A Kantian Program for Contemporary Issues in Business Ethics
Woof, William Thomas
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Theoretical approaches to business ethics have been dominated by empirically oriented ethical theories that largely follow in the Enlightenment tradition whereby ethical theories play only a supportive role. However, recent problems have emerged in business that are largely systemic in nature and may have significant and longstanding impacts that are social, political and economic in nature. Climate change and resource depletion are included in these problems, as are recurrent financial crises. These problems would indicate that ethical theory could be playing a more significant role. Kantian ethical theory has been revived over the past thirty years, thanks to the work of John Rawls. However, Rawls has given Kantian theory a largely empirical orientation to make it more acceptable to mainstream currents of thought. Recently, there has been a movement in Kant studies away from this Rawlsian approach towards more metaphysically oriented patterns in Kant's philosophy, particularly in his ethical, political and social contract theory. This dissertation explores the possibility that these new streams of Kantian research could be applied to business ethics with respect to these structural problems and issues. More specifically it investigates the use of the precautionary principle as a viable approach to business problems in concert with the use of preventative strategies. It is further suggested that the precautionary principle could be used in conjunction with the doctrine of double effect as applied to principles rather than actual events. The dissertation then provides a detailed examination of the emergence of structural problems that relate to issues in the natural world (climate change, resource depletion) and in finance. For the latter, a case study is built around Long Term Capital Management, a hedge fund that failed in 1998 and which generated significant potential instability in financial markets. It is argued that these structural problems can build up over long periods of time and create disruptions between short and long term considerations. They also generate considerable uncertainty and make risk calculation more difficult. The dissertation concludes by building a Kantian model as the basis for analyzing problems of this nature.