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A Response to Bouckaert's Ethics Management Paradox

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Bouckaert states in his article on “The Ethics Management Paradox” that the “Green Paper of the European Commission Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility” (2001) is written under what he calls “the veil of a rational and technocratic conception of ethics.” The way ethics is conceptualized in the said Green Paper raises, according to Bouckaert, a serious concern, which is that if business ethics is conceptualized in this manner, “we substitute economic calculations for moral feelings.” In doing so he believes that we run the risk of “crowding out the spiritual and moral commitment, which is a necessary condition for sustaining genuine entrepreneurship and stakeholding.”

What seems to bother Bouckaert is that the above conceptualization of business ethics can seriously undermine a sustained ethical imperative in business. He is undoubtedly correct in his assessment that if ethical behavior is merely premised on rational and technocratic considerations, it runs the risk of being eliminated should business not find rational and technocratic reasons for attending to ethics. Ethical considerations in business are thus relegated to the domain of opportunism and will only be considered by business for tactical or opportunistic reasons. By framing the problem (or paradox as Bouckaert calls it) in this manner, he does two things that I wish to challenge. Firstly he places the emphasis on the motive for the ethical behavior of business and secondly he contrasts ethical behavior with self-interested behavior.

A legitimate question could be raised about whether it makes sense to introduce the aspect of “motive” into ethical discourse. The first problem surrounding motives is that they are notoriously difficult to trace. Do we have access to the motives that underlie our ethical behavior? The school of psychoanalysis has drawn our attention to the fact that the motives that drive our behavior are often hidden from us and therefore difficult to access or understand. At times we might not even understand our own motivations because they are hidden in our subconscious.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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  • Interdisciplinary Yearbook of Business Ethics
    This volume comprises the work of twenty scholars and practitioners from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Contributors represent a diversity of fields including organizational science, economics, systems theory, personality psychology, business ethics, finance, management, philosophy, political science, sociology, and ecology. All the papers stand for a more human and ethical approach to economics and business.
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