All posts by Jacob Dahl Rendtorff

About Jacob Dahl Rendtorff

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff (born 1965) is Associate Professor of Business Ethics at Roskilde University, Denmark. Rendtorff is Head of Studies and Head of Research for the research group on business, leadership and change of his department. Rendtorff has a background in ethics, business ethics, bioethics, political theory and philosophy of law. Rendtorff has written seven books on issues concerning existentialism and hermeneutics, French philosophy, ethics, bioethics and business ethics, philosophy of law and business, and he has been co-author and editor on more than ten other books. Rendtorff has written articles on business, business ethics and philosophy in Danish, English, German and French. Rendtorff is currently a member of the board of the Danish Philosophical Forum and he is vice president of the Danish Association for Philosophy in French Language. He is also a member of the international group on reflexion about ethics, Eco-ethica, founded by Professor Imamichi Tomonobu. In the summer 2008 Rendtorff was elected as member of the steering committee of FISP (Féderation international des societies de philosophie), the global organisation of philosophy that is responsible for the organization of the world congress of philosophy.

Ole Høiris, Ole Marquard and Gitte Adler Reimer (eds.), Grønlændernes syn på Danmark. Historiske, kulturelle og sproglige perspektiver (Aarhus: Aarhus Universitets foreleg, 2019)

This book is about the experience of the people from Greenland of their relation to Denmark, Europe and the world. Based on an earlier book about Greenlandic identity and the integration of Greenland into the world of globalization and cosmopolitanism, this anthology changes the perspective and investigates how the people in Greenland perceived their participation in the Danish commonwealth and the relation to other European countries. In the European perspective, the Greenlander was constructed the radical other,  the different human being, the natural man and woman who lived a totally other life, the romantic life in close relation to nature that the Danish and European people once lived, but no longer had any relation to.

In the same way, the Greenlander conceived the ideal of Danish identity, of the Nation state as the basis for construction of the National identity of Greenland and they were nearly adopting and internalizing the Danish view of themselves as the natural people of Greenland. In this sense, the people from Greenland adopted the identity of the nation state and they wanted to construct a common identity based on their historical and cultural identity. In this context of formation of personal and national identity, the book is an interesting contribution to the understanding of the construction of identity through the relation to the other, where one mutually adopts they view of the other as basis for personal identity. It can be argued that the identity of the Greenlanders was constructed through their relation to the people in Denmark and that it was in this conflictual interaction of adoption and rejection of the views of the other that they constructed their personal and cultural identity.

The anthology has a historical and cultural perspective. It traces the relation between the Danish people and the Greenlanders since the 17th Century. The first meetings between the Scandinavians and Greenlandic Inuit took place in southwestern Greenland around the year 1300. However, these accounts was written by Europeans and therefore the book argues that there are only sources from later encounters between Europeans, Danish people and the Inuit from Greenland, so this creates difficulties from the perspective of the historical investigation of the experience of the Danish and Europeans from the point of view of the Greenlanders. In fact, this creates a methodological problem for the book since no primary written sources exist from that time where the Greenlandic people describe their encounter with the Danish people and the Europeans.

Accordingly, the book starts with the time from 1721 when the lasting connection was established between Greenland and Denmark. At that time, the priest Hans Egede arrived as the King Frederik IV’s envoy with the aim of making the Greenlanders Christian, just as trading stations on primarily the west coast were established during the period. Thus, the colonial intention of making the people in Greenland Christian was combined with the business and trade in order to get products from the far North. From that time, the book traces different aspects of the cultural encounter between Danish people, Europeans and the people from Greenland.

As the book is an anthology, it combines papers by researchers from Greenland and Denmark who study a number of the sources that give access to the Greenlanders’ somewhat mixed opinion about Danish missionaries, merchants and officials in Greenland. The book also accounts for the experiences and impressions that Greenlanders received when they were travelling abroad to Denmark and Europe.  The books mixes studies of written sources, myths and works of art in the description of the Greenlanders perception of the Danish and European people. It is striking that the Greenlandic people are very loyal to the Danish Queen and that they feel attached to the kingdom of Denmark at the same time as they have very complex and mixed feelings with regard to the Danish people.

Thus, the books contains the following articles. After the introduction by Ole Høiris and Ole Marquardt, the book covers as different topics as the Greenlandic origin of the the Qallunaat (Europeans) (Birgit Sonne); The Danish-Greenland Cultural Meeting from the Middle Ages to Hans Egede (Flemming A.J. Nielsen); Colonialism seen from the side of a former colonizer (Robert Petersen); The greenlandic writer Peter Gundel’s voice (Søren Rud); Guilt, shame and atonement. About an important work of Grenlandic literature (Kirsten Thisted); ‘The Ultra Radical’ – Augo Lynges and his like-minded view the Danish people (Jens Lei Wendel-Hansen);  The Greenlanders and the Danish royal house – power, ceremonies and emotions (Søren Thuesen); Danes and Greenlanders in the colonial trade- commercial everyday situations with contact potential in the period 1774 to 1900 (Ole Marquardt); Inuit’s accounts of appearances in Denmark, Europe and the United States (Ole Høiris); The almost always present Danishness(Bo Wagner Sørensen and Søren Forchhammer); The inviolable ease of existence- a study of differences in worldview among Greenlanders and Danes (Pelle Tejsner); Kikkut Qallunaajuppat? – Who are the Danes? About gaze directions between Denmark and Greenland and the movie Kikkut Qallunaajuppat? (Louise Hollerup); Greenlanders’ globalization through Danish fashion- the Greenlandic diaspora in Denmark (Rosannguaq Rossen); Greenlandic identity and development- Danish threats and opportunities: The language debate under home and autonomy (Ulrik Pram Gad); The participation of Greenlanders in social research in Greenland (Steven Arnfjord).

With all these interesting and scholarly well-argued contributions, this book is an important contribution to the understanding of the complex post-colonial relation between Denmark, Europe and Greenland. With the combined methods of historical analysis, ethnography, literature studies, cultural analysis and contemporary social analysis, the anthology is able to provide a good foundation for the study of creation of identity through the cultural encounter. The idea of colonialism seen from the point of view of the colonized as the view of the other on the otherness of the other is important for understanding the problems of colonialism and overcome post-colonial traumas and problems in times of globalization and cosmopolitanism. The importance of the voices of the local cultural, historical and literary traditions cannot be emphasized enough. In order to deal with identity it is important to understand the role of the gaze of the other for the creation of the identity of the self. The radical other is significant for the creation of the identity of the self. At the same time, it is interesting how the people of Greenland have appropriated the Danish royal house and how this has contributed to the creation of a national identity of Greenland as a part of the commonwealth with Denmark. Nevertheless, this is still some that happens from the point of view of the otherness of the other to the Danish royal house. In our present times of cosmopolitan globalization with the global interest in the arctic and in Greenland this book is an important contribution for understanding the historical, cultural and social roots of our contemporary challenges.

Gregor Thüsing & Gerrit Forst (eds.), Whistleblowing: A comparative study (Dordrecht: Springer, 2016)

Whistleblowing is a hot topic in contemporary society. We can just mention Wiki-leaks, undertaken by Julien Assange and his team. Or the infamous scandal of Edward Snowden, who made classified information about the US government surveillance of private citizens public and, as a consequence, had to flee his country and go to Russia. Or we can mention Bradley (Now Chelsea) Manning, who also made public classified government information and was put into prison in the US with a severe sentence by the courts. Nevertheless, even before these whistleblowing cases of making public classified information about governments, the topic of whistleblowing created much controversy and fascination. We can mention here the many cases of whistleblowing in relation to business firms and private organizations. Often such cases refer to situations where individuals feel moral responsibility to “blow the whistle” in the public about wrongdoing and fraud in their organizations. Indeed, from this perspective, whistleblowing emerges “as a potential weapon against corruption, mismanagement and general non-compliance with legal obligations by a broader public” (v). In the US, famous cases where whistleblowing was important include the Enron and World Com Scandals, with the ensuing breakdown of Arthur Andersen Accounting firm, which lead to the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.

Starting from this definition, the book edited by Gregor Thüsing and Gerrit Forst with the title Whistleblowing: A comparative study, offers a compilation of articles about the law, legislation and legal dimensions of whistleblowing in different countries around the world. The book begins by a general presentation of its topic by the editors, who co-authored “Whistle-blowing around the world. A Comparative Analysis of Whistle-blowing in 23 Countries”. In their essay and in the anthology at large, legislations and legal practices of whistleblowing in different countries are compared, and it is shown how whistleblowing is not always seen as something positive and therefore constitutes a problem for the law. In European history, especially in the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, whistleblowing was not accepted, but rather considered as problematic for the regimes. As a result, possibly because of inertia or inherent self-interest, there has been often little protection of whistleblowers even in the following European legislations. The book is based upon a symposium held in Vienna by the International Academy of Comparative Law at the XIX International congress of Comparative Law. The aim of the book is to give researchers, judges and legislators an overview of the different approaches to legislation on whistleblowing around the world. The contributions are by leading national experts from the countries that are investigated in the book. Overall, the book shows that there is no common basis for legislation on whistleblowing in the countries that have been investigated. Even though there exist some general laws protecting whistleblowers, the countries investigated have very different approaches to whistleblowing due to historical and cultural reasons. Based on overviews of the differences in the legislations about whistleblowing, the anthology emphasizes some issues, which are important in legislation and legal practice concerning whistleblowing.

Of primary importance is of course the need to define who should be protected by legislation on whistleblowing. Is it only one definite whistleblower or should it also be supporters of whistleblowers who should be protected too? Here, whistleblower legislation needs to define the content and scope of protection of whistleblowers in law and legislation. Again, we see huge differences in legislations about who qualifies as whistleblowers and how they are protected and what kind of rights they have. Indeed, there is a potential conflict between freedom of expression and whistleblowing and many whistleblowers are taking a lot of risks if they decide to reveal classified or secret information from their organizations to the public. In this context, it is also a problem how supporters of whistleblowers and witnesses of whistleblowing should be protected by the law and how the law can ensure just and fair treatment of whistleblowers, supporters and witnesses. Important issues to be addressed in this context are issues relating to internal and external reporting of whistleblowing; what happens if the whistleblower allegations are untrue? Is the motivation of the whistleblower relevant? What if this motivation is based on personal interest? What kind of information may the whistleblower report? Is there an ethical or legal obligation to blow the whistle and inform about injustice, corruption or fraud in the organization?  What kind of protection should be offered to the whistleblowers? What kind of reprisal should whistleblowers be protected against? Who has the burden of proof in dismissal cases? What is the function of whistleblowing in society and how could we support whistleblowers in society as a contribution to collective action? In addition, a further issue is whether there should be financial support and incentives for whistleblowers.

Although the comparison of legal practices, laws and legislations relating to all these issues may be difficult, it is the aim of the anthology to identify some general patterns in the different jurisdictions that have been surveyed. The report shows that countries like the UK, Japan and South Korea are leading in advanced legislation in the field. In the US, there has also been legislation actively encouraging whistleblowers since 1863. The anthology shows that there is a growing awareness of the problem of whistleblowing and the need to have whistleblower protection in Europe too, although many countries are not very far yet in establishing general rules and legislations about whistleblowing. Countries like Italy, Malta and Romania are on their way to legislation, but even countries that already have legislation on this matter, like Germany and other EU-member states, could do a lot to improve their legislation. The anthology is based on the view that there is both need and room for improvement of even the most advanced legislations on whistleblowing in the world. We need improvements in the legislations concerning protection of witnesses and supporters of whistleblowers, since this is a topic that has been neglected. A further topic for improvement is the possible support of whistleblowing by giving whistleblowers better financial incentives. This is something where the US, after many business scandals, are a leading country.

The different national reports in the anthology vary according to the cultural particularity of the legislation in each country. In Canada, the legislation on whistleblowing has been based on the “up the ladder” principle, meaning that the whistleblower is supposed to first disclosure information about wrongdoing by internal mechanisms and then later by public disclosure of wrongdoing. The presentation of whistleblower legislation in Croatia focusses on the legal framework and the specific issues concerning whistleblowers in the public sector. Cyprus is characterized by a dichotomy between public- and private-sector whistleblower protection and the legal framework lacks independent whistleblower protection. The Czech republic has no comprehensive special whistleblowing protection legislation, but laws concerning personal data and employee loyalty may apply. In France, whistleblower legislation has been inspired by the American model in Sarbanes-Oxley, which was introduced in 2002. Freedom of expression and good faith are important principles for protecting whistleblowers. There is some mistrust against whistleblowing, but there is also a growing understanding of the need to protect the rights of persons who become whistleblowers. The German regulation of whistleblowing is characterized by a lack of general regulation. Traditionally there was a lack of protection of whistleblowers because the labor courts saw it as a breach of the loyalty of the employees. Nevertheless, by shifting the focus onto human rights, the attitude is now more open. In Ireland there has been established a new legislation that provides comprehensive protection of whistleblowers. In Malta, for many years there has not been any law at all, but some protection has recently emerged. However, whistleblowing remains very risky for the individual in many other countries. In the Netherlands, there is in contrast much civil and cultural focus on whistleblowers and there is indeed support for whistleblowing by the institutionalization of a center for advice on whistleblowing. In Poland, there has been increased focus in case law on better support for whistleblowers, although the general legal framework is not very developed. Also in Portugal there is no specific legislation and there is very little regulation for the protection of whistleblowers. In Romania, we see a first step to whistleblower protection in new labor legislation that tends to regulate the status of whistleblowers. In Slovenia the protection of persons reporting corruption and other whistleblowers is sanctioned by a specific law on integrity and corruption, which includes rules of protection of the person of the whistleblower. The US is probably the country with the most conflicted history of the legislation and legal regulation of whistleblowers. On the one hand, the government needs whistleblowers to detect wrongdoing and fraud. On the other hand, when the government itself is subject to whistleblowing, e.g. famous cases such as Watergate and Snowden, whistleblowers face reprisal from political power, even though there is an increased understanding of the need to motivate whistleblowers at large, for example with financial incentives for truth-telling in fraud cases. In addition to these discussions of different countries, the book also gives a useful synopsis of whistleblowing material from 23 different jurisdictions.

This anthology is indeed a very interesting book about a hot topic today. The book is mostly a presentation of the legal situation in a comparative perspective. More material on the ethics and legal philosophy of whistleblowing could have improved the book. Nevertheless, the book is an important compilation of material about legislations on whistleblowing. After reading the book, the reader gets a good understanding of the complexity and differences of whistleblowing legislations. In fact, the protection of the whistleblower is not very great in many countries. We see how state interests and corporate protection of their internal information often prevail over the protection of the human rights and the freedom of expression of individuals. With such legislations, it can be argued that it is very dangerous to become a whistleblower and that the legal protection of whistleblowers needs to be improved. Without it, state and corporate power over citizens and employees becomes absolute. The book is a very strong contribution to the clarification of the importance of whistleblowing and it can spur more legal debate, better legislation and deeper jurisprudence and scholarship in the field.

Classical Political Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity – An alternative to the competition State

Our times have be characterized as a post-political age at the end of history[1], where all political ideologies are dead and economic prioritization according to utility-maximization in the neoliberal competition state has become the only purpose of political decisions. The citizen of modern welfare society has become a work and consumption man that is not interested in the common good of community, but only wants to satisfy individual and often opportunistic preferences. At the same time modernity is characterized by wars and catastrophes (Holocaust, Yugoslavia and more recently Iraq and Syria) where the desire of power by tyrants lead to great suffering and unhappiness. On this basis of this perplexity of politics, the conservative Jewish, German and American philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) proposes an interpretation of the causes of the crisis of modernity and argues that the only way in which we can reestablish social stability is to go back to classical political philosophy by Plato and Aristotle. In the following, I will introduce thought of Leo Strauss in order to show how we here can find a well-qualified concept of political conservativism. It is however clear, that this intellectual aristocratism is different from dominant conservative at the political right that also can be accused of having reduced politics to economics and utility maximization where focus is on promotion of personal privileges and interests rather than a concern for the common good in a strong political community.

A critique of radical conservatism

At the same time as he wants to distance himself from the contemporary conservative ideology, we can consider Strauss’ philosophy as a criticism of radical conservatism that in our time has resulted in Nazism and fascism. According to Strauss tyranny and totalitarianism, represent a disturbing consequence of the modern break-through of political thought by Machiavelli and Hobbes where politics is no longer concerned with the common good, but has become power politics in order to secure the privileges of the ruling tyrants and supporting classes.

This criticism of the radical conservatism is closely related to Strauss’ own lives. He grew up in a middle-class Jewish home in Hamburg and completed in 1922 his doctorate in a Neo-Kantian university environment. In the late 1920s, he was in Berlin and worked on a book about the Jewish philosopher Spinoza’s critique of religion. In this regard, began his political philosophy to take shape in a showdown with the famous Catholic-conservative constitutional theorist Carl Schmitt who, later for a short period (1934-35) was to become Hitler’s crown jurist and main ideologist. Schmitt had several times after Strauss-depth comments revised his work On the concept of the political.[2] At the same time, Schmitt helped paradoxically Strauss to escape from Nazism by making sure that he in 1932 was awarded a scholarship to first study in Paris and later in Cambridge. It was later the start of Strauss’ career in Anglo-Saxon political science where he after immigration to the United States, as a professor at the University of Chicago came to found a school of political philosophy. Moreover, he influenced several generations of American political scientists to be interested in the political philosophy classics instead of election research, “rational choice” theory and utilitarianism, disciplines that were on the top of the American political science. That Strauss’ influence is enormous proves an opinion of the philosopher Stephen Toulmin, who complained that the US Government had several employees who knew more about Plato and Aristotle, than they knew about empirical political science.

The dialogue between Strauss and Schmitt continued for some years after that Strauss had moved abroad. We can say that this discussion between the young unknown Jew and the famous Nazi law professor, who even stated that Strauss was the only one who really understood his philosophy,  shows how Strauss on the one hand shares Schmitt’s diagnosis of liberalism crisis, but at the same time will find another way out of this than Schmitt’s power politics. Schmitt defines the political as the choice of the enemy and, which accordingly, is the choice of the aim of one’s own life, because we have something to believe in. The political involves the permanent possibility of war. Schmitt sees liberalism in a Nietzschean perspective as a concept of the political which is doomed in a world where slaves have triumphed where people no longer have obligations and do not fight for their ideals and recognition, but simply are pursuing their own goals in a general nihilistic atmosphere. Schmitt was extremely concerned about the increasing fragmentation of the Weimar Republic’s social order as a threat to the state, because there was no empowered central body to ensure the political sovereignty of the state.

In fact, Thomas Hobbes’ notion that people let themselves subordinate the sovereign’s power to prevent the condition of unlimited war in the natural condition reflects a theoretical anti politics because he wants to avoid hostility by replacing the natural condition by a universal and homogenous state. Schmitt maintains instead that politics is defined by having enemies and he has no alternative to the liberal protection thinking other than power politics. He puts the permanent battle mode against Hobbes’ attempt to civilize the state of nature. This means, according to Strauss that Schmitt cannot avoid being a Nazi. For Carl Schmitt, the political legitimate sovereign is the one who has the strongest will and can seize the leadership position in society and thereby realize its set of core values based on the will and decision. For such a decisionistic political theology liberalism is the real enemy, because it dissolves religion and ideals of value pluralism and will not recognize politics as a struggle for absolute beliefs.[3]

Strauss puts his political philosophy up against Schmitt’s political theology. Unlike value-nihilism and power politics, he wants to go back to the perception of the political in the classic tradition of Plato and Aristotle as an alternative to liberalism’s dissolution of the concept of politics.

A Socratic quest for the best political regime

Strauss’ systematic position is hidden in a jumble of interpretations and comments to the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions in political philosophy. According to Strauss is a hermeneutics that aims to reconstruct the historical conditions of work a type of text explanation that is not true to the author’s message.[4] The consequence is that you do not get hold of the work’s real meaning, the esoteric saved opinion. There is always a political-philosophical text because the author has often been politically persecuted and therefore have not been able to present his or her opinion directly, but could only write for a select elite of smart aristocrats who in contrast to the vulgar mob could break through text’s surface and decipher its esoteric meaning.[5]

When Strauss defines interpretation doctrine as a reconstruction of the author’s original intention it is a problem, how he can avoid falling back into a subjectivist hermeneutics, where you will do the impossible by looking for the author’s psychology behind the work. This problem is solved by defining the author-intent as a meaningful whole in the work that can be deduced taking into account the esoteric terms of the production of the work. Meanwhile, Strauss’ position becomes an archeology in the sense that it comes to reconstruct the true message that has been forgotten by previous interpreters. The text of the past is a true mystery for the reader. The starting point of hermeneutics is ignorance, finality and interpret the certainty of their own prejudices, and thinking about past non-historicity must be understood on its own terms within the historical understanding of the text.[6]

Against this background Strauss defines the goal of political philosophy as to arrive at the proper nature of the case in relation to the whole. The starting point for reflection may be man’s participation and allegiance to the state. The understanding of man as a political animal comprehends the (city) state as a whole. To think politically is to think the “Politeia”, the “best regime” by fitting the nature of man in relation to the whole (The Whole). This concept of wholeness is not determined as a totality in the Hegelian sense and not as a definition of man as a part of the cosmos.[7] Strauss believes that it is wrong to understand the classic natural law and the Greek political thinking as based on the participation of man in a cosmic whole. Therefore, classical political philosophy cannot be accused of running an outdated cosmology. The whole does not imply a particular cosmological reference. Rather it should be interpreted as the logos that connects man and the state. But at the same time, to think the concept of a whole in Strauss’ political thinking seems to go beyond the concept of logos, because logos is often defined in the cosmology that political thinking rejects. Strauss emphasizes the phenomenological and pre-philosophical base that characterizes the classical political philosophy when it comes to describing the political phenomena as they appear in man’s everyday political reality.[8]

In this way, the concept of  the whole receives nature a basal function in Strauss’ view of politics. The concept of nature refers to the expression of the human soul and its relationship to the whole. The aim is to understand the policy limits and the difference between the best political regime and the here and now real possible state. The practical State of factual politics varies according to time and place. The form of the state depends on the particular circumstances and problematize whether there really is an Eidos for all states. The political reality of the state in practical political life means that the state’s idea is used differently in different states, so the notion of the best regime must be seen in relation to the particular circumstances of a specific political reality.

Thus, the philosophy of the best regime represents an alternative to historicism and power politics. The modern historicism argues that political regimes are nothing, but functions of ideological power relations and that there cannot exist an idea of the best state. Strauss believes that historicism is an expression of modernity’s oblivion of absolute values and that it nullifies itself because to assert that everything is historic in itself is a universal statement that require a trans-historical truth. Historicism contains an internal contradiction and therefore cannot counter Strauss’ project to find the good as the natural order of the best regime.[9]

To describe the political Eidos as the best regime also implies the abolition of the distinction between “facts” and “value”. The point is to show how political thought cannot work with this distinction and how the normative and descriptive are mixed in any theory of politics. Although Weber’s sociology, for example, can be value free, it is in itself a normative position to say that sociology should not have normative assumptions.[10] It is in itself a normative position to claim that sociology is value-free. Even science without values is based on values. Therefore, all political thought is normative science.[11]

Strauss illustrates the task of philosophy with reference to Plato’s cave image: philosophizing, it is to get from the darkness of the cave into the light of day, ie  the world of truth and cognition as opposed to the confused sense world in the cave.[12] In this way, Strauss’ philosophy is essentially a Platonic and Socratic mode of thinking. The separation between the state’s idea and the actual political reality remains a real possibility because the philosopher tend to seek world of ideas outside the cave, while the general state policy decisions are determined by rhetoric, power and subjective opinions. The truth about the political is obtained through the Socratic communication, a maieutic dialogue that modestly will rediscover the eternal ideas and philosophical realization of the political. Nevertheless, it is also facing the difficulty of realizing the political truth confronted with the variety of opinions in the actual political life.

