Justice as a point of equipoise: an Aristotelian approach to contemporary corporate ethics
How can contemporary companies and corporations, necessarily operating within market-derived norms, act justly in their dealings? Why should they care about doing so? I claim in this thesis that Aristotle’s conception of general justice provides an answer to these questions and, claiming the necessity of justice to all ethical deliberation, I propose it as a practicable foundation for the such organizations’ ethics. I argue that Aristotle’s eudaimonic metaphysics can plausibly be brought to bear on contemporary dilemmas in corporate ethics; and that his particularist approach to ethical deliberation justifies a conception of justice as a point of equipoise, found along several dimensions, always evanescent and demanding of constant attention. Acknowledging the dominance of deontological and utilitarian thinking in contemporary business ethics, I propose an Aristotelian, eudaimonic approach which rests on his teleology and the place of virtue within it. I argue for the primacy of justice as an ethical concern and claim that Aristotle’s conception of general (as opposed to particular) justice provides a plausible basis for creating a justice-based corporate ethic. I claim that Aristotelian general justice is analogous to the ancient concept of dikaiosyne , which can be loosely translated into vernacular English as ‘doing the right thing’. In chapter 1, I outline the problem I am seeking to address, namely the proliferation of conceptions of justice with which contemporary companies and corporations are expected to deal. I identify two dominant strands of thinking, roughly corresponding to the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ in post-French Revolution politics, positing Rawls and Hayek, respectively, as representatives of these traditions. I place companies and corporations within the context of the market – based theories and conventions that underpin contemporary capitalism. In Chapter 2, I introduce Aristotle’s teleology and the metaphysics from which he derives his approach to justice. Following his metaphysics, I argue that justice is an ineradicable concern for human beings if they are to have a chance of living a eudaimonic life; and that collective entities such as companies and corporations can partake of these metaphysics, because of the relationship between the collective and the individual. In chapter 3, I summarize Aristotle’s approach to justice and propose an interpretation of Aristotelian general justice as a point of equipoise, balanced along many dimensions, and, drawing on his Doctrine of the Mean, consisting in a ‘mean of means’. I argue that general justice is the whole of virtue and that it can be conceptualized in a way that can support ethical deliberations in contemporary companies and corporations. In chapter 4, I examine the ways in which justice can be considered in the light of modern schematics of justice, and how this takes place in companies and corporations. I consider the dominant concerns that need to be addressed by any plausible approach to justice in contemporary market economies, such as desert and inequality; and propose ways of considering aspects of contemporary corporate life, such as investments and profits, in terms of Aristotelian general justice. In chapter 5, I consider six intuitively obvious objections to my thesis, namely: that globalization, financialization and the advent of the internet have, respectively and in different ways, rendered it anachronistic; that companies and corporations have no counterparts in the Ancient World, as they are products of industrial capitalism; that the setting for Aristotle’s philosophy, the Ancient Greek polis, is irrelevant to modern life; and that Aristotle’s character-based ethics are elitist and therefore incompatible with contemporary meritocratic norms. I conclude with some practical proposals for basing corporate ethics on my conception of Aristotelian justice as a point of equipoise.