Game theory involves deliberating about what to do in light of what other people are likely to do. One of the central frameworks of game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma, in which participants who make rational choices end up in suboptimal outcomes. Using the prisoner’s dilemma to model competition between firms sets the stage for a new and promising approach to business ethics: the market failures approach.
Business ethics is often understood as a variety of professional ethics, and thus distinct from ordinary morality in an important way. This article seeks to challenge two ways of defending this claim: first, from the nature of business practice, and second, from the contribution of business. The former argument fails because it undermines our ability to rule out a professional-ethics approach to a number of disreputable practices. The latter argument fails because the contribution of business is extrinsic to business in (...) a way that distinguishes from the established professions. The article ultimately suggests we adopt a more aspirational approach to business ethics, which retains an appeal even in the face of charges of anti-capitalist irrelevance. (shrink)
The Radical Behavioral Challenge (RBC) contends that due to normal human cognitive biases, many standard prescriptions of business ethics run afoul of the principle that ‘ought implies can.’ Von Kriegstein responds to this challenge by arguing that those prescriptions are wide-scope obligations that can be fulfilled by recusing oneself or by establishing appropriate safeguards. I argue that this solution falls short of fully resolving the RBC because individuals will often be incapable of recognizing when they are biased and incapable of (...) establishing appropriate safeguards. (shrink)
Dieser Beitrag macht auf die Krise in den globalen Wertschöpfungsketten, die durch die Covid-19 Pandemie verursacht wurde, aufmerksam und gibt dazu einige Denkanstöße aus normativer Perspektive. Es wird gezeigt, dass die Pandemie ein grelles Schlaglicht auf die strukturellen Probleme der Globalisierung wirft. Zu diesen gehört die Gestaltung der globalen Marktwirtschaft über nationale, supranationale und internationale Institutionen, die in der Regel zur Benachteiligung einiger Länder und zum Vorteil für andere führt. Dies wird zunächst am Beispiel der Textilindustrie von Bangladesch erläutert. Danach (...) wird das Problem der Verteilungsgerechtigkeit aus der Perspektive der strukturellen Ungerechtigkeit betrachtet. Der Beitrag befasst sich in diesem Zusammenhang mit den systematischen Problemen entlang der globalen Lieferketten. (shrink)
Jaakko Nevasto has offered a number of thoughtful criticisms of our attempt to show that Adorno’s work can fruitfully be brought to bear on topics in business ethics. After welcoming his constructive clarifications, we attempt to defuse Nevasto’s main objections and defend our application of Adorno, focusing in particular on the topics of moral epistemology, needs, and the possibility of genuine activity – and thus good work – within capitalist society.
This paper explores the notion that business calls for an adversarial ethic, akin to that of sport. On this view, because of their competitive structure, both sport and business call for behaviours that are contrary to ‘ordinary morality’, and yet are ultimately justified because of the goods they facilitate. I develop three objections to this analogy. Firstly, there is an important qualitative difference between harms risked voluntarily and harms risked involuntarily. Secondly, the goods achieved by adversarial relationships in sport go (...) beyond the function of sport, i.e. to entertain audiences. Thirdly, the most plausible account of the athlete’s motivational development starts with their love of the sport, which can explain a commitment to the sporting ethics in a way that is not paralleled in business. I close by drawing attention to the ways in which an Aristotelian conception of business ethics may be able to accommodate these objections. (shrink)
Given his view that the modern world is ‘radically evil’, Adorno is an unlikely contributor to business ethics. Despite this, we argue that his work has a number of provocative implications for the field that warrant wider attention. Adorno regards our social world as damaged, unfree, and false and we draw on this critique to outline why the achievement of good work is so rare in contemporary society, focusing in particular on the ethical demands of roles and the ideological nature (...) of management’s self-understanding. Nevertheless, we show that Adorno’s comments on activities such as art and philosophy mean that it is possible to draw on his work in a way that contributes constructively to the conversation about good and meaningful work within business ethics. (shrink)
The notion that business organizations are akin to Aristotelian political communities has been a central feature of research into virtue ethics in business. In this article, I begin by outlining this “community thesis” and go on to argue that psychological research into the “just world fallacy” presents it with a significant challenge. The just world fallacy undermines our ability to implement an Aristotelian conception of justice, to each as he or she is due, and imperils the relational equality required for (...) shared participation in communities. In the final section, I offer a description of what Aristotelian community might look like within organizations, and some suggestions about how it may be possible to resist the challenge posed by the just world fallacy. (shrink)