The tension between City and Man

The basis of classical political thought is, according to Strauss the bond between man and the state and the notion that the state should be a good for man. It is also important to be aware of the limits in the relationship between man and state. In reality, the classical political philosophy shows that the ideal of the state’s perfect utopia can hardly be reconciled with human nature.

In his reading of Plato’s Republic Strauss shows how the philosophical man, despite the fact that he must be a philosopher-ruler in fact come into conflict with the state.[13] He would not be king, but would rather withdraw from the government to sacrifice himself for the wisdom and contemplation of the eternal ideas.[14] There is also no room for eroticism and poets in the ideal state and so the paradox is that the ideal state excludes what is very human and the humanness of humanity. Plato’s dialogue universe must be seen as an ironic and dialectical universe that juxtaposes different positions to emphasize the complexity of being.[15]

The ironic elements of the State in the Republic proves that the attempt to think the completely just, fair, ideal regime is contrary to human nature. This is because a state that is only conceivable after the idea of justice must isolate everything that is specifically human; Eros and poetry and also in the fact that the philosophers who are not interested in politics, but live for philosophical wisdom, suddenly have to rule in the ideal state. This original interpretation is in contrast to many modern interpretations of Plato’s philosophy.[16]

Plato is in many interpretations considered an authoritarian thinker that will make the philosophers to dictators and destroy the possibility of public opinion and democratic dialogue about the state’s future because philosophers are the only ones making the decisions. Therefore, the ideal state is changed into tyrannical totalitarianism. In addition, Plato was described by many interpretors as initiator of political idealism that had fatal and terrorist implications in modern society, for example in the form of Nazism, communism and fascism. Literally, the ideal state is also a representation of all the horrifying elements of utopia where citizens are sacrificed to state rationality and utility interests. The social classes are divided according to labor and natural capacity. Warriors, workers and merchants have each their function and philosophers then determines sovereignly, what is the best and most practical thing to do according to the idea of justice.

The irony of the fact that the regime envisaged by the idea of justice becomes an inhuman dictatorship shows that political philosophy cannot ignore human nature’s lack of perfection and arbitrariness by the historical situation. Strauss says that the Republic is the most profound analysis ever of the impossibility of political idealism and that the ideal state is impossible because it is contrary to the nature of the case and the whole.[17] The esoteric and ironic truth that lies behind the rhetorical game in Plato’s Republic is that a regime that is thought abstractly according to the idea of justice cannot overcome the fundamental tension between man and city. This tension between humans and the state, Eros and justice, philosophy and the real case of the political facticity continue to persist because the nature of facticity is not the same as the ideality of the world of ideas. Thinking about the best regime must not follow the idea of justice, but be balanced against the actual life of the state.

The ironic elements in Plato’s Republic are also illustrated in the course of development of the dialogue. The discussion about ideal justice begins with a critique of legal positivism, which claims that the righteous and just should be defined in terms of power, i.e., that the one who has the power decides what is fair. Socrates does not want to be involved in the dialogue, but is provoked to criticize this view, and he wants to show that justice as such is good, even though he does not yet know the content of the concept of justice. He then decides to drive the defense of the concept of justice ad absurdum in order to show the characteristics of the political. Later in the discussion of the guardians of the state, he points out the difference between the Eros and the idea of justice. In the ideal state, there is no room for eroticism and love, because sexuality is determined to serve the common good. The paradoxes of the State appear as follows: it should be the good and righteous state, it must be based on the absolute communism, but at the same time, the contingency and bodily existence is eliminated from the state, everything that characterizes the finite human nature.[18] Man in mainstream political life would by his very nature never be able to feel at home in the ideal state.

In this way, one should not interpret Plato’s Republic as a criticism of any political philosophy or as a defense of a political utopia. Instead, the book presents a description of the difficulties of thinking the best political regime, about the tension between the idea of justice and the concrete justice in relation to the whole, human nature and the state. The Socratic reflection can be considered as a reflection on the limits of the just state and the need to consider the justice in a realistic relation to human nature. However, according to Strauss there is implicitly in the Republic implied a different view of justice as the art that on the one hand, gives every citizen, what is good for him, and on the other hand, determines the common good of the state. The purpose of the good political regime is to shape a state that follows human needs and thus becomes a healthy and happy state. In this perspective, Eros, poetry and wisdom could also be present in the good political regime as the realization of justice in the relationship between historical facticity, human nature and the order of the whole.

The best regime and the political reality

A provision of the best political regime that realize the impossibility of utopia, is according to Strauss found in Plato’s Laws and Aristotle’s Politics. Here you will find the essence of the classical political thinking that is far removed from modern power politics and ideology. Plato’s  late dialogue Laws, where Socrates quite interestingly is not present, contains a vision of the best regime that is not based on abstract idealism, but is about how to solve specific practical problems in a state. In the dialogue a number of experienced state men are involved who must reach a common understanding about which laws the state should have. They do not justify the good state by virtue of a social contract as in the modern philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, but from the consideration of the best state in a natural law perspective. Practical sense and understanding of the good order, not inter-subjectivity, rights, equality or discursive rationality is the key element for ensuring the good laws.

The premise is that man only can be happy in the state, if he lives by what is natural and good for him, i.e. by the telos of virtues. Where the wise philosopher is placed as ruler of the utopian state, it is according to the classical natural law the most experienced, virtuous and best citizens who for the common good, and by force of law should govern in the actual state. The virtuous and good citizen appears as the one who cares for the state’s future. The good man is not just the good citizen, but the good citizen who govern in a good society.[19] To become a good and virtuous man, one must live in a good and orderly society.

The main characters of the Laws are the Athenian, Cleinias and McGillis, who in Crete  are discussing what would be the best and most virtuous laws at the same time as they try to understand the laws originating in human nature. The theme is not the tension between man and state, but the practical matter of a formulation of state laws here and now.[20] It is the stranger from Athens, who begins the discussion. He argues that experienced states men at a long day may well find the best laws for the state, and so they begin to ponder about the basis of the laws.

Because laws have divine origin, you might think that they have been justified by a cosmology, but the point is precisely that the Gods perfection is not human, and that laws should apply to the earthly life. Another interpretation is that the laws have their origin in logos. Yet another possibility would be that the laws are derived from the divine and ideal perfection, but at the same time humans are using the ideas in relation to the human reality. One must admit that the divine quest is part of the Platonic political thought and that Plato did not completely detach natural law from the divine reality, and that politics has a divine inspiration because it is important to realize virtue in society. Therefore, there is no conflict between the law and logos, reason and its dissemination in the actual state, even if the law on certain points depending on the situation goes beyond logos.

This view of natural law can be compared to Strauss’ analysis of the Jewish and Islamic philosophy by Farabi and Maimonides.[21] Here it is explicitly about a divine foundation of the law of human society, in which the philosopher has an important role to ensure the correct interpretation of the divine law. Although he takes the side of the Greek philosophy, for example, in his criticism of Carl Schmitt, Strauss believes that the theological-political problem about the law’s origin is extremely important. This is not to ignore the fact that religion is needed to hold together the state, and the state will collapse without a set of values as the foundation for social integration. Perhaps the philosophical prophet who interprets the divine law can function as an alternative to the tyrannical clergyman and thereby mediate between religion and philosophy to ensure that there will not be a complete questioning of the state’s Gods with potential disintegration as a result.[22]

After this discussion of the origin of the law, the question is who will govern in the actual state. Democracy is rejected because the mob does not have the experience and ability to take virtuous and right decisions. It is recommended that the city-state is ruled by a council of experienced wise men who take decisions based on the law, judgment and practical sense. Then is given an estimate of the city-state’s actual organization in the classic areas: Education, production, administration, sports, judiciary and election of judges. The rest of the Laws are about how to regulate these things and not on abstract political theory.[23]

Aristotle’s political philosophy in his Politics continues according to Strauss this project on the best political regime. Aristotle continues Plato’s analyzes by systematically comparing the constitutions of the various regimes in order to identify their advantages and disadvantages. Aristotle’s social science is at once ideal, hermeneutic and empirical.[24] Strauss says that for Aristotle, political philosophy is from the beginning the quest to find the best natural political order in any place and at any time.[25]

It is in a more modern perspective a question of finding the good life at the community level, to define what is good for a given factual political community. In this way, we must identify the community that is the best for the state’s population. Aristotle criticizes more explicitly the notion of an association of citizens in the ideal state. The State unity must not be absolute, and the policy should not include all areas of life. A state is defined in the Politics as a collection of citizens with a certain kind of constitution for a certain time at a certain place, and this means that citizens’ duties will change from state to state, from time to place. The ideal of the best regime is a series of links of friendship according to virtue, judgment and common sense to ensure the good life.

Aristotle also believes that the aristocracy, where it is the best, the most experienced and the wisest who rules, as opposed to democracy, oligarchy and tyranny is the best form of government. It is not whether you are a Democrat or non-Democrat that is the focus of Plato’s, Aristotle’s (and Strauss’) concepts of the best political regime. It is rather about safeguarding the best decisions in a given political order, and here one cannot escape the fact that a democratic majority rule tends to result in loss of practical reason, because it no longer is the best that rules for experience and wisdom, but instead the mediocre. Aristotle criticizes democracy as a state where everyone is made equal, although they are very different in virtue and character. On the other hand, there can be traced an egalitarian aspect of Aristotle’s thinking in the sense that the people who govern in the aristocratic state are equal and free. The government of the wise and experienced politicians can be seen as a limited democracy that can be translated into oligarchy or representative democracy, where the best people in society with practical wisdom discusses the state’s goals and future. This virtuous aristocratic equality is not the same as exists in democratic demagoguery, diversity and mediocrity, because we are talking about the best citizens who are above average in experience, virtue and judgment abilities.

Practical wisdom and political judgment

The question of virtue and justice is developed especially in the Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle describes judgment and practical wisdom, which are the core concepts of classical political philosophy.[26] The purpose of the Aristotelian ethics is to think about the practical wisdom to form the elites who must be able to reign in the Greek city-state. For Aristotle, man is essentially a political animal, and he gives the practical wisdom great importance to the training of the aristocratic citizen. The aristocrat replaces philosopher-king of Plato, who in reality stands on the border of the state, because he would rather search the philosophical wisdom. And here the philosophical wisdom is on the contrary integrated in the good regents practical sense.

Aristotle discusses the Nicomachean Ethics the way to the good life, both individually and in society: justice, virtues and love of wisdom are pillars of happiness and the objective of the ethics and politics. Happiness is to live with each other in friendship in the just and the good state by the virtues throughout life. A distinction is made between the intellectual and practical virtues; wisdom, intelligence and practical sense towards moderation, temperance, courage and justice, virtue, practiced through the good and righteous deeds. Virtues as “Standards of Excellence” are realized through the experienced dispositions to act in a certain way. As virtue of deliberation, the practical wisdom is at once theoretical and practical. It must ensure the right action in the center between the city-state custom and culture, ideal justice principles and happiness.

The practical wisdom is about how to use a general principle in relation to the particular situation. Therefore, the practical wisdom must be thought of as an art because it deals with the arbitrary and contingent and not in relation to what is necessary as wisdom, science and intelligence. The good construction and the common sense of the good man is the political action art because it comes to applying the general principles of happiness in relation to the particular conditions. The Good Man follows the golden middle way virtue that implies always to find the right center relative to the extremes in a situation. In every situation the middle is different and virtue is reflected in the way the common sense is choosing the right center. In the practical reflection, the subject submits the will of reason to the detection of the right middle of the action, and the good man chooses from this experience center, the middle, and the virtue of moderation.[27]

Justice is understood not only as an idea of man, but as a virtue of action. It is applied directly in relation to the situation of action. As virtue justice is both proportional and egalitarian. You cannot treat unequal people and situations in an equal way. One should, for example, find the proper relationship between children and adults in order to understand justice. This fairness opinion of justice is based, as in Plato, on the fact that there are different justice spheres of society in law, economics, medicine, etc. Here, justice and equality are defined in relation to the natural order of things in that particular sphere, for example, the definition of the distribution of goods is not the same on the hospital as on the free market, and it is not the same goods to be distributed. It is the judge’s job with judgment to find the right middle between the parties involved, and he practices the practical reason and virtue as part of justice. He seeks the proper distribution of wealth from the right proportion and balance conditions to avoid too much and too little. This ensures the good laws of the State, based on the friendship between the virtuous people, a friendship that also applies to the political life and goes beyond the life as a citizen.

Also by Aristotle, one can detect the tension between man and state. Man transcends the state and seeks true happiness in the contemplation of the world of ideas and the intellectual virtues are more important than the practical life of politics.[28] Strauss emphasizes the contradiction between theory and practice in the state as an expression of man’s dual nature. The ethical and political life is pointing beyond itself to the intellectual wisdom. Strauss says that political life is a life in the cave, separated from the life of light of cognition where you know the world of ideas.[29]

The crisis of modernity and classical political philosophy

Based on this analysis of classical political philosophy, the question is how Strauss can make an offer for the solution of the crisis of modernity without falling into flat liberalism or radical conservatism. As I said, modernity crisis is primarily a loss of practical reason because the thinkers of modernity in different waves have more and more rejected the practical wisdom as the basis of political thinking.[30] This crisis of knowledge has led to historicism and positivism in the sciences, which appears as modernity’s two main philosophies. Martin Heidegger’s adherence to Nazism, but also as already demonstrated Carl Schmitt’s political philosophy illustrates this loss of reason in modern political philosophy.

The crisis of modernity is also a cultural and educational crisis.[31] The modern society has forgotten the virtues and classical culture as the real basis for training and shaping of the citizen to the state. The secularized modernity, described by Max Weber, with different value perceptions and different subjectivist conceptions of the good life has made it difficult to talk about a common good life as a guideline for state policy. The individual freedom is in contrast to the common good, and people do no longer respect the virtues of the classical political philosophy and natural law, but put an equality and rights philosophy against the notion of the common good.

It is against this background the big problem, how to avoid tyranny and the totalitarian regime and at the same time how to find the good regime of today’s society. By going back to the classical political philosophy Strauss finds an argument against tyranny. He analyzes Xenophanes’ dialogue Heiron as an attempt to show how tyranny is not an appropriate regime, because it is not a regime that can make people happy.[32] This dialogue between a tyrant and a poet shows that every tyrant will be appreciated by the people, but cannot be the because of his status as a tyrant. Even the tyrant is therefore happy in tyranny. The analysis is based on the question of happiness and the good life and on this basis it shows, that tyranny is a bad regime.

Should we thus draw some implications of Strauss’s political philosophy for today’s practical politics and political practices, it must primarily be made up with the widespread notion of politics as a power struggle and a party political dogfight. Also in today’s political life, we must let our actions and opinions be guided by concern for the common good (Res Publica) and the formation of the best state (Politeia) instead of just wanting to secure its own short-sighted personal or partisan interests. Politics should not be seen as a confrontation of subjective positions where everything can be a basis for negotiation and it should be maintained there could always be a rational and virtuous decision in the political process. It is important to see reason and philosophical reflection as a basis for political decisions, as the best way to ensure the common good.

The reason for the crisis of the modern liberal democracy is also linked to the ideology of equality, where the political culture forgets the difference between the wise, virtuous and the vulgar. In many cases, it is the vulgar and tyrannical, who follow their own interests, rather than the wise, who are in power. To avoid this we need recognition of the virtuous elites as the best rulers. The importance of the liberal constitutional democracy is not the democratic process as such, but that those who govern take the best decisions. The elite is the experienced, sensible politician that stands in contrast to the impulsive, charismatic tyrant.[33]

A minister and a governor should be a person who you can trust and admire for his practical sense. One must be able to trust the minister’s judgment and experience as decision-maker. This ruler type stands in contrast to the vulgar fool who has bartered his post to promote its own interests.

It is also about rediscovering and recognizing citizen virtue as an essential feature of a functioning democracy. Here the individual citizen not just follow their own interests but takes his responsibilities and his obligations to the community very seriously in a commitment for the common good.

Unlike many modern political ideologies that considers everything to be politics – included Carl Schmitt’s radical conservatism that tend to assert that man lives only authentic in the political state of emergency – Strauss’ philosophy includes an important definition of the limits of politics, which also can be applied to modern society. One never becomes a whole person if they do not live outside of public life with his friends in the erotic relationship, in the joy of the theoretical virtues, philosophy and literature. And this private life is also not possible without the good state and this is why the responsible and committed participation in public life must never be forgotten.

To reintroduce the notion of the best regime is a reaction against the reduction of politics to the economy and to the struggle to get the biggest slice of the pie. Instead, the political consideration, deliberation and action must be guided by a philosophical reason and conviction, based on an understanding of society and the whole of humanity. For example, social welfare, education and health cannot just build the economy, but implies a view of humanity and a vision of the citizen’s role in the good political regime.

At the same time, politics must fundamentally have a communitarian starting point where one requires cohesion between citizens and the state and consider the willingness to ensure that cohesion as policy basis. In contrast to other communitarians, emphasizing tradition and the importance of culture in the community,[34] Strauss highlights as shown philosophical reflection on the good life and trans-historical truth in relation to the political life of the state as it characterizes a communitarian view of political philosophy. Therefore, every culture and tradition could include meeting with philosophy’s critical distinction between quality and non-quality.

The political conservatism must however emphasize religion and values as an important communitarian foundation of modern society that can prevent social disintegration. Although “the wise” have understood that certain values cannot be justified philosophically, and are afraid of Nietzsche’s nihilism that may in reality be the truth, they may not say it to the people, the ignorant and vulgar, who should preferably stay in their childhood belief in order to avoid disintegration of society. From the point of view of social utility religion, tradition and values are great importance to social integration – even if they cannot be justified philosophically.

Strauss’ philosophy implies that the modern state must not understand justice as abstract equality, but always in relation to a situation. The concept of spheres of justice is important to include in the understanding of the welfare state, where increased differentiation makes it difficult to apply the same measure of justice in different sectors of society. Justice must be measured in the right proportions according to the context.[35]

Distribution of goods happens in relation to the various concepts of equity in the different spheres of justice. And there is the possibility to develop a complex equality, in which each person is assigned goods with respect to his nature and needs. For example, we can mention special education, health care and honors or services for the virtuous and talented in society.

This is also a criticism of a realistic and positivistic legal understanding that considers law as a function of power and perceive any argument for a particular law as subjective and ideological. Instead, we must restore political judgment as central in the judicial and political decision-making. Judgement was expelled as unscientific by legal realism that wanted to ensure the scientific objectivity and application of rules. Instead, following Strauss we should make the decision guided by an understanding of the nature and wholeness. At the same time, there is need for expansion of the sources of law to better include philosophical beliefs, culture, custom and tradition. Judgement presupposes a truth about the individual case, its nature as it is the good politician’s and lawmaker’s task to bring this to light.

One way to retrain today’s citizen to have and exercise judgment, is the concept of “Liberal Education”,[36] which could address training in classical formation and introduction to the European cultural heritage as an integral part of the education system. At the university, this could for example mean that not only students at the faculty of humanities, but also lawyers, economists, doctors, scientists and future decision-makers got a broader cultural and educational formation. Such a “Bildung” would put them in a position to take more informed decisions, which would be rooted in a view of humanity and imply a conception of the common good. With this we could achieve a higher standard of virtue as the basis for a better society that might help to realize Strauss’ aristocratic ideals as an alternative to the contemporary competition state.




[1] Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man, New York (1989).This is the book where Fukuyama argues that economic liberalism with the end of the cold war has led to the end of history has replaced the political war of ideologies in the struggle of universal history. Instead, liberal democracy has been the dominant ideology with no real alternative.

[3] Heinrich Meier: Die Lehre Carl Schmitts: Vier Kapitel zur Unterscheidung Politischer Theologie und Politischer Philosophie, Stuttgart, (1994): Verlag J.B.Metzler.

[4] Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (1959), Chicago: Glencoe Press p. 143

[5] Ibid p. 25

[6] Leo Strauss: De la Tyrannie, (1954), Paris: Gallimard p. 46

[7] Ibid p. 4

[8] Ibid p. 24

[9] Leo Strauss: Droit naturel et histoire, (1954) Paris: Plon p. 34.

[10] Ibid p. 50

[11] Ibid p. 23

[12] Leo Strauss: The City and Man, (1964), Chicago: La cité et l’homme, (1984), Paris: Agora. pp. 145-46.

[13] Leo Strauss: Droit naturel et histoire, (1954) Paris: Plon p. 137

[14] Drew A. Hyland: “The Irony of Plato’s Republic”, Révue de Métaphysique et morale, Paris (1991): PUF. According to Hyland it is human nature that is the source of irony because the erotic in human nature is in tension with the world of ideas.

[15] Leo Strauss: The City and Man, (1964), Chicago: French Translation: La cité et l’homme, (1984), Paris: Agora. p. 161.

[16] A good example is Sir Karl Poppers critical Plato-interpretation in The Open Society and its enemies, London (1946): Routledge. Here Plato is characterized as the father of all totalitarianism.

[17] Leo Strauss: The City and Man, (1964), Chicago: French Translation: La cité et l’homme, (1984), Paris: Agora. p. 163.

[18] Ibid. p. 163

[19] Leo Strauss: Droit naturel et histoire, (1954) Paris: Plon p. 126-139.

[20] Leo Strass: The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws (1973), Chicago: University of Chicago Press p. 42.

[21] Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, Chicago (1959): Glencoe Press.

[22] In Socrates’ Apology this issue is discussed. The philosopher is persecuted by the state, because he will not accept its gods. According to Strauss, this is a modern problem. Nietzsche was persecuted because he pointed out that the gods do not exist. The lack of faith in the state’s values is serious because it ultimately leads to the dissolution of the state. Drury argues in this context that Strauss should be construed as a conservative who has discovered Nietzsche’s truth about the absence of God and morality in the state. The philosopher does not care. He does not see this as a political problem, but for the wise and experienced politician and a good man to govern the state this becomes a problem. He cannot tell the truth to the people, for it would lead to the dissolution of the state. It is therefore the hallmark of the conservative position that it from the point of view of social utilitarianism is very keen to keep religion as a basis for the state. Shada B. Drury: The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988), London: Macmillan.

[23] Leo Strass, The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws (1973), Chicago: University of Chicago Press p. 38.

[24] S. Salkever: “Aristotle’s Social Science” , Political Theory,  Vol 9, no. 4, (1987), New York: Sage Publications.

[25] Leo Strauss: The City and Man, (1964), Chicago: French translation: La cité et l’homme, (1984), Paris: Agora. p. 28.

[26] Aristoteles, Den nikomakiske Etik, French translation, Tricot: Ethique à  Nicomaque, (1987), Paris: Vrin, p. 75.

[27] ibid s. 220.

[28] Malgan: “Aristotle and the Value of Political Participation”, Political Theory, Vol 18, no. 2.

[29] Leo Strauss: The City and Man, (1964), Chicago: La cité et l’homme, (1984), Paris: Agora. p. 43.

[30] Leo Strauss: “ Three Waves of Modernity” in An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Ten Essays by Leo Strauss (1989): Detroit: Wayne State University Press p. 82.

