Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 101, Supplement 1, pp 61–70 | Cite as

In Search of Individual Responsibility: The Dark Side of Organizations in the Light of Jansenist Ethics

  • Ghislain Deslandes


In showing how the bureaucratic space negatively influences the moral conscience of managers, Robert Jackall’s sociological writings have pointed up one of the darkest sides of organizations. In fact, in the business ethics literature there is much to support Jackall’s pessimistic contentions, suggesting that bureaucracy can rob individual managers of their sense of responsibility. How then can this space for individual freedom, so essential in re-establishing responsible management, be recreated? In order to answer this question, we propose to interpret Jackall’s Moral Mazes (1988) from the standpoint of Blaise Pascal’s Jansenist ethics and conception of humankind. Our discussion here of Pascal’s “reason of effects,” his theory of “double thought” and his distinction between respect and esteem takes Jackall’s analysis forward and opens new lines of thought about managerial responsibility. The article concludes with some thoughts on further research in the field of business ethics arising from Pascalian anthropology or what we call here “skeptical humanism.”


Individual responsibility Robert Jackall Jansenism Moral Mazes Responsible management Skeptical humanism Blaise Pascal 



The author would like to thank his colleagues at EBEN France for their comments at the 2010 annual meeting in Lille when some of the ideas in this article were first communicated. He would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable suggestions throughout the review process. Finally, he wishes to extend his thanks to Pr. Laroche and Pr. Painter-Morland for their generous support, and to Andrew Beresford and Kenneth Casler for their translation of the paper into English.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ESCP EuropeParisFrance

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