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Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Elgar original reference

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni

The recent era of economic turbulence has generated a growing enthusiasm for an increase in new and original economic insights based around the concepts of reciprocity and social enterprise. This stimulating and thought-provoking Handbook not only encourages and supports this growth, but also emphasises and expands upon new topics and issues within the economics discourse.

Chapter 4: Business ethics

Russell G. Pearce and Brendan M. Wilson

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, economic psychology, public sector economics, politics and public policy, social entrepreneurship, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


The fundamental question of business ethics is how people should behave when they are in the context of business. As scholars have grappled with this question, business ethics has emerged as a specialized normative discipline. Despite the proliferation of courses, books and publications on business ethics, and even the adoption of corporate social responsibility policies by businesses themselves, commentators have argued that business ethics has provided ‘little practical guidance to business managers’ and that the field itself is ‘in a quandary’ and risks ‘a decline in relevance’ (Mayer 2001; see also Rollert 20101). In this chapter, we divide the approaches to business ethics into three categories: profit maximization, social duty, and ordinary ethics. We review the arguments for each, including the range of perspectives that fall within the category of social duty. Next, we suggest that all of these approaches have proven ineffective in promoting ethical business conduct because they rely on an autonomous understanding of self-interest and a false dichotomy between economic and ethical conduct. Instead, we offer a conception of business ethics that recognizes the relational dimension of self-interest and identifies mutual benefit as the goal of business conduct.

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