About This Blog

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?*

I love normative signs, signs in public places that tell us what to do, that cajole us, that instruct us, that plead with us. That’s what this blog is about. It’s about the amazing and often amusing diversity of signs that push and prod us in various directions when we are out in the world.

Just to be clear, I’m not a linguist or a semiotician. I’m a philosopher by training, and I teach ethics at a university. 

I use signs like the ones posted here in teaching business ethics to undergraduate and MBA students.

Business Ethics, as a discipline, is about how people should behave, and how institutions should structure workplaces to influence that behaviour. We are surrounded, every day, by vivid —visual — examples of more-or-less authoritative attempts to influence behaviour. We just need to take notice.

From a teaching point of view, it’s worth noting that almost every ‘normative sign’ raises questions — questions directly parallel to the kinds of questions we should ask regarding any institutional rule or policy we evaluate or propose.

  • Who is being targeted?
  • What is the source of authority?
  • What behaviour is being targeted?
  • What’s the end goal?
  • What values are at stake?
  • Who is helped? Who is disadvantaged?
  • How intrusive is this rule?
  • What is the history that inspired it?

My contention is that paying greater attention to normative signs can sharpen our thinking,
and enliven our classrooms.

Feel free to send me examples. I won’t promise to use them on the blog, but if I do I’ll give you credit. Please send only photos that you’ve taken yourself, so that we avoid copyright issues. Please also let me know where the picture was taken, if that’s relevant. Send pics to: chris@businessethicsblog.com

Finally, and a word about copyright. If you use any of my pics on your website or in your teaching, please do me the courtesy of linking back to this blog. Free use for educational purposes is hereby granted (though credit would be appreciated). Other commercial use should be cleared with me first, at chris@businessethicsblog.com. Thanks, folks.

Chris MacDonald, Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson U.)

*This is from the lyrics of the song, “Signs,” by the Five Man Electrical Band (1971).