Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-p2v8j Total loading time: 0.001 Render date: 2024-05-26T18:49:27.076Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Does Business Ethics Rest on a Mistake?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2015


This presidential address to the Society for Business Ethics argues that business ethics rests upon the mistaken assumption that teaching and research in the field ought to aim at the incorporation of ethics into managerial decision making. An alternative to this Moral Manager Model is a Moral Market Model, in which the aim is to develop markets that produce ethical outcomes. The differences between the two models are discussed with reference to the themes of responsibility, participation, and relationships.

Copyright © Society for Business Ethics 1999

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This paper was presented as the Presidential Address to the Society for Business Ethics, at the Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, August 8, 1998.

1 Robert J. Samuelson, “R.I.P.: The Good Corporation,” Newsweek, July 5, 1993, p. 41.

2 See William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone, The Virtual Corporation (New York: HarperBusiness, 1992).

3 Albert J. Dunlap, Mean Business (New York: Random House, 1996).

4 Kenneth E. Goodpaster, “Ethical Imperatives and Corporate Leadership,” in Business Ethics: The State of the Art, ed. R. Edward Freeman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

5 Goodpaster, “Ethical Imperatives and Corporate Leadership,” p. 97.

6 John R. Boatright, Ethics and the Conduct of Business, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997), p. 19.

7 ”Levi Strauss and Co.: Global Sourcing (A),” Harvard Business School, 9–395–127.

8 John Ladd, “Morality and the Ideal of Rationality in Formal Organizations,” Monist 54 (1970); Robert Jackall, “Moral Mazes: Bureaucracy and Managerial Work,” Harvard Business Review, September-October 1983.

9 Robert Jackall, Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

10 Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (New York: World, 1911).

11 Alan Wolfe, “The Modern Corporation: Private Agent or Public Actor?” Washington and Lee Law Review 50 (1993): 1686 (italics in the original).

12 Wolfe, “The Modern Corporation,” p. 1686.

13 William Baumol, Perfect Markets and Easy Virtue: Business Ethics and the Invisible Hand (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 53.

14 Daniel R. Gilbert, Jr., “Respect for Persons, Management Theory, and Business Ethics,” in Business Ethics: The State of the Art, ed. R. Edward Freeman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 116.

15 For an example, see E. A. Ross, Social Control (New York: Macmillan, 1901).

16 The distinction is due to Adolf A. Berle, Jr., and Gardiner C. Means, The Modern Corporation and Private Property (New York: Macmillan, 1932).

17 Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977).

18 Gilbert, “Respect for Persons, Management Theory, and Business Ethics,” p. 113.