Research Paper On Christian Ethics


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Christian ethics applied to social–economic life started with the very beginning of Christianity, as a renewed continuation of Jewish morals, in both intellectual developments and practice (Charles 1998). Over time, a number of Christian thinkers have made significant contributions on ethics in business centuries before the current movement of business ethics, particularly from the thirteenth century (Melé 2013; Schlag 2013). In the sixteenth century, theologians of the School of Salamanca, such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolome de las Casas made a strong defense of universal human rights (Hoffmann-Holland 2009) with implications for labor. Some authors of this school actively worked on moral issues of business and finance, such as how to do business in accordance with Christian ethics. They generally followed Thomas Aquinas, who included the Moral Natural Law—accessible to reason at least its basic principles—within a moral system based on virtues. Scholastic doctrine included morality on contracts, financial transaction, just price and market morality, and others (Chafuen 1986; Melé 1999, 2016; Azevedo Alves and Moreira 2010, 2013).

Scholasticism is still alive and can make significant contributions to the business ethics field1. In this issue, Lamberto Zollo, Massimiliano M. Pellegrini, and Cristiano Ciappei go back to Scholastic thought and discuss the interplay between moral intuition and moral reasoning in decision-making. They argue that nowadays the traditional rationalist framework of ethical decision-making has been challenged by recent psychological and managerial literature, which stresses the importance of unconscious elements of decision makers’ cognition, such as intuition and emotions. They interpret moral intuition as an antecedent of the ethical decision-making process, to be blended with the traditional moral reasoning or the deliberative and intentional process. In particular, they use the Scholastic concept of synderesis, defined by Aquinas as “the law of our intellect insofar as it is the habit that contains the precepts of natural law, that is, the first principles of human actions” (1981[1273], I-II, q. 94, a. 2). This innate human faculty constantly inclines decision makers toward the discovery of the human good and consequently to universal moral principles. The authors integrate synderesis into a framework that attempts to combine the intuitionist and rationalist perspectives with virtue ethics and then apply the result to ethical decision-making.

Related with Scholasticism also, a second paper, authored by Grant Michelson and Sandrine Fremeaux, analyzes two emerging models of business through the lenses of the common good—a central concept in Scholasticism with Aristotelian roots—and humanistic management: Conscious Capitalism and the Economy of Communion. The authors try to show how the pursuit of the common good of the firm can serve as a guide for humanistic management through two principles: first, community good is a condition for the realization of personal good; and second community good can only be promoted if it is oriented toward personal good. They argue that both Conscious Capitalism and Economy of Communion strive to participate in the common good, although they differ in their respective manners of linking community good and personal good.

In the twentieth century, Christian Churches, and particularly the Roman Catholic Church, have championed many relevant moral issues connected to business ethics. A personalistic view of work within the organization and some labor rights were defended by Pope Leo XIII (1891). More recently, the Catholic Church Magisterium has promoted other significant insights and has formulated principles for reflection, criteria for judgment, and guidelines for action. From the fundamental commandment of love and natural law, CST energetically defends human dignity, innate human rights, integral human development, and the relevance of the common good as a reference for moral legitimacy of the social order (John XXIII 1963; PCJP 2004; Benedict XVI 2009, nos. 1-19).

In addition, CST has pioneered a number of relevant concepts, some of which are now patrimony of business ethics. Among these, we find the consideration of business as a community (John XXIII 1961, n. 91; John Paul II 1991, nos. 32, 35, 43), the common good as criterion for legitimization of business and the market (John Paul II 1991, n. 32, 35, 43; Benedict XVI 2009, n. 36), the principle of subsidiarity (Pius XI 1931, nos.184–6; John Paul II 1991 , n. 48), the centrality of human development beyond economic development (Paul VI 1967, n. 14) and “integral human development” (Paul VI 1967, n. 14; Benedict XVI 2009), the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice (John Paul II 1991, n. 36), the principle of gratuity in business (Benedict XVI 2009, nos. 34, 36), and business as a noble vocation (Francis 2015, n. 129; PCJP 2012). More recently, Pope Francis has introduced concepts such as our “common home” (Francis 2015, n. 1) by referring to our planet, the concept of “integral ecology” (Francis 2015, n. 132), and stressed the ideas of responsible stewardship over nature (Benedict XVI 2009, n. 50; Francis 2015, n. 116) and sustainability (Benedict XVI 2009, nos. 27, 40; Francis 2015, nos. 50, 207).

