A Memoir of Markets, Milestones, and Models

Business Ethics Quarterly 10 (1):73-82 (2000)
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Abstract

I begin by recounting the market demands that created an opportunity for me to teach business ethics in the College of Business at St. Cloud State University. The AACSB and my educational institution focused amorphous social demands for better business practices into a specific demand for a philosophy Ph.D. to teach business ethics. I felt frustrated teaching business ethics because of my inexperience and the eclectic nature of the field. I, and many others, searched for something to unify the many topics of the field. This search was one of the factors that led to BEQ’s appearance in 1991. The first issue marked a milestone in the continuing search fortheory and the legitimization of the field. It focused previous discussions and was remarkably prescient. While it is unlikely that we will reach a consensus about how to understand the field, if consensus ever comes close to occurring, I argue that it will not coalesce over stakeholder theory. I examine two theories that could be used as a grand unified theory (GUT) of business ethics: Integrated Social Contracts Theory and my own institutional theory that expands on the work of Douglass North’s view of economic institutions. I usethe discussion of these GUTs to develop criteria of what a successful GUT might look like. Based on these criteria, I argue that theinstitutional theory has a better chance of succeeding, but recognize that business ethics GUTs are primarily heuristic; many different types of theories can be helpful. Lastly, I discuss whether it is pretentious and overbearing to argue for a GUT. I argue that it need not be.

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