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

Listed author(s):
  • 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.

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Paper provided by University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg Research Institute GRI in its series GRI-rapport with number 2005:9.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: 12 Dec 2005
Handle: RePEc:hhb:gungri:2005_009
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Gothenburg Research Institute, Box 600, SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden

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