[31] Allan Bloom: The Closing of the American Mind (1987), New York: Touchstone. In this book continues Bloom Strauss’ project by making a cultural, critical, intellectual aristocracy analysis of American society, and Bloom considers how consumption-ideology, value nihilism and relativism has destroyed American intellectual life and university system.

[32] Leo Strauss, De la Tyrannie, Paris 1954: Gallimard.

[33] Here it seems that Strauss is inspired by Max Weber’s discussion of charismatic identity and the possibility of a plebiszitär-charismatic domination, where the good manager is opposed to the colorless bureaucrat who heads the government. Weber was worried about that the Weimar Republic because of its constitution could get such a leader. An example of where time is de Gaulle’s status as France’s president. See also Max Weber: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Tubingen (1972): J.B.C Mohr., p. 141.

[34] Alistair MacIntyre: After Virtue, London (1981): Duckwood.

[35] Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice, New York 1983: Blackwell

[36] Allan Bloom: The Closing of the American Mind (1987), New York: Touchstone.

Peter Koslowski’s Ethics and Economics or Ethical Economy: A Framework for a research agenda in business ethics

This paper presents the concept of ethical economy (Wirtschaftsethik) and the relation between ethics and economics on the basis of the work of the German ethical economist Peter Koslowski. The concept of ethical economy includes three levels: micro, meso and macro levels; and it also deals with the philosophical analysis of the ethical foundations of the economy. After the discussion of these elements of the ethical economy, the paper presents some possible research topics for a research agenda about economic ethics or ethical economy.

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Papers from the NSU Summer session of 2014 – study group 3: “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas”


The general theme of the meeting was CRISIS: Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas. In addition we had the special theme Neoliberalism, Economic Crisis and a New Economy.


The general discussion was a continuation of the work of the crisis study group on topics such as: the concept of crisis; democracy in crisis: the European Union and the public sector; crisis, existence and culture; Arctic crisis, climate change and environmental issues; crisis, paradoxes and new technology; globalization and crisis.

  Continue reading Papers from the NSU Summer session of 2014 – study group 3: “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas”

Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas


‘Crisis’ can mean a confrontation between old and new. ‘Crisis’ can mean a rupture with the old ways of thinking and a chance of dislodging rigid ways of thinking, including those in the academy. There is a crisis of a notion of any stable ‘subject-hood’ in which new critical theories and philosophical ideas might also have a place. We could propose ways of looking at ‘crisis’ in gender relations, the arts and the humanities, and the continuing debates on the crisis of the current capitalist practices. Why is it that the latter has so far not produced any real change? A discussion of ‘crisis’ and the ways in which the notion is impacting culture and society might be of interest.

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The Importance of Responsibility in Times of Crisis


The importance of responsibility in Times of Crisis


In this paper I would like to show the importance of the concept of responsibility as the foundation of ethics in times of crisis; in particular within the fields of politics and economics in the modern civilisation, marked by globalization and technological progress. I consider the concept of responsibility as the key notion in order to understand the ethical duty in a modern technological civilisation. We can indeed observe a moralization of the concept of responsibility going beyond a strict legal definition, i.e. in terms of imputability. The paper begins by discussing the humanistic foundations of such a concept of responsibility. It treats the historical origins of responsibility and it relates this concept to the concept of accountability.  On the basis of this historical determination of the concept, I would like to present the definition of the concept of responsibility as a fundamental ethical principle that has increasing importance as the foundation of the principles of governance in modern welfare states. In this context the paper discusses the extension of the concept of responsibility towards institutional or corporate responsibility, where responsibility does not only concerns the responsibility of individuals, but also deals with the responsibility of institutional collectivities. In this way the paper is based on the following structure: 1) The ethical foundation of the concept of responsibility; 2) Responsibility in technological civilisation; 3) Political responsibility for good governance in the welfare state; 4) Social responsibility of business corporations in times of globalization; 5) Conclusion and discussion: changed conditions of responsibility in modern times.

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Introductory note


This was the last symposium of our circle in a cycle of six symposia devoted to the discussion of ethics in cosmopolitan world society. We had selected the special theme of good governance for this workshop and the title Good Governance and Cosmopolitanism.

The headlines for the discussion of the topic of good governance were the following: What is good governance in a changing world of cosmopolitanism and globalization? What is the relation between network governance and good governance? How can we contribute to the democratization of governance within international institutions, political systems, civil society organizations and private businesses? The study group focused on the theory and practice of good governance in a historical, philosophical, managerial and international perspective.


We also elaborated additional discussions of theories and empirical sociological work about a variety of ethical problems arising in areas such as human responsibility towards the environment, international diplomacy and administrative bureaucracy. In connection with them, we continued our general discussions about democracy as a concept, its justification in jurisprudence and the relation between ethics, law and democracy. Here we also continued our general discussion on the classical theme of morality and the ethical life, in particular with emphasis on critical theory.


Indeed the study group worked also on the continued examination of the paradoxes, dilemmas and tensions in recent debates about ethical, political and social values in contemporary cosmopolitan societies, furthering the research pursued by its members over the past few years. With the papers presented in this special issue you have some examples of the content and output of these discussions. We are thankful to their participants in the working circle 3 in the Nordic Summer University for their constructive comments and contributions to the debates and work of the study circle. 

Ethics of Administration – Towards Sustainability and Cosmopolitanism


A starting point of such an investigation should be the risk of moral blindness and no ethics in relation to the present global crisis in public organizations and institutions. Public administration ethics deals with the formulation of the ethical theories and principles that define administration ethics in public bureaucracies and political institutions. We can say that public administration ethics concerns the need for practical reason and wisdom in relation to complex decision-making. In this context administration ethics and political judgment is important for the legislative, executive and jurisdictional powers. We can say that the proposal of an ethics for administration as political judgment aims at increasing ethical formulation competence as well the political system, administration and legal system as such.

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A note on the papers from the winter symposium of the Nordic Summer University held in Akureyri, Iceland, March, 1st-3rd 2013



Among the themes tackled at the symposium there was one that gained special prominence, namely the sociological study of contemporary ethics, given that different papers presented and discussed current sociological theories and empirical sociological work about practical ethical issues. This theme revolved in particular around the foundations of ethical values in today’s societies and focused upon some developments in Scandinavia, such as the Protestant ethics of the environment and the ethical challenges arising from ongoing scientific research.


Another important issue debated at the symposium was the foundation of the ethics of capitalism, in particular in relation to the current crisis of the global capitalist system. In this context we discussed the relation between ethics and economics and the possibility of developing an ethics of the common good in the capitalist system.


Further, the symposium included different papers on democracy and ethics within the context of critical political philosophy. This also extended to the debate about the relation between ethics, law and democracy, conceived from the perspective of different influential social and political philosophers.


Concerning the Arctic theme, the discussion focussed upon select aspects of the many environmental, ethical, political and legal issues facing the Arctic region today. We had in particular a discussion of the new Icelandic constitution and the challenges that Iceland faces as a member of the Arctic community.


In this special issue we have collected some of the papers from this wonderful meeting, which benefitted from intense and thought-provoking discussions. We hope that the reader will be able to feel the same enthusiasm as the participants did during the two days of presentations and discussions.

Ethical Challenges Facing Greenland in the Present Era of Globalization: Towards Global Responsibility



Introduction: Ethics and the Arctic

Recently, the developments of ethics and politics in the Arctic region have again become an issue for international discussion. One main issue is the problem of climate change and sustainability of the Arctic region. This problem is linked to the issue of exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic region, not at least in Greenland. Indeed, the general issue is how we should define ethics of the environment and sustainability as a general principle for the Arctic region. It is important to discuss what is at stake and how we define the problem in relation to the different participating stakeholders.

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Papers from the conference “Ethical imagination and social theory”


In general, the study group has examined the paradoxes, dilemmas and tensions occurred in recent debates about ethical, political and social values in contemporary societies. We can observe that ethical problems have been increasingly a central topic in public debates in Nordic societies and in the international community. Both political decisions and daily practices in public institutions and private business organizations are increasingly faced with ethical problems and ethical issues. Moreover, there are more and more contexts and practices where ethical issues are central themes and where ethical reflection is itself a central theme. This tendency has been very present in the relation between democracy and administration, the obligations of business corporations in relation to profit maximization and economic efficiency, public and private management and governance, health issues, the relation to the environment and the use of natural resources, the social obligations of corporations and their responsibilities towards global poverty, democracy and environmental problems.


We had different themes on the agenda related to the general programme of the group and one of the themes was an examination of recent social theory in relation to the main topics of the study group.  In particular, we can mention the foundations of social ethics in a post-secular society. On this basis, the papers that we present in this special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum address the basis for ethical imagination from the point of view of different approaches within social theory and political science, including critical theory, contemporary French and Italian philosophy (e.g. Badiou, Lacan, Agamben, Vattimo), and recent debates in international relations. Finally, we also present a reading of documentary film-making from the point of view of ethical theory, written by one of Europe’s prominent documentary film-makers. 

The economic sociology of late capitalism: The Contributions from Boltanski, Thévenot and Chiapello



On Justification

De la justification. Les economies de la grandeur (1991; Paris: Gallimard; On Justification. The economics of worth) must be considered in the context of the French and American discussion of the concept of justice in relation to political philosophy from the middle of the 1980s. This book focusses on the description of the different spheres of justification of society in order to understand the private market economy. The central problem is how people justify their actions within different contexts of society. The book argues that modern societies consist of multiple orders of worth and justification that follow different values and norms. The multiple orders (civic, market, inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic) coexist together in society and are often confronted with each other in social conflicts. In that case the values are tested in accordance with a superior principle of worth referring to the common good in society. However, often fragile compromises between specific values in social spheres and the superior principle of the good are established.


In this way, the book proposes a program for economic justice inspired by the discussion between liberalism and communitarianism, in particular between the liberal political philosopher John Rawls and the communitarian political theorist, Michael Walzer. Inspired by communitarianism, Boltanski and Thévenot propose a defense of a pluralist conception of the economy, social value and the conceptions of justice in society. Justice emerges through the integration of different values and spheres of justice that consists of different worlds with different requirements of justification. Accordingly, there is always a kind moral agreement behind economic action, as it was already suggested by Adam Smith when he defended the position that we have to face the importance of the moral feelings of the actors involved in economic exchange. In this sense the position of the convention school as suggested by Boltanski and Thévenot can be said to combine the economic sociology of Durkheim with a communitarian conception of the moral economy. [1]


The book begins in the first chapter by presenting the need for a situation-based social science as a task for statistical economy. This social science should take into account the role of anthropology, individual action and socio-professional categories for the formation of the codes and conventions in the social field. The argument is that research on justice refers to a generalized form of justification that is mediated through individual action in the economy.[2] We need to refer to a form of generality that goes beyond the individualism of the neo-liberal economy.


This kind of generality is found in political philosophy. The book examines the tradition of political philosophy and its implied conceptions of agreement in relation to the model of the city (la cité) and of the common good.[3] Accordingly, the conception of the common good (le bien commun) in different concepts of political philosophy is analyzed. This can be determined as different spheres, systems, orders, fields or worlds of justification with final reference to a common good. The reference to such generalized forms of justification is in particular important in situations of disagreement and dispute.[4] Indeed, it is also important in situations of compromise where an agreement between different orders of justification is needed.


This kind of justification can be explained in terms of political philosophy. Here the sociologist and economist Boltanski and Thévenot are inspired by political philosophy in order to understand constructions of generalized norms and concepts of humanity with reference to the common good in the market sphere.[5] It is in particular the project of Michael Walzer in Spheres of Justice that serves as a model in order to understand the different forms of justification in connection with the search for references to a common good that is at stake in the different spheres of society.


In this sense the book is about the conception of agreement and disagreement within different spheres and worlds of justification. The authors want to show that the moral capacity is at the center of the economic exchange.[6] The concepts of sympathy and impartial spectator in Adam Smith help to understand this moral dimension of the economy, where there is a reference to a superior good as a guiding and legitimating force within the economic exchange. In the words of Durkheim, there is a reference to a collective moral being of society. The individuals at the market are determined by collective moral rules that represent the common good at the economic market. The agreement at the market (accord) refers to a collective generality that is the basis for the justified economic action.


The justification in relation to a general normative order can be defined as legitimation–a term borrowed from Max Weber.[7] The different forms of justification refer, according to Boltanski and Thévenot, to a common principle of humanity (principe de commune humanité).[8] The economy becomes a systems of constraints that is limited by a common order of the city. However, in a complex society, this common order is differenced into a plurality of justifications and different value spheres. In these different spheres internal concepts of justice are constitutions as applications of the general principle of humanity.


In chapter II Boltanski and Thévenot discuss the foundation of agreement in terms of political philosophy with the example of the market city (cité marchande) and with special reference to the conception of agreement in the theory of our moral sentiments by Adam Smith.[9] Smith proposes a conception of the city that is based on a market connection. In fact, according to Boltanski and Thévenot, the original project of Smith was to propose a political philosophy and a concept of justice in the sense that the Theory of our Moral Sentiments represented a proposal for a theory of jurisprudence. Accordingly, the identification of market relations is based on a common identification of goods.[10] This concept goes back to the idea of the “just price” by the scholastics, where the common agreement (communis aestimatio) upon the price was considered as the basis of exchange of goods and services on the economic market. Desire of profit had the function to create a balance between buyer and seller.[11] Other philosophers, such as Montesquieu and Hume, have presented the same idea, i.e. that market relations are based on a principle of a common social good of exchange. This principle is maintained by the concept of the “impartial spectator” that, according to Hume, is based on a common disposition of sympathy among human beings. This idea of sympathy is further developed by Adam Smith as a common sympathy or moral sense that serves as the basis for the idea of the impartial spectator. This idea is also found in the work of social theorists like Durkheim and Mead, who works with the idea of the generalized other.[12]


On this basis, Boltanski and Thévenot analyze the idea within different political philosophies of justification of legitimate agreement according to a superior principle of the common good. They propose a kind of structural analysis of texts of political philosophy, arguing that the text constructs a form of superiority referring to the common good and universal validity by making a form of sacrifice to that superior good.[13] Accordingly, such a system of reference to a superior common good is essential to the texts of political philosophy. This is the case with the idea of a common humanity of all the members of the city. A plurality of different concepts of the good can be held together by the reference to the general superior principle of the good and of humanity. This principle is also a principle of political economy where the market city is constituted by this principle of a common human dignity and humanity. In the political economy individuals who disagree in market transactions are supposed to refer to this principle of a common humanity and dignity.


This reference to the greatness of the common humanity receives different forms within different political community. Boltanski and Thévenot refer to the different orders as different cities (cités) that are founded on different political philosophies. Firstly, we can mention the democratic illegitimacy of the principle as a eugenic principle of constructing better human beings. However, in different models of political philosophy, we can see this principle in different forms. Augustin spoke about the City of God where members unite because they respect the divine principle of infinite grace. The idea of the family as described by Bossuet as a domestic city requiring a certain worth as a superior unit or of the state qua incarnation of the person is a secular repetition of this idea within the modern nation state. Moreover, we can mention the concept of citizenship in Republican political philosophy, i.e. the civic city (cité civique) as marked by the same kind of logic of reference to a higher principle serving as basis for a political or social order (i.e. civic greatness, as proposed by Rousseau). In the city of opinion, in contrast, the reference to a higher principle is constituted of formal or conventional elements, for example the law or people who receive honor and fame in terms of civil recognition in society. Even in the industrial system, as described by Saint-Simon, the worthy actions are justified by reference to a principle of common humanity. Also here, people justify the worth of their actions with reference to a superior principle of the common good.


In the third part and in chapter V of the book, Boltanski and Thévenot describe the function of justification in particular situations.[14] This is also a plea for a more individualistic action-oriented social science that does not only focus on universal abstract law, but on individual engagement – involvement in the situation. Social sciences are faced with individual actors in concrete situations of justification facing different logics of worth in different cities. Accordingly, for Clausewitz, the situation is a possibility of victory or defeat depend on prudence in the battlefield, while for Sartre the situation is entirely dependent on the interpretation of the actors in terms of the actor’s existential projects that determine his or her gaze and view of the situation.[15]


In the concrete situation individuals are involved to prove their worth and obtain recognition. Here the different cities emerge in a common world. It is in this particular existential situation that individuals make reference to different logics of justification according to the values of the different cities. Individuals are “engagés par des actes justifiables”.[16] In this sense the situation is a test of common humanity with reference to specific logics of justification.[17] In the situation it is the dignity of humanity in relation to common principles that is a stake in each world or sphere of justification. We can mention as examples: common superior principle, state of greatness (worthiness), dignity of persons (real nature), cast of subjects, cast of objects and dispositions, formula of investments for an economy of worth, natural relations between beings, figure of an harmonious natural order, test model, form of expression of judgment, form of evidence, state of satisfaction or destruction of the city world.[18]



Different orders or regimes of worth

Each of the different worlds refers to a particular prudence that is expressed in particular in the economics of the business organization. In the inspired world it is creativity. In the domestic world it is the logic of good human relations. In the world of opinion it is fame, marketing and good public relations. In the civic world it is the logic of the social contracts and citizenship rights. In the market world it is the logic of money, management and business strategy that is important. In the industrial world it is the logic of productivity. In the modern enterprise that is the paradigmatic rationality.[19]


In their further presentation of the worlds or regimes of justification, in chapter VI we find a deeper elaboration of these different elements of each order of justification.[20]


The world of inspiration and creativity is marked by a focus on individual creativity and originality. The worth is related to the creative accomplishments of the individual person, like a famous artist or writer. This world is the world of creativity and originality of the individual in contrast to mass society


The domestic regime is not only present in family circles. It is a general logic of the family that can be applied to all spheres of society. Here, generation, tradition and hierarchy are important. Indeed, the images of the superior and of the father, as well of tradition, are basic logics of this position. But the regime also contains all the logics and values of the family order.


The regime of opinion is the world of the logic of the present and of public opinion. It is the fame and dignity of human beings in public space. This world is also the world of communication and the regime of information in the society. Success is dependent on fame and recognition in public space.


The regime of the civic world refers to persons that are not human beings in the same sense as individuals in the family. We are faced with universal rights of persons in a general sense. They are determined by abstract general principles of rights and laws in society. The sphere of justification refers to the logic of solidarity and respect in the welfare state.


The regime of the market world cannot be reduced to the economic world. It is also different from the industrial regime. It is the order of business and of buying and selling. It is the order of profit as opposed to human dignity. This logic is not only restricted to the market, but it is also unconsciously a part of personal identity.[21] It is also based on the logic of competition and of commercial relations between individuals.


The regime of the industrial world is the world that is determined by industrial technical and scientific approaches. This regime is marked by the function of the enterprise according to an industrial logic. Here, it is logic of technical performance and of functionality that is dominating. This paradigm is the regime of technical productivity and of standardization in relation to the factory.


In chapter VII Boltanski and Thévenot discuss the criticisms of their proposed concept of different worlds of justification.


First of all there is the criticism of the immanent logic of each regime of justification from the outside. However, people can be in all worlds and regimes at the same time, so criticism can also be immanent from people within a regime who apply the logics of another world to criticize this regime. This criticism is that a person is too occupied with the logic of one regime in contrast to the rationality of another regime. A kind of critique of the paradigms would be to show how a certain behavior is nothing but, say, market logic or technological.[22] It is a revelation of the real logic behind a certain activity. This could lead to another perspective on a particular activity (inversion du regard posant les valeurs).[23]


The access to the logics of different worlds depends on the construction of the action in the situation (agencement in the sense of Deleuze). It can be impossible to combine the different logics of justification and the confrontation between the worlds can also result in a certain cynicism when one of the logics is preferred to the other. However, the fact that the construction of a world is submitted to the constraint of justification means that the rationality of the world is tested to the rationality of the other worlds and finally also to the concept of justice that refer to principles of the common good going beyond the specific worlds of justification.


Accordingly, Boltanski and Thévenot present some of the criticisms of each of the rationalities of each regime of justification from the point of view of the rationalities of the other spheres of justification, so that each sphere of justification can be criticized from the point of view of the other spheres of justification.


The world of inspiration, from the point of view of the domestic world, can be criticized for going beyond habit and convention; leaving everything; creating a world of appearance; making an inauthentic world theater. From the point of view of the civic world, it brakes with the state through its revolutionary attitude. From the point of view of the market logic, creativity is not economic and may be bad business. From the point of view of the industrial world, it breaks with the necessary routine and functionality of industrial production.


The domestic world, from the point of view of the world of inspiration, can be criticized for its unreflective letting things be. From the world of opinion it is pure appearance and at the same time it does not want to be a part of the public space; it cannot stay in the privacy of the family in a “mediatized” world. From the civic world we see a criticism of the irresponsibility of the anonymous family man who does not want to take on his political and civic duty. From the market world the family world is naïve because it ignores the commercialization of human all human life. From the point of view of the industrial world family products are old and bad and family business is unprofessional.


The world of fame and opinion, from the inspired world, can be criticized for its lack of depth and for the irresponsibility and inauthenticity of the stars and the newspapers. The family world would also be critical of this and challenge the lack of privacy in the world of opinion. The world of the market would argue that opinion has to be commercialized and the industrial attitude would be critical to the lack of objectivity in opinion.


The civic world, from the inspired world, can be criticized for its lack of individualism and avant-gardism. From the point of view of the family world the civic world make contracts out of relations of love and affection and it does not respect the values of the family. Moreover, there is the danger of corruption of the trade unions in contrast to the values of the family. There is a potential tension between the paternalism of the family and the democratic values of the civic attitude. The world of opinion would emphasize the importance of debate in democracy, while the market world would see the civic world as economically inefficient and not respecting market individualism. The industrial world would be critical towards the dangers of bureaucratization of the civic world.


The market regime world argue that the inspired world could not be good for business because of lack of cold-blooded rationality in business transactions. To the domestic would it would argue that the market should be liberated from personal relations and local custom. The family business ruins development of the market. Moreover, the opinion world is dangerous for good business transactions and investments. Celebrity and fame are not important for good business. Indeed, the civic world is not very productive and democracy and justice can be expensive for business. The industrial worldview may imply too rigid technocratic attitudes.


The industrial world argues that the improvisation of the inspired world is dangerous. Indeed we are beyond the domestic world in modern industrial society. The bureaucracy of the civic world is supposed to be inefficient and social politics too cost full. With reference to the market world it would argue that luxury products only based on business profits are too cost full. Moreover, the market may be technologically inefficient if it is left to its own logic.


On the basis of the confrontation and mutual criticisms between the different orders of worth, Boltanski and Thévenot argue that the confrontation between the world leads to different forms of compromise.[24] The compromise searches for a common good that goes beyond the logic of a specific order of worth. In the compromise the actors refer to a specific vision of the common good. Different rationalities in the different worlds enter into compromise with relation to the common good. The compromises are very fragile. The moral philosophy of Durkheim and Saint-Simon contains conceptions of the common good that help us to understand the role of compromise between different orders of worth. This is for example the case with Durkheim’s industrial concept of organic solidarity and collective worth in relation to the civic philosophy of Rousseau.[25] Here, elements of civic and domestic orders of worth are introduced into the industrial order of the corporation.


Accordingly, in chapter X, Boltanski and Thévenot propose and examine different figures of compromise.[26] Compromise of the world of inspiration with the domestic world compromise may take the form of the master-pupil relation as model of professional work relation. With the world of opinion it is the cult of the star-system that is the compromise. With the civic world it is l’homme revolté that is the compromise; with the business world it is the creative market; and with the technology world it is creative technology.


