Society for Business Ethics 2008, Afternoon 1

Here’s what I saw at this afternoon’s sessions at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Business Ethics:

“Vocation and Integrity: Prospects for a Virtue Ethics Approach to Business,” by David McPherson. McPherson argued that prospects of virtue ethics as a framework for thinking about business ethics depends upon a prior shift from thinking about jobs as mere sources of employment to thinking about jobs as ‘callings.’ (I asked a naive/skeptical question about just how many of us could be fortunate enough to have jobs that we were able to think of as a ‘calling.’ David’s reasonable answer was that a fairly wide range of jobs can be thought of as callings in the broad sense of having moral importance, at least in that they contribute to the economy and to the survival & flourishing of the families those jobs support.)

“Characterological Ethics: On the Genus of Virtue and Why It Matters in Organizational Behavior,” by Miguel Alzola. Miguel argued that the sort of empirical/experimental evidence that there are no such things as virtues (understood as durable dispositions to act in certain ways) has no force against a more appropriately ‘non-reductive’ analysis of virtue. Virtues (if I’ve understood Miguel correctly) simply can’t be reduced to the sorts of short-term behaviours that are amenable to experimental investigation.

“Moral Charisma, Corporate Leadership,” by Denise Kleinrichert. Kleinrichert sketched an analysis of the notion of ‘charisma’ as a personality trait that is & can be developed, and discussed it in relation to moral leadership within corporations.

Next, I heard “A Puzzle About Executive Compensation,” by my pal Jeffrey Moriarty from BGSU. Jeff argued to the surprising conclusion that CEOs have — basically as part of their general duty to reduce costs — an ethical obligation not to accept a level of pay higher than the minimum required to motivate them to work hard on behalf of the company & its shareholders.

Finally, I saw “A Defense of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Concept of the Just Price,” by my friend Daryl Koehn. Daryl’s talk was primarily a piece of Aquinas scholarship (rather than normative ethics), but the issue of ethical pricing is so under-theorized, frankly, that every little contribution helps. (This is not to downplay what was a lively and lucid talk!) She argued that the two standard interpretations of Aquinas (the “cost recovery” view and the “exchange price” view) are both flawed. Daryl argued instead that Aquinas had a much more complex & subtle view of just pricing than is normally acknowledged (one that acknowledges the importance of cost recovery and ‘market’ prices, among other factors) , but that his view is in the end grounded in the idea of promoting the flourishing of the community.

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