Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni
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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