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The Promise of Pragmatism: Richard Rorty and Business Ethics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2021

Sareh Pouryousefi
Ryerson University
R. Edward Freeman
University of Virginia


Pragmatists believe that philosophical inquiry must engage closely with practice to be useful and that practice serves as a source of social norms. As a growing alternative to the analytic and continental philosophical traditions, pragmatism is well suited for research in business ethics, but its role remains underappreciated. This article focuses on Richard Rorty, a key figure in the pragmatist tradition. We read Rorty as a source of insight about the ethical and political nature of business practice in contemporary global markets, focusing specifically on his views about moral sentiments, agency, and democratic deliberation. Importantly for business ethicists, Rorty’s approach sets in stark relief our moral responsibility as useful, practical thinkers in addressing the societal challenges of our time. We use “modern slavery” as an empirical context to highlight the relevance of Rorty’s approach to business ethics.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for Business Ethics

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