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The Impossibility of Corporate Ethics – For a Levinasian Approach to Managerial Ethics


  • Corvellec, Hervé

    () (Gothenburg Research Institute)

  • Bevan, David

    () (King's College London)


The moral philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas offers a prospectus of stark impossibility for any programme of business or corporate ethics. It differs from most traditional ethical theories in that for Levinas the ethical develops in a personal meeting of one with the other, rather than residing in some internal deliberation of the moral subject. Levinasian ethics emphasises an infinite personal responsibility arising for each of us in the face of the radical otherness of the Other. It stresses the imperious demand we experience in our humanity to be open to, prepared for and impassioned with that which we may not know, or recognise, about ourselves or about the other. Such a demand transcends our intellectual and/or rational potential, involving us in a carnal and somatic bodily experience of otherness. Consequently, it is questionable whether corporations can even be moral subjects in a Levinasian sense. We assert not only that corporations cannot deal with such a demand, but further that this helps to understand the failure of the business ethics project to date. If we are to speak of Levinasian ethics in any organisational setting, it cannot be a matter of corporate ethics but only a matter of individual managerial ethics. What such an ethics would be like is yet to be outlined and, as a contribution, we propose here a series of questions and injunctions. These questions and injunctions will explicate for individual managers some key terms of a Levinasian practice for which we will propose a vocabulary of otherness, responsibility, proximity, diachrony and justice. This vocabulary will provide managers with insights to an experience of alterity and may encourage them to experience the challenge of radical otherness and the irresistible call to a pre-ontological, timeless and infinite individual ethic.

Suggested Citation

  • Corvellec, Hervé & Bevan, David, 2005. "The Impossibility of Corporate Ethics – For a Levinasian Approach to Managerial Ethics," GRI-rapport 2005:9, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg Research Institute GRI.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhb:gungri:2005_009

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    Cited by:

    1. Max Baker & John Roberts, 2011. "All in the Mind? Ethical Identity and the Allure of Corporate Responsibility," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 5-15, March.
    2. Domènec Melé, 2014. "“Human Quality Treatment”: Five Organizational Levels," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 120(4), pages 457-471, April.
    3. Tommy Jensen, 2010. "Beyond Good and Evil: The Adiaphoric Company," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 96(3), pages 425-434, October.
    4. Guglielmo Faldetta, 2011. "The Logic of Gift and Gratuitousness in Business Relationships," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 100(1), pages 67-77, March.
    5. Mollie Painter-Morland, 2011. "Rethinking Responsible Agency in Corporations: Perspectives from Deleuze and Guattari," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 83-95, March.
    6. David Bevan & Hervé Corvellec & Eric Faÿ, 2011. "Responsibility Beyond CSR," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 1-4, March.
    7. Mar Pérezts & Jean-Philippe Bouilloud & Vincent Gaulejac, 2011. "Serving Two Masters: The Contradictory Organization as an Ethical Challenge for Managerial Responsibility," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 33-44, March.
    8. François-Régis Puyou & Eric Faÿ, 2015. "Cogs in the Wheel or Spanners in the Works? A Phenomenological Approach to the Difficulty and Meaning of Ethical Work for Financial Controllers," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 128(4), pages 863-876, June.
    9. Kevin Gibson, 2011. "Toward an Intermediate Position on Corporate Moral Personhood," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 71-81, March.
    10. Mar Pérezts & Sébastien Picard, 2015. "Compliance or Comfort Zone? The Work of Embedded Ethics in Performing Regulation," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 131(4), pages 833-852, November.
    11. Ghislain Deslandes, 2011. "In Search of Individual Responsibility: The Dark Side of Organizations in the Light of Jansenist Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 61-70, March.
    12. Laurence Romani & Betina Szkudlarek, 2014. "The Struggles of the Interculturalists: Professional Ethical Identity and Early Stages of Codes of Ethics Development," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 119(2), pages 173-191, January.
    13. Carl Rhodes & Robert Westwood, 2016. "The Limits of Generosity: Lessons on Ethics, Economy, and Reciprocity in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 133(2), pages 235-248, January.

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    Levinas; Managerial Ethics; Responsibility; Justice; Otherness/alterity;

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