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This article develops a liberal theory of the virtues in business. I first articulate two key liberal values embodied within market society: self-authorship and mutual benefit. Self-authorship is a mode of autonomy given expression through the effective exercise of economic liberties. Mutual benefit involves the intentional pursuit of the well-being of one’s transaction partners within economic exchange. These values are uniquely realized, I argue, within business, conceptualized as a distinct, firm-level, social practice. More specifically, individuals realize self-authorship by purposively integrating cospecialized resources, forms of knowledge, and business functions to facilitate mutually beneficial transactions. Through their commitment to mutual benefit, businesspersons establish ongoing, cooperative relationships with customers, members of other firms, and various stakeholders more generally. These relationships are constitutive of a distinct liberal notion of the common good. The practice of business and the common good in a market society are sustained by a range of individual-level virtues. I recount these virtues and, before concluding, discuss several other theoretical implications of this account.
Research on ethical norms has grown in recent years, but imprecise language has made it unclear when these norms prescribe “what ought to be” and when they merely describe behaviors or perceptions (“what is”). Studies of ethical norms, moreover, tend not to investigate whether participants were influenced by the prescriptive aspect of the norm; the studies primarily demonstrate, rather, that people will mimic the behaviors or perceptions of others, which provides evidence for the already well-substantiated social proof theory. In this review article, we delineate three streams of norms research in business ethics: behavioral, perceptual, and prescriptive. We argue that by properly categorizing norms, and designing studies to investigate when prescriptions, more than mere mimicry, improve ethical outcomes in organizations, researchers can enhance managers’ efforts to promote ethical outcomes in organizations.
In this article, I present a sociological approach to the problem of meaningful work that dwells on its broad social and cultural sources, as opposed to the focus on subjective and organizational factors currently prevailing in the field. Specifically, I consider two sociological perspectives, those of community and autonomy, as important conceptual tools for understanding the ambivalent character of modern culture in providing individuals with a sense of meaningfulness of their activities. I also review some of the existing research on meaningful work and interpret it through this conceptual distinction, both to show the latter’s relevance for the field and to identify the gaps it might help fill. As a result, based on the sociological perspectives, I propose a general conceptual model and discuss five directions to further advance the theoretical comprehension of meaningful work, and I suggest some implications of these perspectives for normative business ethics.
The legitimacy of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) as institutions for social and environmental governance in the global economy has received much scholarly attention over the past years. To date, however, research has yet to focus on assessing the legitimacy of MSIs in their interactions with other actors within larger systems of deliberation. Drawing on the deliberative systems perspective developed within deliberative democracy theory, we theorise a normative framework to evaluate the roles of MSIs within the broader systems of governance they co-construct through their interactions with other initiatives, governments, non-governmental organisations, and other external actors. As we demonstrate in our evaluation of the illustrative case of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety as a MSI in the context of the Bangladeshi garment industry, this framework can help researchers assess whether a MSI ultimately serves to enhance or undermine the deliberative legitimacy of the overall system of which it forms a part.
Much business ethics and corporate social responsibility literature suggests, implicitly or explicitly, that firms ought to engage in activities that can be characterized as philanthropy, namely, expending resources beyond what is required by law and market norms to promote others’ welfare at the expense of firm profits. However, this literature has struggled to provide a normative framework for evaluating corporate philanthropy, although scholars have noted that such expenditures can potentially remedy market failures and provide public goods more efficiently. I articulate two specific rationales that can justify corporate philanthropy based on considerations of welfare economics: 1) firms making strategic but high-risk investments in activities that are likely to generate positive externalities even if they prove unprofitable and 2) firms possessing a strong comparative advantage in their ability to address a social problem at lower social cost. Moreover, these rationales can be evaluated by a concept I develop called the philanthropy multiplier, indicating the ratio of net positive externalities to net costs. I suggest that firms consider publicizing their philanthropy multipliers, and I discuss theoretical and practical implications.
This essay offers a philosophical defense of deception about reservation prices in business negotiation. Its discussion is prompted by arguments that Charles N.C. Sherwood makes in a recent issue of Business Ethics Quarterly and develops ideas I put forward in an earlier issue of Business Ethics Quarterly. The essay argues that although reservation price deception cannot be justified by appeal to the consent of negotiating parties, it can be justified by appeal to a separate but related notion, assumption of risk, as long as the assumption of risk occurs in a suitably fair context.
