Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 101–114 | Cite as

How Virtue Fits Within Business Ethics

  • J. Thomas Whetstone


This paper proposes that managers add an attention to virtues and vices of human character as a full complement to moral reasoning according to a deontological focus on obligations to act and a teleological focus on consequences (a balanced tripartite approach). Even if the criticisms of virtue ethics cloud its use as a mononomic normative theory of justification, they do not refute the substantial benefits of applying a human character perspective – when done so in conjunction with also-imperfect act-oriented perspectives. An interactive tripartite approach is superior for meeting the complex requirements of an applied ethic. To illustrate how deficiencies of a "strong" virtue ethics formulation can be overcome by a balanced tripartite approach, this paper compares normative leadership paradigms (each based on a combination of virtue, deontology, or consequentialist perspectives) and the dangers inherent in each. The preferred paradigm is servant leadership, grounded in a tripartite ethic. Effective application of such an ethics approach in contemporary organizations requires further empirical research to develop a greater understanding of the moral language actually used. Meeting this challenge will allow academics better to assist practicing managers lead moral development and moral reasoning efforts.

act-oriented theories character ethical manager leadership moral language servant leadership tripartite ethics vice virtue virtue ethics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anscomb, E.: 1958, ‘Modern Moral Philosophy', Philosophy 33, 1–19.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle: 1976, The Nicomachean Ethics, translated by J. Thomson, revised with note and appendices by H. Tredennick, introduction and bibliography by J. Barnes (Penguin, London).Google Scholar
  3. Barnes, J.: 1976, Introduction to The Nicomachean Ethics (Penguin, London).Google Scholar
  4. Barnsley, J. H.: 1972, The Social Reality of Ethics (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London).Google Scholar
  5. Bass, B. M.: 1985, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations (Free Press, NY).Google Scholar
  6. Bird, F. and J. Waters: 1989, ‘The Moral Muteness of Managers', California Management Review 32(1), 73–88.Google Scholar
  7. Boatright, J. R.: 1995, ‘Aristotle Meets Wall Street: The Case for Virtue Ethics in Business', Business Ethics Quarterly 5(2), 353–359.Google Scholar
  8. Bowie, N.: 1982, Business Ethics (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ).Google Scholar
  9. Bowie, N.: 1999, Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective (Blackwell, Oxford).Google Scholar
  10. Bowie, N.: 2000, ‘Business Ethics, Philosophy, and the Next 25 Years', Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1), 7–20.Google Scholar
  11. Broadie, S.: 1991, Ethics With Aristotle (Oxford University Press, Oxford).Google Scholar
  12. Burns, J. M.: 1978, Leadership (Harper & Row, NY).Google Scholar
  13. Carr, A. Z.: 1968, ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical?', Harvard Business Review 46 (January-February), 143–153.Google Scholar
  14. Cavanagh, G. F., D. J. Moberg and M. Velasquez: 1981, ‘The Ethics of Organizational Politics', Academy of Management Review 6, 363–374.Google Scholar
  15. Cavanagh, G. F., D. J. Moberg and M. Velasquez: 1995, ‘Making Business Ethics Practical', Business Ethics Quarterly 5(3), 399–418.Google Scholar
  16. Collier, J.: 1995, ‘The Virtuous Organization', Business Ethics: A European Review 4(3), 143–149.Google Scholar
  17. Covey, S. R.: 1991, Principle-Centered Leadership (Simon & Schuster, NY).Google Scholar
  18. Crisp, R.: 1998, ‘A Defence of Philosophical Business Ethics', in C. Cowton and R. Crisp (eds.), Business Ethics: Perspectives on the Practice of Theory (Oxford University Press, Oxford), pp. 9–25.Google Scholar
  19. DeGeorge, R. T.: 1987, ‘The Status of Business Ethics: Past and Future', Journal of Business Ethics 6, 201–211.Google Scholar