Possible compromises with the domestic world involve good relations in the case of the world of opinion; with the civic world it involves good manners and common sense in administration; with business promotion of trust in business; with the industrial world it refers to the importance of home knowledge, human resources and the paternalistic responsibility of the corporate director.


Compromise between the world of opinion and the civic world involves respect for public opinion; with the business world it involves promotion of the image of the brand; with the industrial world it involves strategic branding methods.


Compromise with the civic world and the business world seems impossible, although business ethics and corporate citizenship may be a possibility; with the industrial world it is the respect for the rights of workers and the trade unions that express the compromise as well as different methods to humanize work.


Possible compromise between the between the industrial world and the business world is based on the production of an industrial product that can easily be sold and combination between a business attitude and an industrial attitude.


Boltanski and Thévenot emphasize that the mutual presupposition of the common good and common humanity is necessary to create a foundation for a compromise.[27] However, an attempt to escape from justification is the reference to relativism. But we should also avoid violence of justification that should be based on mutual acceptance of the reference to the common good. Indeed, good compromise is a matter of sound reflective judgments.


Accordingly, we see how the project of Boltanski and Thévenot marked both a continuation of and a criticism of Bourdieu’s sociology, which was dominating in the 1980s. With Bourdieu, the authors introduced a stronger concept of the individual actor than the one that was present in the structuralist approach to sociology.[28] Also, we see that their project is critical to the anti-normative project of Bourdieu by focusing so much upon the common good as essential to the solution to the problem of compromise. Moreover, Boltanski and Thévenot are very normative when they say that the different worldviews always refer to the common good. In fact we can say that they are inspired by the concept of hermeneutics and ethics implicit in Paul Ricoeur’s notion of hermeneutics as arising from the conflict of interpretations, as well as in his idea of world in his theory of ideology.[29] This is also the basis for the move from structure to actors that is present in the project of Boltanski and Thévenot. However, we might ask the question whether there is a danger of a potential idealism and even moralism with so much focus on the common good within the project of Boltanski and Thévenot. Also, what is the status of these different regimes or worlds of justification? What are their borderlines and what are their justifications?



The new spirit of capitalism

While the study of justification and the economy of worth can be characterized as the domain of political philosophy, Le Nouvel Esprit du capitalism is based on the reading of management literature and the development of capitalism from bureaucratic organizational forms towards flexible network and project capitalism. This book analyzes the sphere of justification that is present in network capitalism which constitutes a new sphere of justification that is different from the spheres of social justification in De la justification (civic, market, inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic). The question of Le Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme is the problem of how capitalism, with its developments from the 1960s to the 1990s, has been able to overcome its critiques and reinforce itself by developing into a new form. The book studies the ideological changes that follow the recent changes in capitalism.[30]


The book uses the term “capitalist spirit” in order to understand the ideological transformations of capitalist society that have made it possible to absorb critiques of capitalism within the capitalist ideology. Capitalism is defined as accumulation of capital with pacific means.[31] The spirit or ethos of capitalism is defined as the ideology that justifies “l’engagement dans le capitalisme”.[32] We can say that the spirit of capitalism is the dominant ideology that justifies capitalism as an independent world of justification. The justification of capitalism is incorporated in the spirit of capitalism. In this sense the ethos of capitalism is linked to a city or world of justification of capitalism that aims at being justified in the light of the relation to the cities of justification. In this context the business world and the industrial world already represent two forms of capitalism that aim at being justified in the city.[33]


However, according to Boltanski and Chiapello, a third spirit of capitalism is being formed, i.e. the world as the city of project and network capitalism. This new justificatory discourse is based on auto-justification in order to resist the most widespread anti-capitalist critique. In fact, critique has an internally transformative influence on capitalism. Capitalism incorporates the values that were the basis for its critique.[34] As a result, the book is not only about the ideology of capitalism, but indeed also about the forms of critique of capitalism and the capacity of capitalism to incorporate its critique in order to justify its existence in the city. Accordingly, capitalism has been submitted to criticism of inauthenticity, oppression, opportunism and egoism, social criticism and more recently, artistic criticism.


Boltanski and Chiapello document the transformations of capitalism by analysis of the literature of management as a source of the normativity of capitalism. Management has its origins the doctrines of Fayol, who conceived management as a science of administration.[35] However, from the 1960s to the 1990s, management has changed from being hierarchical and bureaucratic to be based on autonomy, confidence and the self-management of the employees. From Taylorism, with planning and control, management has become dependent on networks and project management. Boltanski and Chiapello call this new regime of justification la cité par projet, with reference to a flexible world with multiple projects that are taken up by autonomous persons following the new ideology of justification of management.[36]


The key to the new ethos of project management and network capitalism is the employability and flexibility of the individual and his or her capacity to transform themselves and undergo change in the movement from project to project.[37] The new management of the project and network capitalism responds according to Boltanski and Chiapello to the artistic critique of lack of authenticity and creativity, while being still open to the social critique of leaving the vulnerable and poor outside the capitalist system.[38] The new management opens for individual creativity and self-realization in the business system, while still being based on instrumentalization and exploitation. The new management is a personalization of the worker according to the desire of the individual.


The city of projects as a seventh world of justification is based on the network paradigm, which focuses on communication and relations, based on common judgment according to communicative action, as it is the case in Habermas’ work.[39] Here, mediation and network formation capacity are particular values. In particular extension of networks and projects represents the superior principle of this project city. Life is conceived as extension of projects and self-developments with the values of flexibility, adaptability and employability as important. On this basis, the concepts of justice and of justification in the city of projects is based on the readiness of the nomadic individual to sacrifice everything for the next project. But the network is also supposed to be open for new participants. Some forms of justification of the domestic and the business world are very close to the project-world justifications.[40] However, the morality of the project city is first of all a morality of personal development and self-control.[41]


In particular, the developments in values-driven management and business ethics can be interpreted in terms of the work on Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme by Boltanski and Chiapello. According to them, business ethics is a good example about how the vocabulary of the 1960ties has moved into business. They say that the argument “ethics pays” from the ethics movement in the 1990ties is an indirect way to introduce moral issues in business.[42] Due to the requirement of justification the ethos of capitalism is continuously incorporating critique. In fact from being an external social critique of the lack of justice in business and capitalism, business ethics has been incorporated into the capitalist firm as instrument of legitimation, discipline and profit maximization.


Managers want to expose themselves as people of trust and confidence in the emerging network economy and therefore they are motivated by business ethics. Business ethics is an element of the introduction of the logic of the domestic world into the business world and thereby an element of the introduction of network capitalism of the 1990s with its refusal of hierarchy, emphasis on change and flexibility, virtue, friendship. Boltanski and Chiapello emphasizes that the new management leaders of the 1990s are trying to show themselves as persons of high ethical standards and integrity.[43] Business ethics is also a response to the difficulties of managing persons in flexible network organizations, where people work in network far from central management. Business ethics is introduced as an important element of human resource management, including the use of psychologists and coaching to take care of employees. Therefore business ethics is a way to ensure compliance, but personal integrity and ethics is also important to ensure employability of individuals in network capitalism.[44] This is the same thing with the concept of confidence or trust, which is becoming a new form of control.


On this foundation, they treat more close the issue of business ethics in relation to the debate about trust (confiance). The instrumentalization of trust as an instrument of management following Williamson’s transaction cost economics. However, trust is also a possibility to give up very rigid structures of organization. But in the ordinary management literature trust is considered as a calculative instrument at the disposal to managers to use so as to increase their confidence in the network. The ordinary management literature describes le Mailleur (the man with the mask), the great idol of the project work, who shares with the Faisseur all necessary qualities to create a good network.[45] But the Mailleur also has the quality of being attributed confidence, which is very important to increase and open up the network. This is because, in project work, trust relations are becoming increasingly important in order to develop the project group and to avoid opportunistic behavior.[46]


On this basis, Boltanski and Chiapello regard the movement of business ethics (l’éthique des affaires) as an effort to develop personal loyalty of workers to the corporation in for the benefit of the corporations and their collaborators. Analysis of the codes of the biggest multinational firms in the beginning of the 1990s shows two aspects of the documents. The first one is the effort to discourage opportunistic action among employees. Those should be put outside the firm, if they want to use the firm against the interests of the firm. It is about avoiding personal profits against the firm. The second constancy of codes of ethics according to Boltanski and Chiapello is the effort to avoid corruption, which is one of the actions of the faisseur – who will get a personal profit of his institutional position by using and accepting corruption.


Now, Boltanski and Chiapello argue that business ethics codes are directed towards individual persons instead of institutional structures. Business ethics is about adaption of individuals to organizations to install just exchange between them and their organization. The codes of ethics are directed to the moral sense and cognitive capacity of individuals in organizations, so that they are responsible for their behavior in the organization.[47] However, this means that the ethics of business is focusing on the individual and it is not able to explain collective and institutional changes and developments of networks.


Accordingly, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme presents an interesting analysis with the presentation of the transformations of capitalism and its ideological incorporation of its other. This description of the emergence of the new order or city of the project and network world is very illuminating. However, the question of the connection between the different worlds and cities within capitalism seems difficult to explain. Moreover, it seems that the real issue is not so much the problem of the emergence of new historical justifications of capitalism. Rather, the topic is a moral and normative question about the possibility of a new social critique after the incorporation of the existing critical forms within the transformations of capitalism.



Discussion and conclusion : Social critique and justification after the transformations of capitalism?

With these transformations of capitalism and the disarmament of forms of traditional forms of justification and critique, we are faced with the question of how to deal with justification and critique after the transformations of capitalism.[48]


According to Boltanski and Chiapello, the transformations of capitalism have disarmed its social critique. In particular, the social and artistic critique that followed the riot of 1968. The social critique of capitalism was represented in particular by the new social movements. However, what happened in France was that the traditional industrial society and its concept of work and union was changed into a new capitalist society that took away the foundations of the traditional concept of social critique.[49] However, with the decline of the traditional kind of critique we face the emergence of new forms of social critique in the 1980s and 1990s.


This new kind of social critique looks at the forms of exploitation in the project and network world. What is important is to re-inscribe the project world into the forms of law and justice of the common good, in order to ensure the legitimacy of the project world.[50] The force of law is proposed to ensure the common good in the pluralistic context of the transformation of capitalism.[51]


Also, we have to look at the possibility to find new forms of artistic critique after the transformations of capitalism. After the emergence of project capitalism the artistic critique is forced to change its conceptions of liberation, autonomy and authenticity.[52] This is because capitalism has incorporated many of the elements of autonomy, creativity and self-realization that were previously present in the artistic critique.


In this context it is indeed a question of what kind of liberation and authenticity we want, confronted with the recent developments of network and project society. Here, focus on sustainability and ecological products and criticism of standardization of products is mentioned as a new form critique in network society.[53] Moreover, a critique of the concept of authenticity as such, following post-structuralist philosophers, is proposed too, in particular with regard to the use of authenticity as an instrument of manipulation in the capitalist context. However, new forms of artistic critique are difficult because the artistic critique has been paralyzed after the deconstructive movements following the radical critique of 1968.


With this, the authors propose a reintroduction of the artistic critique as a defense of human dignity and limitation of the market sphere. In her 2011 lectures in Denmark, Chiapello also mentioned corporate social responsibility (CSR) and work for sustainability in corporations. Here, it would be important to relate the artistic critique to the ecological critique in order to propose a new vision of society.


In particular, the book about the new spirit of capitalism is really an application of the theory of justification of the particular cities or worlds of existence. The general presumed definition of capitalism is that it is defined as accumulation of capital by peaceful means. However, this is not enough, because capitalism needs motivation and by motivation Boltanski and his co-authors also refer to justification. So we see that in reality capitalism has been marked by three spirits of justification based on: 1.Weber’s concept of the capitalist ethos; 2. The justification from the mixed market economy of the bureaucratic welfare state after the Second World War; 3. The justification from the new spirit of project and network capitalism. However, sometimes the spirit of capitalism moves beyond a specific sphere of justification and sometimes we see a battle between a specific spirit and the role of capitalism.


A general question is whether this theory is theory of economics or whether it is about different economic orders and many different things in society. In fact it is somewhat a theory about both society and economics, but seeing society in the light of economic markets. With this it may be argued that this is not so much different from Talcot Parson’s sociological theory of systems and subsystems. However, it may be the move from power in social systems to general justification that makes this theory different from Parson’s theory.


There remains the problem of power and justice in relation to the different theories of capitalism. Even if the authors argue that every city or world needs justification from a universal point of view, they also show that there is a problem of lack of social justice and domination within the different spirits of capitalism. However, a general problem of this approach is that it seems like the authors moves from a Marxist-inspired sociology of critique, like the one proposed by Bourdieu, to a more objectivist view of society where they face the paradox that capitalism has an extraordinary capacity of incorporating its opposites and use the critique of the capitalist spirit to make capitalism survive. Here the problem is that capitalism incorporates very easily its own critique and it seems impossible for those who disagree with capitalism to make a justification of a critique of capitalism. In this context it may seem that the authors try to argue that artistic critique is a better way to make a critique of capitalism than the traditional social critique that seems to have been incorporated into the capitalist system. But there is also an implicit reference to a broader concept of social justice like the one we find by authors like Axel Honneth or John Rawls, in the general argument that a social world needs reference to a universal justification in order to be justified as social world. This concept of justice is found in the equality concept that is behind the idea of the different spheres of society that is referred to in relation to the new spirit of capitalism.


But this leaves us still with the question of what kind of transformation of capitalism is possible in the perspective of the theory of the seven worlds of justification and regimes of interpretation. This is not only a descriptive theory of social systems, but the reference to justification make the theory a normative justification of a world of society by means of reference to universal standards. However, here we need to ask the question of what role perspectivism plays in this theory of the justification of different worlds and cities. With its communitarian starting point, the theory may be argued to be an ideological construct where there are only different worlds with their own justifications without reference to a universal and common good for all these worlds. We can indeed refer to Nietzsche’s critique of the concept of goodness where the good is only a form of power of the strongest party. Justification would seem to be a kind of ideological construct and it may be impossible to have a universal or objective concept of the good behind the particular justifications of particular worldviews. Here we may ask the question of how to question the theory of justification in itself, as it is suggested by the authors. Is it really possible to move beyond the particular cities and worlds to see them from without from a kind of objectivist no-where perspective as the authors try to do?





[1] Luc Boltanski et Laurant Thévenot : De la justification. Les economies de la grandeur , Paris: Gallimard 1991., p. 33

[2] Ibid., p. 26.

[3] Ibid., p. 34.

[4] Ibd., p. 26.

[5] Ibid., p. 27.

[6] Ibid., p. 42.

[7] Ibid., p. 54.

[8] Ibid., p. 55.

[9] Ibid., p. 60.

[10] Ibid., p. 67.

[11] Ibid., p. 67.

[12] Ibid., p. 82.

[13] Ibid., p. 94.

[14] Ibid., p. 162.

[15] Ibid., p. 164

[16] Ibid., p. 168.

[17] Ibid., p. 175.

[18] Ibid., pp. 179-181.

[19] Ibid., pp. 186-199.

[20] Ibid., pp. 200-262.

[21] Ibid., p. 246.

[22] Ibid., p. 276.

[23] Ibid., p. 277.

[24] Ibid., p. 337.

[25] Ibid., p. 350.

[26] Ibid., pp. 357-407.

[27] Paul Ricoeur: Le conflit des interpretations, Paris: Le Seuil 1969. This book is important to understand the selection of a particular form of compromise in the conflict of interpretations.

[28] Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot (translated by Catherine Porter) On Justification: Economies of Worth

Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2006, Reviewed by Olivier Godechot, Paris School of Economics, Cultural Sociology, Cultural Sociology Volume 3, Number 1, March 2009.

[29] Paul Ricoeur: Le conflit des interpretations, Paris: Le Seuil 1969.

[30] Luc Boltanski et Eve Chapello: Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme , Gallimard, 1995, p. 35.

[31] Ibid., p. 38.

[32] Ibid., p. 42.

[33] Ibid., p. 64.

[34] Ibid., p. 71.

[35] Ibid., p. 96.

[36] Ibid., p. 143.

[37] Ibid., p. 145.

[38] Ibid., p. 151.

[39] Ibid., p. 161.

[40] Ibid., p. 192.

[41] Ibid., p. 235.

[42] Ibid., p. 111.

[43] Ibid., p. 146.

[44] Ibid., p. 148.

[45] Ibid., p. 486.

[46] Ibid, p. 486.

[47] Ibid, p. 487.

[48] Some of these points emerged in the discussion of the paper during the summer meeting where the paper was presented.

[49] Luc Boltanski et Eve Chapello: Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme , Gallimard, 1995, pp. 414-416.

[50] Ibid., p. 498.

[51] Ibid., p. 500.

[52] Ibid., p. 501.

[53] Ibid., p. 545-546.

Conference Papers from the Winter Symposium “Towards a New Ethical Imagination: Political and social values in a cosmopolitan world society”, Turku, Finland, 10-12 February 2012


The winter meeting took place at the University of Turku in Finland, 10-12 February 2012. We had different themes for our discussion.

The first theme was about “Recognition, freedom, dignity and social battles for justice in intercultural democratic society”. This theme consisted in the analysis of the concept of recognition in relation to the recent discussions on societal ethics, politics and justice. The workshop examined recognition and identity struggles that have emerged around the world as a result of post-secular society. We discussed this both in the theoretical perspective, such as philosophical, sociological and political views, and in the empirical perspective as well. The workshop looked at the cultural and social consequences of globalization and it dealt with proposals for world justice as a response to this. We focused on different battles of recognition and considered how recognition can be institutionalized under the condition of democracy.

In particular we discussed the latest work of Axel Honneth about freedom, recognition, institution and justice: Das Recht der Frieheit (Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2011). Honneth has changed his focus from recognition to the problem of how freedom can be institutionalized in a modern bourgeois capitalist society. This could also be called the problem of how a societal ethics could be constituted.

The model for Honneth is Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Hegel has, as it is well known, tried, as a critique of Kant, to conceptualize the institutionalization of freedom in modern society. It was interesting to bring Hegel’s discussion into play, not least his Wirkungsgeschichte or significant influence on later philosophical, political and sociological discussions of Sittlichkeit or Ethical Life, and its forms of institution in modern society.

The second theme of the meeting was “Environmental Ethics: Climate change and justice in the context of globalization of capitalism”. This part of the workshop dealt with environmental dilemmas due to the global environmental crisis. We debated climate change issues in the perspective of proposals for a new economy and we asserted how we should consider the climate change issue in relation to topics of identity struggles and poverty in developing countries.

The third theme of the meeting was the “Foundations of ethics”. Here we continued our ongoing discussions concerning possible foundations of ethical theory. Since the group started in 2010, it has been focusing on discourse ethics and ethics and closeness. The theme for the meeting in Turku involved discussions of consequentialism and utilitarianism as an ethical theory, but also broader themes about bioethics and environmental ethics were elaborated.

Finally, we had some papers that addressed the open theme of ethics in relation the general purpose of the study group.

As an overall theme, we investigate ethical and social values in a cosmopolitan world society. We examine the paradoxes, dilemmas and tensions appeared in recent debates about ethical, political and social values in contemporary societies. We can observe that ethical problems have been increasingly a central problem in public debates in Nordic societies and in the international community. Both political decisions and daily practices in public institutions and private business organizations are increasingly faced with ethical problems and issues. Moreover, there are more and more problems and practices where ethical issues are central themes and where ethical reflection is a central theme. This tendency has been very present in: the relation between democracy and administration; the obligations of business corporations in relation to profit maximization and economic efficiency; public and private management and governance; health issues; the relation to the environment and the use of natural resources; the social obligations and responsibilities towards global poverty, democracy and environmental problems. Every discussion over the prioritization of the social use of resources has, today, to be oriented towards different ethical dilemmas, problems and paradoxes of different kinds with very far reaching implications for the life of people in society and nature.

Indeed, we had a very fruitful meeting in Turku and we would indeed like to thank warmly Professor Juha Räikkä from the Philosophy department at Turku University who supervised the local organization. Moreover, we would also like to thank the participants in this symposium for their interesting contributions to the general discussions of our study group.

Axel Honneth: The law of freedom – Institutionalization of freedom in modern societies – A reconstruction and some remarks



Introduction: A theory of institutionalization of freedom

I understand Honneth’s book Das Recht der Freiheit (Suhrkamp 2011) as an argument for human freedom and autonomy in modern society that is based on a normative interpretation of legal, moral and social institutionalization of freedom in modern societies. In this sense Honneth’s book represents a re-interpretation and application of G.W.F Hegel’s concept of Freiheit als Sittlichkeit der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. I would argue that the central theme of the book is the description of processes of institutionalization that lead to the emergence of freedom as the most important legal, moral and social value of the modern society.


The book begins with a presentation of Honneth’s method that can be characterized as a kind of normative sociology or sociological philosophy in the sense that he characterizes theory of justice as analysis of society. The method is based on “normative reconstruction” of the basis of the social institutions of liberal democracy. Here we can say that the starting point is closer to the later Habermas’ idea of facticity and validity and to the later Rawls’ idea of overlapping consensus than it is to the more idealist and metaphysical positions proposed by these authors in their early works (p. 21). Honneth describes the prevailing norms of justice and morality of freedom in liberal democracies of the Western world with Hegel’s philosophy of rights as points of inspiration. Normative reconstruction also means reconstruction of the legal and moral legitimacy of the institutions of liberal democracy. Normative reconstruction leads to an analysis of the social reality of liberal democracies. The idea is to describe the institutionalized conditions of normativity. The premises for this are: 1) Social reproduction of a society is determined by the shared universal values of such a society; 2) Justice cannot be understood independently of these generally shared values and ideals; 3) The plurality of these values and ideas can be found in the social practices of this society that must be distilled out of the society; 4) This leads to the understanding of the Sittlichen institutions and practices of this society (p. 30). This concept of justice is to be considered as a post-traditional concept of Sittlichkeit in society.


Honneth begins by considering the historical conditions of the emergence of the values and ideals of justice of modern society (p. 35). Important for the emergence of modern society is the idea of individual autonomy and authenticity as the meaning of life. Individual freedom has replaced collective conceptions of the good. Honneth sees the focus on autonomy and self-determination as essential to modernity. In particular we can speak about a negative, a reflective and a social conception of freedom that express a differentiation of the concept due to the complexity of modern society. Negative freedom is linked to the philosophy of the social contract coming from Hobbes. But we also find this concept of negative freedom in Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy and finally in Nozick’s his philosophy of the social contract. Honneth argues that this concept is not enough to constitute the goals for the subject, because something must be presupposed. Therefore the reflective and the social conception of freedom become important. The reflective concept implies that the free individual can determine rationally his or her actions. This is based on a distinction between heteronymous and autonomic action. Rousseau and Kant are representatives of this conception. Autonomy and self-realization according to the idea of rationality are important dimensions of this concept, which forgets however the institutional dimension of freedom that we find in the social concept of freedom. This concept of freedom goes beyond the individual concepts of freedom in Habermas and Apel and goes back to the concept of freedom in Hegel’s philosophy of right. Mutual recognition in social institutions is an important part of this idea of freedom (p. 85). This is what Hegel calls the mutual institutions of mutual recognition. In this context, the central aspect of Honneth’s argument is Hegel’s concept of recognition of freedom as essential to the institutions of liberty in the modern society that are realized not only in the state, but also in the market and in civil society. Honneth gives a detailed account of the concepts of recognition and institutions at the basis of Hegel’s concept of law and justice as emerging as a part of the social institutions of the “Sittlichkeit of society” (p. 85-118).


