The Japanese Tradition of Economic Ethics

  • Yukichi Shitahodo
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 5)


Every kind of economic system has corrupting factors or fatal weak points. Although remarkably productive, capitalism suffers from a systemic degeneration rooted in the egocentric selfinterestedness of its participants. Communism, on the other hand, preaches social responsibility while inhibiting the will to work. Herein lies the fundamental problem of contemporary economic ethics: is it possible to heighten the will to work and thereby realize the tremendous output of a capitalist system and, at the same time, instill a “one for all, all for one” attitude that is the true hallmark of a communist system? The ideas of Japanese economic ethicists Sontoku Ninomiya, Eiichi Shibusawa, and Chikuro Hiroike offer a paradigmatic elucidation. Taking a consistent, universal approach to nature and man, Ninomiya called for individuals to work hard at their occupation according to their self-interest while thinking sincerely about their duty to secure society. Shibusawa believed that moral leadership in the economic realm stemmed from mastery of Rongo( The Analects of Confucius). Hiroike propounded a unified theory of morality and economy by synthesizing his personal experiences with the teachings of the world’s five great sages -- Amaterasu Omikami, Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and Christ. He believed that “morality, which is the principle of spiritual life, and economy, which is the principle of material life, originated from the law of nature” and have inseparably intimate relations. The purpose of moralogy in economics in what Hiroike calls “triadic goodness” -- all parties, “the person concerned, the other party, and the third party,” should truly benefit. In order to embrace triadic goodness, whose center is “a humble, soft, and broad mind,” and avoid the stiff, narrow minded egocentricity of monadic goodness, we need to understand “hardships as the grace of God.”


Spiritual Life Free Market Economy Material Life Moral Leadership Communist System 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

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  • Yukichi Shitahodo

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