Introduction: What Makes this Book Distinctive

15 Pages Posted: 22 May 2001

See all articles by Elaine Sternberg

Elaine Sternberg

University of Miami; Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA); University of Leeds; University of Buckingham


Just Business: Business Ethics in Action by Elaine Sternberg is an unusual book on business ethics; the extract presented here, 'Introduction: What Makes This Book Distinctive', explains how and why.

Unlike most books on business ethics, Just Business does not apply incoherent philosophical doctrines to misunderstood business practice. Instead, it provides a systematic, reasoned argument about what constitutes ethical conduct for business. Just Business is realistic both in its robust (largely Aristotelian) philosophical underpinnings, and in its appreciation and understanding of business.

Based on a rigorous analysis of what business, ethics and business ethics are, Just Business provides a powerful explanatory framework - the Ethical Decision Model - that supplies the basis for resolving business ethics questions whenever and wherever they arise, in all their actual variety, complexity and novelty. It explains and illustrates that Model with reference to such key issues as: bribery, conflicts of interest, fiduciary responsibility, hiring, firing and remuneration, financial reporting, takeovers, insider trading, junk bonds, whistleblowing, and corporate governance.

By introducing conceptual clarity to business ethics, Just Business provides solid arguments for rebutting trendy, unethical demands for 'social responsibility' and 'stakeholding' in business. Combining business realism with philosophical rigour, and employing a global perspective, the book demonstrates that business's correct ethical concern is Just Business - nothing but business, but business that is just. It shows that, contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary either to emasculate or to adulterate business for business to be moral.

In addition to characterising the argument of Just Business: Business Ethics in Action, the Introduction outlines it.

Just Business starts by arguing that business is a very specific, limited activity, which is defined by its objective: maximising owner value over the long term by selling goods or services. Though maximising long-term owner value is business's sole objective, achieving it usually requires taking into account behaviour by, and to, all stakeholders; that which alienates stakeholders or discourages repeat business is unlikely to maximise long-term owner value.

Just Business eliminates a variety of dispensations that are commonly claimed to justify unethical conduct in business. Business is not a game, a war or a machine; it is not exempt from ethical judgement. But nor is a separate 'business ethic' justified.

Just Business then explains how ethics differs from religion, from suffering, sacrifice and struggle, from prudence and altruism, and from compliance with law and contracts.

Just Business identifies the key values of business ethics as those without which the activity of maximising long-term owner value would not be possible: (classical) distributive justice and ordinary decency. Distributive justice exists when organisational rewards are proportional to contributions made to organisational goals. Ordinary decency is not 'niceness', but the conditions of trust necessary both for taking a long-term view and for surviving over the long term; it consists of honesty, fairness, the absence of physical violence and coercion, and the presumption of legality. To be ethical, business must maximise long-term owner value subject to respecting distributive justice and ordinary decency.

Keywords: business ethics, social responsibility, corporate social responsibility, ethical investment, stakeholder theory, stakeholding, corporate governance, value maximisation, bribery, conflicts of interest, fiduciary responsibility, hiring, firing and remuneration, financial reporting, takeovers, insider trading, junk bonds, whistleblowing, balanced scorecard, multiple objectives, social welfare, corporate purpose, tradeoffs, special interest groups, philosophy, Aristotle, teleology

Suggested Citation

Sternberg, Elaine, Introduction: What Makes this Book Distinctive. Available at SSRN: or

Elaine Sternberg (Contact Author)

University of Miami ( email )

P.O. Box 248054
Coral Gables, FL 33124-4670
United States

Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) ( email )

2 Lord North Street, Westminster
London, SW1P 3LB
United Kingdom

University of Leeds ( email )

Leeds, LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

University of Buckingham ( email )

Hunter Street
Buckingham MK18 1EG
United Kingdom

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