The impossibility of corporate ethics: for a Levinasian approach to managerial ethics

Business Ethics 16 (3):208-219 (2007)
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Abstract

The moral philosophy of Levinas offers a stark prospectus of impossibility for corporate ethics. It differs from most traditional ethical theories in that, for Levinas, the ethical develops in a personal meeting of one with the Other, rather than residing in some internal deliberation of the moral subject. Levinasian ethics emphasises an infinite personal responsibility arising for each of us in the face of the Other and in the presence of the Third. It stresses the imperious demand we experience to be open to, prepared for and impassioned with that which we may not know, or recognise, about ourselves or about the Other. Such a demand transcends our intellectual and/or rational potential; it involves us in a carnal and somatic bodily experience of otherness. If we are to speak of Levinasian ethics in a business context, it cannot be a matter of corporate ethics but only a matter of individual managerial ethics. What such an ethics would be like is yet to be outlined. This paper proposes a series of questions and suggestions that will explicate some key terms of a practice organised around a Levinasian vocabulary of otherness, responsibility, proximity, diachrony and justice.

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