Adam Smith’s Contribution to Business Ethics, Then and Now

Journal of Business Ethics 129 (1):221-236 (2015)
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Smith defines the business enterprise primarily as the endeavor of an individual who remains fully embedded in the broader society and subject to its moral demands. For him, the conceptions of the local community and its normative framework, of the enterprise, and of the individuals within it need to be aligned with each other and developed together. Over time, four processes have, however, led to a widening gap between the business world and the local community. These are the dissemination of the corporate model, the transformation of the entrepreneurial role toward an agency role, changes in the ownership structure, and changes in the relation to the local community. This article presents Smith’s integrative conception of business and its contributions to the development of integrative theories of organizations and of business–society relations in the twenty-first century. Among others, it discusses the necessity to develop a normative-relational dimension of organizations that addresses the relations between the organization, its members, and the normative framework of the local community. This integrative approach of business–society relations challenges current business ethics research which often suggests that solutions to the current scandals lie either within the framework, the organization, or the individuals



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