Understanding the Separation Thesis

Business Ethics Quarterly 18 (2):213-232 (2008)

Joakim Sandberg
Göteborgs Universitet
Many writers in the field of business ethics seem to have accepted R. Edward Freeman’s argument to the effect that what he calls “the separation thesis,” or the idea that business and morality can be separated in certain ways, should be rejected. In this paper, I discuss how this argument should be understood more exactly, and what position “the separation thesis” refers to. I suggest that there are actually many interpretations (or versions) of the separation thesis going around, ranging from semantic, empirical and reformative to some which are straightforwardly normative. While it is generally agreed that the separation thesis should be rejected, then, there is not as much agreement on what this thesis actually says. I suggest that whether or not we should<br>reject the separation thesis, however, ultimately must depend on how we understand it more exactly—on certain interpretations, the thesis comes out as more or less trivially false, but we should demand more evidence or argument to reject it on certain other interpretations. This result presents a challenge for all those writers who are committed to the rejection of the separation thesis.
Keywords Applied Philosophy  Business and Professional Ethics  Social Science
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ISBN(s) 1052-150X
DOI 10.5840/beq200818216
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