R. Edward Freeman

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For too long, business ethics has been the captive of Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Ethical theory to most business ethicists means the traditional trifecta of consequentialism (usually utilitarianism), deontology (usually Kant), and virtue ethics (usually Aristotle). While this has been quite useful in the academic beginnings of the field, it is high time that we begin to connect these now traditional texts and arguments in business ethics with other traditions in the humanities. Business ethics was born in scandal. It seems to regenerate itself with each succeeding wave of scandal. And, there are two problems here. The first is that our world is so interconnected that we can no longer afford to see business as a separate institution in society, subject to its own moral code. Business must be thoroughly situated in society. This means that we can no longer accept the now rather commonplace narrative about businesspeople being economic profit-maximizers and little else. Business is a deeply human institution set in our societies and interconnected all over the world. The second problem is that business ethics, by being reborn in scandal, never escapes the presumption that business starts off by being morally questionable. It never seems to get any credit for the good it brings into the world, only questions about the bad. In fact, capitalism may well be the greatest system of social cooperation that we have ever invented. But, if it is, then it must stand the critical test of our best thinkers, if for no other reason than to make it better. Simply assuming that capitalism is either unquestionably morally good or unquestionably morally problematic violates both scholarly and practical norms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBusiness Ethics and Continental Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages2
ISBN (Electronic)9781139013338
ISBN (Print)9780521199049
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

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