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Aligning Civic and Corporate Leadership with Human Dignity: Activism at the Intersection of Business and Government


From a tradition of discourse ethics, human dignity can be defined as “being an equal member in the realm of subjects and authorities of justification.” Additionally, “to act with dignity means being able to justify oneself to others; to be treated in accordance with this dignity means being respected as such an equal member.” Conversely, “to treat others in ways that violate their dignity means regarding them as lacking any justification authority” (Forst 2013, p. 101). The guidelines found in Habermas’s “ideal speech situation” (ISS) are essential to guarantee this notion of human dignity. Based on aspects of Habermas’s (ISS), as well as Rainer Forst’s theory of justice, this study analyzes efforts made by the late speaker of Deutsche Bank, Dr. Alfred Herrhausen, and the former CEO of Alcoa and United States Secretary of the Treasury, Paul H. O’Neill, to challenge the way debt crises in the developing world were handled. Both leaders understood indebted countries, the livelihoods and dignity of its citizens, not as an external entity but as an integral part of their agendas. The two agents included underrepresented groups in their considerations and discussions through a proxy or surrogate participation, giving them a greater voice and acknowledging their dignity.

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Correspondence to Knut Kipper.

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Kipper, K. Aligning Civic and Corporate Leadership with Human Dignity: Activism at the Intersection of Business and Government. J Bus Ethics 146, 125–133 (2017).

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  • Human dignity
  • Proxy representation
  • Theory of justice
  • Ideal speech situation (ISS)
  • Jürgen Habermas
  • Matthias Kettner
  • Rainer Forst
  • Alfred Herrhausen
  • Paul H. O’Neill