough to be placed in a museum)?”
The answers to those types of questions have generated a civilization-long conversation. In this issue, we’re concerned with these questions as they pertain to business and business performance: The 100 Best Corporate Citizens List is this magazine’s annual exercise in judgment. Like all axiological questions, it ends up getting mixed up in epistemological and ontological questions.
Our ontological answer is: A good corporate citizen is one that has acted in a responsible way toward its shareholders, its community, its employees, and its customers (in 2013).
Our epistemological answer is: We cannot tell you the hearts of men, much less a corporation. But we can set a yardstick to what they do and see where they spend their treasure. There are the 298 reporting and performance indicators, plus the red and yellow cards.
Our axiological answer goes like this: Reporting matters. Performance matters. Transparency matters. We put our methodology out there, so others can judge us. We test transparency and reporting. We do not rely on self-reporting or surveys, but publicly available information. We look at what you do, and what you have already revealed.
And we judge financial performance, something for which we receive some criticism. This is not a list of the 100 Best-Intentioned Corporate Citizens. Lots of companies are well- intentioned and a growing number are improving on issues of sustainability. But one way to measure the value to customers is buying information. If people are buying from you, you are doing something right. If people are buying from you and you are producing your products and services in a responsible and sustainable way, even better. Those who jump places on this list often do so because they are already doing a lot of things right as far as sustainability, and then their business improves, too. We think there’s probably a link between the two.
Our 100 Best feature begins on page 12, and details on our methodology start on page 21.
It takes real commitment to corporate responsibility to do all these things right, and to do them better than other companies. We are a ranking, after all, not a rating. With all this in mind, CR Magazine congratulates those on the 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, and hopes this recognition will spur companies to greater heights next year.