The Virtues of Honorable Business Executives

In Mike Austin (ed.), Virtues in Action: New Essays in Applied Virtue Ethics. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 29-38 (2013)
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Although most cultures have held honorableness to be a virtue of the first importance, contemporary analytic ethicists have just begun to consider honor’s nature and ethical worth. In this essay, I provide an analysis of the honor ethos and apply it to business ethics. Applying honor to business may appear to be a particularly challenging task, since (for reasons I discuss) honor has traditionally been seen as incompatible with commerce. Nonetheless, I argue here that two of the central virtues of the honor ethos—competiveness and magnificence—are perfectly apt ones for rich business executives, who plausibly can be expected to work more for prestige and the thrill of competition than for wealth itself. In addition to making top executives more honorable people, the virtues of competitiveness and magnificence would have positive social effects: honorable competitiveness would intrinsically dispose executives to shun anti-competitive practices, and magnificence would encourage tycoons to redistribute their fortunes voluntarily through philanthropy.
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