The Ethical Branding book is unique because it is ethical branding focused. It provides current perspectives on fascinating global cases. The approach is to focus on the specific combination of the two fields of “ethics” and “branding,” on their relationship, and on how that joint perspective shapes brands, companies, business strategies, and the market itself. In a contemporary environment of “truthiness” and fake news, it is more important than ever to review core principles of ethics and to reassess how these (...) principles apply to today’s branding and marketing practices. This book addresses practices in ethical branding and corporate culture. It includes such topics as truth, integrity, value, vulnerability, and differentiation. Collectively, these cases provide a contemporary overview of intriguing scenarios and best practices in ethical branding. The book’s themes include ethics, branding, marketing, business, business communications, and business history. Its objectives include the following: provide the reader with real, updated insight into ethical decision making; help students integrate ethics, branding strategy, and real life, complex situations into an effective learning process; and provide the reader with up-to-date ethical branding cases from around the world. (shrink)
Business ethics denial refers to one of two claims about moral motivation in a business context: that there is no need for it, or that it is impossible. Neither of these radical claims is endorsed by serious theorists in the academic fields that study business ethics. Nevertheless, public commentators, as well as university students, often make claims that seem to imply that they subscribe to some form of business ethics denial. This paper fills a gap by making explicit both the (...) various forms that business ethics denial can take, and the reasons why such views are ultimately implausible. The paper argues that this type of serious engagement with business ethics denial should be an important part of the job description for teachers of business ethics. (shrink)
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been traditionally framed within business ethics as a discourse attempting to identify certain moral responsibilities of corporations (as well as get these corporations to fulfill their responsibilities). This theory has often been normatively grounded in the idea that a corporation is (or ought to be treated as) a moral agent. I argue that it is a mistake to think of (or treat) corporations as moral agents, and that CSR’s impotency is a direct result of this (...) mistake. I then outline a distinction between business ethics and business politics, arguing that CSR might be better framed as a political goal – one which might be able to take better advantage of the resources of corporate governance and a renewed (albeit shifted) focus on agency theory. (shrink)
Contract-based approaches have been a focus of attention in business ethics. As one of the grand traditions in political philosophy, contractarianism is founded on the notion that we will never resolve deep moral disagreement. Classical philosophers like Hobbes and Locke, or recent ones like Rawls and Gaus, seek to solve ethical conflicts on the level of social rules and procedures. Recent authors in business ethics have sought to utilize contract-based approaches for their field and to apply it to concrete business (...) dilemmas. However, the application of contractarianism to management contexts can cause difficulties. Our article discusses this conceptual problem of contractarian business ethics and presents the idea of order ethics as an alternative. Order ethics, as we argue, can make a difference by conceptually bridging the gap between contractarianism and business ethics. (shrink)
This book examines the theoretical foundations of order ethics and discusses business ethics problems from an order ethics perspective. Order ethics focuses on the social order and the institutional environment in which individuals interact. It is a well-established paradigm in European business ethics. The book contains articles written by leading experts in the field and provides both a concise introduction to order ethics and short summary articles homing in on specific aspects of the order-ethical paradigm. It presents contributions describing fundamental (...) concepts, historical roots, and the economic, social, and philosophical background of the theory. The second part of the handbook focuses on the theory's application in business, society, and politics, casting new light on an array of topics that loom large in contemporary ethical discourse.. (shrink)
This chapter discusses two major approaches to business ethics which rest on the foundation of social contract theory: the contractualist position of Integrative Social Contracts Theory (ISCT) and the contractarian position of Order Ethics. Both are summarized and analyzed critically. It turns out that Order Ethics might remedy some defects of ISCT.
