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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The relevance criteria were the following:

    • peer-reviewed scholarly articles were included;

    • book chapters from ‘scholarly’ publishers were included;

    • the content had to deal with issues concerning the intersection of aesthetics and applied ethics (business, medicine, education);

    • the content concerned the practice of ethics, as opposed to making judgements about the ethical nature of a work of art for instance.

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Acknowledgement

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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Correspondence to Donna Ladkin.

Appendix

Appendix

  Year of publication Context Emp/Th Aim Informing theory Category
Abowitz
Moral perception through aesthetic engagement
J Teacher Education
2007 Education (US) Theoretical
With anecdotal examples from experience of taking students to art gallery
Developmental
To provide those in education development with insights into how the arts can heighten moral awareness
Shusterman Epistemological—Imaginative Capacity
Bathurst and Edwards
Carving our future in a world of possibilities
Tamara SI
2011 Business Empirical
Case study—Maori/Pakaha treaties
Case building
To promote an understanding of how aesthetics and ethics inform one another
Schiller (play) Notions of the sublime (although Kant not mentioned- Burke instead) Ontological—The ‘beautiful’ = the good
Bleakley et al.
Making sense of clinical reasoning judgement and evidence of senses
Med Edu
2003 Medicine Theoretical
With examples
Developmental
Develop perceptual ‘connoisseurship’
Foucault Epistemological—Design discernment
Blumenfeld-Jones, D
Johnson, levinas and sensibility: an aesthetic avenue to ethics?
Book chap (White and Constantino)
2013 Education Theoretical Developmental Johnson, Levinas Epistemological—Imaginative capacity, but also
The value of ‘presence’ to being alert to the ‘ethical moment’
Brady
Aesthetic components of management ethics
AMR
1986 Business Theoretical Case Building
To make the case for aesthetics as a form of ethical know how
Hartshorne
Whitehead
Ontological—Aesthetics = Good
‘Management ethics is better understood as
Management aesthetics’
Brady
Aesthetic theory of conflict in admin administration and society
2006. Business Theoretical Case Building
To show the importance of tension within ethical relations
Siegel
Scitovsky
Epistemological—Design discernment
Caranfa
Awakening of aesthetic sensibility
J of Phil Edu
2007 Education Theoretical Developmental How solitude is an important ingredient of education Whitehead
CS Lewis
Epistemological—Critical reflexivity
Carr
Moral values and the arts in env edu
J of Phil of Edu
2004 Education Theoretical Case building
To make the case that environmental education can benefit from the fostering of aesthetic sensibility
Aristotle Epistemological—Emotional engagement
Collier
Art of moral imagination/architecture
JBE
2001 Business
(Architecture)
Theoretical
With examples
Developmental
To show how the aesthetic can aid in the development of moral imagination
Johnson
Fesmire
Dewey
Epistemological—Imaginative capacity
Cummings
Aesthetics of existence as alt to bus ethics
Book chap (Linstead and Hopfl)
2000 Business Theoretical Case Building
To suggest that the art of living well should serve as an objective of ethics
Foucault Ontological—Post modern
Dobson
Aesthetics as basis for business activity
JBE
2007 Business Theoretical Case Building
The ultimate judge for business activity should be the aesthetic
Kant Ontological—The aesthetic = Good
Dobson
Aesth style as post structuralist bus ethics
JBE
2010 Business Theoretical Case Building
To develop the notion of the aesthetic theory of the firm
Kant Ontological—The aesthetic = Good
Dobson
An aesth theory of firm
Book chap (Koehn and Elm)
2014 Business Theoretical Case Building
To develop the notion of the aesthetic theory of the firm
Kant Ontological—The aesthetic = Good
Duwell Aesthetics and medical ethics Med Healthcare and Philosophy 1999 Medicine Theoretical Developmental
Use the aesthetic to develop critical reflexivity
Kant
Dewey
Foucault
Epistemological—Critical reflexivity
Elm
The artist and ethicist: character and proc
Book chap (Koehn and Elm)
2014 Business Theoretical Developmental
Suggests that ‘being in the present, passion and emotion, creating a holistic vision and practice –all things artists do—can assist ethical decision making processes
