Are Business Ethics Relevant?
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This paper suggests that “the relevance of business ethics” has often been a question of utility, which considers profits, cultural concerns, and social capital regarding organizational health. There are, however, underlying suspicions regarding the relevance of business ethics. In corporate contexts, “ethics” is often conflated with compliance, and becomes the domain of compliance and risk management. This statement is not to disparage compliance officers or their departments. Rather, the point is that there are limits of assigning “ethics” and the valuation of actions as “ethical” to a place or office within corporate contexts. Such approaches will necessarily be reactive to and driven by law, code, and policy.
Another suspicion concerns the relevance of one’s personal ethics within an “ethical field.” An ethical field is where diverse ethical agents, with differing ethical contexts and convictions, inhabit space. The effect and influence of one’s ethical actions or convictions depends on where one lives within a given ethical field. This field approach to ethics stresses that an agent’s ethical actions and convictions are enmeshed within social relations. And, of course, power relations within any given field are always asymmetrical. The paper emphasizes that religious ideas can help shape and inform the ethics of peoples and business cultures. Attentiveness to these dynamis is an impactful way to engage business school students and business people to think afresh about ethics as both character and culture. Thinking about ethics through the lenses of the “Right”, the “Good”, and the “Fitting” can help guide people through ethical grey zones, informing them toward richer and wiser ethical decisions.
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