By Laszlo Zsolnai
Ethics, Meaning and Market Society explores the underlying causes of the pervasive dominance of ‘unethics’ in contemporary affairs in economics, business, and society. It is argued that the state of unethics is related to the overexpansion of market and market values in all spheres of social life and human activities. A correlate of this development is the emergence of an extremely individualistic, materialistic and narcissistic mind-set that dictates the decisions and behavior of people and organizations.
The author argues that art can help to overcome the dominant market metaphysics of our age, as genuine art creates models of 'poetic dwelling,' which can generate non-linear, progressive change that opens up a larger playing field for ethics. Aesthetics and ethics go hand in hand. Ethical action is not just right for its own sake, but makes the world a richer, livable and more beautiful place.
Ethics, Meaning, and Market Society will be of interest to students at an advanced level, academics, researchers and professionals. It addresses the topics with regard to ethics in economics, business, and society in a contemporary context.
About Laszlo Zsolnai
Laszlo Zsolnai is Professor and Director of the Business Ethics Center at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary. He also serves as President of the European SPES Institute in Leuven, Belgium.
Table of Contents + Abstracts of Parts
Part 1: Why Unethics?
Globalization, privatization and financialization are the new conditions for late modernity/contemporary capitalism, which inhibit economic actors from behaving in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way. The overexpansion of the market and the dominance of market logic in all spheres of social life is the main underlying cause of the ‘ills’ of our age. When utility considerations continue to precede aesthetics and ethics in our decisions and actions then utility itself will be destroyed. If we desire to live in a rich, sustainable and well-functioning world, we must give priority to beauty and ethics over utility.
- Introduction: Market Overreach.
Part 2: The Mechanism of Unethics
There are two interrelated problems as concerns market effects on human activity. One is that the dominance of extrinsic forms of motivation (especially money) may crowd out the intrinsic motivation of actors, leading to a decrease in the quality of the output of such activity. The other is that measuring the success of activity by using a one-dimensional term such as monetary value may distort the goal of activity and result in socially and ecologically degrading outcomes. The substantive view of the economy suggests that cost-benefit calculations should not be used to decide the rightness of human activities. Only by using substantive criteria (ethics, sustainability, pro-socialness) can we guarantee that human activities are ‘right.’ Not money-making, but the provision of a sustainable livelihood is the primary function of economic activity.
- The Market and the Corruption of Activities
- When the Invisible Hand Fails
- Moral Disengagement
Part 3: Nature and Future Generations
The overreach of market activities and moral disengagement of economic players has led to the currently devastating state of the Human-Earth system, characterized by climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse on the one hand, and social inequality, mass poverty and social disorder on the other. The encyclical letter of Pope Francis, Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home, represents an excellent opportunity to build a conversation between ethics, economics and ecology about sustainable development. Important suggestions by the Pope include encouraging frugality of consumption and acknowledging the intrinsic value of nature. The crucial question concerns how to develop the ecological sensitivity and responsiveness of people at different levels of organizations, and how then to translate the emerging ecological consciousness into effective and caring organizational practices that will help organizations develop a culture of Earth Citizenship.
- Integral Ecology and Future Earth
- Nurturing Place
- The Fate of Future Generations
Part 4: Business and Economics
The stakeholder management paradigm is a core pillar of business, providing management with a frame of reference to connect ethics and business. Stakeholder management is the suggested cure for the social, ethical and environmental malfunctioning of business. According to this perspective, the effective management of stakeholders is a strategic activity that is necessary for success, as it generates value for shareholders and ensures the long-term survival and sustainability of an organization. But there are two interrelated problems with the stakeholder approach: (i) the narrow conception of stakeholders, and (ii) the fallibility of the stakeholders concerning their own well-being. We should evaluate the activities of organizations from the perspective of nature, from the perspective of society and from the perspective of future generations. The general responsibility of business and other organizations is to contribute to the conservation and restoration of the natural world, to the development of the capabilities of members of society and to the enhancement of the freedom of future generations.
- The Fallacy of Stakeholder Management
- Economic Ethics and World Religions
- Beyond Self
Part 5: The Richness of Life
The core of market metaphysics is calculative thinking that defines and measures everything as a marketable resource. This position is highly destructive both for the subject and the object of economic activities. To preserve nature and to satisfy real human needs, gentle, careful ways of undertaking economic activity are needed. Poetic dwelling models inspired by great art can influence organizations and people to transform themselves into responsive and caring agents. The great paradox of values is that if utility considerations precede beauty and ethics, then utility itself will be destroyed. If we wish to live in a sustainable and human world, we should prioritize beauty and ethics over utility.
- Art Can Save the World