Journal of Business Ethics (1):1-14 (2017)

Marc A. Cohen
Seattle University
Joseph Heath defends competitive markets and conceptualizes business ethics with reference to Pareto efficiency, which he takes to be the “implicit morality of the market.” His justification for markets is that they generate Pareto efficient outcomes, meaning that markets optimally satisfy consumer preferences. And, for Heath, business ethics is the set of normative constraints—regulation and beyond-compliance norms—needed to preserve that outcome. The present paper accepts Heath’s claim that the economic justification for markets is ethical, in that satisfying consumer preferences is a good. But, contra Heath, the ethical consideration at work is a consequentialist one; and acknowledging this consequentialism exposes limitations of Heath’s “market failures” approach to business ethics. We suggest two limitations, and we expect many will accept our argument that Heath’s conception of business ethics is too narrow. The present paper outlines two broader implications. First, acknowledging that the justification for markets is ethical eliminates the apparent—and false—conflict between purportedly amoral economic activity on one hand and ethical considerations on the other; instead, business ethics is a matter of weighing the consequentialist ethical benefit of economic activity and markets against other moral arguments/other ethical considerations. Second, Heath restricts business ethics to the constraints needed to protect the market’s ability to efficiently satisfy consumer preferences, constraints he calls “efficiency imperatives”; this restriction supports the widespread tendency to think that all social problems are economic; and, a business ethics so-conceived diminishes the perceived importance of noneconomic values—this attitude is dangerous.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2017, 2019
DOI 10.1007/s10551-017-3761-6
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 69,089
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Two Concepts of Rules.John Rawls - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (1):3-32.
On Ethics and Economics.Amartya Sen - 1989 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 51 (4):722-723.
War and Massacre.Thomas Nagel - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (2):123-144.

View all 17 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Navigating Our Way Between Market and State.Jeffery Smith - 2019 - Business Ethics Quarterly 29 (1):127-141.
The Implicit Morality of the Market Is Consequentialist.Marc A. Cohen & Dean Peterson - 2020 - Business Ethics Journal Review 7 (4):21-26.
Is the “Point” of the Market Pareto or Kaldor-Hicks Efficiency?Heath Joseph - 2019 - Business Ethics Journal Review 7 (4):21-26.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Professionalism, Agency, and Market Failures.Hasko von Kriegstein - 2016 - Business Ethics Quarterly 26 (4):445-464.
Competition, Value Creation and the Self-Understanding of Business.David Silver - 2016 - Business Ethics Journal Review 4 (10):59-65.
Business Ethics in a Competitive Market.Julianne Nelson - 1994 - Journal of Business Ethics 13 (9):663 - 666.
Reconciling Traditional Morality and the Morality of Competition.Adam D. Bailey - 2014 - Business and Society Review 119 (2):207-219.
Business Ethics Without Stakeholders.Joseph Heath - 2006 - Business Ethics Quarterly 16 (4):533-558.
Business Ethics Without Stakeholders.Joseph Heath - 2006 - Business Ethics Quarterly 16 (4):533-557.
La Moralité Implicite du Marché.Pierre-Yves Néron - 2010 - Les Ateliers de L’Ethique 5 (1):4-22.
Does Business Ethics Rest on a Mistake?John R. Boatright - 1999 - Business Ethics Quarterly 9 (4):583-591.


Added to PP index

Total views
39 ( #288,928 of 2,499,034 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #209,823 of 2,499,034 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes