Philosophy Business Ethics
by
Jeffrey Moriarty
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0228

Introduction

“Business” has two meanings. A “business” is an entity that offers a good or service for sale, typically with the goal of making a profit. Wal-Mart and Toyota are businesses. “Business” can also mean the activity of exchange. An individual does business with Toyota when she exchanges some of her money for one of its cars. So “business ethics” includes the study of the ethics of the entities that offer (and often produce) goods and services for sale, as well as the ethics of exchange and activities connected with exchange (e.g., advertising). Philosophers have long been interested in these subjects. Aristotle worried about the effects of commerce on character, while Aquinas wrote on profit and prices. Smith and Marx thought deeply about the organization of the process of production. Business ethics in its current incarnation traces its roots to the 1970s and 1980s, when a group of moral philosophers applied ethical theories to business activity. A number of business ethics journals were created around this time, and business ethics became a familiar course in philosophy departments. Common topics of inquiry were and continue to be the purpose of the firm, corporate governance, corporate moral agency, rights and duties at work, fairness in pay and pricing, the limits of markets, marketing ethics, supply chain ethics, and corporate political activity. Not long after philosophers reinvigorated the field, social scientists entered it (and in fact had been working on related issues the whole time). They have increasingly pulled the field, and its academic courses, into business schools. This article concentrates on the philosophical or normative side of business ethics, but it also says something about the descriptive or social scientific side when they overlap.

Textbooks

There are numerous business ethics textbooks, written sometimes by philosophers and sometimes by management scholars. The ones listed here are by philosophers. It is common to use cases when teaching business ethics, and all of these books contain numerous examples of cases. Boatright and Smith 2017 is comprehensive of the field, Desjardins 2013 is especially suitable for the beginning student, and Scharding 2018 devotes more time to theoretical issues and is the most affordable.

  • Boatright, John R., and Jeffery D. Smith. Ethics and the Conduct of Business. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2017.

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    Boatright is one of the prime movers in the field of business ethics and remains a leading contributor to scholarly debates. This book is now co-written by Jeffery Smith, who is part of a new generation of normative business ethicists.

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  • Desjardins, Joseph R. An Introduction to Business Ethics. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013.

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    This short introduction to the field is especially suitable for the beginning student. Each chapter begins with a brief case study illuminating the issues discussed. It covers the main areas of business ethics, and deals with employment issues especially well.

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  • Scharding, Tobey. This Is Business Ethics: An Introduction. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018.

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    This new entry into the textbook market is especially affordable. While it contains a wealth of case studies, it also devotes considerable attention to more abstract topics such as corporate personhood, political economy, and the financial system.

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Anthologies

There are numerous business ethics anthologies. Like business ethics textbooks, they are produced by scholars in different fields. The ones listed here are compiled by philosophers and will be attractive to philosophers teaching business ethics. Allhoff, et al. 2017 is large and devotes significant attention to employment issues; Hoffman, et al. 2014 offers balanced coverage and is the most affordable; and Desjardins and McCall 2014 also offers balanced coverage and contains a valuable discussion of the justification of the market.

  • Allhoff, Fritz, Alex Sager, and Anand J. Vaidya, eds. Business in Ethical Focus: An Anthology. 2d ed. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2017.

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    One of the largest anthologies, with ninety-three entries (some of which are case studies), this volume features significant coverage of ethical issues in employment and international business.

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  • Desjardins, Joseph R., and John J. McCall, eds. Contemporary Issues in Business Ethics. 6th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage, 2014.

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    Like Hoffman, et al. 2014, this text covers the main areas of business ethics. It contains in addition a fuller treatment of ethical theory and the justification of the market, which may be appealing to instructors with more theoretical inclinations.

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  • Hoffman, W. Michael, Robert E. Frederick, and Mark S. Schwartz, eds. Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality. 5th ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

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    This collection offers balanced coverage of all of the main areas of business ethics, including corporate social responsibility, employment, product safety, advertising, the environment, and supply chain management. It is also one of the most affordable, with a list price of less than $US60. (Disclosure: two of the editors of this anthology are erstwhile colleagues.)

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Reference Works

Philosophical fields of all kinds are awash in handbooks, companions, and encyclopedias. Business ethics is no different. Unlike textbooks and anthologies, these are geared toward graduate students and researchers. Brenkert and Beauchamp 2010 offers spotty coverage of the field, but several of its chapters are excellent. Heath, et al. 2018 is more comprehensive and features scholars from multiple disciplines. Moriarty 2017 is freely accessible and offers a basic introduction to the field, with a long list of references for further research.

  • Brenkert, George G., and Tom L. Beauchamp, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    While limited in scope, this book collects twenty-four original essays by top scholars in the field. Some of the chapters are excellent and are featured elsewhere in this entry. Several of the chapters are written by scholars with significant reputations outside of business ethics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these entries tend not to make much contact with the business ethics literature.

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  • Heath, Eugene, Byron Kaldis, and Alexei Marcoux, eds. The Routledge Companion to Business Ethics. New York: Routledge, 2018.

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    This book is more comprehensive than Brenkert and Beauchamp 2010 in multiple senses. It has thirty-nine original essays, features work by scholars from a variety of fields, and covers more foundational and international issues.

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  • Moriarty, Jeffrey. “Business Ethics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2017.

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    This freely accessible encyclopedia entry aims to cover the whole field of business ethics in a relatively concise way. It contains a useful list of references and links to other entries in the encyclopedia (e.g., “Shared Agency,” “Corruption”) as appropriate.

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Journals

Some research in business ethics appears in mainstream philosophy and social science journals, such as Philosophy & Public Affairs, Ethics, and the Academy of Management Review. Relevant work on the legal and regulatory environment of business appears in many law journals. But most research in business ethics appears in one of the six journals dedicated to the field. All of these publish both philosophy and social science, but they differ in how much of each they publish. Business Ethics Quarterly is the most philosophical of the business ethics journals. Business and Professional Ethics Journal lost some of its steam when it stopped publishing regularly in the late aughts, but is now enjoying a productive second life. Business and Society Review publishes an eclectic mix of philosophy and social science. Business and Society and Business Ethics: A European Review publish almost all social science. The Journal of Business Ethics is larger than all of the other business ethics journals combined, and publishes significantly more social science than philosophy.

Theoretical Approaches

Applied ethics is sometimes understood literally as the application of an ethical theory to a domain of human activity. Many scholars took this approach to business ethics in the early days of the field, and it continues to bear fruit. Bowie 2017 is a landmark book that applies Kantian deontology to multiple areas of business, while Scharding 2015 asks what Kant would say about the ethics of risk-taking in the financial sector. Moore 2017 develops a comprehensive MacIntyrean virtue-based approach to business ethics, and Hartman 2013 does the same with an approach inspired by Aristotle. Surprisingly, few scholars have attempted to develop a consequentialist approach to business. (Perhaps business ethicists think the business world is already too enthralled with cost-benefit analysis, and they associate this decision-making procedure with consequentialism.) In recent years, some scholars have developed theories of business ethics not based in the work of a Famous Dead Philosopher. McMahon 1981 offers an “implicit morality of the market,” while Heath 2014 modifies and develops this as the “market failures approach” to business ethics. Donaldson and Dunfee 1999 puts forward a practice-first approach to business ethics called “integrative social contracts theory.”

  • Bowie, Norman E. Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316343210Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Bowie is one of the prime movers in the field of business ethics, especially well known for his application of Kant’s moral theory to business. Original published in 1999, this update looks at the main elements of Kant’s system—universal law, respect for persons, acting from the motive of duty—and asks what they mean for a wide range of business activities.

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  • Donaldson, Thomas, and Thomas W. Dunfee. Ties That Bind: A Social Contracts Approach to Business Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

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    This book sets out Donaldson and Dunfee’s influential “integrative social contracts” approach to business ethics. According to them, there are certain “hypernorms” that all business practices must conform to. Beyond this, communities have “moral free space” to select norms, based on cultural and economic considerations.

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  • Hartman, Edwin. Virtue in Business: Conversations with Aristotle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139344265Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Hartman is a leading voice on the implications of Aristotle’s ethics for business. This book explains why virtues of character matter in business, how they can be developed in individuals, and how firms understood as communities should be structured so that virtues can be realized in practice. It also contains an interesting discussion of how business ethics should be taught.

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  • Heath, Joseph. Morality, Competition, and the Firm: The Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199990481.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The market failures approach to business ethics asks what the point of market competition is, and identifies what the world would have to be like for this point to be realized. Heath’s sophisticated development of this view is especially well informed by economic theory and practice.

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  • McMahon, Christopher. “Morality and the Invisible Hand.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 10 (1981): 247–277.

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    This article contains the first statement of the market failures approach, though McMahon calls it the “implicit morality of the market.” He shows how this morality is in conflict with commonsense morality, and argues that in some cases we might choose the latter over the former.

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  • Moore, Geoff. Virtue at Work: Ethics for Individuals, Managers, and Organizations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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    Moore developed a thoughtful MacIntyrean virtue-based approach to business ethics in numerous articles in the 2000s. This book collects his key insights.

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  • Scharding, Tobey. “Imprudence and Immorality: A Kantian Approach to the Ethics of Financial Risk.” Business Ethics Quarterly 25 (2015): 243–265.

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    When financial professionals take huge risks, society as a whole can lose, as the financial crisis of 2007–2009 demonstrated. Scharding uses Kant’s moral theory to answer the question of how much risk is too much.

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The Moral Limits of Markets

Everyone thinks you should be allowed to sell your car or your teaching services. What about your kidney or your sexual services? Anderson 1993 is a pioneering work on the moral limits of markets, with a focus on the commodification of women’s labor in sex and reproduction. Like Anderson, Satz 2010 thinks that some things should not be for sale, but Satz is more worried about the consequences of such markets than about their expressive properties. Brennan and Jaworski 2016 argues, however, that “if you can do it for free, then you can do it for money.” Even if one thinks that a thing is the right type of thing to be sold, one might think that its having certain properties makes it unfit for sale. One might think, for example, that some cars are too unsafe to be sold. Business ethicists have paid surprisingly little attention to the question of product safety, perhaps leaving it to scholars of public policy and tort law. Velasquez 2012 is an introductory textbook, but it contains an insightful discussion of product safety. Hasnas 2010 offers an alternative libertarian account.

  • Anderson, Elizabeth. Value in Ethics and Economics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

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    Anderson argues that markets in sexual and surrogacy services should be eliminated, because such markets express incorrect attitudes about women’s labor. The book’s practical conclusions are preceded by a theoretical discussion of the nature of value.

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  • Brennan, Jason F., and Peter M. Jaworski. Markets without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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    “If you can do it for free, then you can do it for money.” Or so Brennan and Jaworski argue. This book offers an account of the virtues of markets and an extended argument against those, like Anderson and Satz, who think their scope should be limited.

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  • Hasnas, John. “The Mirage of Product Safety.” In The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics. Edited by George G. Brenkert and Tom L. Beauchamp, 677–697. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Hasnas investigates product safety using the framework created by Velasquez 2012, arguing that firms have no general duty to produce safe products. What firms have a duty to do is to truthfully state how risky their products are. Consumers should be free to purchase those products or not, as they choose.

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  • Satz, Debra. Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195311594.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Unlike Anderson, who is concerned about the attitudes that certain markets express, Satz is concerned about the effects that those markets have on ideals like freedom and equality. She is not a prohibitionist about markets in all contested commodities. With proper regulation, markets in certain goods (e.g., child labor, human organs) may be permissible.

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  • Velasquez, Manuel G. Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases. 7th ed. New York: Pearson, 2012.

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    This venerable textbook contains a thoughtful treatment of product safety. Velasquez distinguishes the contract view, the due care view, and the social costs view. These views aren’t exclusively about product safety. They concern how risky products should be marketed and who should pay for harms that are no one’s fault.

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Ethics in Marketing, Advertising, and Sales

Once we determine what can be sold, then we need to determine how it can be sold. These are questions in the ethics of marketing, advertising, and sales. Goldman 1984 offers a high-level analysis of the main issues in advertising ethics, explaining what the purpose of advertising is and how it must be regulated to achieve this purpose. Brenkert 2008 is a recent and comprehensive analysis of marketing ethics, focusing on the dilemmas that real marketers face. Beyond these surveys, scholarly attention has focused on two areas. One is deception. Strudler 2005 is a thoughtful analysis of the wrongness of deception in general, using examples drawn from commercial life. Carson has been an important contributor to the literature on truth, deception, and disclosure in sales for decades, and Carson 2010 collects his key insights. A second area of inquiry is persuasion and manipulation. Little has been written on this subject recently, but Phillips 1994 gathers and analyzes important arguments from the 1980s and 1990s. Vulnerable populations often receive separate attention. Paine 1984 discusses marketing to children, and Brenkert 2008 contains a discussion of marketing to other disadvantaged groups.

  • Brenkert, George G. Marketing Ethics. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

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    Brenkert has long been an important contributor to debates about marketing ethics. This book is unusually comprehensive in scope, examining product development, market research, packaging and labeling, distribution, advertising, and pricing.

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  • Carson, Thomas L. Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577415.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Carson offers definitions of lying and deception and asks what makes them wrong. He argues that familiar versions of consequentialism and deontology cannot account for all of our considered intuitions about their wrongness, and that a Golden Rule–based moral theory does better. He applies this theory to numerous examples in business.

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  • Goldman, Alan. “Ethical Issues in Advertising.” In Just Business: New Introductory Essays in Business Ethics. Edited by Tom Regan, 235–270. New York: Random House, 1984.

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    While dated, this is still one of the best introductions to the ethics of advertising. It addresses advertising’s main benefits (viz., the provision of valuable information) and costs (viz., its potential to deceive people and persuade them to buy things that they do not really want).

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  • Paine, Lynn S. “Children as Consumers: An Ethical Evaluation of Children’s Television Advertising.” Business & Professional Ethics Journal 3 (1984): 119–149.

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    Most of us ignore the fantastical claims made by marketers. But some populations—children among them—are vulnerable to their excesses. Paine argues that marketing to children should be banned, as it serves no valuable purpose and is likely to cause harm. This article appears together with three responses.

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  • Phillips, Michael J. “The Inconclusive Case against Manipulative Advertising.” Business & Professional Ethics Journal 13 (1994): 31–64.

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    This article is valuable not just for its own argument, but also for the literature it considers. Phillips argues—appealing to utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and virtue ethics—that many of the common critiques of manipulative (or associative) advertising fail.

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  • Strudler, Alan. “Deception Unraveled.” Journal of Philosophy 102 (2005): 458–473.

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    This is an article about the wrongness of deception in general, but Strudler pays particular attention to deception in commercial life, which sometimes has a defensive character. He argues that deception that involves a breach of trust is morally worse than deception that involves other forms of manipulation.

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Corporate Moral Responsibility

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling platform owned and operated by Transocean and leased by BP, exploded and released over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Who is morally responsible, in the sense of blameworthy, for this: Transocean and BP themselves, or (certain) individuals who work at these firms? This is the issue of corporate moral responsibility, about which there is a lively and sophisticated debate. French 1979 is the seminal contribution to this debate in the business ethics literature, arguing that firms’ internal decision-making structures make them morally responsible agents. Velasquez 2003 rejects this on the grounds that responsibility requires intention, and corporations aren’t the kinds of things that can have intentions. Pettit 2007 articulates conditions for responsibility and argues that corporations, in addition to their members, often meet them. Feelings such as guilt and remorse are central to our practices of responsibility. Sepinwall 2017 argues that since corporations can’t have these feelings, they can’t be morally responsible. Hasnas 2012 argues that the outcome of this debate has no practical significance.

  • French, Peter A. “The Corporation as a Moral Person.” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 297–317.

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    French argues that corporations can be morally responsible for what they do insofar as they have corporate internal decision (CID) structures, or hierarchies, policies, and procedures that yield certain outcomes. Indeed, in this article French says that corporations are “full-fledged moral persons,” though he retreats from this claim in subsequent writings.

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  • Hasnas, John. “Reflections on Corporate Moral Responsibility and the Problem Solving Technique of Alexander the Great.” Journal of Business Ethics 107 (2012): 183–195.

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    Hasnas argues that it does not matter, practically speaking, if corporations are morally responsible. We can hold them liable for their misdeeds even if they aren’t morally responsible for them. The only thing that corporate moral responsibility would allow us to do is punish corporations, but we shouldn’t do that, Hasnas says, for independent reasons.

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  • Pettit, Philip. “Responsibility Incorporated.” Ethics 117 (2007): 171–201.

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    Pettit identifies three conditions for holding an agent responsible. The agent must face a value-relevant choice, be capable of making a judgment about what to do, and have the power to control its actions in light of its judgments. Pettit argues that corporations themselves, in addition to their members, can satisfy these conditions. He appeals to discursive dilemmas to show that corporations are autonomous agents, in the sense that their judgments are not a function of those of their members.

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  • Sepinwall, Amy. “Blame, Emotion, and the Corporation.” In The Moral Responsibility of Firms. Edited by Eric W. Orts and N. Craig Smith, 143–166. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198738534.003.0009Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Sepinwall argues that corporations can’t have real feelings, including reactive attitudes. Since emotions are central to our practices of moral responsibility, she says, corporations can’t be morally responsible for what they do.

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  • Velasquez, Manuel. “Debunking Corporate Moral Responsibility.” Business Ethics Quarterly 13 (2003): 531–562.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200313436Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is the most recent in a series of articles in which Velasquez argues that corporations are not morally responsible for what they do. Here he argues that, for an agent G to be morally responsible for an action A, G must have intended to perform A, but since corporations don’t have intentions, they can’t be responsible for anything. Appealing to the fallacy of division, Velasquez casts doubt on the existence of corporations as real entities distinct from their members.

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Shareholders and Stakeholders

According to the shareholder primacy norm, corporations should be managed in the interests of their shareholders. Assuming that shareholders are interested in maximizing their wealth, this yields the shareholder wealth maximization norm. Against this, stakeholder theorists argue that managers should balance the interests of all stakeholders. This debate plays an important role in every business ethics textbook and anthology, and has a correspondingly prominent role in the scholarly literature. This is not surprising, since the outcome of this debate may tell us what the right action is in a variety of contexts. Hansmann and Kraakman 2001 gives a consequentialist argument for shareholder primacy (which Hussain 2012 criticizes), while Friedman 1970, in a widely reprinted article, gives an argument based on promises that labor makes to capital. R. Edward Freeman is the primary architect of stakeholder theory. An excellent early statement of the theory is found in Freeman and Evan 1990, and Phillips, et al. 2003 identifies and responds to common objections to it. Orts and Strudler 2009 is unconvinced, and argues that stakeholder theory has fatal flaws. Stout 2012 offers a challenge to shareholder primacy as it is found in corporate law, and offers a “team production” theory of corporate governance, which bears a strong resemblance to stakeholder theory.

  • Freeman, R. Edward, and William M. Evan. “Corporate Governance: A Stakeholder Interpretation.” Journal of Behavioral Economics 19 (1990): 337–359.

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    One of the original and clearest statements of stakeholder theory, which is typically understood as the view that managers should not aim to maximize shareholder wealth, but instead should try to balance the interests of all stakeholders. Implications for the structure of corporate boards are discussed.

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  • Friedman, Milton. “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase its Profits.” New York Times Magazine, 13 September 1970: 32–33, 122–124.

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    Probably the article most widely read and discussed by students, it is long on hyperbole but makes valuable points. Friedman says that executives should manage the firm in shareholders’ interests, because this is what they agreed to do (when they were hired), and they don’t have the knowledge or expertise to promote the social good.

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  • Hansmann, Henry, and Reinier Kraakman. “The End of History for Corporate Law.” Georgetown Law Journal 89 (2001): 439–468.

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    This is a classic statement and defense of the shareholder wealth maximization norm. Hansmann and Kraakman give consequentialist reasons why firms should be managed in shareholders’ interests. They think that firms are run most efficiently, and society as a whole benefits, when they are managed so as to maximize shareholder wealth.

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  • Hussain, Waheed. “Corporations, Profit Maximization, and the Personal Sphere.” Economics and Philosophy 28 (2012): 311–331.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0266267112000260Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Hussain says that consequentialist arguments for shareholder primacy are problematic in a familiar way: they give inadequate consideration to personal projects. Some corporate owners may want to run their enterprises in a way that doesn’t maximize social welfare, and they should be allowed to do that.

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  • Orts, Eric W., and Alan Strudler. “Putting a Stake in Stakeholder Theory.” Journal of Business Ethics 88 (2009): 605–615.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-009-0310-ySave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is an important statement of some now-classic objections to, or perhaps gaps in, stakeholder theory: there is no principled account of who the stakeholders are, and the idea of balancing their interests is vague or incoherent.

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  • Phillips, Robert, R. Edward Freeman, and Andrew C. Wicks. “What Stakeholder Theory Is Not.” Business Ethics Quarterly 13 (2003): 479–502.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200313434Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Immediately after its debut, stakeholder theory came in for significant criticism. Proponents of the theory believe that much of this is based on misinterpretations. In this article, three prominent stakeholder theorists clarify the view.

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  • Stout, Lynn. The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2012.

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    Together with her coauthor Margaret Blair, Stout has criticized the shareholder wealth maximization norm from a legal perspective. In this book Stout argues that corporate law does not require managers to aim to maximize shareholder wealth, and that doing so is bad for firms anyway. Her “team production” theory of corporate governance has much in common with stakeholder theory.

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Corporate Social (and Environmental) Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be understood as behavior by firms intended to benefit society beyond compliance with the law. Merck’s decision to develop and distribute for free a drug to treat river blindness, a debilitating disease that afflicts people too poor to purchase modern medicines, is a standard example. The debate about CSR is often linked to the debate about shareholder and stakeholder theory. If firms should be managed so as to maximize shareholder wealth, it might be thought, then they should not engage in CSR. Carroll 1999 explains how CSR has been understood over time. One of the currently fashionable ways of understanding CSR is in terms of “corporate citizenship.” Néron and Norman 2008 asks whether this makes sense. Brenkert 1992 considers the normative question of whether firms should engage in CSR (however it is conceptualized). Firms’ impact on the environment is usefully understood as part of CSR, though it sometimes receives separate treatment. Desjardins 1998 argues that firms should be concerned with the ecological sustainability of their actions. Phillips and Reichart 2000 considers what stakeholder theory says about the environment. Social scientists have devoted enormous attention to the question of whether and how corporate social performance (CSP) is linked to corporate financial performance (CFP). Only a near-maniacal specialist can keep up with this literature, but Margolis, et al. 2009 provides an excellent recent summary. As interest in CSR has grown among business scholars, they have asked whether it can be measured, or even totaled up (like financial performance). Norman and MacDonald 2004 gives reasons for doubting that “bottom lines” are possible in ethics.

  • Brenkert, George G. “Private Corporations and Public Welfare.” Public Affairs Quarterly 6 (1992): 155–168.

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    Critiques of corporate social responsibility often come from the “right,” and argue that managers should make money for shareholders, not do good for society. This one comes from the “left,” and argues that when private firms provide for the public welfare, they usurp the democratic process.

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  • Carroll, Archie B. “Corporate Social Responsibility: Evolution of a Definitional Construct.” Business & Society 38 (1999): 268–295.

    DOI: 10.1177/000765039903800303Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    “Corporate social responsibility” is used in different ways by different scholars. This article, by one of the most significant contributors to the CSR literature from management, traces the history of its use—and the use of allied concepts such as corporate social performance and corporate citizenship—from the 1950s to the late 1990s.

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  • Desjardins, Joseph. “Corporate Environmental Responsibility.” Journal of Business Ethics 17 (1998): 825–838.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1005719707880Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Part of the value of this article is its engagement with important early writings on firms’ duties to the environment as well as serious works of environmental philosophy. Desjardins rejects minimal accounts of corporate environmental responsibility—according to which firms’ duties regarding the environment are met merely by obeying relevant laws or meeting a moral minimum—and argues, on grounds of freedom and utility, that firms should ensure that their activities are ecologically sustainable.

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  • Margolis, Joshua D., Hillary Anger Elfenbein, and James P. Walsh. “Does It Pay to Be Good . . . And Does It Matter? A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship between Corporate Social and Financial Performance.” Working Paper. SSRN Electronic Journal (March 2009).

    DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.1866371Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is arguably the gold standard of empirical papers that consider the link between corporate social performance (CSP) and corporate financial performance (CFP). Margolis and colleagues find that CSP has a positive but small effect on CFP. CSP probably isn’t going to hurt a firm, but it isn’t going to help it much either.

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  • Néron, Pierre-Yves, and Wayne Norman. “Citizenship, Inc.: Do We Really Want Businesses to Be Good Corporate Citizens?” Business Ethics Quarterly 18 (2008): 1–26.

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    Debates about corporations’ duties seem especially susceptible to faddish (and pointless) reconception. Recently, some scholars (and some firms themselves) have preferred to talk about corporate citizenship instead of corporate social responsibility. Néron and Norman ask what this might mean and whether it makes sense. The answer to the latter question is mostly “no.”

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  • Norman, Wayne, and Chris MacDonald. “Getting to the Bottom of ‘Triple Bottom Line.’” Business Ethics Quarterly 14 (2004): 243–262.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200414211Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    We can sum up a firm’s financial revenues and costs and arrive at a bottom line of profits or losses. Can we do the same for a firm’s social or environmental performance? Proponents of the “triple bottom line” think so. Norman and MacDonald think not.

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  • Phillips, Robert A., and Joel Reichart. “The Environment as a Stakeholder? A Fairness-Based Approach.” Journal of Business Ethics 23 (2000): 185–197.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1006041929249Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Phillips and Reichart argue, against Mark Starik, that the natural environment should not be considered a stakeholder. Only parties that voluntarily accept the firm’s benefits can be stakeholders, and the environment does not have the requisite agency. But legitimate stakeholders care about the environment, and this means that environmental concerns will be taken into account indirectly in stakeholder theory.

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Employment: Participation and Meaningfulness

What should work be like? Should workers have any say in how their workplaces are managed? If so, at what level of decision-making should they have a say? These are questions about worker participation. Relatedly: Are there any constraints on how the labor process can be divided? Is it permissible to divide it into utterly simple and routine tasks, or should all jobs require some thought and skill? These are questions about meaningful work. In a sophisticated early discussion, McMahon 1994 argues that considerations of fairness and welfare support the democratic exercise of managerial authority. Narveson 1992 argues that workplaces are voluntary organizations, and imposing democratic structures on them is a violation of freedom of association. Instead of asking who should control the firm, Hansmann 1996 asks why certain parties in fact control it. His answer appeals to the costs of ownership, which vary from industry to industry. Anderson 2017 is a recent entry into this debate, arguing that employers rule employees’ lives like dictators. Participation is often connected to meaningful work, since autonomy is essential to each. Arnold 2012 teases out some implications of Rawls’s theory of justice for productive organizations, and Michaelson, et al. 2014 brings the literatures in philosophy and management on meaningful work into fruitful conversation.

  • Anderson, Elizabeth. Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

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    Written in a lively style, Anderson argues that employers exercise unchecked and illegitimate power over their employees, both on and off the job. She is right that political philosophers and laypeople don’t talk much about this phenomenon, but it is a perennial concern of business ethicists.

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  • Arnold, Samuel. “The Difference Principle at Work.” Journal of Political Philosophy 20 (2012): 94–118.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2010.00393.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Rawls does not have much to say about the workplace explicitly, but many scholars have tried to divine the implications of his theory for work. Focusing on the “powers and prerogatives of office” as a primary good, Arnold argues that Rawlsian justice requires flatter organizational structures and fewer meaningless jobs than currently exist.

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  • Hansmann, Henry. The Ownership of Enterprise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

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    Philosophers ask who should own, and therefore control, the firm. Hansmann, a legal scholar, asks why firms are owned, and therefore controlled, by certain parties. Appealing to the costs of contracting and governance, he explains why certain ownership patterns emerge in certain sectors of the economy (e.g., natural resources), while different ones emerge in other sectors (e.g., law and medicine).

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  • McMahon, Christopher. Authority and Democracy: A General Theory of Government and Management. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

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    McMahon sees the authority that corporate managers exercise as coordinating authority: managers help employees to get things done. Considerations of fairness and welfare maximization, he argues, tell in favor of the democratic exercise of this authority. But insofar as workplace democracy raises the cost of capital or has other negative consequences, we may wish (democratically) to limit it.

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  • Michaelson, Christopher, Michael G. Pratt, Adam M. Grant, and Craig P. Dunn. “Meaningful Work: Connecting Business Ethics and Organization Studies.” Journal of Business Ethics 121 (2014): 77–90.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-013-1675-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Philosophers have long been concerned about meaningful work, and so have management scholars. But they understand the concept in different ways and are concerned with different aspects of it. This article brings these literatures into conversation. It is an ideal jumping off point for a deeper dive into either or both literatures.

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  • Narveson, Jan. “Democracy and Economic Rights.” Social Philosophy and Policy 9 (1992): 29–61.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0265052500003599Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    People are able to select into firms that are worker-controlled, or start such firms if they wish. Narveson understands a call for economy democracy as a call to impose worker control on firms that have selected different governance forms. He argues that this is incompatible with private property rights and freedom of association.

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Employment: Rights and Wrongs at Work

Ethical questions can be raised not only about the nature of work, but also about the circumstances in which it is performed. McCall and Werhane 2010 argues that all workers should have the robust set of rights, including rights to job security and political expression, that most European workers now have. Against this, Maitland 1989 argues that recognizing these rights as inalienable restricts employers’ and employees’ liberty to arrange their economic lives as they see fit. The topic of discrimination has attracted considerable attention from political philosophers and legal scholars, but it is an important issue for business ethicists too. Most would agree that discrimination is morally impermissible, though there is a lively debate as to why. In a detailed discussion, Lippert-Rasmussen 2014 criticizes many existing accounts and offers his own. Despite discrimination’s moral wrongness, Epstein 1992 argues against legal prohibitions of it, on the grounds that they often do more harm than good. The literature on privacy at work is regretfully scant, especially given employers’ increasing abilities to monitor their employees, but DeCew 1994 provides a valuable summary of the main issues in a discussion of drug testing. When firms do wrong, what are employees’ responsibilities to report it? DeGeorge 2009 provides the now-standard harm-based justification of whistleblowing. Brenkert 2010 criticizes DeGeorge 2009 and offers an alternative integrity-based account. The claim that whistleblowing needs justification assumes that it is pro tanto wrong, and the typical explanation of its wrongness is that it is an act of disloyalty to the firm. Elegido 2013 asks whether and when employees have a duty of loyalty to their firms.

  • Brenkert, George G. “Whistle-Blowing, Moral Integrity, and Organizational Ethics.” In The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics. Edited by George G. Brenkert and Tom L. Beauchamp, 563–601. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Brenkert offers a justification of whistleblowing that is similar to the one given by DeGeorge 2009, but unlike DeGeorge, who focuses on the prevention of harm, Brenkert focuses on the prevention of wrongdoing. Brenkert connects whistleblowing to integrity: whether a person is justified in blowing the whistle depends on what he justifiably cares about.

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  • DeCew, Judith Wagner. “Drug Testing: Balancing Privacy and Public Safety.” Hastings Center Report 24.2 (1994): 17–23.

    DOI: 10.2307/3562178Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    There is little research in business ethics on privacy at work, yet this issue is increasingly important, as employers discover new and more sophisticated ways to monitor their employees. This article summarizes the philosophy and science relevant to determining whether it is morally permissible for employers to test their employees for drug use.

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  • DeGeorge, Richard T. Business Ethics. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2009.

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    While this is a text for undergraduates, its account of whistleblowing has attained the status of the standard view in the scholarly literature. For DeGeorge, the justification of whistleblowing depends on harm—that the whistleblower can prevent to others and that she will suffer herself.

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  • Elegido, Juan M. “Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee?” Journal of Business Ethics 116 (2013): 495–511.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1482-4Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An assumption of the whistleblowing literature is that whistleblowing requires a justification, because it is an act of disloyalty toward one’s employer. This article provides an outstanding survey of the recent literature on employer loyalty and an account of when such loyalty might be appropriate.

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  • Epstein, Richard A. 1992. Forbidden Grounds: The Case against Employment Discrimination Laws. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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    Almost everyone agrees that discrimination is wrong, but Epstein thinks that laws prohibiting it do more harm than good. He argues that individuals should be legally free to order their economic lives as they see fit, even if it involves discrimination.

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  • Lippert-Rasmussen, Kasper. Born Free and Equal? A Philosophical Inquiry into the Nature of Discrimination. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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    Lippert-Rasmussen argues that discrimination is wrong because of the harm—including the creation of stigma and loss of opportunity—that it causes those who are discriminated against. He distinguishes multiple kinds of discrimination, critiques alternative accounts of its wrongness, and considers various remedies for it.

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  • Maitland, Ian. “Rights in the Workplace: A Nozickian Argument.” Journal of Business Ethics 8 (1989): 951–954.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00383431Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Scholars have argued for a variety of rights for workers: the right to participation in managerial decision-making, meaningful work, layoff notification, and more. Following Nozick, Maitland observes that workers are free to bargain for these benefits. If they lack them, then they must not want them as much as other things, especially money.

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  • McCall, John J., and Patricia H. Werhane. “Employment at Will and Employee Rights.” In The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics. Edited by George G. Brenkert and Tom L. Beauchamp, 602–627. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Workers in Europe typically have a more robust set of rights (e.g., to severance pay, due process in dismissal, political expression) than workers in the United States. The US approach has been defended on grounds of utility, property, and liberty, but McCall and Werhane argue that all of these considerations support the European model instead.

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Fair Exchange: Wages and Prices

Exchange is at the heart of business. Unsurprisingly, business ethicists have paid considerable attention to justice or fairness in exchange, especially the pricing of what is exchanged. Since labor is exchanged for money, justice in pay is part of this subject. (Exploitation is a source of injustice in pay, but most of the discussion of this issue occurs in the context of sweatshops, so it will be considered in the section on international issues.) Koehn and Wilbratte 2012 offers an account of Aquinas’s venerable idea of the just price and defends it against rivals. Pace Aquinas, few contemporary scholars believe that there is a single just price for a good or service, but many believe that some prices are unjust. In law, contracts that are deeply one-sided or unfair are labeled unconscionable. Wertheimer 1992 probes the limits of this concept in business. Zwolinski 2008 defends price gouging, or the charging of abnormally high prices for a good or service in an emergency. Turning to the income people receive in markets, Olsaretti 2004 criticizes the claim that market shares are just, either because they are deserved or because they are the result of voluntary exchanges. Heath 2018 reaches a similar conclusion, but emphasizes that wages, as prices, play an important information-providing role in the economy. Moriarty 2016 explores fairness in pay between workers, comparing unequal pay for equal workers to price discrimination in consumer goods. Bebchuk and Fried 2004 considers the high pay of CEOs, asking whether CEO pay is efficient or is instead the result of managerial power. Moriarty 2018 provides a moral case for pay transparency.

  • Bebchuk, Lucian A., and Jesse M. Fried. Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

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    CEOs of large corporations get paid a lot of money. Do they get paid too much? For philosophers, this is a question of ethics. For Bebchuk and Fried, it is a question of efficiency. They argue that the significant rise in CEO pay in the 1990s and 2000s is the result of managers’ increasing power over boards, not efficient contracting.

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  • Heath, Joseph. “On the Very Idea of a Just Wage.” Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics 11 (2018): 1–33.

    DOI: 10.23941/ejpe.v11i2.326Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Are the wages workers receive in markets just? Heath says “no.” But a lot of the debate on this subject, he says, misses the point. Wages are prices, and like all prices in markets, their primary purpose is to supply information that helps resources flow to their most productive uses. Heath’s article is published together with several responses.

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  • Koehn, Daryl, and Barry Wilbratte. “A Defense of a Thomistic Concept of the Just Price.” Business Ethics Quarterly 22 (2012): 501–526.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq201222332Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Aquinas is famous for his doctrine of the “just price,” but there is disagreement about what he means by this. Some think he means the price necessary to cover the seller’s costs; others think he means the market price. Koehn and Wilbratte survey the debate and offer a third interpretation, which they call the “just person price.”

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  • Moriarty, Jeffrey. “Is ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ Merely a Principle of Nondiscrimination?” Economics and Philosophy 32 (2016): 435–461.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0266267115000383Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article asks whether “equal pay for equal work” is merely a claim that discrimination (on the basis of factors such as race or sex) is wrong, or a statement of a more general principle of fairness in pay. It explores the freedom of contract, the value of paying people according to their contributions, and price discrimination in consumer goods.

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  • Moriarty, Jeffrey. “Against Pay Secrecy.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 35 (2018): 689–704.

    DOI: 10.1111/japp.12273Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Most firms keep information about pay secret. Moriarty argues that this is wrong, appealing to reasons of justice, autonomy, and efficiency. He considers a variety of objections to this conclusion, including the most common reasons firms give for keeping pay secret.

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  • Olsaretti, Serena. Liberty, Desert, and the Market. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511487422Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The market rewards some handsomely and others not so much. Some argue that these rewards are justified, appealing sometimes to liberty—in markets you get what others freely give you—and sometimes to desert—in markets you get the value of your productive contribution. In this densely argued book, Olsaretti challenges both claims.

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  • Wertheimer, Alan. “Unconscionability and Contracts.” Business Ethics Quarterly 2 (1992): 479–496.

    DOI: 10.2307/3857584Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An unconscionable contract is, roughly, one that is very unfair. Wertheimer examines the limits of unconscionability, looking at both the process that led to the contract (how much bargaining power each party has) and the terms of the contract (how the benefits of the contract are distributed between the parties).

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  • Zwolinski, Matt. “The Ethics of Price Gouging.” Business Ethics Quarterly 18 (2008): 347–378.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200818327Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Most people think price gouging is morally wrong, and in fact it is illegal in many jurisdictions. Zwolinski gives some reasons for thinking that it is morally permissible and should be legal. Price gougers may exploit price gougees, but in doing so, they benefit them. And the high price they charge attracts other sellers into the market, helping to bring down prices.

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International Issues

It is common for large Western multinational corporations to create supply chains that reach deep into developing countries. Since these corporations are relatively wealthy, and needs in developing countries can be great, scholars have inquired into the extent of corporations’ duties of assistance. Ruggie 2013 articulates a “protect, respect, and remedy” framework for human rights. Corporations must respect human rights, but it is the job of governments to protect and remedy violations of them. Hsieh 2004 and Wettstein 2009 argue that corporations should not leave protection and remedy to governments. Hsieh draws on principles of Rawlsian justice to reach this conclusion; Wettstein draws a parallel between states and multinational firms. In the international arena, sweatshops have received significant attention. Arnold and Bowie 2003 uses Kant’s moral theory to criticize common labor practices in sweatshops, and to argue that workers should be paid living wages. Powell and Zwolinski 2012 defends sweatshops, arguing that these are often the best option workers have. Cragg 2018 provides a useful introduction to the main ethical issues in corruption and bribery, two problems that attend business activity (especially) in the developing world. Donaldson 1989 provides an outstanding survey of key ethical issues in international business, including a thoughtful chapter on divestment.

  • Arnold, Denis G., and Norman E. Bowie. “Sweatshops and Respect for Persons.” Business Ethics Quarterly 13 (2003): 221–242.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200313215Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article argues that the Kantian requirement to respect persons has implications for sweatshop operators (and indeed all workplaces). In particular, it implies that they should obey the law, not practice or tolerate coercion, observe minimum health and safety standards, and pay workers a living wage. This is a reference point for many articles in the business ethics literature on sweatshops.

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  • Cragg, Wesley. “Corruption, Bribery, and Moral Norms across National Boundaries.” In The Routledge Companion to Business Ethics. Edited by Eugene Heath, Byron Kaldis, and Alexei Marcoux, 573–589. Routledge, 2018.

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    Bribery is illegal everywhere and yet ubiquitous in some places. Cragg carefully analyzes this phenomenon, distinguishing bribery from gifts, considering different accounts of bribery’s wrongness, and evaluating efforts to stop it, such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the activities of Transparency International.

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  • Donaldson, Thomas. The Ethics of International Business. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    This is the first serious philosophical monograph on the ethics of international business. Using his social contract framework, Donaldson explores the rights and duties of multinational corporations, ethical relativism, the ethics of risk, and divestment. Despite its age, this is still an excellent book with which to start a deeper inquiry into these questions.

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  • Hsieh, Nien-hê. “The Obligations of Transnational Corporations: Rawlsian Justice and the Duty of Assistance.” Business Ethics Quarterly 14 (2004): 643–661.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200414437Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is an outstanding example of the practice of teasing out the implications of Rawls’s theory of justice for business. Hsieh argues that multinational corporations have duties to assist people and protect them from arbitrary interference. This is a more robust set of duties than is recognized in Ruggie’s framework (see Ruggie 2013).

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  • Powell, Benjamin, and Matt Zwolinski. “The Ethical and Economic Case against Sweatshop Labor: A Critical Assessment.” Journal of Business Ethics 107 (2012): 449–472.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-011-1058-8Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Powell and Zwolinski have (independently) written a number of articles in defense of sweatshops. This is their most recent and comprehensive. One of its claims is that increasing wage and labor standards for sweatshop workers has significant disemployment effects. This presents a challenge to sweatshop critics. If a job in a sweatshop is a desperate worker’s best option, then there better be very good reasons for taking it away.

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  • Ruggie, John Gerard. Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013.

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    Written in his capacity as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Ruggie develops in this book his “protect, respect, and remedy” framework for human rights. Governments have a duty to protect people’s rights and remedy violations of them. Businesses have a duty to respect human rights.

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  • Wettstein, Florian. Multinational Corporations and Global Justice: Human Rights Obligations of a Quasi-Governmental Institution. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, 2009.

    DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804762403.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Wettstein argues that large multinational corporations are sufficiently like states that they have some of the duties of states. An innovative feature of this volume is its attempt to bring into conversation the literatures on CSR, global justice, and human rights.

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Business, Politics, and Society

Economic agents, including firms, have the ability to influence politics. And it can be in their interest to do so. Is it permissible? Stark 2010 catalogues various ways that firms can influence politics through lobbying and campaign contributions, weighing the value of expression against the risk of corruption. Scherer, et al. 2006 highlights new political behaviors by firms—viz., providing public goods and rule-making—and asks whether they are legitimate. Christiano 2010 considers firms’ exercise of their property rights as a kind of political power. Political activity by firms is sometimes characterized as “rent-seeking.” Boatright 2009 investigates the usefulness of this label and asks when, if ever, rent-seeking is compatible with corporate social responsibility. Firms aren’t the only ones who can exercise political power in the market. Consumers do, too, and their choices may also be criticized as anti-democratic. Hussain 2012 articulates a version of ethical consumerism that is compatible with liberal democracy. Schwartz 2017 examines the ethics of consumer choices more generally.

  • Boatright, John R. “Rent Seeking in a Market with Morality: Solving a Puzzle about Corporate Social Responsibility.” Journal of Business Ethics 88 (2009): 541–552.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-009-0324-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Corporate political influence is sometimes described, and criticized, as “rent-seeking” behavior. Boatright shows that this concept involves controversial normative judgments—especially with regard to what counts as “wasteful”—and explores whether and when socially responsible corporations should seek rents.

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  • Christiano, Thomas. “The Uneasy Relationship between Democracy and Capital.” Social Philosophy and Policy 27 (2010): 195–217.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0265052509990082Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Firms engage in politics by giving money to candidates for public office and lobbying politicians and regulators. But they can also influence political decisions in a more subtle way, by signaling what they will do if certain laws are passed or not passed. Christiano argues that firms’ exercise of property rights should be consistent with fundamental norms of democratic governance.

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  • Hussain, Waheed. “Is Ethical Consumerism an Impermissible Form of Vigilantism?” Philosophy & Public Affairs 40 (2012): 111–143.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2012.01218.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A person engages in ethical consumerism when he makes purchasing decisions based in part on ethical considerations. Insofar as he is trying to affect social change, his actions may be considered anti-democratic. Hussain articulates a kind of ethical consumerism that avoids this criticism.

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  • Scherer, Andreas Georg, Guido Palazzo, and Dorothée Baumann. “Global Rules and Private Actors: Toward a New Role of the Transnational Corporation in Global Governance.” Business Ethics Quarterly 16 (2006): 505–532.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq200616446Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Scherer and colleagues argue that corporations are increasingly taking on roles traditionally played by states. They are providing public goods, especially in developing countries, and writing and enforcing systems of private regulation or “soft” law. These activities raise questions of legitimacy, and may require new governance structures to bring corporations back under democratic control.

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  • Schwartz, David T. Consuming Choices: Ethics in a Global Consumer Age. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

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    This short and accessible book, especially suitable for undergraduates, offers a broad look at consumer ethics. It argues that people can cause serious harm through their purchasing decisions, and that, even if they did not, they should seek to avoid complicity in harms others cause.

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  • Stark, Andrew. “Business in Politics: Lobbying and Corporate Campaign Contributions.” In The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics. Edited by George G. Brenkert and Tom L. Beauchamp, 501–534. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Stark surveys and categorizes the multitude of ways that firms can influence the political process through campaign contributions and lobbying. The main ethical problem with corporate political activity, he says, is corruption, which must be weighed against the value of corporate expression.

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Emerging Issues

Business ethics is a dynamic field. In some cases, new issues are put on the agenda because new types of scholars enter the field. This is the case with the recent surge of activity in behavioral ethics. Bazerman and Tenbrunsel 2011 summarizes and suggests remedies for the main causes of ethical failure in organizations. Personal strategies for confronting unethical behavior are found in Gentile 2010. Interest in leadership from social scientists, including political scientists, has generated a small but growing body of work in leadership ethics, a selection of which is found in Ciulla 2014. And Kim and Strudler 2012 demonstrates how Anglophone philosophers’ growing appreciation of non-Western traditions can be mined for business ethics insights. Developments in technology have also generated new investigations. Morally significant decisions once made by human resources professionals are now being made by algorithms; Martin 2018 considers their ethical aspects. Bhargava 2018 asks how employers should respond to mass social media outrage at their employees’ off-duty behavior. The financial crisis of 2007–2009 generated sophisticated philosophical reflection about the global banking and financial systems, as the articles in Herzog 2017 demonstrate.

  • Bazerman, Max H., and Ann E. Tenbrunsel. Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400837991Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Psychologists seek to discover the causes of human behavior. Recently, they have turned their attention to the causes of unethical behavior, including unethical behavior in business. This book is written for a popular audience by two heavyweights in the field. It summarizes the key sources of ethical failure in business and suggests remedies for them.

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  • Bhargava, Vikram R. “Firm Responses to Mass Outrage: Technology, Blame, and Employment.” Journal of Business Ethics (Online First, 26 October 2018).

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-018-4043-7Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    People say and do offensive things. Thanks to social media, these things can be viewed by millions in a matter of hours. And these millions may wish to take out their ire on those people’s employers. What should firms do in response? While sensitive to concerns about free speech, lifestyle discrimination, and due process, Bhargava argues that firing offenders—a common response—is pro tanto wrong because it is an inappropriate act of blame.

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  • Ciulla, Joanne B., ed. Ethics, The Heart of Leadership. 3d ed. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2014.

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    Increasingly, the study of management is styled as the study of leadership. Is there a separate ethics for leaders? This book is an excellent place to start exploring this question. Especially notable are Ciulla’s introductory chapter, which canvasses various definitions and styles of leadership and the ethical issues to which they give rise, and Keeley’s chapter on transformational or charismatic leadership, a style of leadership which is often praised in business and politics, but which is alleged to have serious ethical drawbacks.

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  • Gentile, Mary. Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

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    Gentile begins where most ethicists leave off, viz., with the right answer to an ethical question in hand. Her question is: What can you do in your organization to get people to do the right thing, or to prevent them from doing the wrong thing? This book can be appealing to business students, who are used to coming out of business classes with answers, not just questions.

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  • Herzog, Lisa, ed. Just Financial Markets? Finance in a Just Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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    The financial crisis of 2007–2009 sparked significant philosophical interest in the banking and financial systems. The articles collected in this volume are some of the first fruits of that interest. (They are not the last: a special issue of Midwest Studies in Philosophy on responsibility for the financial crisis appeared in 2018.) Herzog’s introductory essay deftly highlights the key issues, and valuable chapters are found on the purpose of financial markets, the culture of banks, the ethics of ratings agencies, and more.

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  • Kim, Tae Wan, and Alan Strudler. “Workplace Civility: A Confucian Approach.” Business Ethics Quarterly 22 (2012): 557–577.

    DOI: 10.5840/beq201222334Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    As in many other areas of philosophy, scholars in business ethics have not drawn enough on literature outside of the Western tradition. Kim and Strudler are an exception to this rule. They argue here that standard ethical theories cannot make sense of the role and significance of civility in the workplace, and offer an alternative account based on Confucian principles. They conclude that rituals are undervalued in contemporary business practice.

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  • Martin, Kirsten. “Ethical Implications and Accountability of Algorithms.” Journal of Business Ethics (Online First, 7 June 2018).

    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-018-3921-3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    New ethical challenges attend new technologies. Martin notes that tasks in business—e.g., selecting applicants for interviews, deciding who gets a loan—are increasingly done by algorithms, and she inquires into the ethical considerations that should govern their design and use. This article is useful not only for its arguments, but also for its long list of references on ethics in artificial intelligence, big data, and other areas of technology.

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