Volume 31, Issue 1, 2012
Power, Profits, and Practical Wisdom
Ricœur's Perspectives on the Possibility of Ethics in Institutions
The analysis of narrative processes and metaphorical language are the topics generally focused on by business ethics researchers interested in the work of Paul Ricœur. Yet his work on political questions also applies to the ethical issues associated with organizations. Ricœur’s ethical enterprise can be expressed as a triad composed of teleological, deontological, and sapiential levels, associating ostensibly opposing positions of Aristotelian and Kantian origin. In this study, I examine politics, economics, and ethics in their dialectic relation as established by Ricœur. Against a vertical, mechanistic, and axiologically neutral vision of management, he opposes the two conceptual pairs of conviction/imagination and ideology/utopia as well as a superior definition of justice associating reciprocal indebtedness and mutual disinterestedness. Through this analysis, it becomes clear that the vertical, hierarchical nature of politics tends to undermine the horizontal interactions necessary to procure just institutions in society. And any business ethic that does not acknowledge political tensions will be mute. What is needed instead is practical wisdom that is developed through interaction, and often through conflict, involving all the different players.