Reconsidering the Common Good in a Business Context

Journal of Business Ethics 85 (S1):25 - 37 (2009)
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In our contemporary post-modern context, it has become increasingly awkward to talk about a good that is shared by all. This is particularly true in the context of mammoth multi-national corporations operating in global markets. Nevertheless, it is precisely some of these same enormous, aggrandizing forces that have given rise to recent corporate scandals. These, in turn, raise questions about ethical systems that are focused too myopically on self-interest, or the interest of specific groups, locations or cultures. The obvious traditional alternative to moral bellybutton gazing is the common good, which challenges the modern business enterprise to realize non-instrumental values that can only be attained in our life together. The common good dictates that leadership should be judged, first of all, according to moral criteria rather than professional competence. It helps correct the distorted prioritization of the maximization of profit in every business decision, recognizing that businesses have a multitude of rights and responsibilities, and the common good reminds us that the first of these is not always profit-making



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Tom O'Brien
University of Queensland