This issue contains three papers that establish a dialogue between CST and theoretical and practical approaches to business management. This dialogue opens horizons to improving theories and practices. Thus, Martijn Cremers argues that three pillars of Catholic Social Teaching—human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity—can help in re-thinking corporate governance and even provide an alternative to “standard” agency theory. He finds this mainstream management theory problematic due to both economic limitations (asymmetric information, contract completeness, and the need for coordination through explicit power or hierarchies) and human limitations (bounded rationality, opportunism, and behaviorism). Cremers argues that these three pillars can affect three functions of corporate governance: the compass function, providing the set of values to guide the firm’s strategy toward its contributions to human flourishing; the commitment function, which involves the coordination (the ‘binding’) toward cooperation with all stakeholders in solidarity; and the criteria function, which defines what constitutes excellence in the firm’s practice both regarding external markets and internal performance.

On his part, Horacio E. Rousseau shows how establishing a dialogue between the ethical perspectives of CST on environmental ethics and the managerial view of the natural-resource-based view of the firm (NRBV) raises new possibilities for studying the complex, multi-dimensional process of corporate sustainability. In particular, he proposes integrating CST in this latter approach by considering the importance of CST in developing executive moral competences, which include moral sensitivity, moral cognition, and motivation for ecology and sustainability. These moral competences, in turn, influence the organizational selection of environmental strategies, giving leaders the intrinsic motivation to promote both a longer-term stance on corporate sustainability efforts and a relentless search for greener business models.

Finally, a paper written by Bénédicte de Peyrelongue, Olivier Masclef, Catherine Gbedolo, and Valérie Guillard focuses on “gratuitous giving” as a relevant concept anchored in CST, and ultimately in Christian love, to rethink consumer behavior. They argue that “gratuitous giving” is not only a normative matter. On the contrary, gift exchange theory, based on the circular relation of “giving–receiving–returning,” remains insufficient to explain all of the gift-giving behaviors of consumers. This is due to an exaggerated focus of the mainstream theories on individual behavior and reactions motivated by material satisfaction, without considering that the person is able to act gratuitously on his or her own account, without regard to stimuli. They suggest that we need a more complete anthropological perspective and highlight the importance of considering gratuitousness in all business activities, including marketing. This does not mean abandoning the conventional exchange based on justice, but extending it with gratuity. According to the authors, gratuitous giving is not only a valid theory to explain consumer behaviors, but also an argument for adopting a more realistic anthropology to conceptualize the consumer as a person. This offers a new way to understand consumer behavior and opens a new avenue of inquiry into the field of gift marketing research.

These three papers are aligned with other works which have taken the Christian—or more precisely, Catholic—perspective to analyze or develop some aspects of economic and business ethics. Among these works, there are some related to the economic system and marketplace (Hill and Downers 1997; Jones 1997; Bayer 1999; Longenecker et al. 2004; McDaniel 2011; Gustafson 2013) and business (Magill 1992; Child 1995; Elegido 2003; Kim et al. 2009; Bay et al. 2010; Abela 2014). Others, more specifically, refer to the theory of the firm and the purpose of business (Naughton et al. 1995; Abela 2001; Cortright and Naughton 2002; Lower 2008), to the nature of the firm (Naughton 2006; Melé 2012b), virtues in business (Naughton and Cornwall 2006), and how to manage business from the Christian faith from a theoretical perspective (Naughton 1992; Alford and Naughton 2001), or through case studies (Ibrahim et al. 1991; Lee et al. 2003; Demuijnck 2009; Naughton and Specht 2011). Some works focus on particular aspects of business ethics, such as finances (Booth 2009), environmental (Attfield 2001; Hoffman and Sandelands 2005), marketing (Abela and Murphy 2008), entrepreneurship (Cornwall and Naughton 2003; Naughton and Cornwall 2006, 2009), subsidiarity in business (Melé 2005; Naughton et al. 2015), gratuity in business (Faldetta 2011; McCann 2011; Grassl and Habisch 2011), ethical decision-making (Jackson 2004), and validation of a measure of Judeo-Christian religions in the workplace (Lynn et al. 2009). In addition, several scholars have published collective works (Melé and Dierksmeier 2012; Melé and Schlag 2015) and special issues (Journal of Business Ethics, vol 7, n. 6, 1988; vol 12, n. 12, 1993; vol. 100, supl. no. 1, 2011; Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 7, n. 2, 1997; Journal of Management Development vol. 29, nos. 7–8, 2010).

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