Achieving Social and Economic Equality by Unifying Business and Ethics: Adam Smith as the Cause of and Cure for the Separation Thesis

28 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2018

See all articles by Scott L. Newbert

Scott L. Newbert

Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College - The City University of New York

Date Written: May 2018

Abstract

Adam Smith's famous argument that self‐interested decisions will ultimately improve social welfare seems inconsistent with the social and economic inequality characterizing Smith's time and today. I contend that these inequalities are the result of Smith's failure to explicitly situate the economic man he describes in The Wealth of Nations within the broader social context he articulates in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, an omission which has since given rise to the separation thesis, which states that business decisions have no moral content and moral decisions have no business content. In response to this modern‐day Adam Smith problem, I integrate Smith's notions of sympathy, intimacy, and justice into a unification thesis that articulates how individuals might balance their self‐interested and benevolent motives. By reuniting the discourses of business and ethics, this research may inform contemporary theories of business ethics and provide normative guidance for managers.

Keywords: Adam Smith, benevolence, inequality, self‐interest, separation thesis, sympathy

Suggested Citation

Newbert, Scott L., Achieving Social and Economic Equality by Unifying Business and Ethics: Adam Smith as the Cause of and Cure for the Separation Thesis (May 2018). Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 55, Issue 3, pp. 517-544, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3160368 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/joms.12322

Scott L. Newbert (Contact Author)

Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College - The City University of New York ( email )

NY
United States

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