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 4: Norman Bowie’s Kingdom of Worldly Satisficers

Patricia H. Werhane

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


Patricia H. Werhane Norman Bowie has made innumerable significant contributions to ethics, business ethics and political philosophy. In this chapter I shall focus on what I take to be his most important contribution: his theory of Kantian capitalism as he presents this theory in his seminal work, Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective. The title for Bowie’s book might be, ‘Commerce in the Kingdom of Ends’, but that sounds like an oxymoron, or a title taken from an older book, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (Becker 1932), Kant being allegedly the last of the Enlightenment (thus heavenly) philosophers. Nevertheless, Bowie’s work on Kantian capitalism, which is neither heavenly nor absolutely in the kingdom of ends, has done a great deal to remind us of Kant and his central role in the history of ethics. More importantly Kant has helped to set definitive criteria for business decision-making and moral judgments that avoid being either soft-headed or dogmatically absolutist. To understand the importance of Bowie’s contributions let me set the stage with a quote from Onora O’Neill’s review of Susan Neiman’s new book, Moral Clarity. According to O’Neill, Neiman decries the present state of philosophical ethics. Recurrent nihilism about reason across the last century has now penetrated political and popular thought and life: from Nietzsche to Heidegger, on to Derrida and Rorty, the postmodernist retreat from Enlightenment claims has spread far … Some embrace a tepid relativism, in which the worst that can be said about a dreadful action … is that it...

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