On the basis of this discussion of Hegel, Honneth is able to present his own conception of “democratic Sittlichkeit” as essential to the institutions of freedom in modern liberal societies (p. 199) . Here Honneth understands his theory of democratic freedom as a theory of the legitimacy of the social order. He researches into the institutionalizations of values and conceptions of justice in liberal democracies where the value of freedom and equality through recognition become integrated in the institutional spheres of action in society. In this sense the idea of freedom is essential to justice and we can use this concept of universal freedom and recognition as a defense for correction of social pathologies and deviances in relation to the generally accepted normative ideas of freedom and justice. In this, through the research on the conditions for freedom and justice, the normative ideas of the democratic Sittlichkeit are explained.


On this basis Honneth discusses the possibility of freedom (p. 129) in relation to law and ethics. He begins with the presentation of the concept of legal freedom. This freedom is the condition of collective autonomy in civil society’s cooperation and also for democratic decision-making based on collective autonomy. The ethical idea of legal freedom is the effort to ensure private autonomy. In this sense legal freedom is understood as individual freedom. Honneth defines legal freedom on the basis of Hegel’s concept of personal rights (p. 134). Hegel proposed a system of positive rights in modernity. With Hannah Arendt we can refer to legal personhood as “protective mask” of the individual. The law of freedom implies this development of the legal rights of the subject. Subjective and negative rights are essential for the freedom of individual action, as suggested by Mill in his defense of the rights of belief, opinion and freedom of expression. This category of subjective rights includes rights of freedom and of participatory rights as the foundation of democratic communication and decision-making. However, it is also a limit to this idea of freedom that it is built on private autonomy and rights defined by its negative character. It is true that the law shall protect personal autonomy and freedom, but this is not enough – behind this lies the development of a society built on communal practices and cooperation in civil society (p. 156). 


Indeed, Honneth is well aware of the social pathologies of legal freedom in modern society. Social pathology is defined as something that emerges when people don’t understand the meaning of social norms of freedom and law and here we can speak about social pathologies. These pathologies can be people who misuse the system and ignore the rationality of subjective rights. They use the law to promote their own interest. This happens for example in the increasing tendency of legalization of the human life world and of life communities. This dynamics of the social pathology can for example be found in the movie with Dustin Hoffman Kramer vs. Kramer, where a divorce ends in a bitter fight about the custody of the child in court. The pathology is that the life world is ignored and the legalization of human affairs becomes an end in itself and we experience alienation and misunderstanding of the significance of moral freedom (p. 172).


Honneth describes the institutionalization of moral freedom in modern society as closely related to the institutionalization of legal freedom. Originally morality was the regulation of desire and a sort of rationalization of life in nature. Morality can be said to constitute the intersubjective limitations on actions. Moral autonomy comes from the idea of self-determination, as discussed in Rousseau and Kant. The Kantian idea of moral freedom is built on the concept of moral autonomy. This implies that human beings should strive to be moral persons and valued by others as moral persons. Respect and recognition of human dignity in the social life world is an essential dimension of this concept of morality (p. 181). To have dignity is not only due to intrinsic dignity as being created in the image of God, but indeed also a social dignity to which the individual him- or herself is important. Dignity can be defined as linked to the moral self-definition and self- creation of individuals with good moral identity. Kirstine Korsgaard has in this context defined the Kantian approach as an approach to the building and construction of one’s own practical identity. What are important are not only the categorical imperatives but indeed also the practical identity of the subject. To have a moral identity is to have a moral aim with your own life where you take responsibility for your own humanity. Self-legislation and moral autonomy in the Kantian sense means to take responsibility for your own life as the moral self-legislator of your life.


Habermas contributes to this discussion by emphasizing the importance of the moral socialization process. Legal freedom is interpreted through social freedom. Here we have the institutionalization of moral freedom in modern societies. We can refer to a cultural idea of moral in post-traditional societies where the cultural institutionalization of freedom is a part of this institutionalization of recognition. This process is a communicative and dialogical process where there is an on-going public discussion about conceptions of dignity and appropriate intersubjective moral norms in civil society.


Like his description of the legal social pathologies Honneth also describes the social pathologies of morality. Here we can observe a focus on personal absolute morality in contrast to intersubjective norms. The pathologies of morality could for example be the moralism of personal autonomy, where the duty to follow a certain kind of universalism means that the individual fails to take into account the social context (p. 209). This kind of focus on personal autonomy leads to rigid morals where the moral conception can lead to personal moral self-destruction. This is for example described in the novels of Henry James where the will to do good is in danger of leading to self-destruction (p. 212). Here personal autonomy leads to bad moralism and ignorance of social conditions of recognition and dignity. A similar pathology can be found in the moralist political extremism of terrorism, for example in the position of Ulrike Meinhof, who adopted a personal leftist moralism as the justification of her terrorist actions.


On the basis of this reconstruction of the foundations of freedom Honneth goes on to describe the reality of freedom in democratic liberal democracies. The reconstruction of the social life practice as based on recognition and personal autonomy in moral decision-making has to be demonstrated as being institutionalized as patterns of social action in different aspects of society. Honneth distinguishes between three important spheres of institutionalization of the norms of freedom and moral autonomy: 1) friends, love and family relations; 2) market relations; 3) relations in the political community. The intersubjective dimensions in these different groups illustrate different determinations of decisions based on freedom in the different institutions of society.


Honneth emphasizes that personal relations between friends and love relations in personal relations and in the family are based on freedom rather than on paternalism or pre-established social norms and hierarchies. Although it is considered informal, friendship may be conceived as social institution today. There is a difference between the ancient and modern concept of friendship, because friendship today is build on mutual affection without interest. Friendship is based on the romantic concept of the free encounter between friends. As an institution friendship can be said to illustrate the institutionalization of common ideas of community in a common normative structure. Even though it is based on freedom and mutual affection we can now say that friendship based on freedom has become an important institution in modern society.


With regard to love and intimacy, freedom is also considered an essential concept. Honneth argues that we can perceive the institutionalization of the principle of romantic love as the basis for intimate encounters. We are free to make our intimate connections and these are built on our own moral responsibility. Autonomous morality and freedom are proposed as the basis for sexual relations. The relations are based on love and freedom and the emergence of all kinds of couples or singles show this principle of freedom as essential in modernity.


The principle of free sexual relations has had an impact on the concept of the family where the encounter of man and women is also based on social freedom and the family as such is today becoming a place of social freedom. The family is now a place for individual self-realization. We see the emergence of different forms of constructed families that to a large extent are built on principles of free self-realization. Equality rather than authority is an important principle for organizing the family. Equality in families is indicated by the fact that the relation between man and woman is built on partnership between father and mother. Also recognition plays a much bigger role in the relations between children and parents in a situation where people live longer and mutual recognition between generations is emerging. In this sense moral autonomy plays a great importance in the social roles of family members. We see the institutionalization of a much more democratic family built on freedom and moral responsibility. This is a family based on mutual cooperation, love and recognition in contrast to a family based on authoritarianism and paternalism.


We can, according to Honneth, also see the emergence of the new law and morality of freedom if we look at the economic market. Honneth argues that the economic market also contributes to the institutionalization of social freedom in the capitalist economy. Honneth wants to provide a normative reconstruction of the contribution to social freedom of the market economy. He goes back to Adam Smith and takes up his problem about the morality of the market. The problem is how the market can be said to mediate social action. Here we can consider the market freedom as an extension of social freedom in the spheres of consumption and production. However, the question is whether this is an error in capitalism – a subversive doctrine that leads to the dissolution of capitalism.


Honneth defines capitalism and its markets as free economic exchange of goods and services. Historically speaking it was the legal subject (most of the time a man with property) who had the right to exchange in the market. The basis for behavior in the market was strategic utility maximization and calculation of cost/benefits. According to Honneth, both Hegel and Durkheim tried to investigate the normative dimensions of the capitalist system in order to go beyond that system and propose a new economic order with another value-orientation of the economic institutions. Honneth finds a paradox in this line of question that ask the questions about why the market should refer to pre-market norms when the market is about individual utility and utility maximization. The answer of Honneth is that intersubjective norms govern the market when we consider the market from the point of view of normative institutionalism, where morality is considered to be a part of the economic exchange. Honneth refers to Polanyi and Parsons to explain this dimension of the market economy. The question is “What is the Sittlichkeit of the Market System?” (p. 343) Such question have occupied the communitarian philosopher Etizioni and the German economist Hirsch and they search for the capacity of coordinating social action within the economy itself and contribute to legitimacy of the market system in society. With the focus on the principles of social cooperation it the market, Honneth wants to overcome Marx’s negative concept of capitalism and give a normative reconstruction of the concept of freedom within the market economy in liberal society.


Honneth focuses on the sphere of consumption and in particular the development of consumer culture where the market receives legitimation from the norms of the consumers. In fact, the culture of consumption can be seen as a medium for recognition, whilst the moral reaction of the consumers to corporations has an impact on the corporations. Honneth emphasizes that today the capitalist system requires its legitimacy from the consumer and these new conditions of consumption and production contribute to the legitimacy of the market through the consumer. We see how globalization of the market is realized through mass consumption and we see the emergence of morally and legally responsible critical consumers, what we can call “the consumer citizen” (p. 377). This critical consumer is aware of the necessity of having respect for human dignity (p. 377). At the same time reference to consumer citizens may be able to incorporate the critique of consumer society, since there is a struggle for recognition and a possible mutual recognition implied in the moral economy between seller and consumer where they struggle for the realization of the mutual legitimate recognition (p. 381). So Honneth emphasizes that the principles of legitimation are implicit in the consumer market. There is a search for ideal perfectibility regarding consumption built into the individual and corporations have to respond to this in order to get legitimacy. Moreover the consumer citizen takes up the criticism of mass consumption (Adorno, Arendt) and act critically in relation to this. In contributing to establishment of international institutions the consumer citizen also pushes for the establishment of national and international institutions that contribute to the moralization the economy.


After this normative reconstruction of market mediated consumption Honneth looks at the labor market. He reminds us that work was important for Hegel in his Philosophy of Right. Honneth also considers work and the labor market as central for the emergence of a moral economy. The capitalist organization of work has historically implied manipulation and oppression of the workers. Then they organized themselves in workers movement and organized struggle for recognition and social freedom on the labor market. This fight for social freedom implies a struggle for cooperation and recognition in the labor market (p. 431). The organization of workers in trade unions is an important dimension for establishing freedom in the capitalist system. It is important to humanize the work in this world. In particular, democratic organization of the economy and of business can contribute to this. Honneth argues that social freedom in the organizational sphere of corporations and business is dependent on the struggle for recognition by the workers. It is important to contribute to this humanization of work. Since the 1970s there has however been a neoliberal rationalization and technification of the capitalist system and workers have more to fight for in order to achieve freedom in the organized capitalism of the Western world. Here, all kinds of organizations, for example trade unions or welfare organizations, can contribute to the mutual recognition. In particular transnational unions in times of globalization are important for creating freedom in a civilization of capitalism.


The final section of the book presents the reality of democratic will formation in liberal democracies in a historical perspective. Honneth focuses on democratic public spheres, the democratic legal state and political culture. He begins by emphasizing that the potentiality of public deliberation in a free public sphere is essential to understand the reality of freedom in a modern society. Since the French revolution and the enlightenment this has been essential for creating social freedom in the public sphere. Deliberative decision making in a public sphere is an essential legitimation principle of a liberal democracy. We can say that we have experienced the social institutionalization of principles of democracy through the emergence of the free public sphere in Western democracies. Here equality of citizens and liberal rights of freedom based on the constitution are essential for creating a democratic public sphere. The morality of citizens is created through the institutionalization of social and democratic public spheres and debates. The normative idea of social freedom is a result of a democratic public sphere (p. 500). Public exchange of opinion is essential for this democratic public sphere in modern society. As Arendt and Habermas have shown, the media are important for democratic politics. Communicative freedom and the deliberative public sphere contribute to exchange of opinion and different points of view. With Habermas we can emphasize the importance of having both a national and international public sphere. With the new media and digital divide and the development of the internet we face, however, both possibilities and possible limitations of democratic freedom in open and free public spheres.


The democratic legal state built on the rule of law implies the realization of social liberty. The rule of law is a reflexive dimension of the state. The state is a reflexive notion and the democratic state was conceived as the opposite of National Socialism. This state is based on the legitimation by the people’s sovereignty in democratic legislation processes. Constitutional states follow specific norms of Sittlichkeit with a reflexive distance to the democratic legal state. The normative self-understanding of the European states implies a reaction against totalitarianism and in particular the rule of law against Hitler. In particular, we can talk about totalitarianism as the opposite to democracy. The universal declaration of human rights that was very modern even for modern democracy was established as a counter-reaction to the totalitarian regimes of the Second World War. We can also talk about the tension between nationalism and the rule of law in the Rechtsstaat or the tension between nationalism and people’s democracy. The concept by Habermas about Verfassungspatriotismus has been proposed to deal with this topic.


Finally Honneth discusses the concept of political culture as essential to the reality of the Rechtsstaat. Political culture is the reality of the realization of freedom in a democratic society. This institutionalization of the rule of law of the Rechtsstaat today also has an international dimension in the sense that the political public sphere, for example in the EU goes beyond the national borders towards the international community.


Some critical remarks to Honneth’s theory of the liberal state follow.

How should we evaluate his approach to the institutionalization of freedom in modern society? I will now propose three critical remarks for discussion.


The first remark concerns Honneth’s method of analysis. This method is very promising and I think that this constitutes the real novelty of the book. The focus on institutions and institutionalization is very important to make the bridge between philosophy and the social sciences. Moreover, I agree that this approach is very important for the definition of the relation between ethics and law in modern democratic states. However, it may be argued that this approach has already been worked out before. This is for example the case in Ricoeur’s work One-Self-as-Another from 2002, where the concept of institution as inspired by Hegel is a central concept. Ricoeur has an advantage with regard to Honneth because Ricoeur is able to introduce the concept of the good life that is not really there in Honneth’s approach. Ricoeur talks about “the good life for and with the other in just institutions”. Moreover there is no reference to the whole tradition of institutional theory within the social sciences in Honneth’s book. This is sad because then we don’t really have the dialogue between philosophical institutionalism and other kinds of institutionalisms. Moreover, it may be argued that the kind of combination of normative and descriptive analysis that Honneth proposes makes it difficult to advance any real argument of normative ethical, legal or political theory. In fact, this book is not so much a normative argument as a presentation of some lines of development in modern society. As such the book is confronted with competing arguments, as for example the Danish professor of political science Ove Kaj Petersen with his book about the recent developments of the state from welfare state to competition state in the book Konkurencestaten (the competition state). Why is the story that Honneth presents more compelling than the more negative story that is presented by Ove Kaj Pedersen? Here we need better and more advanced argument.


The proposal of the theory of law and morals may be conceived as the strongest part of the book. However, we can also propose some critical questions to this theory. In particular, we can address the substance of the theory that focuses so much on individual rights. I may be argued that it is not individual rights that are so important in the Rechtsstaat but rather democracy as community. It is not clear how this focus on individual rights makes the move from negative freedom to positive freedom. Indeed, it may be argued that the concept of rights may destroy the possibility of really founding a political community based on shared interests in the good. What Honneth seems to propose seems to be a very liberal theory that does not really correspond with his Hegelian starting point. Moreover, we may criticize his use of Kant to define the basis of his approach to the morality of freedom. It seems very idealistic to presuppose that people today act according to the moral law when they create their identity. Rather, we may refer to existentialist or postmodern concepts of identity, which seem much closer to the reality of life in the modern state and correspond to the elimination of politics in favor of individual rights. I cannot see that Honneth really achieves his point by reintroducing the Kantian concept of morality as a case of identity. In fact, Honneth’s position also becomes nearly neo-liberal, because so much emphasis is laid on individual rights rather to present the common good in the Res Publica as important. Here I also think that Ricoeur’s concept of the good life with and for the other in just institutions gives the communitarian elements of analysis that we really need to make Honneth’s argument convincing.


When we deal with the reality of freedom in modern society there are many problems in the book. The analysis of the spheres of recognition in the family seem to forget all the power relations that still persist in society and a Foucauldian approach to the family would be able to show many contradictions of the freedom of individuals in the family. Moreover, there are many critical questions to ask in relation to Honneth’s analysis of romantic love as the basis of intimacy. There may also be the manipulation of individual through forcing them to be free. As Rousseau says “L’homme est libre mais partout il est en fer”.


Moreover, the analysis of economic life and freedom in the market is far from convincing, although the general intention of moralizing the economy is very important. Honneth has understood the necessity of rethinking the capitalist economy in the perspective of virtues and ethics, but his Marxist basis of analysis and the prejudices of critical theory make it impossible for him to take the final step and understand the real emancipator elements of the idea of the moral economy. Here we should look at the whole basis for ethical interaction in the economy and, taking the Weberian perspective of looking at the ideal values of economic exchange, make it possible to understand much more of the functions of the moral economy. Honneth mentions the work of Etizioni on this point but he does not get into deeper analysis of much more recent literature on business ethics and corporate social responsibility and this makes his analysis rather general and not very innovative in relation to the recent debates in business ethics and management ethics.


Honneth has a good argument for the political consumer and legitimacy of consumption but he does not include recent literature in business ethics and institutions and therefore he does not really contribute something new or relevant. To propose unions as the basis for political freedom in the workplace also seems to be not very new in today’s discussions. Much more detailed analysis is needed here. For example of the interactions between unions and top management and how they contribute to develop stakeholder management in large corporations.


Indeed, in his final discussions of the deliberative politics and the importance of critical public space as essential for a democratic political culture, I can hardly see that Honneth presents anything new in comparison with Habermas. In fact we may argue that Honneth is much too positive to the reality of this political culture and that he does not take into account the many recent distortions of that culture. However, the critical remarks on the internet and the digital divide and democracy show a certain awareness of the important contradiction of democracy in the present context of society.



Axel Honneth: Das Recht der Freiheit. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2011.


Emergence of a new paradigm: Towards a post-crisis cosmopolitanism

1. Introduction

The current, tense “post-crisis” situation is considered by many intellectuals, politicians and citizens to be a simultaneous aggravation of much older financial, political and environmental crises that have been challenging the international community. At the same time, it has also been described as a perhaps unexpected hope for the emergence of a real cosmopolitanism based on a genuine possibility of emancipation and dialogue about world problems in the international community.

We will begin by discussing briefly the causalities of the recent financial crisis, which can be seen as a crisis of neo-liberal capitalism following the original mortgage crisis in the USA and the following economic depression in many countries. In this context we can also mention political elements of the crisis and further explore its threatening relation to the environment. Finally, the same crisis can be considered as a crisis for cosmopolitanism. Some pundits have interpreted the crisis as a crisis of cosmopolitanism of human rights, where it has not been possible to create a new world order of strong international governance.

On the basis of these causalities the paper will discuss whether we can see a potential “new beginning” or qualitative shift towards a new regime of a social ethics including: (1) the emergence of a community economy, e.g. state intervention and civil society responsibility in connection with corporate citizenship and business ethics; (2) the emergence of a new ethical cosmopolitanism including a paradigm shift towards a renewed conception of justice as concerns the common good in the world community.

2. Crisis causalities

What happened? Why did this world crisis come around and how should we explain the crisis causalities? There have been many arguments or diagnoses trying to explain the worldwide financial crisis. I can mention the following, very different, but mutually dependent explanations:

1. The crisis is due to neo-liberal capitalism.

This explanation focuses on the financial breakdown based on the American mortgage crisis and the following depression in many countries. It was the neo-liberal processes of globalization (e.g. privatizations, liberalizations, financializations) that led to the development of risky financial products and the resulting credit crunch, for they were based upon the dogma of the neo-liberal economic system, whereby the paramount goal is quite simply to increase economic gains in the business at all costs. This model for risky business did not only concern banking and economic investments. The most important factor that played a pivotal part in the economic crisis was the emergence of the use of houses for sales and risky mortgages of houses, so that houses became primary objects of investment. The dominant narrative in this explanation is neo-liberal “greed”, as exemplified by Madoff’s pyramid Ponzi scheme, which resulted in his imprisonment and so well symbolizes the basis for this kind of explanation of the crisis. The narrative of “greed” involves that the crisis is due to a brutish conception of human nature as a kind of profit-maximizing individual, who lives only or mostly according to his or her own narrowest self-interest. This explanation is based upon taking into account the fact that neo-liberalism was the dominant economic ideology after the end of the cold war. With this explanation of the crisis we have an explanation that is conceived exclusively in economic terms, and primarily as a breakdown of the international financial system.

2. The crisis is due to changed relations between major powers in the world.

This explanation focuses on the relation between the US and other countries, notably China. In this context the crisis may be considered as a shift in world powerhouses. We may argue that such a shift is the real reason of the credit crunch and the ensuing economic depression. It can be argued that the Chinese, after the massive economic crises in the east of Asia in the 1990s, realized that they would have to build up a strong financial system. After longer than a decade, the savings of China were so large that the country was able to resist the 2008 financial crisis, which showed instead the real vulnerability of the US and Europe. In addition, the crisis can be explained as a result of the economic problems of the US after the Asian wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the early 2000s. It can be argued that the result of the wars was the weakening of the US as a superpower and that the credit crunch was just a symptom of this changed situation of the West in relation to the East in economic terms, where China is emerging as the main power in the world. With this explanation of the crisis we move from a purely economic explanation towards an explanation in terms of international politics too.

3. The crisis arises from a clash of civilizations.

Here we can focus on the confrontation between world cultures, in particular the tensions between radical Islam and the West, leading to the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. How can we interpret the crisis in terms of the “clash of civilizations” described by Samuel Huntington? Since 2001 and 9/11 in particular, the confrontation between civilizations has been very present in international politics. The concept of the clash of civilization was developed as a response to Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the end of history, i.e. the end of the struggle of recognition, when the liberal world order has been victorious. We may say that the clash of civilizations is a response to this situation, where the end of the struggle for recognition is not ending in dialogue, but exactly in a clash between civilizations. In fact we may say that a challenge for a post-crisis situation would be to develop a kind of intercultural philosophy building upon a dialogue between civilizations, as opposed to the clash of civilizations. The clash of civilizations is in particular a challenge to the belief in the universality of the Western values of democracy and human rights. We can argue then that the recent crisis is a crisis of these values, following the events of 9/11 and of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. The crisis is a crisis in the policies to respond to an environmental crisis.

We can argue that the recent crisis was a crisis of the realization itself of the climate problem. The question is: have recent agreements led to hope for environmental justice or do we only experience new inequalities between developed and developing countries? In the neo-liberal paradigm before 2008 the climate issue was dealt with as a matter of utility and sustainable use of resources. It can be argued that the recent crisis is a crisis for the utility-based conception of the environment, for it appears that CO2 reduction is more than utility, but something that is fundamental with regard to the possibility of life in the world. We can argue that the crisis is a crisis for a civilization that has no understanding of the climate issue as fundamental for human survival. The Danish environmental sceptic Bjørn Lomborg may be considered as a representative of this view. In fact it can be argued that the opposite view of Al Gore, who stresses that the climate issue is about the continuation of the human species, represents an alternative to the view of Bjørn Lomborg, which emerges out of the crisis of the neo-liberal conception of the environment as utility: rather than admitting defeat in front of overwhelming evidence, blind denial is preferred.

