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The Business of Business Ethics Lessons from Foucault

Abstract
Business ethics, as perceived by CEOs and industry leaders, is in the
business of classifying what is ethical, and is therefore too narrowly focused
on elucidating, developing, and elaborating codes of conduct. What this
means is that even though many organizations have woken up to the
importance of ethics, they are locked in by the constraints placed on them by
the conception of business ethics as being, in essence, about collective codes
of conduct, company value statements and so on. As a result of this, business
ethics as it is understood in industry, is perhaps not well suited to the unique
working conditions we face due to the confusion of lightning-quick, ubiquitous
changes being brought about by technology, the Internet and so forth as we
launch ourselves into the 21st century.
In this paper, I argue that by giving Foucault more credence as a legitimate
voice in business ethics studies, we will be able to move beyond the
deontological and consequentialist ethical theories that are preoccupied with
the elucidation of moral codes and the morality of behaviours in the corporate
world, but without denying codes of conduct entirely.
I believe that we can take from Foucault, and in particular from his
understanding of the technologies of the self, an ethical understanding that
is focused on a greater awareness of self-subjectification and self-governance
- on the manager first and foremost as an ever-evolving ethical actor
operating, with a certain amount of freedom, within normative organizational
structures. Seeing business ethics from this perspective will have the effect of
redirecting the management of ethics away from compliance, and place a
greater emphasis on the ethical and moral capacities of the individual
manager, thereby effectively situating business ethics somewhere between
individual morality and organizationally prescribed values and codes. (Crane
et al., 2008, pg.313; Ibarra-Colado et al., 2006, pg.45)
I also want to argue that Foucaults concept of the care of the self, which
ultimately culminates in what he refers to as an aesthetics of existence,
ultimately bears a striking resemblance to contemporary virtue ethics (Levy,
2004, pg.20), but with some profound differences as regards the constitution
of the ethical subject.
This paper therefore explores how business ethics may be approached from
this new Foucauldian perspective, and how this perspective can be
supplemented and fortified through the parallel consideration of virtue ethics,
and vice versa. I do so in the hopes that this approach will offer an alternative
way of thinking about business ethics that could be useful to organizations
and business managers in terms of navigating the ethical landscape of our
globalized, networked and high-tech 21 st century world something which has
become a great necessity due to the unprecedented speed at which new
ethical dilemmas emerge from technological advances, and the diminishing
scope of appropriate codes of conduct for guiding managers through some of
these dilemmas.

Keywords
Michel Foucault; business ethics; subjectification; care of the self; virtue ethics
References:
Crane, A., Knights, D. and Starkey, K. (2008). The conditions of our freedom:
Foucault, organization and ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly. 18 (3), 299-320.
Dixon, M.A. (2007). Expanding the inheritance of Michel Foucault in
organizational studies. Management Communication Quarterly 20 (3), 283296.
Floridi, L. (2009). Network ethics: Information and business ethics in a
networked society. Journal of Business Ethics. 90, 649-659.
Ibarra-Colado, E., et al. (2006). The ethics of managerial subjectivity. Journal
of Business Ethics. 64, 45-55.
Levy, N. (2004). Foucault as Virtue Ethicist. Foucault Studies. 1, 20-31.

About the author


Mickie de Wet is a PhD student at Universidade da Beira Interior, working on
a dissertation on Foucault and Business Ethics.
She is also a lecturer in Maritime English and English for Transport and
Logistics and Port Management at Escola Nautica Infante D. Henrique.