Humanistic Management Journal

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 187–201 | Cite as

Rationality Meets Ren: beyond Virtue Catalogues for a World Business Ethos

  • Jonathan KeirEmail author
  • Bai Zongrang
Original Research


The Confucian tradition, which places the virtue of ren or fellow feeling at its heart as a ‘gateway’ to the more concrete virtues of common Western parlance, offers a potential antidote to the excesses of a Western business ethics which, even after its recent academic reembrace of the Aristotelian tradition, in practice still too often instrumentalises virtue in the service of a ‘rational’ or ‘reasonable’ constraining of the profit motive. The deeper, intrinsic ‘ethos’ promised by a Confucian approach also finds its echo in the West in the work of Hans Küng’s Weltethos (World Ethos) project, led today on the business ethics front by Klaus Leisinger and Claus Dierksmeier. This paper explores a dilemma at the heart of the World Ethos movement seen from the twin peaks of the World Ethics Institute at Peking University and the Weltethos Institut at the University of Tübingen: namely, whether a business ethics culture accustomed to thinking in terms of CSR-esque lists of corporate values, virtues or principles can best be reformed via documents like the UN Global Compact, the 2010 Global Economic Ethic Manifesto, or even the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or whether a more radical, revolutionary quest for an inner ‘ethos’, to be lived and experienced by self-cultivating individuals engaged in business all over the world regardless of background, ought somehow to be undertaken parallel to these endeavours. The authors outline possible steps towards such a transformation of the management community’s understanding of virtue, without, however, dismissing the contribution of traditional, dilemma-oriented Western thinking about applied ethics in general, and business ethics in particular.


World Ethos Confucianism Virtue ethics Hans Küng Humanistic management 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

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


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Peking UniversityBeijingChina

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