Business Ethics, Sharpened

Article excerpt

HARDY BOUILLON. Business Ethics ant the Austrian Tradition in Economics. ROUTLEDGE. 192 PAGES. $60,000.

IT IS SOMEWHAT unfortunate that the English title of this book does not immediately attract the interest of the large readership it definitely deserves. Hardy Bouillon's Business Ethics and the Austrian Tradition in Economics is a hugely rewarding read and arguably ranks among the most important contributions to the field of business ethics in recent years. It is demanding, and a long overdue and serious challenge to a subject that not only suffers from the slippery vagueness of its customary terminology but is also still firmly in the grip of self-appointed ethicists and moralists. Apparently a deliberate ambiguity and the prevailing zeitgeist pay off politically as well as in academic circles. The book was originally published in German as volume IX of the ECAEF book series "Studien zur Wirtschafts- and Gesellschaftsor-dnung" and is now available in this splendid translation. Bouillon is one of Germany's leading social philosophers and currently professor of philosophy at the University of Trier (an old, midsized town in the triangle of France, Luxembourg, and Germany). He also serves as director for institutional research at the University, Vienna, and as academic deputy director for the New Direction Foundation, a new think tank based in Brussels. His numerous books and essays have been translated into several languages, including Chinese.

This book is not politically correct and thus will almost certainly provoke some heated debates. In the course of four chapters, with short concluding remarks in the fifth, Bouillon offers here quite a few original insights and explanations to the understanding of business ethics and its decisive central part, namely the definition of a morally just economic action.

After all, can such vaguely defined slogans as "corporate social responsibility," the ubiquitous word "sustain-ability," or the equally insuppressible phrase "social justice" really provide for a productive discussion in business ethics? Unlike the majority of authors in the field, Bouillon takes a firm stand and confronts the current semantic and

HARDY BOUILLN. Business Ethics and the Austrian Tradition in Economics. 192. PAGES. $60.00. intellectual confusion by contesting the most decisive part of business ethics: justice in moral economic actions. He leaves no doubt that business ethics as an academic discipline presents itself mostly as politically biased and only on rare occasions as a science grounded in logic following clear definitions.

Thus, through detailed examinations of the basic assumptions of the body of current business ethics, right from the start Bouillon unrelentingly points out the various shortcomings within the subject, which are due to the sloppy and unconvincing language used by most contemporary ethicists. The philosophically untrained reader will be grateful not only for Bouillon's gentle and clear step by step introduction to the world of precise philosophic thinking but also his reminder of the implication compliance rule, which is increasingly ignored. According to this principle, a logical conclusion may never have an implication that is not already implied in the subject. Or as he puts it: "a logical conclusion may not smuggle in new information and claim validity at the same time." This is especially important for his discussion of the distinction between the empirical and normative aspects of business ethics. In order to follow his arguments it is also important to understand his newly introduced term "methodological individualist ethics," which he describes as an ethics that corresponds with one of the main methodological pillars of the Austrian School of economics, namely its methodological individualism (a term coined in 1908 by Joseph A. Schumpeter). Unlike established business ethics, which asserts that there is a moral connection within enterprises, or nations, or any other entity, Bouillon argues that only human beings and their deeds can be categorized as moral. …