Kantian Business Ethics

Kantian Business Ethics

Critical Perspectives

Edited by Denis G. Arnold and Jared D. Harris

In this original collection of essays, a group of distinguished scholars critically examine the ethical dimensions of business using the Kantian themed business ethics of Norman E. Bowie as a jumping off point. The authors engage Bowie’s influential body of scholarship as well as contemporary themes in business, including topics such as: the normative foundations of capitalism; the applicability of Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, and pragmatism in normative business ethics; meaningful work; managerial ethics; the ethics of high leverage finance capitalism; business ethics and corporate social responsibility; and responsibility for the natural environment. The contributors to this volume include both scholars sympathetic to Bowie’s Kantian business ethics and scholars critical of that perspective.

Chapter 3: Bowie’s Ethics: A Pragmatist Perspective

R. Edward Freeman

Subjects: business and management, business leadership, corporate social responsibility


R. Edward Freeman 1. INTRODUCTION In Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective, Norman Bowie lays out a modernday view of Kant and carefully traces the implications for business ethics. In Section 2, I shall argue that Bowie’s Kantian perspective can easily accommodate a pragmatist view of business ethics, linking two traditions in ethical theory that are often found to be enemies. In Section 3, I shall focus on Bowie’s arguments about the second interpretation of the categorical imperative and his claims about the humanity of stakeholders. Finally in Section 4, I shall resurrect an old idea which Daniel R. Gilbert, Jr. and I called ‘personal projects enterprise strategy’, and show how it is at once Kantian and pragmatist, reinterpreting it without the heavy deontological language in which it was originally framed. Bowie’s three formulations of Kant’s dictum lend more support to such a project than may be generally perceived. To conclude, I shall suggest that one lasting contribution of Bowie’s work will be that it facilitates the integration of work in philosophy and ethics with work in the disciplines of business, strengthening both along the way. 2. BOWIE’S KANTIAN PRAGMATISM What is a pragmatist anyway?1 In the philosophical literature, pragmatism is usually credited to its ‘founders’ or ‘pioneers’ such as Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey.2 For my purposes, I rely on the more recent work of philosopher Richard Rorty and those who have become known as ‘the new pragmatists’. Analytic philosophy, stemming largely from Kant, was dominant in...

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