The Social Function of Business Ethics

Business Ethics Quarterly 10 (4):821-843 (2000)
Business ethics serves the important social function of integrating business and society, by promoting the legitimacy ofbusiness operations, through critical reflection. Although the social function of business ethics is impliCit in leading business ethicsfoundation theories, it has never been presented in a systematic way. This article sets out to fill this theoretical lacuna, and to explore the theoretical potentials of a functional approach to business ethics. Key concepts from Parsonian functionalistic SOCiology are applied to establish the social integrative function of business ethics. This produces a theoretical framework for business ethics that provides strong theoretical arguments against often-heard criticisms of business ethics. Many of these criticisms are ideological in nature, in that they systematically play down the importance of integrative functions in the bUSiness-society relationship, on the grounds of unrealistic assumptions about the performance of economic and bureaucratic institutions. However, business ethics itself can alsobecome ideological, if it forgets that the conditions for the application of ethics to business are not always ideal as well
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