  20. DeGeorge, R. T.: 1999, Business Ethics, 5th ed. (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ).Google Scholar
  21. DesJardins, J. R.: 1984, ‘Virtues and Business Ethics', in M. Hoffman, J. M. Moore and A. Fredo (eds.), Corporate Governance and Institutionalizing Ethics (D. C. Heath, Lexington, MA).Google Scholar
  22. Donaldson, T. and T. Dunfee: 1999, Ties That Bind: A Social Contracts Approach to Business Ethics (Harvard University Business School Press, Boston).Google Scholar
  23. Donaldson, T. and P. Werhane: 1999, Ethical Issues in Business: A Philosophical Approach, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ).Google Scholar
  24. Dooling, R.: 1999, ‘From Swearing By to Swearing At', The Wall Street Journal ( July 6), A14.Google Scholar
  25. Drucker, P. F.: 1974, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, and Practices (Heinemann, London).Google Scholar
  26. Duncan, S. M.: 1995, A Primer of Modern Virtue Ethics (University Press of America, Lanham, MD).Google Scholar
  27. Foot, P.: 1978, Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Basil Blackwell, Oxford).Google Scholar
  28. Frankl, V.: 1962, Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, translated by I. Lasch (Hodder & Stoughton, London).Google Scholar
  29. Freeman, R. E.: 2000, ‘Business Ethics at the Millennium', Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1), 169–180.Google Scholar
  30. Friedman, M.: 1970, ‘The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits', New York Times Magazine (September 13) in Hoffman, W. M. and J. M. Moore (eds.), 1990, Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality (McGraw-Hill, NY).Google Scholar
  31. Giddens, A.: 1984, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Polity Press, Cambridge).Google Scholar
  32. Goodpaster, K. E.: 1991, ‘Ethical Imperatives and Corporate Leadership', in R. E. Freeman (ed.), Business Ethics: The State of the Art (Oxford University Press, NY).Google Scholar
  33. Goodpaster, K. E.: 2000, ‘Conscience and Its Counterfeits in Organizational Life: A New Interpretation of the Naturalistic Fallacy', Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1), 189–201.Google Scholar
  34. Green, R. M.: 1994, The Ethical Manager: A New Method for Business Ethics (Macmillan College Publishing Company, NY).Google Scholar
  35. Greenleaf, R. K.: 1977, Servant Leadership (Paulist Press, NY).Google Scholar
  36. Hartman, E. M.: 1996, Organizational Ethics and the Good Life (Oxford University Press, NY).Google Scholar
  37. Hartman, E. M.: 1998, ‘The Role of Character in Business Ethics', Business Ethics Quarterly 8(3), 547–559.Google Scholar
  38. Hauerwas, S.: 1974, Vision and Virtue (Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN).Google Scholar
  39. Horne, A.: 1997, ‘Battle in Burma', The Wall Street Journal (March 17), A18.Google Scholar
  40. Horvath, Charles M.: 1995, ‘Excellence v. Effectiveness: MacIntyre's Critique of Business', Business Ethics Quarterly 5(3), 499–532.Google Scholar
  41. Hosmer, L. T.: 1994, Moral Leadership in Business (Irwin/McGraw-Hill, Boston, MA).Google Scholar
  42. Hosmer, L. T.: 1996, The Ethics of Management, 3rd edition (Irwin, Chicago, IL).Google Scholar
  43. Hursthouse, R.: 1997, ‘Virtue Theory and Abortion', in R. Crisp and M. Slote (eds.), Virtue Ethics (Oxford University Press, Oxford), pp. 217–238.Google Scholar
  44. Jackson, J.: 1996, An Introduction to Business Ethics (Blackwell, Oxford).Google Scholar
  45. Jennings, M.: 1999, ‘The Evolution-and Devolutionof Journalistic Ethics', Imprimis 28, 7.Google Scholar
  46. Keeley, M.: 1995, ‘The Trouble with Transformational Leadership: Toward a Federalist Ethic for Organizations', Business Ethics Quarterly 5(1), 67–96.Google Scholar
  47. Koehn, D.: 1995, ‘A Role for Virtue Ethics in the Analysis of Business', Business Ethics Quarterly 5(3), 533–539.Google Scholar
  48. Kreeft, P.: 1992, Back to Virtue (Ignatius, San Francisco).Google Scholar
  49. Kupperman, J.: 1991, Character (Oxford University Press, NY).Google Scholar
  50. Larmore, C. E.: 1987, Patterns of Moral Complexity (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).Google Scholar
