Virtue ethics in business and the capabilities approach

  • Bertland A
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Recently, Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum have developed the capabilities approach to provide a model for understanding the effectiveness of programs to help the developing nations. The approach holds that human beings are fundamentally free and have a sense of human dignity. Therefore, institutions need to help people enhance this dignity by providing them with the opportunity to develop their capabilities freely. I argue that this approach may help support business ethics based on virtue. Since teleology has become problematic, virtue ethics has had difficulty giving itself an ultimate justification. By combining virtue ethics with the capabilities approach, it becomes possible to ground vir- tue ethics on the basis of the existence of human dignity. This frees virtue ethics of the need for a strict teleology, replacing it with the notion that people must work to develop the capabilities of others although those capa- bilities are not pointed toward a definite goal. I further suggest that by grounding virtue ethics in capabilities, the actions of a virtuous manager become clearer. Rather than simply charging a manager with serving the public, the manager is charged with serving the stakeholders in a way that develops their capabilities. For example, a manager should not just give their employees what is just but must give them the environment and the encour- agement to grow and to find fulfillment in their job.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Business ethics
  • Capabilities approach
  • Nussbaum
  • Sen
  • Solomon
  • Virtue ethics

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  • Alexander Bertland

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