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Héctor E. Ramos (PhD Student, DePaul University)

Towards a Mystique of Virtue Ethics in Business: Bergson, De Gaulle, and Moral Leadership in Business

Aristotelian virtue ethics, has usually been the foundation for research into business ethics within the virtue ethics school. There are many benefits to the Aristotelian approach, which continues to be a source of insight, especially when assessing the moral virtues and overall character of individuals within firms, and, of considering their contribution to the political community and beyond as figures whose actions and qualities are worthy of honor, whether as managers, executives, or in other leading roles. In my paper, I do not wish to challenge the insights of Aristotelian virtue ethics, but to elaborate an alternative virtue ethics framework for the analysis and development of virtuous leadership within a business setting. I call this alternative approach Bergsonian virtue ethics, based on the philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859-1941). The late moral philosophy of Henri Bergson, especially elaborated in his final great work, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Les deux sources de la morale et la religion) focuses on the mystical wellspring of the moral actions of singular heroes and saints, and their ability to transform closed societies and static religions into open societies and dynamic religions, thereby expanding the moral range of human action, and inspiring other individuals to perform great deeds of love and charity, which go beyond the ordinary limits of lawfully sanctioned and required social ethics, while reinvigorating existing societies, rather than destroying them. A figure who was deeply influenced by Bergson’s philosophy, and who also furnished his own alternative conception of the great-souled person (megalopsychos), in writing and in action, was the French hero of the Resistance, Gen. Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle, in his writings such as The Edge of the Sword (Le fil de l’epée), elaborated his idea of the “person of character” (homme de caractère), which provides an alternative both to Nietzschean amorality, and to “classical” virtue ethics, in the form of the person of character. The latter integrates both the Christian and pagan heritage of European ethics, and also conceives of the ethical actor as serving, rather than upending a democratic or liberal order, thereby standing in contrast with both Aristotelian and Nietzschean ethical traditions. In my paper, I aim to use a Bergsonian virtue ethics to conceptualize the Gaullist idea of the person of character, and additionally to apply this Bergsonian-Gaullist idea of the person of character as a dynamic moral exemplar, whose source of moral action is the vital impetus/life force (élan vital). I will apply the hybridized Bergsonian-Gaullist idea of the person of character to the question of virtue ethics in business leadership, using it to embody the virtuous business leader as the acting center for dynamic and inspiring moral action, spiritualizing a specific business setting, and the business world, and, leading to an irresistible radiation of a mystically enkindled fraternal love into the broader community, and the world as such. To this end, I will use examples of heroes and saints drawn from Bergson and De Gaulle, and translate the archetypes there outlined to business contexts.