Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 89, Issue 1, pp 99-107

First online:

Shadow of Virtue: On a Painful if not Principled Compromise Inherent in Business Ethics

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From a certain philosophical perspective, one that is at least as old as Plato but which is addressed also by Aristotle and Kant, business ethics – to the extent that it is marketed as form of enlightened self-interest – constitutes a Thrasymachean compromise: to argue that it is to our advantage to conduct business ethically, perhaps even advantageous to the bottom-line, comes curiously close to endorsing what Plato called the ‹shadow of virtue’ – i.e., of becoming temperate for the sake of ill-temperance. And yet it also seems true that moralistic campaigns to achieve the impossible, e.g., pursuing justice for its own sake or eradicating egoism, often “detract from attaining really important things.” This essay explores the need, in business ethics as well as elsewhere, to make – what Dewey and Niebuhr considered to be – painful if not principled philosophical compromises in order to secure is a society in which there would be “enough justice to avoid complete disaster.”


Aristotle Business ethics Plato