This paper proposes a description of the moral obligations of economic agents. It will show that a threefold division should be adopted to distinguish moral obligations applying to their interactions in the market, obligations applying to their interactions inside business firms and obligations applying to their interactions with agents outside the market. Competition might be permissible in the first case since markets are special patterns of social interactions (called adversarial schemes). They produce their benefits when agents try to satisfy exclusive (...) preferences at the expense of others. However, moral obligations inside the firm and moral obligations outside the market are of a different nature. This argument will be developed in the two first parts of this paper. In the third part, it will outline the relevant strengths of that account in relation with two popular views of economic agents’ moral obligations: the shareholder primacy view and the stakeholder theory. (shrink)
The profit motive refers to what is generally taken to be the underlying motivation of business and commercial activity: to collect revenues in excess of costs or, more simply, to make money. While both “profit” and “profit motive” may be given more technical definitions in economics, the latter's meaning is typically broader in philosophical discussions and so, for example, even managers of nonprofit organizations may be accused of sometimes acting from a profit motive. The profit motive is typically the object (...) of ambivalent moral attitudes in present-day society: on the one hand, the plethora of commodities and services made possible by the modern market economy, fuelled to a large extent by the profit motive, are easily recognizable. On the other hand, it is generally regarded as a serious moral criticism to say of a certain commercial agent that he or she is motivated by profit alone, and pecuniary motives are often associated with selfishness and greed (see Egoism). (Compare comments like: “While it perhaps was a good thing that company X supported this social venture, they are not to be trusted – they only did it for the money!”). (shrink)
Research into the proper mission of business falls within the context of theoretical and applied ethics. And ethics is fast becoming a part of required business school curricula. However, while business ethics research occasionally appears in high‐profile venues, it does not yet enjoy a regular place within any top management journal. I offer a partial explanation of this paradox and suggestions for resolving it. I begin by discussing the standard conception of human nature given by neoclassical economics as disseminated in (...) business schools; showing it is a significant obstacle to an accurate conception of ethics and how this limits consideration of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. I then examine the scope of the top management journals, showing how their empirical and descriptive focus leaves little room for ethics, which is an essentially conceptual and prescriptive discipline. Finally, I suggest avenues for research into the ethical mission of business, generally—and sustainability and CSR, in particular—by appeal to the precepts of Harvard Business School’s Master’s in Business Administration ethics oath modeled on the medical and legal professions. (shrink)
During the current financial crisis, the need for an alternative to a laissez-faire ethics of capitalism (the Milton Friedman view) becomes clear. I argue that we need an order ethics which employs economics as a key theoretical resource and which focuses on institutions for implementing moral norms. -/- I will point to some aspects of order ethics which highlight the importance of rules, e.g. global rules for the financial markets. In this regard, order ethics (“Ordnungsethik”) is the complement of the (...) German conception of “Ordnungspolitik” which also stresses the importance of a regulatory framework. This framework is needed not to tame the market, but to make it more profitable in the long run. -/- The conception of order ethics relies heavily on contractarianism, especially on James Buchanan’s work. Unlike many other conceptions of ethics, it does not start with an aim to achieve, but rather with an account of what the social world – in which ethical norms have to be implemented – is like. Our social world is different from the pre-modern one. Pre-modern societies played zero-sum games in which people could only gain significantly at the expense of others. And the types of ethics that we are still used to today have been developed within these pre-modern societies. -/- Modern societies, by contrast, can be characterised – by economists and other social theorists alike – as societies with continuous growth. This growth has only been made possible by the modern competitive market economy which enables everyone to pursue his own interests within a carefully devised institutional system. In this system, positive sum games are played, which makes it in principle possible to improve the position of every individual at the same time. Most kinds of ethics, however, resulting from the conditions of pre-modern societies, ignore the possibility of win-win-situations and instead require us to be moderate, to share, to sacrifice, as this would have been functional in zero-sum games. These conceptions distinguish – in more or less strict ways – between self-interest and altruistic motivation. Self-interest, more often than not, is ultimately seen as something evil. -/- Such an ethics cannot be functional in modern societies. Ethical concepts lag behind. Within zero-sum games, it was necessary to call for temperance, for moderate profits, or for a condemnation of lending money at interest. Within positive-sum games, however, the morally desired result of a social process cannot be brought about by changes in