Ethics and Organizational Practice

Ethics and Organizational Practice

Questioning the Moral Foundations of Management

Edited by Sara Louise Muhr, Bent Meier Sørensen and Steen Vallentin

This timely book provides a collection of critical explorations and discussions of managerial ethics and their moral foundations. It is concerned with theoretical, conceptual and practical matters, and thus provides an open and broad approach to a very dense field of enquiry.

Chapter 8: The Impossibility of Guidance – A Levinasian Critique of Business Ethics

Emma Louise Jeanes and Sara Louise Muhr

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies, organisation studies


Emma Louise Jeanes and Sara Louise Muhr INTRODUCTION 1. Conventional approaches to understanding and promoting business ethics most often rely on utilitarian, deontological or virtue-based ethics (see, for example, Hartman 2005). Whilst adopting different perspectives, and often leading to contrasting ethical prescriptions, in all cases these approaches rely on being able to define the ‘right’ behavior – distilling the philosophy of ethics into principles of guidance. Such attempts to formularize ethics, found in most standard texts on business ethics, attempt to help the decision-maker define and respond to ethical issues. Often through a series of steps informed by one of these prescriptive approaches, conventional business ethics attempts to assist the decision-maker to make the ‘right’ (moral) decision. In this chapter we question these conventional perspectives and consider the ‘possibility’ of ethics in business. Here we argue that the ethical implications of these formulae for action need further consideration. The typical response of organizations to the potential risk of unethical behavior is to develop codes of conduct that give guidance as to the appropriate behaviors, drawing on these utilitarian, duty-based or virtue-based ethics – providing rules to follow, or qualities to aspire to (typically focusing on one’s integrity as a moral actor). However, we argue in this chapter that this mechanism poses two challenges to ethical behavior. First, whilst the guidance goes some way towards encouraging ‘good’ behavior, in doing so it also takes away individual responsibility for behaving ethically: it does people’s thinking for them and replaces it with a bureaucratic procedure...

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