Virtuosity in Business

Virtuosity in Business: Invisible Law Guiding the Invisible Hand

Kevin T. Jackson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Virtuosity in Business
    Book Description:

    The recent global financial crisis raises pressing issues that are not exclusively economic. The health of the economy, Kevin T. Jackson contends, reflects the moral health of the wider culture: ethics must be considered along with economics to understand world markets, especially now that globalization and other forces have increasingly complicated the regulation of transnational corporate conduct. Virtuosity in Business calls on businesspeople and ethicists to expand their thinking by stressing the profound relevance of philosophy to business and economics. Virtuosity in Business shows that ethics has been the overriding problem for business and that it is the only enduring solution. Drawing on a variety of philosophical sources, including Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Jackson applies the concept of virtue to the competitive realm of the marketplace. Virtuosity, in all realms of human endeavor, is not merely a display of technical skill or adherence to conventional norms. The invisible law of virtuosity, which discourages misconduct and rewards good corporate citizenship, guides ethical firms and wise entrepreneurs toward greater success by playing a constructive part in the human enterprise. A pioneering work in the contemporary philosophy of business, Virtuosity in Business revivifies business ethics to address concerns arising from the global financial crisis, such as restoration of faith in the market, respect for human rights, and environmental sustainability.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0701-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The financial calamities of recent years offer strong evidence that there is such a thing as immorality in the market economy and that it is very destructive. In this book I aim to present a new approach to business ethics, based on objective morality, which exposes and revivifies the implicit and broad cultural understandings of the meaning of moral excellence. The conception of virtuosity that I present is, in a sense, quite idealistic. However, business needs to be, and needs to be seen as, a noble activity. Business ethics can play an important role in providing a broader, deeper, and...

  5. Chapter 1 Virtue and Character
    (pp. 13-58)

    Apart from profoundly disrupting the functioning of the economic system, the financial crisis has soured the reputation of the free-market economy and called into question the moral standing of business enterprises and the character of the people who run them.

    Postcrisis angst can be seen in expressions of concern like these:

    immersion in contemporary business culture seems to lead many people away from fulfillment and well-being and instead diverts them toward vice, making them greedy, materialistic, and avaricious;

    such vice is seen in many corporate leaders, such as narcissistic “rock star” CEOs of distressed firms;

    the free market appears to...

  6. Chapter 2 Authenticity and Freedom
    (pp. 59-86)

    James is a branch manager for the Manhattan division of an international commercial bank. His boss tells him that the Manhattan offices are slated to close in a couple of months, soon after the first of the year, and the branch’s functions will henceforth be handled in India, where labor costs are considerably cheaper. The executive asks James to keep the news to himself, since regulatory documents will need to be filed first. James promises to keep quiet. A few days later, James’s colleague and trusted friend of many years asks him if a rumor floating around the office that...

  7. Chapter 3 The Art of Business
    (pp. 87-122)

    In business, as in music, virtuosity matters. To illustrate why it does matter, I ask you to consider two apparently dissimilar occurrences, reflecting on the ways they show an underlying similarity. To be clear, I offer the artistic metaphor of virtuosic business, not to denigrate musicians but to inspire businesspeople, encouraging them to meditate on what their vocation might look like were it conducted with the exacting self-imposed standards of excellence that guide musical artistry. The challenge is to craft a narrative for business and economic life that issues from a higher, more noble vantage point.

    On the one hand,...

  8. Chapter 4 Trust, Personhood, and the Soul of an Enterprise
    (pp. 123-145)

    We now turn our attention to two interwoven relationships. The first concerns the way moral virtue and character of individual businesspersons— flesh-and-blood human beings—relate to virtue and character of business enterprises, assuming such enterprises are even capable of displaying such moral features. Addressing this relationship raises several difficult questions: Are corporations moral persons in some sense? Can they, like humans, display virtues and vices? Do corporations have a distinctive and authentic character? Are they, as artificial legal entities, the kind of things that are worthy of receiving our trust?

    The second relationship concerns how moral virtue, with its mainly...

  9. Chapter 5 Discerning a Higher Law
    (pp. 146-164)

    The moral order pertaining to economic life in the free market provides a normative backdrop for business conduct, which includes not only principles and norms but also human goods and virtue.

    Proponents of human rights and other ethical pronouncements for business often neglect consideration of an important point. Someone might agree that human rights exist, yet wonder why we cannot simply speak of an institution violating, or honoring, them. What does reference to moral law add? The answer is that what needs to be shown is not simply that business enterprises and the people in them should respect human rights...

  10. Chapter 6 Polycentered Phronēsis
    (pp. 165-189)

    Business moves within an intricate web of norms. The corpus of norms along with the practices they prescribe, which we characterized in Chapter 3 as lex artis, arise from sundry institutional sources: corporate codes and national, regional, and international legal systems; norms also originate from diverse nongovernmental elements, together with multicultural influences. So although the ethical businessperson may display essentially the same sort of morally virtuous characteristics that Aristotle so penetratingly analyzed, to exercise virtue today means contending with a context that is densely populated with normative entities and institutions whose existence would have been unimaginable in ancient times. Our...

  11. Chapter 7 Moral-Cultural Undertones of the Financial Crisis
    (pp. 190-221)

    When diagnosing the financial crisis one should take care in framing the terms of discourse. Ever since the signs of economic collapse began appearing, it has been commonplace for pundits as well as the general public to call the fiscal meltdown a “crisis,” a term that conveniently carries no ascription of moral disapprobation. Yet, after one has reckoned the extensive list of both personal and corporate malfeasances that have played a significant role in precipitating the financial turmoil and paid heed to the underlying cultural-moral factors accompanying the wrongdoing, a more apt description would be “scandal,” a term that implies...

  12. Chapter 8 Symphony of Soft Law
    (pp. 222-252)

    Global civil society primarily demands that businesses abide norms of social responsibility in their pursuit of profit. This emphasis on the “character” of transnational business conduct is a departure from the entrenched metaphor that sees corporations as amoral profit machines, devoid of moral character, virtue, or probity.¹ The fact that transnational firms adopt civil regulations voluntarily to build credibility in the eyes of global civil society—that is, the fact that firms proactively comply with the new global social contract—presupposes that international businesses and the people that run them are able to exercise virtue in distinguishing moral choices and...

  13. Chapter 9 Theme and Variations
    (pp. 253-274)

    Over time, judgments issuing from stakeholders about what is right and what is wrong change. Sage business leaders must remain keenly attuned to the alterations. Of course, it goes without saying that the principles upon which the voices of stakeholders are raised are not necessarily sacrosanct. They might fail the hypernorm test. We often forget that some stakeholder groups are just special-interest groups. While some of their voices sing sweet melodies wrought from virtue, others bellow Sirens’ songs borne of greed, nastiness, or naïveté.

    Regardless of the origins and legitimacy of these stakeholder voices, they often undergo revision by cultural...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 275-284)

    Contemporary market economies across the globe have attained significant success thanks to their ability to establish the rule of law, free trade, and technological innovation. Yet these accomplishments, worthy as they are, are inadequate for generating deeper human associations and shared meanings necessary for the ecology of the market to be sustained. What is required is a viewpoint on the meaning of human existence compelling enough to rise above the nihilistic detractors of postmodern culture, which threaten the foundations of the free-market economy.

    Moral strength is the foundation of all human accomplishments. Yet such strength depends on there being shared...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 285-350)
  16. Index
    (pp. 351-357)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 358-358)