From Homo-economicus to Homo-virtus: A System-Theoretic Model for Raising Moral Self-Awareness

Journal of Business Ethics 155 (1):191-205 (2019)
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There is growing concern that a global economic system fueled predominately by financial incentives may not maximize human flourishing and social welfare externalities. If so, this presents a challenge of how to get economic actors to adopt a more virtuous motivational mindset. Relying on historical, psychological, and philosophical research, we show how such a mindset can be instilled. First, we demonstrate that historically, financial self-interest has never in fact been the only guiding motive behind free markets, but that markets themselves are representations of our individual and collective moral identities. Building on this understanding, we review the research on how economic incentives crowd out virtue-oriented concerns. We then introduce the concept of moral self-awareness (MSA), an evolving mindset informed by reflection on moral identity, namely what one’s actions say about oneself given the impacts on others or society that one’s action may effect. MSA comprises three fundamental aspects of virtue-oriented reasoning: pride, shame, and guilt. Finally, we offer a four-stage model anchored in systems theory, yielding ever more refined motivating strategies for maximizing human flourishing and social welfare externalities.

Author's Profile

Julian Friedland
Metropolitan State University of Denver


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