5. The crisis is a crisis for cosmopolitanism.

Some have interpreted the recent crisis as a crisis of cosmopolitanism of human rights, where it has not been possible to create a new world order of strong international governance. In fact, it can be argued that the dream of the neo-liberal position was a world order with universal governance. As described by Michael Walzer, we can say that we need a new world order where we have to find the right balance between world government and total anarchy. It may be argued that the concept of the world order as a universal order with a world government is in crisis with the global crisis. What is needed is a new conception of the global order that is both beyond state sovereignty, but also beyond the idea of a world government. We may argue that we have to look for models of cosmopolitanism that deal with world politics without referring to a concept of a global world government as the basis for international politics.

3. The cultural and social background of the crisis

On the basis of the five causalities described above, the issue may be addressed as follows: how really should we define the recent crisis? What does the crisis imply and what does it relate to?

From a phenomenological point of view, we meet the crisis in our own lives when our family, ourselves or our friends lose their job or have to go from their houses because the mortgage rent is too high. In fact, the pre-crisis atmosphere in the Western world was marked by a strong narrative of greed and of spending, in particular a raise of luxury spending. We can then use the concept of hyper-modernity in experience economy, as proposed by the French sociologist and philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky, to take into account this pre-crisis, but indeed also the crisis atmosphere.

Hyper-modernity or hyper-modern society is conceived as an escalation of modernity, i.e. a kind of creative construction of experience where the creativity of human beings as makers of metaphors and symbols moves in the forefront of capitalist production. We are searching for more than maximization of pleasure preferences in the cultural industry. We want to become new human beings when we eat at restaurants, travel, go to the theatre, read magazines or books, or even when we buy ordinary products in the grocery store or in the supermarket. We want to experience happiness and authenticity in all aspects of our lives as consumers. Consumption shall help us to construct our identities. I shop therefore I am. It is the creativity of the producers and designers of experiences that is needed to fulfil this search for meaning in the experience economy. The conditions of possibility of the experience economy are based on the historic changes of the meaning of creativitiy in human societies. Today, with a hyper-modern society of creativity, creativity means something else than it was the case earlier in history. What is essential is that creativity no longer is based on a higher divine reality, but instead it refers to the entrepreneurial genius of the human creative spirit. With no divine meaning left, it is therefore the job of the creative class to fill the empty space of the loss of meaning in post-modernity or hypermodernity, and because there is no pre-given meaning dependent on a metaphysical reality, also the consumer must be creative and create meaning through experiences. Human beings are now primarily defined as hyper-consumers and their appearance as citizens is derived from this condition of consumption.

Hyper-modernity expresses a metamorphosis of liberal culture. We live in a consumer society that has become global and international. In the hyper-modern society we can talk about a new system of consumption that has become universalized. What characterizes hyper-modern society is the development of a world culture of consumption. We can talk about universalization of the brand market economy: the West, Asia and China, South America and Africa. The global market culture is a culture of global media and of global commercial culture. Hyper-modern society is made possible with the neo-liberal ideology of the free market and private happiness through consumption, and it was accelerated with the global revolution of information technologies.

In his 2006 work on hyper-modernity Le Bonheur paradoxal (Paris: Gallimard), Lipovetsky describes the three phases of the development of hyper-modern consumer society:

1. the period from 1880 to the second world war

2. the period from the 1950s to the 1970s

3. The time starting with the 1970s-80s (where we really see that consumer society fully developed).

We have been facing hyper-modern society since at least the 1980s. This is a society where consumption is democratized and made available to nearly everyone. Whereas the first phase of industrial society is signaled by the the emergence of industrial society for an elite, the second phase is marked by the increased generalization of consumer society as well as by increased individualization of consumption, for example by the generalization of luxury products like perfumes, media appliances, etc. However, it is only with the emergence of hyper-modern society that we really face the individualization of products.

In this individualist society we see how individuals are able to organize their space and time on the basis of their individuality. Accordingly, we can argue that with the individualization of consumption, combined with the focus on individual experience, makes immaterial experience and pleasure the focus of product promotion and product content. This new society of hyper-consumption is marked by a break with the conformities of class society. Although the class differences still exist, there is no specific class culture. In this sense, the consuming individual is utterly liberated from the traditional institutions and from the cultural bonds of society. We can say that the consumer of the experience economy is a “turbo-consumer”, a capitalist consumer who is no longer regulated by strong ethics and who is free to consume as much as he or she wants.

A very good example of this “Turbo-consumer” in hyper-modernity is the consumer of great international brands. The brands are expressing the global logic of hyper-consumption. Through global marketing brands appeal to the dreams of having authentic experiences. Consumers of hyper-society are not particularly loyal to one particular brand, but they are loyal to the promise of happiness in the brand economy that activates their dreams and emotions. The global brand economy expresses the logic of experience as emotional rather than bound to the materiality of the products. Hyper-consumption is a continuing renewal of the sensations. It is travel in experience. The turbo-consumer wants the most intense experience and in order to get this experience the turbo-consumer overcomes traditional limits of time and space that are taken over by the commercial logic. There is a close link between the brand economy and the search for happiness as the ultimate imperative of hyper-consumption society.

Together with Jean Serroy in La culture-monde. Réponse à une société désorienté (Paris: Gallimard, 2008), Lipovetsky discusses globalization of culture in the perspective of hyper-modernity. We can mention fashion, advertisements, tourism, art, the star-system from Hollywood as aspects of a world culture that has become dominating in hyper-modernity and manifests itself as a cultural hyper-modernity aiming at satisfying the search for satisfaction of experiences by consumers in hyper-modern society. But at the same time this globalization of culture in the framework of an experience economy is marked by the paradoxes of increased complexity and increased collective and individual disorientation.

The capitalist market experience economy is supposed to respond to the dark sides of increased individualization and narcissism. Because of individualist mass society with less common references to give a sense of meaning and community, the world culture of brand consumption is supposed to be the compensatory device that can give individuals meaning and fullness in their individual lives, which are increasingly devoid of meaning. World culture promoted through experience economy is the only tool left to give meaning and sense to individual lives, yet it is far from certain that it is succeeding in its task.

4. Towards a new beginning: Emergence of a new cosmopolitanism

With an economic crisis in the middle of hyper-modern consumer society, we can see how the whole foundation of this society is shaken. Therefore it is also interesting to ask the question about what happens after the crisis. Can we see a “new beginning” or qualitative shift towards a new regime of social ethics of responsibility as a kind of new event emerging out of the crisis, or should we just say that the crisis is nothing more than a confirmation of the logic of hyper-modernity, or alternatively is it possible to argue that the crisis opens for new meanings that help us to move beyond hyper-modern society? What does it mean to speak about paradoxes of a post-crisis situation that challenge the pre-crisis relations? We can observe the following aspects of a post-crisis situation that helps to mark qualitative breaks with the pre-crisis situation.

1. The emergence of a community economy

State intervention and civil society responsibility in connection with corporate citizenship and business ethics signal the emergence of a community economy. We can argue that the business ethics movement based on corporate responsibility and corporate social responsibility replaces within this context the confrontation from the cold war between communism and capitalism. Moreover, the end of neo-liberalism shows that we need a better relation to the economy and a better conception of the content of the economy. Business ethics and corporate social responsibility represent a response to the situation of crisis of business organizations in the sense that it is a new way to deal with the capitalist system.

Business ethics deals not only with ethical responsibilities of corporations but also with a responsible way to deal with economic and legal activities. Therefore we can talk about the economic, legal and ethical responsibilities of a corporation. The different responsibilities must be integrated into the strategy of the corporation, according to the new paradigm of corporate social responsibility and in close coherence with the strategy of the corporation. Business ethics can be considered in close interaction with the idea of hyper-modern society because in hyper-modern society ethics and corporate social responsibility are integrated into the experience economy. This means that ethics is considered as a virtue that is closely related to the self-construction of the individual. Accordingly, the individuals in the business corporation want to have a meaningful work and they want to be accountable and trustworthy as a part of their personal identity. Therefore business ethics is not in contrast to hyper-modernity, but rather a consequence of the culture of this kind of society. So the post-crisis scenario of intensified business ethics and corporate social responsibility is not necessarily in contrast to the culture of globalized hyper-modernity.

In this context we can argue for a movement towards an ethical cosmopolitanism within the field of business, as I have argued in my book Responsibility, Ethics and Legitimacy of Corporations (Copenhagen Business School Press, 2009), which the reader can find reviewed in the present issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum. An important aspect of this movement is the idea of republican business ethics, defined as involvement of corporations in and for the common good, the res publica, which are expressed in the concept of corporate citizenship with integrity and responsibility. Integrity matters as the self-imposed norms of international corporations can ensure accountability and trust. Integrity is analyzed as a function of the business ethics of corporations, especially in the normative guidelines for international business.

With this cosmopolitan approach I have argued that the corporation can contribute qua world citizen to solve the important problems of hyper-modernity. This can be viewed as the application of the important concepts of the virtues of responsibility and cosmopolitanism. As actors at the global level in a time of interstate interdependence with regard to world ecological, economical and political problems, it is a challenge of the corporation to contribute to building up an international community of virtue and protection of basic rights.  We can define this vision of universal corporate citizenship as the World ethos of business ethics. The corporations shall not only protect universal human rights, but they shall also give those rights meaning in relation to the particular cultures in the countries where they operate.

2. Cooperation replaces conflict.

We may ask the question whether the post-crisis scenario is opening for a new era of cooperation that is in contrast with the idea of conflict that was dominating in the cold war times and in the times immediately after the cold war. An argument from globalization is that the financial crisis has been a reminder of how we now really live in “one world” in economic, cultural, social and political terms. In this sense it can be argued that we need scenarios of cooperation with new interactions between major powers in the international community, which is establishing a regime of problem solving rather than confrontation.

With Hannah Arendt, we can argue that we are searching for a political conception of international relations that move beyond the legalistic conception of the international community. Hannah Arendt’s work after the second world war presents a critical discussion of Kantian cosmopolitanism. She offers novel views on human rights and the rights of citizens and she discusses the possibility of an international tribunal to deal with crimes against humanity. Also, her philosophy implies a critical reply to a naive “juridification” of international relations as marked by legal structures alone. Arendt proposes a solution for the reintegration in the political community after the fight with the wrongdoers. The international political community needs a dimension of civil society, as proposed by Arendt, to find a possible mediation of the double edge of cosmopolitanism. We can argue that Hannah Arendt understood the importance of a political foundation of the respect for the naked human being beyond the political relations of the nation state. This is what Arendt argued for when she coined her famous term of the foundation of human rights as the “right to have rights”.

In her 2006 book Another Cosmopolitanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Seyla Benhabib seems to propose a new version of Arendt’s older position. According to Benhabib, modern cosmopolitanism is not only about hospitality but also about the political and legal institutions to govern our world in order to deal with circulation of persons, capital, commerce, pollution, information, labor, goods, viruses, etc. Cosmopolitanism is about building political relations at the international level, so that people can enjoy the right to have rights in the international community. In particular, Benhabib defines human rights as universal ethical obligations that go beyond national sovereignty and are formulated within a form of law.

Benhabib argues that the challenge we face today is the construction of a jurisprudential theory that is able to reconcile the universality of human rights with the partiality of positive law. She deals with the problem, as Hannah Arendt also did, by focusing upon the rights of persons who reside within a state but who are excluded from its polity, i.e. legal and illegal aliens. Thus, Benhabib takes up the challenge of the double edge of cosmopolitanism by arguing for the search of a legal foundation of cosmopolitan citizenship beyond positive law alone.

When Benhabib deals with the double edge of cosmopolitanism she answers this question by drawing on Kant’s doctrine of cosmopolitan rights, which she attributes to Kant’s thesis that ”The law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality” – hospitality covering the relationship between states and strangers. With Benhabib we can argue that the double edge of cosmopolitanism lies within the confrontation between republican national law and international relations, because the law of hospitality intersects with the positive law of the state. Specifically, Benhabib focuses upon the point of intersection between these two dimensions. On the one hand we have the Republican opening towards the international community in the republican public sphere; on the other hand we have the mediation between the cosmopolitan norms and the republican community.

Benhabib argues that we can propose a solution to the tension of the double edge of cosmopolitanism by means of a cosmopolitan law that emerges from increasingly conscious public debates in democracies, where the norms of cosmopolitanism are accepted as basic human rights into the positive constitutions of republic societies. In this sense universal norms are mediated into the will formation of democratic societies, so that cosmopolitan norms are becoming integrated into the republican framework of democracy.

An illustration of this kind of democratic development of the cosmopolitan norms and of the “democratic iteration” is for example the European Union, where citizenship is expanded in a cosmopolitan direction. However, the contradiction between the universality of ethics and the particularity of law can never fully be overcome and there is always room for national sovereignty where laws are made.

When we talk about a civil justification for the emergence of cosmopolitan norms, we can argue that this justification of cosmopolitan hospitality emerges within the framework of democratic community because people are becoming more and more acquainted with others beyond their national borders and cultures with norms of reciprocity and respect. In this perspective there is a genuine hope that cosmopolitan norms are internalized in local cultures, democracies and populations. However, this is not enough according to legal theorist Seyla Benhabib. Cosmopolitan norms must also be based on a legal framework. In Another Cosmopolitanism, for example, Benhabib discusses the case of European citizenship as a token of the increased movement towards the development of such cosmopolitan norms.

Still, there remains the danger of a cosmopolitan stateless future. Benhabib argues that we should imagine a future where ”civil, social and some political rights” are not related to national belonging. In this context, universal cosmopolitanism is situated between law and ethics, universality and particularism, nation and international community. When we search for a philosophical foundation of these cosmopolitan norms, we can look back at the philosophy of Hannah Arendt who argued, as we have already said, that the most important thing is the right ” to have rights”.

We can say that Hannah Arendt’s book about the Eichmann trial — Eichmann in Jerusalem. Essay on the Banality of Evil (London: Penguin Books 1964/1981) — was fundamentally a book about cosmopolitanism and international law. This is true in particular when Arendt deals with crimes against humanity, where genocide is conceptualized as the crime against humanity, or rather the crime against humanness or the right to be human. The issue of the cosmopolitan double edge, i.e. how to mediate between national legal structures and moral universalism, can be answered by reference to the Eichmann trial. This trial marks the beginning of cosmopolitan norms. It is a trial for crimes against humanity that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of legal positivism.

If we look more closely at Arendt’s book about Eichmann and follow Seyla Benhabib at the same time, we can argue that cosmopolitanism is not only the Kantian horizon that as we may infer from Arendt’s letters to Karl Jaspers — Jaspers being himself a Kantian cosmopolitan — but an ideal of civic republicanism combined with a vision of political self-determination as the foundation of true hospitality in cosmopolitanism. So the emergence of global civil society as the movement from international to cosmopolitan norms of justice can only be accomplished as long as it draws with it principles of civic republicanism.

Concepts such as ”the right to universal hospitality” and ”the right to have rights” are certainly Arendt’s legacy of Kantian cosmopolitanism. Yet she adds a normative force that can emerge only within a republican, democratic framework of legal norms. These concepts, in other words, should have a binding power. The idea is that the ”right to have rights” indicates rights of universal hospitality that triumphs over positive law, but can also be within positive law, because it is founded on republican self-governance and autonomy.

We need more than the formal political construction of the cosmopolitan norms of human rights. The international human rights regime, crimes against humanity, humanitarian interventions and transnational migration norms should all be based on civic republican recognition of the right to have rights. So cosmopolitan justice must be based on a kind of nationally sanctioned international law of peoples, where the tension between sovereignty and hospitality is overcome through the act of self-legislation as an act of self-constitution under a cosmopolitan perspective.

Benhabib says that ”Liberal democracies must learn to negotiate these paradoxes between the spread of cosmopolitan norms and the boundedness of democratic communities”: according to her, the development of cosmopolitan norms is characterized by democratic Iterations between the local, the national and the global.

5. Conclusion

Following Hannah Arendt and Benhabib, we can argue that cosmopolitanism emerges as the power of democratic forces within a global civil society and this helps to a construction of international norms that goes beyond the tension between cosmopolitanism and national sovereignty. What is characteristic of the new cosmopolitanism, at least according to this view, is that citizenship and political membership are no longer based on culture and collective identity. As exemplified by the case of the European Union, the conflict between sovereignty and hospitality is no longer so important. Accordingly, a new discussion of politics implies the search for new forms of political agency in cosmopolitan times, where we recognize what Benhabib calls the “democratic iterations” of the concept of democracy and citizenship. And this recognition will help to develop new foundations of democracy in international politics.

Moreover, by protecting universal rights that are dependent on the charter and declarations of the United Nations, corporations can act for good international relations that go beyond the interests of particular communities of republics and nations. By doing this, corporations, when they really want to appear as good citizens, can help to build a world community that implies the universalization of the procedural virtues of liberal society. Corporations can at the same time be cosmopolitan and situated in particular societies, in the sense that they foster universal principles while making those principles work in concrete practice. In this sense, the post-crisis scenarios can be a development of a new cosmopolitanism in both international politics and in the activities by corporations and other organizations and institutions helping to build up an international civil society.

Felice Vinci, Skandinaviskt ursprung för Homeros dikter – Utspelade sig Iliadens och Odysseens äventyr i Östersjön och Nordatlanten. Iliaden och Odyssén och hur en myt vandrer (Tornedalen: Lumio, 2009)


To begin with, this very issue is a strange question in itself: how can you say that there should be concrete and precise geographical roots for a mythical story? On the other hand, the book argues in a very powerful way that there might be some Nordic or Baltic origin of phenomena arising eventually in the Mediterranean region and close links between the North and the South of Europe. In truth, we can say that the book provides a whole new perspective on the ongoing process of European unification, because the classics might have been since the beginning part of the larger whole of Europe. From this perspective alone, the book contributes significantly to European integration in that it revolutionises and redescribes Europe’s cultural foundations. To be frank, after reading the book, you hardly believe what you have read, namely that the famous, ancient Greek stories of Homer originated in Scandinavia. Indeed, it is recommended hereby to read the book more than once in order to get an objective overview of the ideas presented in the book.

This edition of the book is a translation of the English version of the Italian volume Omero nel Baltico. Le origini nordiche dell’odissea e dell’iliade by Felice Vinci (5th edition, Palombi Publishers, Rome Italy), introduced by Rosa Calzecchi Onesti, a renowned scholar and translator of the Iliad and Odyssey into Italian. The author has travelled to many countries to propose his thesis and the ideas of the book, which may baffle prima facie, have been received as worthy of consideration in many academic quarters. For one, the volume has been adopted as a textbook for the students of Bard College in New York in 2007. And in order to experience the story, a professor of classics at Bard College has been sailing with his students on Ulysses’ course, as this is charted in the book; the event being supported by the US Oceanographic institute. Many American scholars have stated that the book is very interesting and provides new perspectives on Homer and his ideas. The fact that the book is used by the students at Bard College also shows how important Vinci’s work is as regards providing a completely new contextualisation of the works of Homer.

When we think about the importance of the Iliad and Odyssey for European culture, it is mesmerizing to meditate upon the possibility that these poems may describe events and peoples from old Scandinavia, as it is stated in the book. Besides, although revolutionary, the thesis of the book is not entirely new. Many researchers have argued that the origins of Homer’s stories may have a basis in a broader European setting. Under this perspective, it is most interesting how Vinci bases his analyses on concrete interpretations of the peoples, natural landscapes and travels described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

The book argues that the geographical description of Homer’s poems corresponds to different Scandinavian and Nordic islands, for example some Danish islands, such as Lyo, Fyen Langeland, Tåsinge and Sjælland. And it is in the Danish island next to Fyn that Ulysses is supposed to have had his home. At the time Homer wrote, according to Vinci, there was a much warmer climate in the Nordic countries; hence there is no obvious climate argument against the notion that those parts of the world could have been at least as populated and active as the Mediterranean area.  We can also find much resemblance between the Nordic stories of different heroes and the stories presented in Homer’s poems.  Perhaps some of the Greek tribes may even have come from the Baltic region.

The first part of the book offers an in-depth analysis of the world of Ulysses. It discusses where we should locate geographically his home and it shows how we can find the tracks of his travels in the Baltic and also in other parts of the Scandinavian and Atlantic regions. This part of the book also makes a comparison between Nordic mythology and the Greek world and it discusses how the Greek world bears many resemblances with Nordic mythology. In particular, the author tries to identify Ithaca with the Danish island of Lyø, near Fåborg and Fyn, Fyn itself being described as the “dark” countryside. In general, this is the part of the book in which the author tries to show most carefully how specific geographic places in Scandinavia can be identified as places in the Odyssey.

The second part of the book discusses the geographical reality of Troy in the Nordic regions, on the basis of the descriptions provided in the Iliad. This part also tries to link the Trojan War with remote events in the Northern countries. According to the book, Troy was not situated in the Mediterranean Sea, but rather along the Baltic coast of Finland.

On this basis, the third part of the book tries to show how the myths of classical Greece have their origins in the Nordic—i.e. Baltic and Scandinavian—mythology of ancient times. And it is further shown how the climate at the time was very different, in order to support the idea that the events narrated in Homer’s Iliad took place in the Baltic and Scandinavian regions.

The fourth part of the book discusses the relations between the myths of Scandinavia and the Baltic region with those mentioned in the works of Homer. Finally, the book contains discussions of the reasons for the migration of Nordic populations to the Mediterranean regions commonly associated with classical Greece.

The book is very provocative to a hermeneutically or textually oriented literary critique, because it takes the scientific and positivistic reading of literature and of the origins of literature to their extreme point, by searching for geographical explanations of all aspects of Homer’s fictional works. The logic implied is such that Homer’s poetic depictions must correspond to specific places and that there must be a real-world explanation to the structure of the literary universe deployed therein. However, we have to understand that literature is characterized by being something that proposes an imaginary universe, which carries only limited adherence to reality. This is also the case with the Iliad and the Odyssey, which are, pace Schlimann’s and Blegen’s archaeological excavations, works of fiction that create an imaginary world that you can enter and live in. As such, they possess only tenuous connections with actual reality.

However, apart from its stark break with the methods of literary hermeneutics and the idea of the non-reference of a literary work, we can also try to read Vinci’s book as partly a literary text itself. It is not just or perhaps not even mainly a scientific book. It is rather a dream about a hypothetical world in which the classical Greek myths are also Scandinavian. And why not? We can enter this new literary world of Troy and Ithaca and all the other mythical figures of the Iliad and Odyssey and we can conceive of ourselves as both Vikings and people from the classical world. After all, this is the privilege of the European civilization, which combines the North of Europe with Southern Europe and their rich legacies of myths and literary works. I therefore recommend the reader to enjoy the book on its own premises and dream about the adventures of the classical and Nordic worlds at the same time.

After the Financial Crisis: The Ethics and Economics Debate Revisited




In this sense the problem of the relation between ethics and economics in business concerns the concept of economic action and the role of ethical responsibility in economics.[i] The debate about economic rationality and political philosophy depends on the problem whether there can be something like a common good or social justice for all members of society. From the standpoint of mainstream economics we can say that this problem is a problem about how to deal efficiently with limited resources. In this sense we may argue that neoclassical economic theory is a system of thought that seeks to deal  rationally with the problem of sacrifice, that is the problem of who, how or what society should sacrifice in order to seek optimal and efficient use of resources.[ii] With the separation of economics from political philosophy, economics has become the rational use of resources based on the principle of the rational profit maximization of homo œconomics.

