Kant on Virtue
29 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2013 Last revised: 8 Apr 2014
Date Written: April 22, 2013
In business ethics journals, Kant's ethics is often portrayed as overly formalistic, devoid of substantial content, and without regard for the consequences of actions or questions of character. Hence virtue ethicists ride happily to the rescue, offering to replace or complement Kant's theory with theirs. Before such efforts are undertaken, however, one should recognize that Kant himself wrote a 'virtue theory' (Tugendlehre), wherein he discussed the questions of character as well as the teleological nature of human action. Numerous Kant scholars argue that Kant already erected precisely the kind of integrative moral architecture that some of his modern interpreters (while aiming to supersede him) wish to construct. For business ethics, this divergence of scholarly opinion is of crucial importance. It shows first that the standard textbook portrayals of Kant's ethics – as rigidly deontological, narrowly individualistic, and hence unsuitable for the specific demands of corporate agency – might have to be revised. Second, discussions in academic literature on theories of stakeholder-engagement and managerial decision-making likewise stand to gain from a more nuanced picture of Kant's moral philosophy. Third, a reassessment of Kant's ethics in regard to questions of personal character and moral sentiments might also be warranted. Last, but not least, the many current attempts to reconcile Kant's freedom-oriented philosophy with virtue theories stand to benefit considerably from better understanding how Kant himself aimed at one such synthesis between the formal and substantial aspects of morality.
Keywords: Kant, business ethics, deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics, sustainability management
JEL Classification: B10, B31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation