Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 155, Issue 1, pp 191–205 | Cite as

From Homo-economicus to Homo-virtus: A System-Theoretic Model for Raising Moral Self-Awareness

  • Julian FriedlandEmail author
  • Benjamin M. Cole
Original Paper


There is growing concern that a global economic system fueled predominately by financial incentives may not maximize human flourishing and social welfare externalities. If so, this presents a challenge of how to get economic actors to adopt a more virtuous motivational mindset. Relying on historical, psychological, and philosophical research, we show how such a mindset can be instilled. First, we demonstrate that historically, financial self-interest has never in fact been the only guiding motive behind free markets, but that markets themselves are representations of our individual and collective moral identities. Building on this understanding, we review the research on how economic incentives crowd out virtue-oriented concerns. We then introduce the concept of moral self-awareness (MSA), an evolving mindset informed by reflection on moral identity, namely what one’s actions say about oneself given the impacts (positive or negative) on others or society that one’s action may effect. MSA comprises three fundamental aspects of virtue-oriented reasoning: pride, shame, and guilt. Finally, we offer a four-stage model anchored in systems theory, yielding ever more refined motivating strategies for maximizing human flourishing and social welfare externalities.


Capitalism Economic incentives Moral self-awareness Moral motivation Moral progress Ethical decision making Moral priding Moral shaming Positive externalities Negative externalities 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Julian Friedland and Benjamin M. Cole declare that neither has any conflicts of interest.

Human Participants or Animals

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Gabelli School of BusinessFordham UniversityNew YorkUSA

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