Many business transactions and employment contracts are wrongfully exploitative despite being consensual and beneficial to both parties, compared with a nontransaction baseline. This form of exploitation can present governments with a dilemma. Legally permitting exploitation may send the message that the public condones it. In some economic conditions, coercively enforced antiexploitation law may harm the people it is intended to help. Under these conditions, a way out of the dilemma is to enact laws with provisions that lack coercive enforcement. Noncoercive law would convey the state’s condemnation of wrongful exploitation without risking the harmful effects of coercively enforced law. It would also give firms and their agents a way of explaining nonexploitative pricing decisions to investors, and it may help give precise content to the moral duty to set prices and wages fairly. Governments should thus consider noncoercive law a viable component of their responses to exploitation.
The business case constitutes an important instrumental motive for corporate social responsibility (CSR), but its relationship with other moral and relational motives remains controversial. In this article, we examine the articulation of motives for CSR among different stakeholders in Germany historically. On the basis of reports of German business associations, state agencies, unions, and nongovernmental organizations from 1970 to 2014, we show how the business case came to be a dominant motive for CSR by acting as a coalition magnet: the vocabulary was used strategically by key policy entrepreneurs, while being ambiguous for flexible interpretations by different stakeholders, and thereby growing in attractiveness. As a resulting discourse coalition emerged among business, state, and civil society actors, the moral and relational motives for CSR became increasingly marginalized. The article offers a new approach to studying motives and contributes to understanding the complementary or competing nature of different motives for CSR.
We review and synthesize over two decades of research on ethical culture in organizations, examining eighty-nine relevant scholarly works. Our article discusses the conceptualization of ethical culture in a cross-disciplinary space and its critical role in ethical decision-making. With a view to advancing future research, we analyze the antecedents, outcomes, and mediator and moderator roles of ethical culture. To do so, we identify measures and theories used in past studies and make recommendations. We propose, inter alia, the use of validated measures, application of a wider range of theories, adoption of longitudinal studies, and study of group-level data in organizations. We explore research possibilities in new and emergent forms of organizations, ways of organizing work, and technology in ethical decision-making, such as the role of artificial intelligence. We also recommend the study of a broad range of leadership styles and their influence in shaping ethical cultures in organizations.
Why do organizations conduct job interviews? The traditional view of interviewing holds that interviews are conducted, despite their steep costs, to predict a candidate’s future performance and fit. This view faces a twofold threat: the behavioral and algorithmic threats. Specifically, an overwhelming body of behavioral research suggests that we are bad at predicting performance and fit; furthermore, algorithms are already better than us at making these predictions in various domains. If the traditional view captures the whole story, then interviews seem to be a costly, archaic human resources procedure sustained by managerial overconfidence. However, building on T. M. Scanlon’s work, we offer the value of choice theory of interviewing and argue that interviews can be vindicated once we recognize that they generate commonly overlooked kinds of noninstrumental value. On our view, interviews should thus not be entirely replaced by algorithms, however sophisticated algorithms ultimately become at predicting performance and fit.
When do companies deserve moral credit for doing what is right? This question concerns the positive side of corporate moral responsibility, the negative side of which is the more commonly discussed issue of when companies are blameworthy for doing what is wrong. I offer a broadly functionalist account of how companies can act from morally creditworthy motives, which defuses the following Strawsonian challenge to the claim that they can: morally creditworthy motivation involves being guided by attitudes of “goodwill” for others, and these attitudes involve affect and/or phenomenal consciousness, which corporate agents cannot maintain. In response, I show that what matters about being guided by attitudes of goodwill is being directly concerned for others in one’s practical deliberation. Companies can achieve this direct concern through their decision-making procedures without affect or phenomenal consciousness. I also explore how a company’s moral creditworthiness, or lack thereof, should shape stakeholders’ relationship with it.
Care has increasingly been promoted as an element of successful management practice. However, an ethic of care is a normative theory that was initially developed in reference to intimate relationships, and it is unclear if it is an appropriate normative standard in business. The purpose of this review is to bridge the social scientific study of care with philosophical understandings of care and to provide a theoretical justification for care as a managerial value. We review the three different forms of care advanced by the ethics literature: caring relations, organizational care, and care as a virtue. We compare these forms of care to the management litertature. In doing so, we integrate what has previously been a scattered, yet growing, body of research on care. Our review of the literature reveals that care has increasingly been studied in management in relation to an ethic of care. Yet, many of the properties of care have also played a role in other established research domains (e.g., leadership). We discuss and critique the management and ethics literatures on care, paying attention to areas of agreement or disagreeement between the two. We go on to provide a normative justification of care as a value in business. Finally, we close by suggesting directions for future research.
