Russell G. Pearce
Fordham University School of Law
Brendan M. Wilson
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, L.L.P.
September 24, 2013
Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise, pp. 49-58, Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni eds., 2013
Revue Internationale De L’éthique Des Affaires Et De La Compliance – Supplément À La Semaine Juridique Entreprise Et Affaires, No. 39, p. 15, September 2013
Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2330590
This Essay makes three contributions to the field of business ethics – the specialized normative discipline that grapples with the question of how people should behave when they are in the context of business. First, the Essay identifies the dominant approaches to business ethics as profit maximization, social duty, and ordinary ethics, and summarizes the claims made by proponents of each perspective. We intend this categorization as a way to refine the distinctions between and among various views of business ethics and to address the conundrum that John Paul Rollert has described as the “academic anarchy that is business ethics. If you ‘survey the syllabi from MBA programs across the country, you will soon discover that there is no agreement, broad or otherwise, on what passes for ‘business ethics.’” Second, the Essay explores the strengths and weaknesses of these three approaches. It suggests that their emphasis on viewing business persons and organizations as existing autonomously, rather than within webs of relationships, helps explain why the field of business ethics has had minimal influence on business conduct, as does the false dichotomy between economic and ethical conduct that proponents of these approaches often embrace. Accordingly, despite the proliferation of courses, books and publications on business ethics, and even the adoption of corporate social responsibility policies by businesses themselves, commentators have noted that business ethics has provided “little practical guidance to business managers” and that the field itself is “in a quandary” and risks “a decline in relevance.” Third, the Essay proposes an alternative approach that would locate business ethics at the center of business conduct. This approach embraces the relational character of business behavior. It offers a conception of self-interest that recognizes the relational dimension of self-interest and identifies mutual benefit as the goal of business conduct. The text of the essay is available in the book itself or on Professor Pearce's Fordham University web page.
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Date posted: September 26, 2013 ; Last revised: October 15, 2016