Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 16, Issue 10, pp 977–999 | Cite as

Organized Complexity in Human Affairs: The Tobacco Industry

  • David A. Bella


How do we explain organized complexity in human affairs? The most common model explain s human organization as the outcome of rational design; order in human affairs arises from the intentions, plans, and orders of those in charge. For organizational complexity on vast scales, this model is insufficient, misleading, and potentially disastrous. An alternative model, based upon self-organization within complex systems, is developed and applied to the tobacco industry.

Leaked documents and public testimony point to widespread distortion of information within the tobacco industry. The model developed herein describes such behaviors as emergent outcomes, not reducible to or sufficiently explained by individual fraud and deliberate deceit. Critics of the tobacco industry often fail to appreciate the role of self-organization in complex systems. They presume rational design. Consequently, they imply more intentional deceit, deliberate planning, and conspiracy than needed to explain the distortions that actually occurred.

The tobacco industry expresses general phenomena found in many large-scale human systems. This paper describes such phenomena and examines their moral implications.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Bella
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Civil EngineeringOregon State UniversityCorvallis

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