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 7: Citizens, Kant and Corporate Responsibility for the Environment

Marc A. Cohen and John W. Dienhart

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

Extract

Marc A. Cohen and John W. Dienhart INTRODUCTION 1. In this chapter, we examine the main argument of Bowie’s (1990) essay ‘Morality, money and motor cars’ (MMMC; all references are to this paper unless noted otherwise). The paper has a somewhat unusual history. It has been reprinted in many anthologies and taught in thousands of classrooms, but it has not often been discussed or cited in the academic literature (Arnold and Bustos 2005, p.108). Why this dichotomy? The paper is not discussed in the literature, we think, because its central thesis flies in the face of widely accepted and well-supported beliefs in the business ethics community (in this respect it also conflicts with most of Bowie’s other scholarship). According to MMMC, the only ethical obligation business has with respect to the environment is to obey the law. The current wave of the study and teaching of business ethics began in the 1970s with the rejection of that view, the rejection of the view that ‘if business practices are legal, they are ethical’. This view was rejected for two reasons. First, laws can be unethical; and second, even if all laws were ethical, they could not possibly cover all situations in which unethical behavior is possible. If we are going to examine the ethics of business practices, examining the law will not be enough. So, to put it somewhat tautologically, to examine the ethics of business practices, we need to look to ethics itself. Bowie seems to agree. In ‘Welfare and...

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