chapter
3 Pages

Introduction

As mentioned in the preface, the actuators to this study were a series of peculiarities and omissions in business ethics. Meeting the aspiration to eradicate these inadequacies, it seemed advisable to place an introductory chapter on a number of preliminaries of ethics. Equipped with these preliminaries, many of the subsequent arguments are easier to follow than without them. Apart from this, the gentle reader will learn about the assumptions taken by the author. Knowing of these assumptions makes it easier for the reader to critically appraise the arguments and suggestions that are put forward here. The fundamental suppositions of Chapter 1 of this treatise belong to the distinguishability of classes of propositions, namely of analytic, empirical, and normative propositions, as well as the logical impossibility to infer from representatives of one class of propositions to representatives of one of the remaining two classes. This logical impossibility derives from, what we call here, the implications compliance rule, saying, that a conclusion cannot have implications that are not already implied by its set of premises. To put it differently, a logical conclusion may not smuggle in new information and claim validity at the same time. As we shall see later, the distinguishability and the logical gap between the classes of propositions mentioned above are of particular importance for the relation between empirical and normative propositions in business ethics. Moreover, what is proposed here is what I call methodological individualist ethics, an ethics that corresponds with the fundamentals of methodological individualism. That is to say, I assume that all actions, which can be classified as moral actions, are executed by (or retraceable to) individuals alone, and not by any other entities sui generis, be it groups, nations, cultures, or similar collectives. This assumption is important insofar as business ethics stress is laid on the morality of firms (and many other types of economic organizations); collectives which, following methodological individualist ethics, are not actors in themselves, but rather the

outcome of the interplay among individual economic actors. Hence, before talking (unless metaphorically) of the responsibility of an enterprise (or any other economic entity), and before asking if it is applicable at all to look at the action in question as moral action one needs to clarify to which individual action or default it is retraceable, given it is retraceable at all. An additional assumption for the deliberations to come is that sufficient constitutive characteristics of moral action must be named. Without a sufficiently clear definition of moral action (and moral action in economics in particular), each proposition of morality would be so imprecise that the testing of empirical assertions or the rational acceptance of normative recommendations in business ethics would be doomed to fail. Neither could one (with sufficient determination) say that the moral action, subject to empirical testing or moral recommendation, is a moral one, nor that it is an action at all. Closely connected with the constitutive characteristics of moral acting, and the requisitions of the methodological individualist ethics, is the Hayekian distinction between natural, designed, and spontaneous orders, and the insight based on this, namely that interacting individuals, each acting morally (for instance by keeping or breaching contracts1), may bring about a result that does not necessarily have to be a moral one.2 This insight becomes important in conjunction with what I call an intact triad of moral action, namely a steady connection between intention, exertion and result of a moral action. The preliminaries named here and subsequently explored in the following sections of Chapter 1 are not the only assumptions that will be used throughout this book. Other more specific ones, for instance the argumentum pro libertate, will be introduced in later chapters, because their meaning will unfold more easily when put into conjunction with the topics discussed there. Chapter 2 proceeds, step by step, from the definition of economic action to the definition of morally economic action. As we shall see, in the process of this undertaking it will be necessary to give precise definitions of ‘freedom’ and ‘property’ and to explain which conditions are to be considered in order to avoid inequitable obligations. The core elements of the argument presented here are the presumption of liberty (argumentum pro libertate), the finders keepers principle, and the assumption based on both, namely that it is not the bringing about of a status quo that asks for legitimacy, but rather the change of it. Chapter 3 provides the foundations of a proper understanding of morally just business. The starting point of our reflections rests in insurmountable difficulties of justifying norms. Rather than troubling with the (scientifically fruitless) justification of norms, we look at various modes of

establishing norms and argue for a modus operandi – namely negative selection – that presumably causes the least problems, namely establishing norms by contract (unanimous agreement among contracting parties). Thereupon we examine if (and, if so, how) the understanding of morally just economic action has to be curtailed or complemented by modern conceptions of ‘social justice’. The chapter closes with a definition of morally just economic action. The aim of Chapter 4 is to illustrate with the help of prominent conceptions in business ethics what is meant by peculiarities and omissions in the field of business ethics, namely the insufficient and incoherent consideration and sometimes downright ignorance of the criterion of justice in business morality, when it comes to the examination of pivotal themes in our discipline; the neglect of reflections on our science, when it comes to the use of significant key terms; and the careless and defective labeling of the analytic, empirical, and normative parts, when it comes to the core propositions of the various schools of business ethics. Chapter 5 concludes.