2009 - 2012
Research project leader: Professor Marja-Liisa Kakkuri-Knuuttila
Title: Business Ethics and Its Philosophical Foundations
Site of research: Department of Marketing and Management (Philosophy), Aalto University School of Business
Philosophy plays a central role in business ethics as the source of moral theories which are applied to the context of business organizations and markets. Our project argues that also political philosophy is relevant to business ethics because it determines normatively appropriate roles for political institutions, corporations, and individuals in society and economy. It is relevant also because it defines a normatively appropriate conception of property rights. The project seeks to answer three questions. (1) What kind of political philosophy is implicit in theories of corporate social responsibility (henceforth CSR)? (2) What conceptions of CSR are morally justifiable? (3) What conceptions of CSR are relevant to the context of the Nordic welfare state, especially in Finland?
The project will focus on three traditions in political philosophy, the liberal egalitarian (e.g. John Rawls), the libertarian (e.g., Robert Nozick), and the Aristotelian tradition (e.g. Martha Nussbaum). The project will examine two major approaches to CSR, Milton Friedman’s minimal and R. Edward Freeman’s extensive conception of CSR. In many countries an extensive CSR is heralded as a morally superior alternative to a minimal CSR. However, in the context of the Nordic welfare state it is far from self-evident that an extensive CSR will be perceived as morally and politically justified. The mere suggestion that CSR should be extended to the domain of the welfare state is likely to raise mixed reactions. Therefore, there is a need to address the philosophical question of whether an extensive CSR is morally justifiable (instead of just following international trends in CSR). This question is urgent especially in Finland where a number of social and political scientists claim that the responsibilities of the welfare state are shifted to corporations, other non-governmental organizations (such as religious communities), and individual citizens.
Our tentative hypothesis is that both minimal and extensive conceptions of CSR presuppose a libertarian tradition in political philosophy where political institutions are assumed to play a minimal role in society and economy. Our aim is to develop an alternative which is consistent with the liberal egalitarian tradition, morally justifiable (given Nussbaum’s capability approach to ethics), and relevant to the context of Finland.
Our research group consists of seven members (2 males and 5 females) who are in different stages in their research careers: two graduate students (Asikainen and Sarlio-Siintola), two post-doctoral researchers (Mäkinen and Päivänsalo), two senior researchers (Rolin and Yeung), and the project leader (Kakkuri-Knuuttila). Our research group aims to make a multidisciplinary contribution to business ethics by coordinating the activities of researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds: philosophy, theology (social ethics), and sociology.