Accordingly, the idea of economic rationality depends on the concept of economic action.[iii] This concept is marked by interplay between individualism and altruism and personal responsibility for economic actions. The idea of an ethical correction of economic action implies a critical attitude to the concept of self-interest as the basis for economic action. It is argued that economic calculation should exclusively be based on individual utility maximization but include an altruistic concern for the common good and for other human individuals. In the perspective of such an ethical correction of economics we think of the economic actor as an individual, who makes an economic calculation which is extended to include the responsibility for other human beings and society integrating economic calculation in well-founded moral norms and ethical customs of society. In the following, I want to address this issue in five parts 1) Ethics in economic history 2) The neoliberal concept of economics 3) Welfare economics and the criticism of neo-classical concepts of rationality 4) Ethics within economics 5) Economic anthropology and the foundations of rationality. 

1. Ethics in economic history

Looking at the relation between business and ethics in the perspective of economic history, we can see that the idea of the rational profit-maximizing individual based on self-interest is a newcomer for understanding economics.[iv] Although we find preliminaries of the concept in the classical materialist philosophy of Epicurus, it is only with the modern economic thinkers of the 16th and 17th century, in combination with the emergence of an autonomous capitalist economy based on efficiency and utility, that this view of economic actors becomes predominant. The concept of the political and social neutrality of the market has emerged in this context of independent economic markets. In classical political economy market action was conceived in the perspective of political community. Aristotle argued, for example, that wealth and money are not goods that man seeks for their own value but rather as a means to obtain the good life in community.[v] And Thomas Aquinas developed the doctrine of the “just price” in which economic exchange relations were based on respect for the natural law and political justice in society.[vi]

Even though he was the founder of the modern economic doctrines of self-interests and the invisible hand, a similar conception of economy as science of the good for community can be found in the works of Adam Smith.[vii] In the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) Smith seems to argue that the relation between persons and other mutual moral sentiments are the basis for economic action. Self-interest is only one among the human virtues and of the natural inclinations of human nature. Therefore, even Smith argued that utility maximization has to be seen in the perspective of other virtues like generosity and justice.[viii] And therefore rational economic calculation is founded on a broader view of human nature than the idea of “economic man”, which has become predominant in neoclassical economics.

At the same time, with Adam Smith we can perceive the beginning of the emancipation of economics from moral philosophy. With the emergence of the modern individual it has been possible to find a concept of rational action with is totally based on individual self-love and egoism.[ix] Smith was inspired by the provocative work of the Bernard Mandeville who, with his book the Fable of the bees, announced the new foundations of the modern concept of economic rationality, based on the idea of “private vices, public benefits”.[x] Smith integrated this view as the foundation of his concept of economic action in the Wealth of Nations from 1776. With this point of view, we can argue that Smith was very important for the degradation of economic action to personal preferences and self-interests of homo œconomicus. Economics is a private affair and the state has only the very limited function to protect the liberty and rights to exercise personal choices of the individuals in society. Therefore, it is very enigmatic how Smith could combine the belief in self-interest with the analysis of morality and the possible sympathy of human beings with one another in the Theory of our Moral Sentiments.[xi] Smith seems to argue that the broader social relation between persons and other mutual moral sentiments can be the basis for economic action. However, we should remember that sympathy in the perspective of Smith is analyzed as a part of the sensibility of the individual.[xii] Sympathy does, however, not come from egoism or selfishness, for the subject feels an inclination towards another. Accordingly, self-interest seems to be only one among the human virtues and of the natural inclinations of human nature.

Therefore, as already stated, even Smith argued that utility maximization has to be seen in the perspective of other virtues like generosity and justice.[xiii] And therefore rational economic calculation is founded on a broader view of human nature than of the idea of “economic man”, which has become predominant in neoclassical economics. However, it may be argued that Smith did not solve the tensions between egoism and altruism implicit with his view of the economic subject. Because of his emphasis on self-interest Smith cannot really integrate the sympathy for the other in his theory and therein remains a tragic tension between homo œconomicus and sympathy for the other. Moral judgment is captured between egoistic economic rationality and the passions and emotions for the other.[xiv] In fact, the idea of the invisible hand shows the heart of the tension because the concern for community is removed from the individual to the mysterious divine force of the invisible hand.[xv] It is only through the sympathy of the others that the individual requires sympathy for his or her self as based on self-interest.

In the perspective of the history of political economy we can argue that economics originally was viewed as a moral science, not as a mechanical natural science, but as a part of the art of “good government”. According to Amartya Sen, among others, this view of economics has been forgotten in modern economics, which is more interested in the engineering problems of economic efficiency than in ethical and political problems of rights and social achievement.[xvi] This tradition includes classical authors like Ricardo and Malthus and is continued by the neoclassical tradition of Leon Walras and Jevons and developed by authors like Alfred Marshall in his Principles of Economics[xvii], which focuses exclusively on individual utility and seems to forget the importance of concerns for the common good in economic theory. Due to this concentration on self-interest, economic theory, the idea of economic rationality is exposed to a strong tension with deontological constraints on economic markets based on protection of rights, interest and freedoms of other human beings.[xviii] According to this view, the concepts of well-being and rationality in neoclassical economic thought must be considered in accordance with ethical principles. We should look more closely on the ethical aspect of human motivation and integrate questions of the good life in economics. Therefore, without disregarding all the important insights of descriptive positive economy, we may argue for a normative view of economic theory in saying that business ethics is providing us with the “missing link” between traditional “political economy” and micro-economic rationality.

In order to provide such a link between ethics and economic rationality, we have to look closer on the foundations of the neoclassical tradition in political economy, its view of economic rationality and its ethical implications. The neoclassical concept of rationality implies an unlimited conception of rationality according to which economic agents have unlimited competencies of decision making in order to maximize personal self-interest within an exogenous space of possibilities.[xix]

2. The neoliberal concept of economics

The conception of political economy within neoliberal thought can be conceived as a generalization of the economic concept of self-interest and economic rationality to be the basis for organizing society and social justice. According to a liberal like Hayek, free competition among individuals in the market within ethical custom is the best argument for human happiness and luck.[xx] It may be argued that economic equality cannot be viewed as important at competitive markets based on economic freedom. Neoclassical economic thought privileges the pursuit of self-interest and implies the view of human beings as competitive natures. Property rights liberalism does not imply any principles of equality as the basis for economic markets because economic freedom is essential to property rights. It is argued to be paternalistic to limit human freedom by rules of justice on economic markets. Radical libertarians and some liberals are indeed somewhat critical to the deontological perspective, because it implies moral restrictions on personal liberty.

Hayek links this argument for the unlimited economic rationality of the market with a criticism of the proposal to use the state actively to establish social justice in modern society. Such justice would be somewhat the same as socialism and Hayek thinks that there is no meaning in the idea of planned social justice.[xxi] Human beings do not have the perspective of the invisible hand but they are always situated in a culture and history where they live by the human capacity of learning by trail error and imitation. Hayek criticizes the idea of a planned social justice from an epistemological point of view. We cannot rationally construct social rules, we can only use our faculty of imitation. We can only follow specific patterns by tacit recognition of meaning and of imitation of others. Freedom is what the individual does with what society has done with him or her.[xxii] It is the freedom of the situated individual to act in a given social condition. Hayek approaches economic and ethics from the point of view of methodological individualism. Human beings are responsible for their society, but they cannot fully know what the result of their actions is and they have no control over the collective level of society, which is much more complex than the level of individual action.

The level of society can in this context be conceived as a complex cybernetic system that human beings cannot control. Society that is created by individuals is more complex than the individuals and we cannot conceive the system in its complexity. Human beings act in society but society goes beyond their reason and they cannot conceive society. Society is more complex and even contradictory. The social order is a spontaneous order that no-one really wanted to be like that. The spontaneous order can be conceived as a kind of reinterpretation of the idea of the invisible hand. Social order is established between a natural order and an artificial order. The abstract order is a result of the increasing complexity of cultural evolution. The social world is a result of a large evolutionary process like the process of evolution of the natural world described by Darwin. There are no general laws of evolution. We are in an open society, the society of individual freedom as proposed by Adam Smith. There is selection of the most efficient rules in evolution. They depend on information and efficiency. Utility and calculation of lives is the instrument of evolution. The market is the essence of the evolution of this spontaneous order. The market is the foundation of social organization, auto-development, division of work and efficiency in evolution. Hayek develops an information theory of price. They are signals not instruments of distribution of wealth. It is not possible to calculate price from the collective point of view. The market is becoming meta-tradition of all economic traditions. It is competition that makes progress in the economic market. Information is the essence of the economic development in the market. Competition makes people act rationally according to efficiency in the market.

We can observe such a utilitarian justification of liberty and justice in Hayek’s economic theory.[xxiii] Externalization and self-transcendence are a liberating alienation of the individual. You have to leave yourself to the forces of the market and to forget social justice, because you cannot control society anyway. The individual is requested to act in conformity with the rules of the spontaneous social order of which it is a part. Justice cannot be planned but it is a concept that is generated by the spontaneous social order. Property rights are the rights of personal freedom. And imitation is the basis for the personal development of individuals and for their social and economic self-regulation. Selection out of path-dependence plays an enormous role in social evolution. The markets results are without ethics. They are blind. Social politics breaks with the connection between individual and the market.[xxiv]

We also find this idea of the ethical consequences of self-interested individual action in Hayek’s philosophy of the “spontaneous order” of economic and social development. During evolution based on interaction among self-interested individuals those practices which are based on individual freedom and rational choice of the most efficient alternative will, in the long run, contribute to social betterment. And indeed better legal and moral systems will be a result of this spontaneous order. Fair competition and healthy economic institutions will, in an economic system based on fair competition, contribute to a better society. In this perspective the idea of competition includes an ethical dimension of fairness and transparency contributing to the spontaneous order of society. Social orders are spontaneous. No-one can control them. Hayek seems to want to establish the good and just society on the contingency of social spontaneity and social affairs.[xxv] But this is really an argument against any attempt to formulate a rational foundation of the political constraints of actions of individuals and corporations. According to the invisible hand and to the idea of the spontaneous order, the market should have the right to exist as a free human institution, because this is the guarantee of development of society. Thus, economic action should be based on the supremacy of free individual decision making and on open economic markets with as little government intervention as possible. It is the result of the liberal concept of economics that economic rationality should be liberated on its own and ethics should only be introduced as an external limitation of economics when it goes beyond the acceptable requirements of economic rationality, by, for example, not respecting the rules of fair competition on free and open markets. 

The ideal of perfect competition in Hayek’s thought and neoclassical economics presupposes the rights of individuals to make their own rational choices in economic markets. This view of economics can be argued to be based on the presuppositions of perfect competition, rational independent decision-making, a perfect market, a homogenous product, many competing sellers and free possibilities of entry/exit into economic markets. It is presupposed that the firm consists of one rational individual rather than a group or coalition of individuals. The firm is a category of the individual and a production unit in order to provide goods to be exchanged on economic markets.[xxvi]

In the view of neoclassical economy ethics is regarded as external limitations of the market. Ethics is not integrated in economic decision-making but useful to ensure free economic action in the markets. Economics refuses to integrate external values in economic rationality. Therefore I would argue that the only ethics present in this doctrine is the ethics of competition, which is to maximize self-interest and personal preference maximization. A promise of total opportunistic and selfish action is a handshake, as some has characterized this ethics of competition. In this way ethics seems to be an exogenous element of social action at the limits of economic rationality. However, a presupposition is that the conditions of fair competition and perfect markets should be accepted by all participants in economic competition, which is restricted by the rules of the game, for example property rights and contract law. A generous interpretation of the thought of Smith and Hayek may be that the ideas of the invisible hand and spontaneous order are attempts to integrate a concept of the common good in liberalism. From this optimistic perspective, liberalism always goes beyond pure egoism because self-interest is supposed to somehow serve the general interest. Although such an interpretation may be closer to the original moral intent of liberal philosophy, it is a point of view, which seems to have been more or less forgotten in the economic self-understanding of neoclassical economics that isolates the concern for the good from the concept of economic analysis.

Moreover, even though they heavily disagree with neoclassical economic theory, some other paradigms of economics – for example game-theory and agency theory – seem to share the same view of the separation between ethics and economics and the idea of egoistic rational utility-maximizing individuals as the ideal protagonist of economic action. They prioritize the individualistic approach as the basis for economic action rather than considering economics from the point of view of society as a totality in search for a common good.

Game theory contributes to solving an important problem in neoclassical economic theory – the problem about harmonious equilibrium leading to monopoly, which is contradictory to the ideal of perfect competition.[xxvii] In order to avoid static harmony, game theory operates with “non-cooperative games” as the ideal of economic interaction. According to the economic mathematician John Forbes Nash a situation of equilibrium is the case where every participant in the game chooses a strategy, which is the best response to compete with the strategies of the other. Perfect equilibrium in non-cooperative game theory is a combination of strategies, where no player has reasons to choose another strategy to improve pay-off.[xxviii] Indeed, this theory of competition presupposes external limitations on markets and firm behavior. The players have to play within certain rules and they have to share the same concept of rationality considering economic actors as self-interested utility maximizers.

A similar view of the economic man may be said to be present in agency-theory building on rational individual agents acting in firms in order to maximize their own interests. In agency theory corporations are primarily viewed as instruments and devices to maximize profits.[xxix] And we may even mention some views of the economic man in transaction cost economics, arguing that if we look at men “as they really are” we are likely to meet not only self-interested utility maximizers, but potentially opportunistic individuals, who, even though they are not rational in any ideal sense, in their daily actions, with limited knowledge, are likely to follow a non-ideal strategy of personal utility maximization.[xxx] Even though transaction cost theories argue for the importance of governance structures and agree that cooperation, personal honor and integrity matter,[xxxi] this institutional economics regards self-interest as the primary motive for action.

We can say that we are confronted with an instrumental concept of economic rationality, which is presupposed in the systems of neoliberal and neoclassical economics rather than explicitly argued for. But why consider self-interest as the only motive for economic action when we know that real people also are motivated by a plurality of values and ethical choices?[xxxii] A plausible answer could be that economics is viewed not as a science applied to a specific realm of being, but rather as a general set of assumptions and tools that can be applied as a fundamental method in all aspects of human life, including ethics, which is only justified insofar as it allows such an economic methodology to work as freely as possible. The foundation of this concept of economics is the anthropology of the individual as maximizing self-interest and individual preferences – even under conditions of bounded rationality and finitude of voluntary reflectivity. The concept of the common good does not play any important role in this concept of economic action where the drivers of economic activities are not social institutions with common values but the interests of individual utility maximers.

3. Welfare economics and the criticism of neo-classical concepts of rationality

In fact, looking closely on the concept of welfare economics we can criticize the focus on a pure economic concept of rationality as foundation of political economy, as it is the case in neoclassical and neoliberal thought. In contrast to the neoclassical liberal model focusing on individual maximization, welfare economics works with macro-economic choices in relation to society as a whole. Welfare economics works with the concept of personal preferences as foundation of economic theories and economic models. This concept of rationality emerged out of the separation of ethics and economics that developed with the emergence of modern economic sciences. Welfare economics constitutes a normative theory of maximizing of personal preferences.[xxxiii] Specifically, the rational theory of welfare economics in macro- and micro-economics is a normative theory of maximization of preferences in conditions of risk and uncertainty rather than a descriptive theory of factual economic conditions. In welfare economics this theory is used as the basis for economic action in order to determine results with the most efficient economic outcome. This economic theory of rationality does not operate with a substantial theory of rationality. We cannot determine the content of each individual preference and their may even be irrational preferences. Therefore economic theory is based on a formal theory of individual actions as basis for determining the outcome of economic action.

Within this context, Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson argue that there is not necessarily an absolute separation between economics and ethics. In fact rational decisions according to preferences are in the end tested according to moral concepts of minimal goodness. When economic actors like the World Bank develops economic plans or proposals like dumping waste from the Western world onto developing countries, such a proposal is in the end not only evaluated according to economic rationality, but also all other things being equal considered from the point of view of minimal goodness or ethical value. We may argue that it is a presupposition of economic theory that it should be a good thing to satisfy personal preferences of an individual. This concept of goodness behind the economic rationality of welfare economics can be illustrated by the concept of Pareto-optimality, which means that an economic situation has achieved Pareto-optimality when it is impossible to improve a condition of one individual without making others worse off. Dumping garbage in the developing countries may improve the situation in the Western world, but it is does not lead to any improvement of the living conditions in the developing world and it therefore does not fulfill the conditions of minimal goodness of ethical actions.

However, welfare economics shares the presuppositions of liberal economics by emphasizing that free competition is an important condition of free economic choices of individual actors. The ideal of free competition as the basis of efficient economic action is shared by most welfare economists. Moreover, welfare economics also shares with liberal economics the idea that satisfaction of rational preferences is the foundation of economic decision-making. Indeed, this is also based on the idea of minimal goodness or ethical evaluation of the economic choices as the basis for decisions in macro economics. This concept of preferences in national economics may be said to imply that individuals are supposed to be rational and well-informed and their preferences are also supposed not to be odd and totally un-ethical.[xxxiv] In this sense the idea of minimal goodness or ethical acceptability may be conceived to be a condition and a minimal presupposition in the welfare economic conception of individual preferences.[xxxv]

We may say that welfare economics must presuppose the ethical awareness of economists in order to be acceptable as an economic theory. The counterargument from neo-liberal or neoclassical points of view is sometimes that economists cannot be ethical because ethical constraints would destroy the requirements of free competition. It is falsely supposed that there is a close relation between free competition and immorality. But this may not be the case and it may even be better for a company or public authorities to be moral than immoral in order to ensure long term sustainability and cost limitation of the institution.[xxxvi] From this point of view the critical skeptics have not really demonstrated that there is a close connection between free competition and immorality. Still welfare economists cannot have their theory of rationality without looking at the possible moral limits and consequences of their actions. In this sense we can argue that ethical evaluation has to be an internal aspect of economic theory in welfare economics.

However, this does not mean that there is a clear relation between economic rationality and ethics. Rational action may in some cases be moral, but in other cases it cannot be said to be acceptable from the point of view of ethics. But, from another point of view, rational preferences in welfare economics may not always be individual preferences. The concept of rationality in welfare economics can be based on altruistic concerns and it is not necessary to exclude altruism a priori from economic models in welfare economics. Indeed, welfare economists have argued that moral norms and virtues have had positive impacts on economic development, for example a code of ethics in business makes economic action more reliable and it contributes to increase economic welfare.[xxxvii] However, there may also be moral norms that are inefficient from an economic point of view and in cases where they are not even justified from an ethical point of view, for example when we perceive discrimination or suppression of employees, it may be justified not to accept these norms within economic theory. So from the point of view of welfare economics moral norms of economic actors may have an impact on economics even though there may be no direct link between conceptions of moral deontology or moral duty and economic efficiency or rationality. This means that although individuals may have meta-preferences which outlaw actual supposed preferences, there is no direct link between economic rationality and ethics.[xxxviii]


4. Ethics within economics

Common to the ideas of neo-classical theory and welfare economics is the idea of a close connection between ethical rationality and economic rationality. Some even argue that there is an internal ethical dimension of economics and even that it is possible to define what can be considered as valid ethical behavior out of economic reason.[xxxix] The issue is what economics can help to say about the good life and how economics as a moral science may contribute to a better society. According to the Austrian economists like Karl Menger, Ludwig Von Mises and to some degree Hayek, economics may be considered as a kind of “praxeology”, a normative science of practical reason, based on universal categories of human action and helping to realize the human good.[xl] They proposed a rationalistic and interpretative paradigm of economics in which it was argued that economics could be based on synthetic a priori principles. Also there is much convergence between utilitarian ethics and traditional views of normative economics. Economics is viewed as the science of calculation of efficiency, profit and maximization of personal and common human preferences.

In so far as institutional organization theory is founded on ideas of self-interest and efficiency in maximization of profits it seems to presuppose some kind of utilitarian ethics. But this is utilitarianism with strong emphasis on personal and egoistic interests. Indeed this is the case with neoclassical economics and we have seen how the concept of human beings as self-interested and potentially opportunistic actors has been taken over by theories of economic organization like transaction costs economics and agency theory. Transaction cost economics considers firms as contractual relationships among individuals who seek to maximize self-interest and the fight against opportunism on the basis of lawful behavior within contracts can be considered as a defense of an ethics of good governance and high performance in efficient economizing market institutions.[xli] Agency theory focuses on economic property rights as the basis for economic behavior.[xlii] When we propose an ethics of welfare economics we are not only looking at the firm in the light of micro-economics but we also consider the organization as integrated in larger social and political systems.[xliii] We want to state that individual instrumental economic reason has significance only within the framework of ethics subordinating individual goals to the common interest of a community.

In opposition to this view we have to admit that there may be many important aspects of economic principles of self-interest and rational action that can help to shape ethics. Orthodox economists argue that efficient allocation of scarce resources is based on minimal governmental and legal intervention and that free actors are the best to know how to respect the norms of the market and ethical custom of society.[xliv] As mentioned, major economists like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, but also John Stuart Mill believed that the economic rationality of seeking self-interest and profit maximization in economic markets contained on its own an important form of rationality whereby everyone who  seeks to fulfill his own interest will contribute to the common good. Business ethics cannot ignore this ethics of the market, which can contribute to an original form of ethics, given within the rules of market economy, yet sensitive to the common good of society.

According to what may be called the cost-benefit efficiency view of economic ethics, free economic action in economic markets is the best way to deal with scarce resources.[xlv] This view may have two formulations. The former stresses the role of the state in giving dynamics to economics, whereas the latter stresses that the autonomy of the private sector is the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources. Economic actors are characterized by responsible and conscious use of scarce resources. In essence, economics is about efficiency and the prudent use of resources. Moreover, organizational action should be profitable. According to economic rationality we cannot ignore the bottom-line of income and expenditures for the success of business action. Economics is about creating value and maximization of profits in terms of individual or social wealth and utility.  Economics is the science of efficiency and utility for society and economic action is about ensuring the most efficient way to deal with scarce resources.

Additionally, economics can also be regarded from the perspective of social development. Utility theory is based on Pareto-optimality (that is a situation of economic arrangements where a change of the situation cannot make the situation better for some without making it worse for others). [xlvi] Welfare-economists stress the role of the state in such situations while libertarians consider that the free market gives the best optimality.[xlvii] Thus economics is considered as the science of how to compare and weigh different goods of society and allocate scarce resources most efficiently. Economic action is about how to contribute to creating wealth on markets and thereby create wealth in society. It is advisable to contribute to economic goods within the basic rules and ethical principles of society. And it would not be just not to respect the laws and principles of economics when acting on economic markets. Economic action based on utility contributes to maximization of efficiency within limits of respect for basic rights.

An important aspect of such a concept of economic ethics is the already mentioned idea of the “invisible hand” from Adam Smith, stating that if everyone acts according to his own interest respecting the rules of fair competition on economic markets, society will flourish and individual self-interested action will be a contribution to the common good. As we have described, we also find this idea of the ethical consequences of individual self-interested action in Hayek’s philosophy of the “spontaneous order” of economic and social development. During evolution based on interaction among self-interested individuals those practices which are based on individual freedom and rational choice of the most efficient alternative, will in the long run contribute to social betterment.[xlviii] And indeed better legal and moral systems will be a result of this spontaneous order. Fair competition and healthy economic institutions will in an economic system based on fair competition contribute to a better society. In this perspective the idea of competition includes an ethical dimension of fairness and transparency contributing to the spontaneous order of society.

If we conceive economics as implying a particular ethical rationality we may therefore consider how economic institutions contribute to ethics. The ethics of economics in institutional arrangements is the promotion of rational self-interest and fair competition as an instrument for economic progress. As John Dienhart acknowledges, according to the institutional view of economics, markets are considered as “ethical engines”.[xlix] The aspect of economizing that we have discussed, may very well be considered as a part of economic institutions as ethical engines. However, the concept of economic rationality is broader and more pluralistic than the view of fair economic markets as exclusively based on the pursuit of self-interest.

