, Volume 17, Issue 15, pp 1633-1652

Religious Business Ethics and Political Liberalism: An Integrative Approach

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Abstract

Increasingly many business practitioners and academics are turning to religious sources as a way of approaching and answering difficult questions related to business ethics. There now exists a relatively large literature which attempts to integrate business decisions and religious values. The integration, however, is not without difficulties. For many, religious ethics provides the basis and the ultimate authority for a morally meaningful life. Yet, at the same time, in certain contexts, it is often inappropriate to rely and to publicly justify action on the basis of these ethics. With this difficulty in mind, the main goal of this paper is to answer the following specific question: Is a religiously grounded business ethics consistent with the idea of political liberalism? While this question is fundamental and straight-forward, to date it has received little, if any, careful attention. The characterization of business corporations as quasi-public, discussed in the body of the paper, implies that political liberalism may dictate that there exist situations in which invoking religious business ethics is inappropriate. The point is that once one removes the assumption of business as a purely private matter, the justification of a religiously grounded ethics in the context of a politically liberal democracy becomes problematic. On the other hand, such an assumption should not be taken to imply that all religiously grounded business ethics are always inappropriate. As this paper demonstrates, it is far from obvious that even government officials need observe a complete separation between religion and state in formulating, justifying, or expressing public policies, even policies leading to so-called coercive results. If so, it follows that managers of quasi-public institutions may, under appropriate and limited circumstances, invoke and rely upon a religious, albeit private, world-view.