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When Not Knowing is a Virtue: A Business Ethics Perspective


  • Joanna Crossman


  • Vijayta Doshi



How leaders and managers respond to not knowing is highly relevant given the complex, ambiguous, and chaotic business environment of the twenty-first century. Drawing on the literature from a variety of disciplines, the paper explores the dominant, unfavorable conceptualization of not knowing. The authors present some potential ethical implications of a negative view of not knowing and suggest how organizations would benefit from identifying any unhelpful aspects of the culture that may encourage unethical, undesirable, and/or hasty actions in situations of not knowing. The paper specifically illustrates how patience, courage, honesty, integrity, and humility are integral to negative capability in the contexts of not knowing. Finally, the paper calls for deeper inquiry into the role of virtue ethics in preparing managers and leaders for not knowing and urges organizations to embrace negative capability in not knowing rather than engaging in damaging delusion. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Suggested Citation

  • Joanna Crossman & Vijayta Doshi, 2015. "When Not Knowing is a Virtue: A Business Ethics Perspective," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 1-8, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:131:y:2015:i:1:p:1-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-014-2267-8

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Edwin Hartman, 2008. "Socratic Questions and Aristotelian Answers: A Virtue-Based Approach to Business Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 78(3), pages 313-328, March.
    2. William Bishop, 2013. "The Role of Ethics in 21st Century Organizations," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 118(3), pages 635-637, December.
    3. Joanna Crossman & Hiroko Noma, 2013. "Sunao as Character: Its Implications for Trust and Intercultural Communication Within Subsidiaries of Japanese Multinationals in Australia," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 113(3), pages 543-555, March.
    4. Boudewijn Bruin, 2013. "Epistemic Virtues in Business," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 113(4), pages 583-595, April.
    5. Michael Palanski & Surinder Kahai & Francis Yammarino, 2011. "Team Virtues and Performance: An Examination of Transparency, Behavioral Integrity, and Trust," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 99(2), pages 201-216, March.
    6. Felix Martin, 2011. "Human Development and the Pursuit of the Common Good: Social Psychology or Aristotelian Virtue Ethics?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 100(1), pages 89-98, March.
    7. Mats Alvesson & André Spicer, 2012. "A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(7), pages 1194-1220, November.
    8. Fahri Karakas, 2010. "Spirituality and Performance in Organizations: A Literature Review," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 94(1), pages 89-106, June.
    9. Ali Intezari & David Pauleen, 2014. "Management Wisdom in Perspective: Are You Virtuous Enough to Succeed in Volatile Times?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 120(3), pages 393-404, March.
    10. Mats Alvesson, 2011. "De‚ÄźEssentializing the Knowledge Intensive Firm: Reflections on Sceptical Research Going against the Mainstream," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(7), pages 1640-1661, November.
    11. Joanne Roberts & John Armitage, 2008. "The Ignorance Economy," Prometheus, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 26(4), pages 335-354.
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