motivation, by switching from ‘egoistic’ to ‘altruistic’ motivation. The second theoretical element introduced by order ethics is the distinction between actions and rules, which was already mentioned. Traditional ethics concerns actions: It calls directly for changes in behaviour. This is a consequence of pre-modern conditions as reconstructed before: People in the pre-modern world were only able to control their actions, not so much however the conditions of their actions. In particular, rules like laws, constitutions, social structures, the market order, and also ethical norms have remained stable for centuries. In modern societies, this situation has changed entirely. The rules governing our actions have increasingly come under our control. -/- In this situation, ethics has to focus on rules. Morality must be incorporated in incentive-compatible rules. Direct calls for changes in behaviour without changes in the rules lead only to an erosion of compliance with moral norms. Individuals that continue to behave ‘morally’ will be singled out, because the incentives have not been changed. Moral norms which are to be justified cannot require people to abstain from pursuing their own advantage. People abstain from taking ‘immoral’ advantages only if adherence to ethical norms yields greater benefits over the planned sequence of actions than defection in the single case. Thus ‘abstaining’ is not abstaining in the long run, it is rather an investment in expectations of long-term benefits. By adhering to ethical norms, I become a reliable partner for interactions. The norms do indeed constrain my actions, but they simultaneously expand my options in interactions. And people consent to rules only if these rules hold greater advantages for them, at least in the long run. -/- In general, ethics cannot require people to abandon their individual calculation of advantages. However, it may suggest improving one’s calculation, by calculating in the long run rather than in the short run, and by taking into account the interests of our fellows, as we depend on their acceptance for reaching an optimal level of well-being, especially in a globalized world full of interdependence. -/- The problem of implementation can now be placed at the beginning of a conception of order ethics, justified with reference to the conditions of modern societies I have sketched. Under the conditions of pre-modern societies, an ethics of temperance had evolved that posed simultaneously the problems of implementation and justification. The implementation of well-justified norms or standards could then be regarded as unproblematic, because the social structures allowed for a direct face-to-face enforcement of norms. Pre-modern societies not only favored an ethics of temperance, they also had the instrument of face-to-face-sanctions within their smaller and non-anonymous communities. This instrument is no longer functional in modern anonymous societies, and so we have to face up to the problem of implementation right at the start of our ethical conception. Simultaneously, an order ethics relies on the implementation of sanctions for enforcing incentive-compatible rules. In modern societies, rules and institutions, to a large extent, must fulfil the tasks that were, in pre-modern times, fulfilled by moral norms, which in turn were sanctioned by face-to-face sanctions. Norm implementation in modern societies thus works by setting adequate incentives in order to prevent the erosion of moral norms, which would happen if ‘moral’ actors were systematically threatened with exploitation by other, less ‘moral’ actors. -/- This conception of order ethics is then elaborated further in the area of business ethics. -/- . (shrink)
In my article "Understanding the Separation Thesis" I noted that most scholars in the business ethics field seemed to have accepted R. Edward Freeman's argument to the effect that what he calls "the separation thesis" should be rejected. I argue, however, that they seemed to understand this thesis (and its rejection) in quite different ways. This volume contains three responses to my article which, interestingly enough, can be taken to corroborate my original argument. I here make some brief comments on (...) these responses. (shrink)
Many writers in the field of business ethics seem to have accepted R. Edward Freeman’s argument to the effect that what he calls “the separation thesis,” or the idea that business and morality can be separated in certain ways, should be rejected. In this paper, I discuss how this argument should be understood more exactly, and what position “the separation thesis” refers to. I suggest that there are actually many interpretations (or versions) of the separation thesis going around, ranging from (...) semantic, empirical and reformative to some which are straightforwardly normative. While it is generally agreed that the separation thesis should be rejected, then, there is not as much agreement on what this thesis actually says. I suggest that whether or not we should<br>reject the separation thesis, however, ultimately must depend on how we understand it more exactly—on certain interpretations, the thesis comes out as more or less trivially false, but we should demand more evidence or argument to reject it on certain other interpretations. This result presents a challenge for all those writers who are committed to the rejection of the separation thesis. (shrink)
Many traditional conceptions of ethics use categories and arguments that have been developed under conditions of pre-modern societies and are not useful in the age of globalisation anymore. I argue that we need an economic ethics which employs economics as a key theoretical resource and which focuses on institutions for implementing moral norms. This conception is then elaborated further in the area of business ethics. It is illustrated in the case for banning child labour.
