Seek the Good Life, Not Money: The Aristotelian Approach to Business Ethics
University of Guelph-Humber
Journal of Business Ethics, Forthcoming
Nothing is more common in moral debates than to invoke the names of great thinkers from the past. Business ethics is no exception. Yet insofar as business ethicists have tended to simply mine abstract formulas from the past, they have missed out on the potential intellectual gains in scrupulously exploring the philosophic tradition.
This paper seeks to rectify this shortcoming by advocating a close reading of the so-called 'great books', beginning the process by focusing on Aristotle, the founder of virtue theory. The Nichomachean Ethics and The Politics points to Aristotle's emphasis on tying business morality to a universal conception of the good life. This conception defines personal happiness to chiefly consist in practicing the virtues, a life in which both desire and the pursuit of wealth is kept under check.
According to Aristotle, virtue reaches its height with the exercise of the intellectual virtues of prudence and wisdom - the first manifest in the leadership of organizations, and the second in the philosophic search for truth. From an Aristotelian point of view, therefore, the greatest ethical imperative for business is to give individuals opportunities to thoughtfully participate in the management of company affairs and to contemplate the ultimate meaning of things.
Keywords: business ethics, aristotle, virtue, wealth, happiness, philosophy
JEL Classification: A13, B1, B3, B11, B31, I31, N01Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 24, 2006
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