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 8: Worthy Work and Bowie’s Kantian Theory of Meaningful Work

Joanne B. Ciulla

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


Joanne B. Ciulla Over the years, Norman E. Bowie has applied Kant’s ethics to several aspects of business ethics, but the one that I find the most compelling is his Kantian theory of meaningful work. He writes about it in his book Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective (1999) and in an article ‘A Kantian theory of meaningful work’ (1998a). Bowie’s writing in this area demonstrates how Kant, perhaps more than any other philosopher, offers the most stringent and lucid account of what a moral employer/employee relationship should look like. Kantian ethics also provide Bowie with a foundation for explaining his idea of meaningful work. Bowie is optimistic about the ability of corporations to provide meaningful work. For example, in his paper ‘Empowering people as an end for business’ (1998b), he argues that ‘the primary purpose of business is to provide meaningful work for employees and if managers focus on this goal, business will produce quality goods and services for consumers and profits as beneficial by products’ (Bowie 1998b, p.106). I think that this might be true, but achieving it requires managers and businesses to take an extraordinary leap of faith to practice and sustain this goal over time. In Bowie’s review of my book, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work (2000), he criticizes me for not defining meaningful work and offering suggestions on what organizations can do to provide meaningful work (Bowie 2002). In this chapter, I will compare and contrast Bowie’s and my perspectives on...

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