Dealing with Swindlers and Devils: Literature and Business Ethics

Journal of Business Ethics 58 (4):359-373 (2005)

Authors
Christopher Michaelson
University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
Abstract
Part of the value of stories is moral, in that understanding them, and the characters within them, is one way in which we seek to make moral sense of life. Arguably, it has become quite common to use stories in order to make moral sense of business life. Case method is the standard teaching method in top business schools, and so-called “war stories” are customary for on-the-job training. Shakespeare is a trendy purveyor of leadership education. Several books and articles have been written on the intersection between literature and business and/or business ethics. Still, it is one thing to claim that literature can contribute to our understanding of business conduct, but yet another to claim that literature can contribute to␣the related goal of improving moral conduct in business. Supporters of the claims tend to presume they go together, while skeptics and detractors often discard them as a package. These claims warrant further investigation if they are to be perceived by business scholarship and practice as worthy of serious attention, not just a quaint search for lowbrow moral fables or a vain pursuit of highbrow poetry. One instrumental function of literature is to imitate life, thereby expanding our vision beyond our parochial interests; to see literature merely as a didactic instrument to serve business interests misses the point that literature should expand understanding, our sense of what in addition to business is interesting and valuable.
Keywords Enron  ethical criticism  literature  moral imagination  narrative
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-004-5264-5
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References found in this work BETA

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