Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 147, Issue 1, pp 35–51 | Cite as

‘The Aesthetic’ and Its Relationship to Business Ethics: Philosophical Underpinnings and Implications for Future Research

  • Donna LadkinEmail author


The article clarifies the way in which ‘the aesthetic’ is conceptualised in relation to business ethics in order to assess its potential to inform theory building and developmental practices within the business ethics field. A systematic review of relevant literature is undertaken which identifies three ontologically based accounts of the relationship between the aesthetic and business ethics: ‘positive’ ones (in which ‘the good is equated with ‘the beautiful’), ‘negative’ accounts (in which aesthetic craving is seen to foster ethical malfeasance) and ‘Postmodern’ renderings (in which the aesthetic and the ethical are seen to be ideologically informed). Five epistemologically based approaches are also made explicit: those in which the aesthetic is thought to develop enhanced perceptual discernment, those in which the aesthetic catalyses emotional sensitivity, those in which the aesthetic contributes to imaginative capacity, those in which the aesthetic prompts integrative apprehension and those in which the aesthetic is seen to foster critical reflexivity. The review reveals two key findings: firstly, the dearth of empirically based research to substantiate claims made about the aesthetic’s ability to foster ethical capabilities, which leads to proposals for further research; secondly, the analysis indicates the significance of critical reflexivity both in resolving the apparent dichotomy between ontologically based perspectives asserting the aesthetic’s ability to lead to ethically sound or egregious behaviour, and in underpinning the capacities of perceptual discernment, emotional connectivity, imagination and integrative apprehension which epistemologically based approaches assert the aesthetic can foster.


Aesthetics Aesthetic sensibility Art-based methods Ethical astuteness Ethical development 



I would like to thank Dr Hans Bennink, Dr Patricia Gaya, Dr Robin Ladkin and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Their feedback was invaluable in helping to develop the ideas within the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of ManagementPlymouth UniversityPlymouthUK

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