Normative and Empirical Business Ethics: Separation, Marriage of Convenience, or Marriage of Necessity?

Business Ethics Quarterly 4 (2):129-143 (1994)


This paper outlines three conceptions of the relationship between normative and empirical business ethics, views we refer to as parallel, symbiotic, and integrative. Parallelism rejects efforts to link normative and empirical inquiry, for both conceptual and practical reasons. The symbiotic position supports a practical relationship in which normative and/or empirical business ethics rely on each other for guidance in setting agenda or in applying the results of their conceptually and methodologically distinct inquiries. Theoretical integration countenances a deeper merging of prima facie distinct forms of inquiry, involving alterations or combinations of theory, metatheoretical assumptions, and methodology. This paper explicates these positions, summarizes arguments for and against each, and considers their implications for the future of business ethics research

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