Psychological Pragmatism and the Imperative of Aims: A New Approach for business Ethics

Business Ethics Quarterly 8 (3):409-430 (1998)
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Abstract:Psychological forces in play across individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis increase the likelihood that people in business organizations will engage in misconduct. Therefore, it is argued, we must turn our attention from dominant normative and empirical trends in business ethics, which revolve around boundaries and constraints, and instead concentrate on methods for promoting ethical behavior in practice, exploiting psychological forces conducive to ethical conduct. This calls for a better understanding of how organizations and their inhabitants function, and, in turn, it points to pragmatic solutions. Ethical conduct can be promoted by (1) normatively justifying vivid aims worthy of pursuit alongside economic objectives, and (2) empirically identifying the conditions and practices that advance those aims in firms. This approach challenges us to bring empirical and normative inquiry together—in ways unsettling to both. It pushes us to move beyond an empirical preoccupation with decision making and judgment, and it requires us to cope with political liberalism’s legitimate qualms about discussions of the good.



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