  Epistemological—Critical reflexivity (artistic reflexivity)
Ewenstein and Whyte
Aesthetic knowledge org studies
2007 Business Empirical
Case study
Developmental
The need for ‘aesthetic reflexivity’ and how architects use it
  Epistemological—Critical reflexivity
Green
Business ethics as post modern phen BEQ
1993 Business Theoretical Case building
Ethics and aesthetics both post modern in their rejection of grand narratives and desire to include multiple voices
  Ontological—Post modern
Issa and Pick
Ethical mindsets
JBE
2010 Business. Empirical Case building
Identify the ‘components of business ethics’—the aesthetic is one
  Epistemological—Design discernment
Issa and Pick
Aesth, spirituality and ethics in case study
Bus Eth Eur Review
2011 Business Empirical Case building
Identify the ‘components’ of business ethics—‘the aesthetic’ is one
  Epistemological—Design discernment
Kersten
When aesth craving becomes bad
Cult & Org
2008 Business Theoretical Case Building
To show how ungrounded imagination can lead to aesthetic craving
Kateb Ontological—The aesthetic leads to bad
Kimbell
An aesth enquiry into some rats and people
Tamara
2011 Business
Arts
Empirical
Case study
Case building
To show how the intersection of aesthetics and ethics works in practice—and how her artwork changed due to the ethical consideration she felt as a result of getting to know rats better
Ranciere Epistemological—Critical reflexivity as per Ranciere
Koehn
Eth darkness made vis
Book chap (Koehn and Elm)
2014 Business Empirical
Case study
Developmental
To show how film can help develop moral imagination and also promote critical reflexivity
  Epistemological—Imaginative capacity and critical reflexivity
Koehn
Ethics, morality art in classroom
JBEE
2010 Business Theoretical Developmental
To make the case that art can be used to enhance moral discernment and judgement
Plato, Hegel, Schelling Epistemological—Perceptual discernment, emotional, Imaginative AND critical reflexivity/integrative apprehension
Koehn and Elm
Aesthetics and business ethics, introduction
Book chap (Koehn and Elm)
2014 Business Theoretical Case building
To suggest the relevance of aesthetics to ethics
  Ontological—The aesthetic leads to the good
Kokkos
Aesthetic experience in transformative edu
J of Trans Edu
2010 Education Theoretical Developmental
To show the value of aesthetic experience in the form of looking at art objects to transformative education
Friere Epistemological—Critical reflexivity
Ladkin
What artists can teach us about perceiving correctly
Tamara
2012 Business. Theoretical Developmental
To show how practices undertaken by musicians are akin to those needed in ethical judgement
Kant Epistemological—Imaginative capacity
Moberg and Seabright
Dev of moral imagination
BEQ
2000 Business Theoretical Case building
To show importance of moral imagination in making ethical judgements
Scott
Williams
Epistemological—Emotional connectivity
Storesletten et al.
Dev ldshp in the
Kierkegaard
JBE
2014 Business Theoretical Case building
To demonstrate how Kierkegaard’s 3 modes of existence can contribute to leadership theory
Kierkegaard Ontological-Aesthetics lead to hedonism
Taylor and Elms
Aesth and Ethics, can’t have one without the other
Tamara
2011 Business Theoretical
Intro to SI
Case Building
To introduce the SI, and show interweaving of aesthetic and ethical
  Ontological—The beautiful = the good
Waddock
Finding wisdom within—seeing and refl practice in dev moral imag
JBEE
2010 Business Theoretical
With examples from her teaching
Developmental
To show connection between ethics, aesthetics and wisdom and the kinds of practices she uses in the classroom to develop these
  Epistemological—Design discernment and moral imagination
Waddock
Wisdom & resp ldshp, aesth sens, moral imag and sys thinking
Book chap (Koehn and Elm)
2014 Business Theoretical Developmental   Epistemological—Critical reflexivity (systems thinking, integrative)

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Ladkin, D. ‘The Aesthetic’ and Its Relationship to Business Ethics: Philosophical Underpinnings and Implications for Future Research. J Bus Ethics 147, 35–51 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2928-2

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Keywords

  • Aesthetics
  • Aesthetic sensibility
  • Art-based methods
  • Ethical astuteness
  • Ethical development