The Place of Ethics in Business

Business Ethics Quarterly 5 (3):577-601 (1995)
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This article uses concepts from sociology, history, and philosophy to explore the shifting relationship between moral values and business in the Western world. We examine the historical roots and intellectual underpinnings of two major business-society paradigms in ideal-type terms. In pre-industrial Western society, we argue that business activity was linked to society’s values of morality (the moral unity paradigm}-for good or for ill. With the rise of industrialism, we contend that business was freed from moral constraints by the alleged “invisible hand” of efficient markets (the amoral theory of business). Armed with this understanding of the intellectual history of the moral unity and amoral business-society paradigms, we suggest that some variant of the moral unity paradigm may be recurring in post-industrial society.



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