Business Ethics Course Consistent with Inspirational Paradigm’s Major Themes: Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA)

Richard A. Spinello
September 9, 2021
Strategy & General Management, Ethics & Social Justice
8 pages
ethics, Business Ethics, business, leadership, Corporate, ethical challenges, capitalism, integrity, academic integrity, catholic, Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic Social Teaching and Business, Moral, Justice, finance, marketing, loyalty, work
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At the center of Jesuit business education should be a business ethics course with a distinct Catholic and Jesuit orientation.  Many secular business schools offer superior business ethics courses that enhance their respective curriculums.  There are excellent textbooks, cases, and scholarly articles that can be adopted for these courses.  Business ethics pedagogy has improved dramatically over the past several decades thanks to the work of productive scholars and organizations such as the Society for Business Ethics. 

Jesuit and Catholic business schools offer these courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But the majority of them, though undoubtedly of high quality, do not emphasize Catholic themes or include Catholic social doctrine.  Hence, they fall short of implementing the “inspirational paradigm” proposed by the IAJU.  This state of affairs is regrettable since the Church has ample resources that can greatly enrich these courses and better satisfy the “hungers” or “desires” identified in that paradigm.  If Jesuit business schools want to excel in satisfying the “hunger for a moral compass” they should not offer the usual business ethics courses found in secular institutions.  They should instead offer something with a different flavor, that is, with an emphasis on how one can live out the vocation to business in an exemplary way.  Arguably, natural law theory is a superior way to satisfy this “hunger” than other ethical theories.

One way to accomplish this task is use of my book on business ethics recently published by SAGE, Business Ethics:  Contemporary Issues and Cases (2019).  This book provides an interdisciplinary approach that integrates disciplines like political philosophy, sociology, and history (cf. “hunger for integrated knowledge”).  It includes some background on capitalism and the nature of the corporation along with theoretical tools for ethical analysis.  The chapter on the corporation dwells on corporate purpose and envisions the corporation as a “community of persons” in pursuit of a common good.  That common good is efficient economic cooperation in the value-creation process, and fairness to all participants, who contribute to that process.   There are also a number of concise briefings on ethical and management issues that may be unfamiliar to students (such as intellectual property rights).  Several cases, such as “Hobby Lobby,” deal with the question of corporations and religious liberty where instructors have an opportunity to introduce Catholic doctrine on material and formal cooperation.  Others deal with familiar themes such as honesty in marketing, fair pricing for pharmaceutical products, product safety, ethical responsibilities to investors, environmental sustainability, employee rights, etc.  One section is devoted to international social justice issues such as fair wages, bribery and corruption in foreign markets, and the scope of political activism permissible for multinationals (satisfying the “hunger” for a global paradigm).

This comprehensive book is ideally suited for business ethics courses at Jesuit business schools.  While I have avoided the introduction of distinctly Catholic themes for obvious reasons, the book can be easily adapted for a business ethics course with a Catholic/Jesuit orientation.  For example, the book presents a rights and duty based approach to ethics, arguing that those rights are grounded in basic human goods. More fundamental than either rights or duties, and indispensable for rationally determining what rights people have, are the first principles of practical reason which identify basic reasons for action directing us towards those basic human goods.  This is basically natural law (though I don’t call it that).  An instructor could easily extend the material in this chapter to review natural law theory and its relevance for the business world.  The essay included in the toolkit, “New Natural Law and Business Ethics,” will help instructors accomplish this task (addressing the “hunger” for a viable moral compass).

Second, the chapter on capitalism presents both sides of the debate on capitalism’s merits.  It provokes students to ask a key question:  is the capitalist system they are positioned to enter designed properly for the long-term?  This issue could be supplemented with Catholic social doctrine, particularly the writings of Popes Leo XIII, John Paul II, and Francis.  The essay included in the toolkit, “Catholic Social Doctrine and a Tale of Two Popes,” will provide some context for addressing this theme.

Society’s conflicting views over capitalism are crystallized to some extent in the writings of Pope John Paul II, who enthusiastically embraced capitalism over collectivism, and Pope Francis who is more wary about global capitalism.  St. John Paul II supported the need to preserve a free market, which best allows people to make proper use of their freedom and creativity while cooperating with others.  At the same time, he opposed unbridled capitalism that disregards the rights of others in the pursuit of profit.  What’s needed is the proper balance, which is set forth in his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus.  Pope Francis, on the other hand, has not concealed his affinity for socialist leaders in countries like Argentina, and expressed alarm over the “dominion of capital” in modern society. These concerns clearly surface in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, which has a distinctly different tone than Centesimus Annus.  Our business students should read at least portions of both encyclicals.

Throughout the rest of the book there are multiple opportunities to “extend” each chapter into a discussion of issues with a Catholic/Jesuit orientation.  Instructors can find examples for how to do this through the “Sample Syllabus” and the “Annotated Bibliography.”