Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 323-330

First online:

Images of Native Americans in advertising: Some moral issues

  • Michael K. GreenAffiliated withPhilosophy Department, State University of New York

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Images of Native Americans and of aspects of Native American culture are common in advertisements in the United States. Three such images can be distinguished — the Noble Savage, the Civilizable Savage and the Bloodthirsty Savage images. The aim of this paper is to argue that the use of such images is not morally acceptable because these images depend upon an underlying conception of Native Americans that denies that they are human beings. By so doing, it also denies to them any moral standing and thus any claim to moral consideration and treatment. I begin by arguing that the traits which are distinctively human are fostered only within a cultural framework consisting of the accumulated knowledge and activities of a group of human beings. I then argue that savages are conceptualized as natural and cultureless beings. Furthermore, within the traditional Western conceptualization of the world mere natural objects have no moral standing. Thus, it follows that Native Americans insofar as they are also merely natural objects would have no standing or status as moral beings. The conception of Native Americans as savages undercuts the very conditions for the possibility of moral respect. I then turn to an application of these principles to some current commercial uses of images of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.