Abstract:The central problems of political philosophy (e.g., legitimate authority, distributive justice) mirror the central problems of business ethics. The question naturally arises: should political theories be applied to problems in business ethics? If a version of egalitarianism is the correct theory of justice for states, for example, does it follow that it is the correct theory of justice for businesses? If states should be democratically governed by their citizens, should businesses be democratically managed by their employees? Most theorists who have (...) considered these questions, including John Rawls inPolitical Liberalism, and Robert Phillips and Joshua Margolis in a 1999 article, have said “no.” They claim that states and businesses are different kinds of entities, and hence require different theories of justice. I challenge this claim. While businesses differ from states, the difference is one of degree, not one of kind. Business ethics has much to learn from political philosophy. (shrink)
To be a coherent and genuinely alternative conception to the shareholder model, any moral stakeholder theory must meet the following conditions: It must be an ethical theory; It must identify a limited group as stakeholders; The group must be identified on morally relevant grounds; Stakeholder claims must be non-universal; And not held against everyone. A principle for identifying the stakeholder is suggested as a person who has much to lose – financially, socially, or psychologically – by the failure of the (...) firm. The emerging picture contrasts sharply with the conventional conception of the firm. (shrink)
Abstract: In this article, I offer a proposal to clarify what I believe is the proper relation between value maximization and stakeholder theory, which I call enlightened value maximization. Enlightened value maximization utilizes much of the structure of stakeholder theory but accepts maximization of the long-run value of the firm as the criterion for making the requisite tradeoffs among its stakeholders, and specifies long-term value maximization or value seeking as the firm’s objective. This proposal therefore solves the problems that arise (...) from the multiple objectives that accompany traditional stakeholder theory. I also discuss the Balanced Scorecard, which is the managerial equivalent of stakeholder theory, explaining how this theory is flawed because it presents managers with a scorecard that gives no score—that is, no single-valued measure of how they have performed. Thus managers evaluated with such a system (which can easily have two dozen measures and provides no information on the tradeoffs between them) have no way to make principled or purposeful decisions. The solution is to define a true (single dimensional) score for measuring performance for the organization or division (and it must be consistent with the organization’s strategy), and as long as their score is defined properly, (and for lower levels in the organization it will generally not be value) this will enhance their contribution to the firm. (shrink)
Stakeholder theory is an important part of modern business ethics. Many scholars argue for a normative instead of an instrumental approach to stakeholder theory. Recent examples of such an approach show that problems appear with respect to the ethical foundation as well as the specification of the norms and the relation between corporate and individual responsibilities. This paper argues for the relevance of Aristotle's ideas on ethics and politics, and especially the link between them, for stakeholder theory. An Aristotelian approach (...) suggests that the corporation should be considered as existing to allow the decision maker, who normally is a manager, to live a complete and good life and to make decisions that involve the interests of different stakeholders. This approach leads to a number of implications regarding the role of organizational politics and the managerial function. (shrink)
The Puritan ethic is conventionally interpreted as a set of individualistic values that encourage a degree of self-interest inimical to the good of organizations and society. A closer reading of original Puritan moralists reveals a different ethic. Puritan moralists simultaneously legitimated economic individualism while urging individuals to work for the common good. They contrasted self-interest and the common good, which they understood to be the sinful and moral ends, respectively, of economic individualism. This polarity can be found in all the (...) details of their moral system, including the Puritan understanding of vocation, economic virtues, property rights, contracts, wealth and poverty, market prices and interest, and the proper economic role of government. The efforts of contemporary ethics to confront the problem of self-interest in business organizations and society would be enriched by a rediscovery of the Puritan understanding of self as a fundamental problem for any individualistic value system. (shrink)