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Über dieses Buch

This book disassembles the moral assessment of business practices into its constituent parts to identify and clarify the four key concepts that form the basis of important moral disagreements in business: ‘personhood,’ ‘ownership,’ ‘harm,’ and ‘consent.’ ‘Moral bottom lines’ are those fundamental concepts in business ethics that ultimately account for our most resilient moral claims and unsurpassable convictions, and exploring them provides essential insights into the grounds on which we disagree in business ethics. This analysis is useful for students in business school looking to understand fundamental moral disagreements in business and for practitioners interested in connecting practice with their own moral intuitions. The book also challenges scholars of business ethics by arguing that we can reduce business ethics disagreements to these four issues.
"This is the most refreshing book on business ethics to appear in a long time. By focusing on 'personhood,' 'ownership,' 'harm,' and 'consent,' Eabrasu brings a new level of clarity and insight into disagreements on business ethic issues. Rather than reaching for an artificial utopian resolution, he embraces the challenge of explaining why we disagree. This is a must-read for serious business ethic scholars."Nicolas CapaldiLoyola University New OrleansLegendre-Soulé Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics



Chapter 1. Introduction

This introductory chapter sets out the book’s main argument: there are different and dissenting moral interpretations of business cases. The underlying theme of this book is examining the connections between moral philosophy and business practice. Recognizing these connections is stimulating, especially considering the gap between the habitual perception of management as raising mainly technical and legal challenges and the concrete moral dilemmas managers have to face. As business practitioners and students, or just as citizens, we may want to take such moral disagreements seriously for at least three reasons. First, we need to understand that systematically referring to rules and laws might be an easy thing to do, but it does not always provide a foolproof solution for moral dilemmas. Laws themselves may be wrong, or sometimes to do the right thing we need to break the law. Second, we need to take the opportunity to step outside our comfort zone that we build by convincing ourselves that we are always doing the right thing. Engaging with disagreements on moral issues might show us that it is easier to persuade ourselves of what is right and what is wrong than it is to persuade someone else. Third, admitting that we disagree on moral grounds allows us to clarify and fine-tune our own arguments, especially if we do not find compelling reasons to change our own decisions or to make compromises with our opponents.

Marian Eabrasu

Chapter 2. Moral Bottom Lines

As outlined in the introduction, business opportunities and moral choices are often intertwined. Managerial decisions have financial and legal constraints; they also have to take moral issues into account. While it is difficult to say precisely what these constraints are and the order of priority in which they should be dealt with, or which (if any) should be considered subordinate to the others, we can simply admit that the sphere of management is not ‘moral-proof’ and that the office is not a haven from moral issues. To substantiate this idea, the aim of this chapter is to show that moral choices are an inescapable feature of business activity. Following up the ideas sketched in the introduction, the first section shows that moral choices are inevitably embedded in business practice. The second assesses the limits of this plurality of moral choices by addressing the widespread relativistic challenge to the distinction between right and wrong: ‘anything goes in business.’ The third section identifies the key moral bottom lines in business: personhood, ownership, harm and consent.

Marian Eabrasu

Chapter 3. Personhood

The criteria we use to define a person are not irrelevant, and the point where we set the frontier of personhood is of crucial importance in determining the limits of interactions with others. This frontier determines whether our interactions are moral or merely technical. In a nutshell, harming someone else is wrongful only within the moral sphere. Outside that sphere, harm only raises technical issues regarding how we should cope with it. The purpose of this chapter is neither to defend a specific criterion and argue that a group should belong while another should not, nor to give an exhaustive view of all possible criteria and arguments for and against. Instead, it aims to showcase the most salient issues in business, with the aim of making the reader aware of the diversity of criteria and arguments in defining the moral agent. This chapter starts from the gravitation point in moral agency theory (the person) and explores the limits of different propositions for expanding this core category. The second section introduces debate over the issue of moral agency in business: the moral status of the corporation. The third section expands on this to analyze the moral status of the stakeholders who gravitate around the corporation.

Marian Eabrasu

Chapter 4. Ownership

Disagreements on moral personhood do not entirely exhaust the moral issues in business, and an important aspect of these relates to disagreements over interpretations of ‘ownership.’ Can—and should—a firm own the air, water, body parts, an idea, a font, or a color? The answers to these questions depend on how we understand ownership. The concept of ‘ownership’ is used here to refer to legitimate full control of resources. This conception of property implies that owners have the right to use resources at will and that their choices are protected by their property rights—i.e., they have the right to exclude others from such use if they wish. Thus, property rights also play a crucial role in assessing the morality of a transaction. Only after determining whether property rights were respected can we establish whether a transfer of resources is a commercial transaction or a theft. Ownership is particularly relevant for moral assessments of business activities because it raises several crucial questions: Can everything be owned? Who should have ownership? How should resources be managed? Providing precise answers to these questions is fundamental to moral assessments of business. This chapter aims to address the key moral controversies in business in relation to ownership. The first section details discussions about the limits of commodification. The second examines the key matter of who should own things, focusing on the debate over private and public ownership. Finally, the third concludes with a consideration of the debate over how things should be managed.

Marian Eabrasu

Chapter 5. Harm and Consent

‘Consent’ is the cornerstone of morality in general, and more particularly of assessing the morality of business practices, given that they are defined as contractual. Consent is a key moral bottom line because it allows us to tell apart wrongful from morally acceptable interactions. Consent among parties is essential for a moral assessment of a harmful situation not only in business but also in almost all types of interaction. The same transfer of ownership from one person to another is not judged through the same moral lens if it is done voluntarily or through coercive means. The former case is generally called ‘cooperation’ and the latter ‘theft.’ The same goes for physical harm. An action involving physical violence, unanimously considered harmful, becomes morally acceptable when all parties involved give consent, such as in a boxing match or surgical intervention. That being said, this large agreement that consent is essential to determine the morality of a harmful interaction encloses fundamental disagreements concerning the precise definition of both ‘harm’ and ‘consent.’ Scholars and practitioners—but also citizens in general—are profoundly divided on the meanings of harm and consent, as they would not all locate the frontier between harmful and harmless and/or between consensual and non-consensual managerial practices in the same place. This chapter sets out a general survey of radically different conceptions of harm and consent, with the aim of showing how they shape moral assessments of business activities. The first section focuses on different approaches to harm and the next two on consent: the second more specifically on the conditions in which consent is formulated and the third on informed consent.

Marian Eabrasu

Chapter 6. Conclusion: Let’s Start From Four

In the opening scene of the Italian movie Ricomincio da tre (1981), Massimo Troisi abruptly says, ‘I want to leave everything behind and start from three!’ Lello Arena retorts in response, correcting his statement: ‘From zero. The habitual formula is: “I start from zero” not “from three.”’ Incredulous, Troisi explains that he has only made three good things in his life: why should he lose them too by starting from zero? Using this humorous dialog, a simple way to conclude this book would be to say that we do not need to start from zero in building our conception of morality and apply it to choices in business: we can start from these four concepts: personhood, ownership, harm, and consent. It is at the level of these four concepts that our conception of morality is shaped and, conversely, debates on business ethics can be explained by disagreements on each of these four points.

Marian Eabrasu


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