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This special issue is devoted to highlighting thinkers who have been overlooked within business ethics and who have important contributions to make to our field. We make the case that, as scholars of a hybrid discipline that also aims to address important issues of business practice, we need to look continually for new sources of insight and wisdom that can both enrich our discourse and improve our ability to generate ideas that have a positive impact on business practice. In this introductory essay, we discuss our rationale for creating this special issue, summarize the articles contained within, and close with thoughts on its significance for the field going forward.
Given his view that the modern world is “radically evil,” Theodor Adorno is an unlikely contributor to business ethics. Despite this, we argue that his work has a number of provocative implications for the field that warrant wider attention. Adorno regards our social world as damaged, unfree, and false, and we draw on this critique to outline why the achievement of good work is so rare in contemporary society, focusing in particular on the ethical demands of roles and the ideological nature of management’s self-understanding. Nevertheless, we show that Adorno’s comments on activities such as art and philosophy mean that it is possible to draw on his work in a way that contributes constructively to the conversation about good and meaningful work within business ethics.
I address an interesting puzzle of how marginalized groups gain self-representation and influence firms’ strategies. Accordingly, I examine the case of access to low-cost HIV/AIDS drugs in South Africa by integrating W. E. B. Du Bois’s work into stakeholder theory. Du Bois’s scholarly work, most notably his founding contribution to Black scholarship, has profound significance in the humanities and social sciences disciplines and vast potential to inspire a new way of thinking and doing research in the management and organization fields, including business ethics research. By drawing on Du Bois’s works, I argue that through reconstruction of their selves—knowing their souls—marginalized groups know their capabilities better, enabling them to overcome their political and strategic limitations and ensure their true self-representation. They are also empowered to use political imagination and strategies of resistance against more powerful opponents. This influences powerful actors to accept the demands of marginalized groups.
This article uses philosopher Miranda Fricker’s work on epistemic injustice to shed light on the legal concept of the fiduciary, alongside demonstrating the wider contribution Fricker’s work can make to business ethics. Fiduciary, from the Latin fīdūcia, meaning “trust,” plays a fundamental role in all financial and business organisations: it acts as a moral safeguard of the relationship between trustee and beneficiary. The article focuses on the ethics of the fiduciary, but from a unique historical perspective, referring back to the original formulation of the fiduciary within a familial context to investigate presuppositions regarding agential capabilities, whilst also paying attention to the power mechanism embedded in the trustee–beneficiary relationship. Using Fricker’s theory of pre-emptive testimonial injustice, the analysis elucidates the impact of cumulative beneficiary silencing in contemporary contexts, and the article uncovers ethical issues of an epistemological kind at the core of the fiduciary—of epistemic injustice.
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.
A standard framework for business ethics views the inquiry as an application of major ethical theories to specific issues in business. As these theories are largely presented as being principled, the exercise therefore becomes one of applying general principles to business situations. Many adopting this standard approach have thus resisted the implementation of the most prominent development in ethical theory in recent history: that of particularism. In this article, I argue that particularist thinking has much to offer to business ethics and that standard resistance to particularist business ethics is based largely on misunderstandings. I do so by illustrating how the harbinger of particularism, W. D. Ross, countenances the practical wisdom of particularist ethics while being 1) invulnerable to standard objections to particularist business ethics and 2) compatible with the generalism of the standard approach. The Rossian business ethic is therefore one that the standard approach should be eager to include.
In 1538–39 Francisco de Vitoria delivered two relections: De Indis and De iure belli. This article distills from these writings the topic of free trade as a “human right” in accordance with ius gentium or the “law of peoples.” The right to free trade is rooted in a more fundamental right to communication and association. The rights to travel, to dwell, and to migrate precede the right to trade, which is also closely connected to the rights to preach, to protect converts, and to constitute Christian princes. This has significant repercussions on the field of business ethics: the right to free trade is ultimately founded directly on natural law and indirectly on divine law; trade is not independent of ethics; and trade is presented as an opportunity to develop the virtues of justice and friendship, among other repercussions. Vitoria is portrayed as a defender of private initiative and free markets.