Society for Business Ethics 2008, Morning 1

I’m blogging “live” (again) from the Annual Meeting of the Society for Business Ethics (in sunny Anaheim, California).
I’m just planning on posting summaries of whatever presentations I happen to attend.
I’ll be posting twice a day (once for the afternoon session & once summarizing the afternoon session).

I was a presenter in the first session I attended today. The first paper of that session was by Alexei Marcoux, on “Moral Partiality in Business Practice. Alexei pointed out that the focus of most scholars in business ethics is on moral impartiality. Ethics is, after all, from the point of view of most philosophical moral theories, the impartial exercise of judgment concerning right and wrong, and treating all persons as moral equals. Business ethics, Alexei argued, has adopted that same focus on impartial moral judgment. However, Alexei argued convincingly, this is at odds with the structure of the world of business. Many (perhaps most) relationships in the world of business are, and ought to be, rooted in partiality: the partiality (roughly, loyalty) of employee to manager, of manager to shareholder, of lawyer to client, and so on.

The second paper in that session was by Wayne Norman and me, and was called “Conflict of Interest: from Conceptual Analysis to Normative Evaluation and Institutional Design.” In our presentation, we sketched the history of the concept of ‘conflict of interest’ (COI), discussed briefly the scholarly work that has been done to refine the definition of COI, and proposed an agenda for future research that focuses on what we call mid- and macro-level theories of institutional design.

The second session of the morning featured the following presentations:
“The Legal Ontology of the Corporation as a Description of its Role in Society,” by David Ronnegard. Ronnegard talked about the socio-economic role of the corporate legal form (i.e., its role as an instrument for production and economic growth). He argued that prescriptions for change in the role of the corporation in society need to take (more) realistic stock of the way in which the corporate form has actually evolved, and the role in plays in society.

“Finding Moral Imperative in an ‘Amoral’ Theory of Economics,” by Jeff Frooman. Jeff provided a really interesting survey & typology of anti-competitive market practices (e.g., bid-rigging, cartels, non-compete clauses, etc). If we take it as given that a robustly competitive market is a social good, a typology of anti-competitive practices gives us something very like a typology (admittedly incomplete) of moral wrongs in the marketplace.

“The Constitutive View of Corporate Moral Responsibility,” by Martin Sandbu. Sandbu was interested to import into business ethics some of the literature on collective responsibility. He discussed the extent to which the actions of a corporation in some sense by definition represent the will of the shareholders (because shareholders have empowered corporate managers to act on their behalf).
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p.s. here’s the link to the entire conference program.

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