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Philosophy of Management

Volume 12, Issue 3, 2013

Ontology and the Good in Organisations

David Ardagh
Pages 5-25
DOI: 10.5840/pom201312316

A Critique of Some Anglo-American Models of Collective Moral Agency in Business

The paper completes a trilogy of papers, under the title: “A Quasi-Personal Alternative to Some Anglo-American Pluralist Models of Organisations: Towards an Analysis of Corporate Self-Governance for Virtuous Organisations”. The first two papers of the three are published in Philosophy of Management, Volumes 10,3 and 11,2. This last paper argues that three dominant Anglo-American organisational theories which see themselves as “business ethics-friendly,” are less so than they seem. It will be argued they present obstacles to collective corporate moral agency. They are: 1) the dominant “soft pluralist” organisational theory of Bolman and Deal, published in 1984 and more recently expressed in Reframing Organisations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 5th edition, 2013, which is based on “reframing,” and which we will call reframing theory (RT); 2) the Business Ethics deployment of Stakeholder Management Theory (SMT) associated with R. Edward Freeman, and several colleagues, dominant in the same period (1984-); and 3) to a much lesser degree, an adapted version of SMT in the Integrated Social Contract Theory (ISCT) of Donaldson and Dunfee (Ties That Bind, Harvard Business School Press (1999)). This paper suggests a return, from RT, SMT, and ISCT, to an older “participative-structuralist” Neo-Aristotelian virtue-ethics based account, based on an analogy between “natural” persons, and organisations as “artificial” persons, with natural persons seen as “flat” architectonically related sets of capacity in complementary relation, and organisations as even flatter architectonic hierarchies of groups of incumbents in roles. This quasi-personal model preserves the possibility of corporate moral agency and some hierarchical and lateral order between leadership groups and other functional roles in the ethical governance of the whole corporation, as a collective moral agent. The quasi-person model would make possible assigning degrees of responsibility and a more coherent interface of Ethics, Organisational Ethics, and Management Theory; the reconfiguring of the place of business in society; an alternate ethico-political basis for Corporate Social Responsibility; and a rethinking of the design of the business corporate form, within the practice and institutions of business, but embedded in a state as representing the community.