  51. Louden, R. B.: 1984, ‘On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics', in R. Crisp and M. Slote (eds.), 1997, Virtue Ethics (Oxford University Press, Oxford).Google Scholar
  52. MacIntyre, A.: 1985, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd edition (Duckworth, London).Google Scholar
  53. Maclagan, P.: 1998, Management and Morality (Sage, London).Google Scholar
  54. Mahoney, J.: 1990, Teaching Business Ethics in the U.K., Europe and the U.S.A.: A Comparative Study (Athlone Press, London).Google Scholar
  55. Mintzberg, H.: 1971, ‘Managerial Work: Analysis from Observation', Management Science 17, 97–110.Google Scholar
  56. Moberg, D. J. and M. Calkins: 1999, ‘Reflection in Business Ethics: Insights from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises', presented August 7 at the 1999 Annual Conference of the Society for Business Ethics, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  57. Monast, J. H.: 1994, ‘What Is (and Isn't) the Matter with “What's the Matter.... ”', Business Ethics Quarterly 4(4), 499–512.Google Scholar
  58. Morgan, G.: 1996, Images of Organization, 2nd edition (Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA).Google Scholar
  59. Nash, L. L.: 1990, Good Intentions Aside: A Manager's Guide to Resolving Ethical Problems (Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  60. Nash, L. L.: 1994, Believers in Business (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN).Google Scholar
  61. Nash, L. L.: 2000, ‘Intensive Care For Everyone's Least Favorite Oxymoron: Narrative in Business Ethics', Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1), 277–290.Google Scholar
  62. Nesteruk, J.: 1995, ‘Law and the Virtues', a review of Ethics and Excellence by R. C. Solomon, Business Ethics Quarterly 5(2), 361–369.Google Scholar
  63. Niebuhr, H. R.: 1963, The Responsible Self (Harper & Row, NY).Google Scholar
  64. O'Donovan, O.: 1986, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics (Inter-Varsity: Leicester, U. K.).Google Scholar
  65. Pincoffs, E.: 1986, Quandaries and Virtues: Against Reductionism in Ethics (University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, KS).Google Scholar
  66. Rost, J. C.: 1993, Leadership for the Twenty-first Century (Praeger, Westport, CT).Google Scholar
  67. Rost, J. C.: 1995, ‘Leadership: A Discussion About Ethics', Business Ethics Quarterly 5(1), 129–142.Google Scholar
  68. Solomon, R. C.: 1992, Ethics and Excellence: Cooperation and Integrity in Business (Oxford University Press, NY).Google Scholar
  69. Sommers, C. H.: 1991, ‘Teaching the Virtues', Imprimis 20 (November).Google Scholar
  70. Sommers, C. H. and F. Sommers: 1993, Virtue and Vice in Everyday Life (Harcourt Brace, Ft. Worth, TX).Google Scholar
  71. Sorell, T. and J. Hendry: 1994, Business Ethics (Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford).Google Scholar
  72. Spears, L. C. (ed.): 1995, Reflections on Leadership (John Wiley & Sons, NY).Google Scholar
  73. Stark, A.: 1993, ‘What's the Matter with Business Ethics?', Harvard Business Review 71(3), 38–48.Google Scholar
  74. Stewart, R.: 1970, Managers and Their Jobs (Pam Piper, London).Google Scholar
  75. Stocker, M.: 1976, ‘The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories', Journal of Philosophy 73, 453–466.Google Scholar
  76. Trevino, L. K. and K. Nelson: 1995, Managing Business Ethics (John Wiley, NY).Google Scholar
  77. Velasquez, M.: 2000, ‘Globalization and the Failure of Ethics', Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1), 343–352.Google Scholar
  78. Walton, C.: 1988, The Moral Manager (Harper & Row, NY).Google Scholar
  79. Werhane, P. H.: 1999, Moral Imagination and Management Decision Making (Oxford University Press, NY).Google Scholar
  80. Whetstone, J. T.: 1995, ‘The Manager as a Moral Person: Exploring Paths to Excellence', unpublished D. Phil thesis, Oxford University.Google Scholar
  81. Williams, O. F.: 1984, ‘Who Cast the First Stone?’, Harvard Business Review 62 (September-October), 151–160.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Thomas Whetstone
    • 1
  1. 1.Davis College of BusinessJacksonville UniversityJacksonvilleU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations