Skip to content

Business Ethics as Critical Thinking

Zsolt Boda’s paper “Business Ethics as Critical Thinking: Moral Motivations and the Limits of Ethics” was published in Joanne B. Ciulla and Tobey K. Scharding (Eds.): Ethical Business Leadership in Troubling Times. (Edward Elgar, 2019).

The paper emphasizes that the CSR paradigm and mainstream business ethics traditionally have been focusing on legitimizing the ethics case and then provide insights on the ‘how’ question: how to build ethical institutions, how to manage stakeholders, make responsible decisions and so on. This is, of course, very much needed. However, besides other functions and roles, business ethics should also be a critical enterprise, that is, it should not become apologetic to mainstream business. This implies a critical reflection on current management practices as well as questioning the basic assumptions and theoretical constructions of management studies, including the CSR paradigm and business ethics. By undertaking a critical approach, the paper focuses on the problem of moral motivations: why to be ethical.

Boda’s paper argues that the ‘why’ should precede the ‘how’ question and that the institutional context of today global business makes ethical motivations increasingly difficult to prevail over the profit motives. This implies that the limits of business ethics should also be acknowledged: addressing some fundamental social and environmental problems associated with mainstream businesses may need effective legal, institutional and political solutions beyond the ethical approach. However, business ethics has the important role of contributing to a new business paradigm in which the rules of the game are not in a sharp contradiction with basic moral requirements and which provides support for the sustainability transformation humankind must undertake.