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What's the matter with business ethics?

A Stark
Harvard Business Review 1993, 71 (3): 38-40, 43-4, 46-8
The more business ethics secures its status in campuses across the country, the more bewildering it appears to actual managers. It's not that managers dislike the idea of doing the right thing. As University of Toronto Assistant Professor Andrew Stark argues, far too many business ethicists just haven't offered them the practical advice they need. Before business ethics became a formal discipline, advocates of corporate social responsibility claimed that the market would ultimately reward ethical behavior. But ethics and interests did not always intersect so fruitfully in the real world. And when they did not, managers were left in the dark to grope for the right ethical course. In the 1970s, the brand-new field of business ethics came onto the scene to address this issue. Critical of the "ethics pays" approach, academics held that ethics and interests can and do conflict. Still, scholars took an equally unrealistic line. To them, a manager's motivation could be either altruistic or self-interested, but never both. In short, ethicists still weren't addressing the difficult moral dilemmas that managers face on a day-to-day basis, and only recently have they begun to do so. After some initial stumbles, ethicists are getting their hands dirty and seriously considering the costs of doing the right thing. Finally, a new business ethics is emerging that acknowledges and accepts the messy world of mixed motives. As a result, novel concepts are springing up: moderation, pragmatism, minimalism, among others.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)


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