We consider the problem of moral disjunction in professional and business activities from a virtue-ethical perspective. Moral disjunction arises when the behavioral demands of a role conflict with personal morality; it is an important problem because most people in modern societies occupy several complex roles that can cause this clash to occur. We argue that moral disjunction, and the psychological mechanisms that people use to cope with it, are problematic because they make it hard to pursue virtue and to live with integrity. We present role coadunation as a process with epistemic and behavioral aspects that people can use to resolve moral disjunction with integrity. When role coadunation is successful, it enables people to live virtuous lives of appropriate narrative disunity and to honor their identity-conferring commitments. We show how role coadunation can be facilitated by interpretive communities and discuss the emergence and ideal features of those communities.
The neglect of marginalized stakeholders is a colossal problem in both stakeholder and entrepreneurship streams of literature. To address this problem, we offer a theory of marginalized stakeholder-centric entrepreneurship. We conceptualize how firms can utilize marginalized stakeholder input actualization through which firms should process a variety of ideas, resources, and interactions with marginalized stakeholders and then filter, internalize, and, finally, realize important elements that improve a variety of related socioeconomic, ethical, racial, contextual, political, and identity issues. This input actualization process enables firms to innovate with marginalized stakeholders and develop marginalized stakeholder capabilities. To this end, firms fulfill both their moral and entrepreneurial claims to marginalized stakeholders.
This article reviews and criticizes Joseph Heath’s market failures approach (MFA) to business ethics. Our criticism is organized into three sections. First, we argue that, even under the ideal assumptions of perfect competition, when markets generate Pareto-efficient distributions, Heath’s approach does not rule out significant harms. Second, we show that, under nonideal conditions, the MFA is either too demanding, if efficiency is to be attained, or not sufficiently demanding, if the goal of Pareto efficiency is abandoned. Finally, we argue that Heath’s appeal to regulations and specific moral requirements as a remedy for market failures is unlikely to safeguard efficiency and exposes a number of general worries regarding the moral force of the MFA. We end this article with a constructive suggestion on how to adjust the MFA to avoid these problems while preserving its contractualist and Paretian spirit.
Adam Smith writes favorably about innovation in Wealth of Nations while writing unfavorably about a figure associated with innovation: the projector. His criticism of projectors prompts many scholars to claim that Smith disapproves of entrepreneurship. But Smith criticizes the projector not because he acts as an entrepreneur but because he fails to meet Smith’s moral standards for entrepreneurship. In Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith conceives of a framework for moral entrepreneurship based on prudence. The framework consists of two principles: first, approach everyday matters with the general “tenor of conduct” that governs your life and trade, and second, approach life-changing matters with prudence and justice. Recognizing that Smith is concerned with the total effect that an entrepreneurial venture has on society beyond its immediate profits opens the door to engage with contemporary research that studies the ethical and moral externalities of entrepreneurship.
In this study, we theorize humanness in organizations as a property of practice. We apply practice theory to examine how humanness becomes enacted in a business organization as people prioritize organizational and individual ends in their work activities. Our empirical case study examines the everyday interactions of development team members in an R&D organization of a large Nordic cooperative. Challenging the dominant individualist and structuralist approaches in humanness and human dignity studies, we identify and locate four different aspects of humanness in organizational practices. As a result, we show how the emergence of humanness is an ongoing process that transpires through two mechanisms: site shifting and reconciliation; that is, people shift between different sites of the social, consisting of different sets of practices with underlying disparate assumptions of humanness, which requires reconciliation. These findings provide a basis for an alternative theorizing of humanness in organizations.
The rise of liberal market economies, propagated by neoliberal free market thought, has created a vacant responsibility for public interests in the market order of society. This development has been critiqued by Catholic social teaching (CST), forcefully arguing that governments and businesses should be directed to the common good. In this debate, no attention has yet been given to the Reformational tradition and its principle of sphere sovereignty, which provides guidelines on the responsibilities of governments and companies for the public interest of society. This article analyzes the differences and similarities between CST and the Reformational philosophy in their critiques of the neoliberal free market perspective of Hayek. We apply the three perspectives to the case of orphan drugs in the pharmaceutical industry and show that CST and the Reformational philosophy offer valuable insights in correction to Hayek’s views on the responsibilities of governments and companies for public health interests.
This article draws from Charles Taylor’s work of retrieval to advance moral foundations theory (MFT). Taylor’s contribution to MFT lies in his insistence that we retrieve the moral sources that have helped constitute, substantiate, and give meaning to individuals’ moral sensibilities. Applying Taylor’s insights to MFT, this article seeks to advance a view of moral foundations that connects them more explicitly to their underlying moral sources. Using this retrieved account of moral foundations, this article then addresses current issues within moral foundations research and theory. Finally, this article suggests ways in which Taylor’s philosophy can contribute to three areas within business ethics: ethical leadership, behavioral ethics, and ethics pedagogy.