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Business and Moral Philosophy

  • Norman Barry

Abstract

Business ethics as an academic discipline is a comparative newcomer to the typical university curriculum, and one which was at one time geographically limited to the United States; though, of course, the ethics of business, the morality of capitalism, the profit motive and the justice (or injustice) of free markets are topics that have been explored repeatedly since the beginnings of the commercial civilization in sixteenth-century Europe. Capitalism itself may be said, not inaccurately, to have a morally tainted biography in that its mainsprings tend to derive from the baser human motives, self-interest and the desire for personal profit. Its success, to many people, seems to depend on the suspension, if not outright rejection, of those moral constraints on individual gratification that are said to be integral to Western morality. Furthermore, the cultivation of some of the traditional moral virtues, honesty, integrity, self-sacrifice and the charitable instinct, seems to be hampered, if not made impossible, by the competitive impulse which is the driving force of the enterprise of business. Many people would regard the peroration in favour of ‘greed’ (a motivation to be cultivated to the exclusion of conventional moral imperatives) delivered by the Wall Street arbitrageur, Ivan Boesky, to a group of business students in 1986, as only a slightly hyper-bolic description of the egoistic psychology and amoral attitudes that drive the business community. Boesky said that: ‘Greed is all right by the way. I want you to know. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself’1

Keywords

Business Ethic Moral Philosophy Business Enterprise Moral Duty Imperfect Market 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Quoted in R. Reidenbach and D. Robin, Ethics and Profits (Englewood Cliffe, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See R. DeGeorge, Business Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1982)Google Scholar
  3. A. Etzioni, The Moral Dimension (New York: Free Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See M. Albert, Capitalism Against Capitalism (London: Whurr, 1993).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J.K. Galbraith, The New Industrial State (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    R. Nader, M. Green, and J. Seligman, Taming the Giant Corporation (New York: Norton, 1976).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See M. Friedman, ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits’, in T. Beauchamp and N. Bowie (eds) Ethical Theory and Business, 4th edn (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1993) pp. 55–60Google Scholar
  8. Elaine Sternberg, Just Business (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1994).Google Scholar
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    B. Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, ed. F.B. Kaye (London: Oxford University Press, 1924) vol. 1, p. 364Google Scholar
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    Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, edited by D.D. Raphael and A. Macfie (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976)Google Scholar
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    H. Spencer, The Man versus the State (Idaho: Caxton, 1940)Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    See M. Novak, Toward a Theology of the Corporation (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1981).Google Scholar
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    For the view that imperfect competition makes business ethics feasible, see M.G. Griffiths and J.R. Lucas, Ethical Economics (London: Macmillan, 1995).Google Scholar
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  15. 16.
    For a definitive refutation of market socialism, see D. Lavoie, Rivalry and Competition (London: Oxford University Press, 1986).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Norman Barry 1998

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  • Norman Barry

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