Thus, we can distinguish between an internal and an external approach to ethics and economics. According to the external approach economic rationality is based on self-interest and there is complete separation between ethics and economics.[l] Economic engines can help us to attain ethical values, but economics as such is neutral. However, there seems to be an ethics implied in economic rationality. So we can argue for an internal approach according to which ethics is not only considered as external limitations to economics but rather as a part of economics. But the internal approach does not necessarily have to rely on a utilitarian and neo-classical concept of economic ethics. Rather we can have a pluralistic approach to the ethical values that have an impact on economic action. Thus, ethics is to be considered as an internal aspect of economic institutions, for there is an ethical dimension to economic concepts like property, risk-reward structures, information and competition. This implies that we should have an institutional approach to economics emphasizing that institutions determine economic action.[li] The constitutive rules and principles of economic markets based on property, risk-reward structures, information and competition include certain ethical ideas which are the conditions for development of economic systems. Douglass North has for example shown how the act of promising is a condition for good contracts that in turn conditions predictions of future economic action.[lii]

When we deal with the institutional aspects of property rights, risk-reward structures, information and competitive relationships we may say that the internal ethics of the economics of fair markets is about how to organize scarce resources in economic systems in a fair way. To respect property rights is viewed as the foundation of the economic system and a part of fair competition is not to question basic property rights. Adam Smith and after him most libertarian economists have for example always been saying that property rights should be considered as the foundation of the economic order.[liii] We may say that our use and definitions of property rights in the center of corporations are not only based on considerations about self-interest, but rather on a combination between consequentialist and teleological considerations. External intervention is necessary when basic rights are not respected in economic transactions on economic markets. This is the case when we encounter widespread corruption with regard to property rights in economic systems.

Concerning contracts we can emphasize some implicit ethical values that are required to be fulfilled in economic interactions. This is evident when some transaction cost theorists have stated that governance structures to avoid opportunism as well as confidence and promise-keeping matter for economic interaction.[liv] With regard to information we may also encounter certain ethical principles within economic interactions. Correct and reliable information is a condition for trustful relations of economic action on different economic markets. It is a requirement for good contracts that they are based on reliable information. 

The principles of fair and healthy competition may indeed also be an important aspect of the ethical principles of competitive markets.[lv] Norms about monopolistic practices constitute internal limitations of economic interactions. It is a widespread belief that monopolistic action is at the limits of economic systems and possibly of economic behavior as such in liberal economic markets.

If we analyze the ethics of transaction costs economics it may be argued that a contract view of the firm is not sufficient to conceptualize the ethical dimensions of organizations. Organizations are not only universes of micro-contracts but are based on values that function as organizational goals for corporate behavior. Transaction cost economics addresses ethical problems in organizations when it discusses problems of opportunistic behavior with regard to information, agency and liability of individuals, but it cannot explain loyal and altruistic behavior in organizations. It may be true that organizations try to control organizational behavior and ensure efficiency in competition by setting up institutional infrastructures based on contracts.[lvi] But the question is if this really is sufficient to understand cases of lack of opportunistic behavior in organizations?

With Herbert Simon we can argue that transaction cost economics cannot explain why people identify with organizations and feel much more committed that what is required from the perspective of self-interest.[lvii] Authority-employee relationships and motivation cannot be understood as incomplete contracts, but rather as based on the goals and values of the organization as implicit premises for decisions. Employee motivation is therefore not only based on economic incentives but also on loyalty to the goals of the organization. Moreover, organizations should not only be understood as micro-markets of competitive contracts, but rather as instruments for coordination of human action, which facilitate action on economic markets.[lviii] In such a goal-based view, the rationality of utility based on the “economic man” cannot be the only explanation of the function of organizations on economic markets but goal-oriented and community-based behavior is a much more important aspect of organizational action. However, within new institutional theory we can perceive an orientation towards integration of different aspects of rationality when dealing with economic institutions.[lix] Therefore it may be possible to find a sort of convergence between a goal-based and a contract-based view of organizations.

From this initiative to deduce ethics out of economics we may conclude that ethics is not always external but also sometimes implicit in economic rationality. We can say that ethical aspects of economics are based on the values of the basic concepts of economic systems. We can point to organization of market structures and the most important concepts of economic markets: “Property, risk-reward relationships, information and competition”.[lx] The system of these concepts is not neutral but cannot but implies ethical values. These values are not only based on economic efficiency but include a plurality of ethical rationality reflecting individual goals, organizational values and community values. Moreover, economic organizations are not only determined by self-interested individuals acting according to utility values but the ethical values of economic organizations are more complex and they also include personal values of individual members of organizations.[lxi] However, the plurality of values also implies great tension between traditional economic values of utility and self-interest with community values based on an ethical view of the economy.

5. Economic anthropology and the foundations of rationality 

The debate about the relation of economics to ethics and politics centers on the view of economic anthropology and on the motives for action of human individuals. With welfare economics, we already were able to propose a more complex view on concepts of preferences and economic rationality.  As mentioned common criticisms of the idea self-interest of economic actors argue that human beings are not egoistic utility maximizes but belong to human communities and social cultures where concerns for the common good cannot be excluded from understanding motives for economic action.[lxii] Moreover, neoclassical presuppositions of ideal situations of economic action are conceived to be very far from the conditions of action in concrete social contexts of economic life.

Arguments for a broader ethical foundation of economic action state that economic anthropology is characterized by a tension between egoism and altruism.[lxiii] Some authors argue that wise economic action implies reciprocity and concern for other human beings.[lxiv] Therefore, self-interest is never the only motive for economic agency. In opposition to such a social view on economic action economists like Gary Becker have defended altruism as an advanced form of individual utility maximization.[lxv] Becker advances the so called “Rotten Kid Theorem” stating that people acting altruistically do so in order to improve their self-interest – like the child who behaves nicely in order to get a great reward from his or her parents.[lxvi] In this perspective strategies of cooperation and sympathy are only forms of advanced self-interest recognizing the importance of truth-telling, promise and contract keeping for future collaboration and exchange. This argument has been fully developed by Axelrod who, in his book The Evolution of Cooperation (1984), states that cooperative behavior can be founded on individual maximization of utility because in cooperative strategies in the long run will benefit individuals more than opportunistic strategies.[lxvii]

As we saw in the discussion of welfare economics fundamental preferences are not always egoistic and maximization does not always have to be based on individual profit maximization. In fact, an important development of welfare economics in the direction of corporate citizenship, business ethics and corporate social responsibility is to show that the economic subject is not exclusively to be conceived as an atomistic preference maximizer, but can be said to have altruistic preferences at the fundamental level of economic anthropology. We may say that the “economic man” should be accomplished by a “social man” or rather that individuals are characterized by a structure of double preferences where individual preferences are also related to other persons. Christian Arnsperger gives us support for this argument by considering the French anthropological tradition coming from Marcel Mauss and the concept of responsibility in the phenomenology of Emmanuel Lévinas as possible criticisms of the liberal and neoliberal restriction of economic subjects to be “atomist monads” of individualist profit maximization.[lxviii]

With this approach we use the French tradition of anthropology to illuminate the concept of economic subjectivity. With his Essai sur le don. Forme et Raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaiques from 1924 Mauss analyzes the anthropological foundations of the concept of exchange.[lxix] The main point is that the reduction of all exchange to economic exchange does not capture the anthropological basis of exchange which really is a condition of social integration. By doing an archeological analysis of the origins of exchange Mauss can help to understand the foundations of modern social institutions. By analyzing the concept of exchange Mauss shows that the original concept of the gift is in sharp contrast with the neoclassical concept of economic exchange. In fact by looking at the triadic structure of giving-receiving and giving back (donner-recevoir-rendre) we can see how exchange is a condition of social interaction indicating exchange as a form of social integration between human beings.[lxx] This is illustrated by the phenomenon of Potlatch that was practiced by Indians in Vancouver and Alaska.[lxxi] Potlatch was a form of aggressive gift leading to a fight of giving (prestations totales de type agonistiques) between adversaries, where the winner was the one who could contribute with the largest gift. In Polynesia, exchanges of gifts were a part of important and symbolic events in society, for example religious ceremonies. In this context the gift had a religious content and to receive something from other persons was to receive parts of a symbolic substance, for example as divine mediation between giver and receiver. Today, in contrast to economic exchange, the gift still has parts of such significance. However, in the metaphysics of the gift exchange is not reduced to an economic calculation of preferences but it is linked to spiritual relations between individuals, and even when we deal with economic transactions this spiritual dimension is a part of the exchange. A gift includes an obligation both from those who receive and give the gift and in some situations this also includes the obligation to return with expression of recognition and gratitude. In the ancient mythology of India, God is defined as divine generosity of giving the world to the human beings and in the archaic Germanic societies the gift was related to intimate social relations, a symbolic and sometimes spiritual instrument of integration between different groups of society

Mauss argues that modern society still contains elements of this original concept of the gift.[lxxii] In economics and trade the interactions are often characterized by expectations of mutual satisfaction between buyer and seller and it is presupposed that the relation of exchange is based on reciprocity and recognition. Moreover, our concepts of generosity are defined as a transgression of the ordinary concepts of exchange.. According to Mauss, the modern idea of the economic subject that has emerged with the neoclassical liberal traditions may be conceived as a sort of alienation of the original concept of the gift. Although we still live by the metaphysics of the gift in modern society, we have developed an economic system where the gift has been forgotten in favor of the concept of methodological individualism of individual profit maximizers.[lxxiii] However, there are many phenomena that show the limits of this concept of social interaction, for example social security in the welfare state, corporate philanthropy, charity movements, and also gift giving for different kinds of ceremonies. Mauss is regretting that the economic concept of exchange as personal maximization is replacing the spiritual and generosity-based aspects of the gift. In neoclassical economics the maxim of mutual exchange that is based on the idea that all give as much as they received, has been replaced by individual preference maximization.

Mauss’ anthropological concept of exchange helps us to question the liberal concept of economic maximization. This economic concept of exchange must be considered in the perspective of our social life and it is limited when we want to understand all relevant aspects of human motivation. Mauss helps us to formulate a more complex concept of economic exchange linking economics to altruistic motives as well as concepts of giving and receiving, thus linking economic markets to social life. From an ethical point of view, human subjects are not only “profit maximizers”, but in their giving and receiving they are always linked to logics of social integration, which is also an important aspect of economic interaction.

The central insight of Mauss is that economic anthropology cannot solely be based on the concept of individual preference maximizer, but that economic interaction presupposes a social concern of mutual social interdependence of economic actors. Moreover, this concept of society presupposes a broader conception of the human self than the one which is proposed by neoclassical economics.  In fact we can say that the mutual relations of giving-receiving-returning is not external to the market, but rather the real truth of the market, because the market presupposes mutual dependence and mutual relations between economic actors.[lxxiv] With Christian Arnsperger we may propose a “methodological altruism” to accomplish methodological individualism of profit maximization.[lxxv] In this context the concepts of altruism of Becker and Axelrod do not take account of what altruism really is.[lxxvi] They are begging the question of altruism because they only want to count for altruism in terms of enlightened egoism. Rather, altruism is based on the essentially social character of the market involving basic conditions for the exchange relation as described by Marcel Mauss. Instead of the foundation in the monadic subject of mathematical, axiomatic economics, we have to acknowledge the relation between economic theories to the moral sciences. Economic theory cannot abstract from the morality of exchange, because exchange after all is a social event. With the focus on anthropology we have learned that it is possible to accomplish methodological individualism with a methodological altruism that also accounts for possible altruistic preferences in the economic subject and furthermore acknowledges the importance of ethical evaluation of economic preferences and of economic motives.

Emmanuel Lévinas helps to enlarge the ethical foundation for this altruistic approach to economic anthropology. Lévinas proposes a phenomenology of the intimate encounter of the other human being as the basis for our view of human motivation.[lxxvii] The encounter of the other human being is an infinite demand of responsibility and self-sacrifice. This concern for the other is the basis for social relations. The reciprocity with the other should not be defined as a relation of “alter ego”, but rather the other is someone fundamentally different from me. In the perspective of Lévinas the fundamental respect for the other as other is the foundation of ethical relations and this concern for “the other as other” precedes the relation of economic egoistic exchange. The ethical relation is more fundamental than economic relations and this ethical ideal of respect for the other as other is the foundation and condition of possibility for economic exchange.[lxxviii] Therefore, Lévinas says that ethics precedes reciprocity as mutual recognition and altruism as enlarged self-interest.

The criticism of the atomistic economic subject that is revealed by the analysis of Mauss is supported by Lévinas’ ethical anthropology, which situates economic action as secondary to the fundamental human responsibility for “the otherness of the other” as revelation of what is the innermost purpose of human action.[lxxix] This implies that economic action is embedded in larger social structures and economic rationality cannot be separated from ethical and political rationality. Christian Arnspenger suggests that Lévinas’ phenomenological description of individual subjectivity as implying a fundamental responsibility for the other shows that the logic of the gift is a possibility of individual choice that precedes “every constitution of subjectivity as purely autonomous”.[lxxx] We may say that this ethics of otherness constitutes the fundamental openness for generosity that precedes the economic account for particular preferences. Lévinas emphasizes that responsibility is the most fundamental constitution of subjectivity and it this sense we may say that ethical subjectivity is more fundamental than the economic subject of neo-classical and neo-liberal economic theory. [lxxxi]

This view on the relation between economics and ethics helps us to understand that individual rational maximization can never be fully isolated from the idea of ethical subjectivity as fundamentally responsible for other human beings. The ontology of economics and the reach of economic method based upon sheer individual maximization cannot be conceived as all-encompassing and absolute, given that economic rationality is secondary to political and ethical reciprocity. From such a point of view economic decision-making should have external restrictions in the laws of political justice and the ethical principles based on fundamental principles of human existence. Economic reason is submitted to responsible subjectivity who, when evaluating economic preferences, cannot avoid asking questions about the ethical ideas of universal moral rules, the search for justice in the political community, and considerations of community welfare.

In the perspective of the philosophy of Lévinas we may say that responsibility for the other human being conditions the legitimacy of economic action.[lxxxii] Moreover, viewed from the ideals of political community, responsibility is not only an intimate relation with the other but should be extended in time and space to society as a whole. This is the argument of the German philosophy Hans Jonas, who thinks that responsibility does not only concern present human activities but should be extended globally in time and space and include the future of humanity.[lxxxiii]

However, such an integration of ethics and politics in economic rationality is not without a price, because basic economic considerations are considered as relative to ethical principles.[lxxxiv] Concepts of efficiency, utility, production, demand, consumption, accumulations of goods, property are not considered as intrinsic values, but as only valid insofar as they do not violate basic ethical principles or contradict our moral values. Ethical and political limitations of economic action propose an ethics of responsibility as the basis for social regulation of economic action.


What we can learn from this analysis of economic rationality as linked to social conditions of exchange and to the responsibilities of ethical subjectivity is not that business decisions are exclusively ethical or economic in any ideal sense, but rather that it is always possible that decision-making will be dependant on a kind of “mixed rationality” including elements from both economic and ethical rationality, as well as other fields like politics and law. But in a deeper sense, we can also conceive business ethics as the foundation of decision-making in corporations, because business ethics is not only about economic means and rationality but also about the social and political goals of economic behavior. Yet how to define this political and ethical rationality as basis for economic action?

We can emphasize the fact that it follows from subjective ethical responsibility that economic rationality can never be justified without good ethical reasons. In fact this is not only supported by economic anthropology, but also within welfare economics, which relies on the concept of individual preference maximization, i.e. the same homo œconomicus of the neoclassical tradition, but does not exclude ethical evaluation of proposals for maximization. Indeed, it is a great advantage of welfare economics, somewhat in contrast to neoclassical economics, that it does not separate ethics from economic rationality but rather recognizes that theory of economic rationality should always be justified from the point of view of ethics. It is very important that economists accept this ethical constraint on economic action even when they do not agree upon what ethical reasons should be used to justify particular economic actions.

We may say that such a kind of normativity implies that we conceive the concepts of wants, utility (pleasure), competition, freedom to consume in neoclassical economics in tension with social values like needs, self-actualization, cooperation, freedom to growth, and self-realization through work as a potential good. These ideas may be considered as what is necessary in order to promote of justice as the basic structure of society. It is, in the perspective of business ethics, the aim of business institutions to be founded on a close link between ethics and economics in the sense that economic rationality is based on good and well-founded ethical reasons and arguments.


[i] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.

[ii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 39-40.

[iii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987.

[iv] Henri Dennis: Historie de la pensée économique, Thémis, PUF, Paris 1966, pp. 7-91.

[v] Aristotle: Politics, book 1, chap 9.

[vi] Thomas Aquinas : Somme Théologique II. Henri Dennis: Historie de la pensée économique, Thémis, PUF, Paris 1966, pp. 74-75 and p. 83.

[vii] Adam Smith: The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, (1759), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002. Patricia Werhane: Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991.

[viii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 22-23.

[ix] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 77.

[x] Bernard Mandeville: The fable of the bees, Pelican classics, London 1970.

[xi] Adam Smith: The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, (1759), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002. Patricia Werhane: Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991. Werhane formulates the tension between benevolence and egoism in the following way “Rather in the Theory of moral sentiments Smith critizises any moral theory that derives its basis for moral judgments merely from self-interest and equally, questions any moral theory that derives these judgments solely from benevolence. Distinguishing passions from interests, Smith argues that human beings are not motivated merely by selfish passions, but that both prudence and benevolence are virtues of the self-directed and social interests, and the basic virtue is justice” (Werhane, 1991 p. 13).

[xii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 84

[xiii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 22-23.

[xiv] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 84.

[xv] Ibid. p. 94.

[xvi] Ibid. p. 6.

[xvii] Alfred Marshall: Principles of Economics, 8th ed. MacMillan, 1920.

[xviii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, p.15.

[xix] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995.

[xx] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998.

[xxi] F.A. Hayek : The Road to Serfdom (1944), Routledge Paperbacks, London 1997, p. 66-69.

[xxii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p 247.

[xxiii] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998.

[xxiv] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998. Jean-Pierre Dupy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 284

[xxv] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998. Jean-Pierre Dupy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 291.

[xxvi] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, p. 66. Knudsen refers to David Kreps: A Course in Microeconomic Theory, Harvester Wheatsheaf, London and New York 1990.

[xxvii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, p. 88. Knudsen refers to the article about the theories of cooperative and non-cooperative game theory by Eric van Damme & J.W.: Weibull: “Equlibrium in strategic interaction: The contribution of J.C. Harsanyi, John F. Nash, and Reinhart Selten” in Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Vol. 97, pp. 15-40.

[xxviii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, 96.

[xxix] Michael Jensen: “A Theory of the Firm, governance, residual claims and organizational forms”, Harvard University Press, dec 2000 and The Journal of Financial Economics 1976.

[xxx] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York, 1989.

[xxxi] Ibid. p. 63.

[xxxii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 19-20.

[xxxiii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996, Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001.

[xxxiv] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996. Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001, p. 64.

[xxxv]Ibid., p. 66.

[xxxvi] Ibid, p. 68.

[xxxvii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: refers to Kenneth Arrow (1974) for this point of view.

[xxxviii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996. Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001, p.  87.

[xxxix] See for example John Broom: Ethics out of Economics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999. Broom even thinks that ethics and politics should learn a lot from economics. However, Broom seems to work within the utilitarian tradition of welfare economics and it is not clear whether he would speak for the neoclassical view of the necessity of a market without legal and political restrictions. Broom’s views seem to impose rather strict limitations on economic markets in comparison with the radical libertarianism of Robert Nozick and also with Milton Friedman, who both argue for an ethics implicit in economic markets.

[xl] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001, p. 120.

[xli] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York 1989, p 129.

[xlii] Michael Jensen: “A Theory of the Firm, governance, residual claims and organizational forms”, Harvard University Press, dec 2000 and The Journal of Financial Economics 1976.

[xliii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995., p. 262.

[xliv] Diane L. Swanson: ”Business Ethics and Economics” in A Companion to Business Ethics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford 2002. (pp. 207-217), p. 210.

[xlv] Ibid. p. 211.

[xlvi] Ibid. p. 210.

[xlvii] I.M.D Little: Ethics, economics and politics. Principles of public policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.

[xlviii] In fact, there are many arguments for corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship that rely on economic concepts of self-interests. These arguments are based on the idea of the invisible hand and strategic action of self-interest as leading to the common good. This approach argues that it is possible to use concepts from game theory in order to justify action for corporate citizenship from a strategic perspective. Accordingly, altruistic action for the common good may be justified in terms of satisfaction of egoistic preferences.

[xlix] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 145.

[l] Ibid. p. 146.

[li] See Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio:The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1991., p. 293ff.

[lii] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 149.

[liii] Ibid..

[liv] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York, 1989, p 63.

[lv] See for example Milton Friedman’s discussions of healty markets in Capitalism and Freedom, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1962.

[lvi] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 177.

[lvii] Herbert Simon: ”Organizations and markets”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 5; 3 (1995), pp. 273-293.

[lviii] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 180.

[lix] Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio: The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1991.

[lx] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 182.

[lxi] Ibid. p. 182

[lxii] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001, p. 299.

[lxiii] Ibid. p. 152.

[lxiv] Amartya Etizioni: The Moral Dimension. Towards a New Economics, Collier Macmillan, New York 1988.

[lxv] Gary S. Becker: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, University of Chicago Press (1964), Chicago 1993.

[lxvi] Gary S. Becker: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, University of Chicago Press (1964), Chicago 1993. See also François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 164.

[lxvii] Robert Axelrod: The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, New York 1984.

[lxviii] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 99.

[lxix] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxx] Marcel Hénaff: Le prix de la vérité. Le don, l’argent, la philosophie, Le Seuil Paris 2002. In this book we find a very profound development of theme of the gift. The problem is whether it is possible to unite gift and exchange. Since Socrates a particular philosophical tradition has been reluctant to allowing this, arguing that a philosopher could not sell his knowledge without reducing the gift of truth to exchange and thereby making it illegitimate. However, there is also another current accepting a link between gift and exchange, which is for example expressed in the philosophy of Montesquieu, who argued that trade implied unification of nations and Max Weber who in a certain sense can be said to reply to the theme of the gift with his idea of the Protestant ethics. However, from our point of view these discussions emphasize that the economic exchange is not something isolated, but a case of general human exchange based on reciprocity and recognition. Economic exchange, therefore, cannot be isolated from general human practices and economics must indeed be treated and conceived as a social practice. Economics cannot be separated from the social exchange processes of gift and return even though money seems to neutralize the exchange relation.

[lxxi] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxii] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxiii] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxiv] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000.

[lxxv] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 104

[lxxvi] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 164.

[lxxvii] Emmanuel Lévinas:. Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extéorité, M. Nijhoff, La Haye, 1961. François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements ’anthropologique, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 159.

[lxxviii] Emmanuel Lévinas:. Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extéorité, M. Nijhoff, La Haye, 1961.

[lxxix] Christian Arnsperger:  “Homo Oeconomicus, Social Order and the Ethics of Otherness“ in Ethical Perspectives, Vol 9.

[lxxx] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 113.

[lxxxi] The critical reader may insist that Lévinas cannot be used in such a way as to argue for the primacy of ethics over economics. Such an approach would state that the phenomenology of the other implies a negative reaction to the instrumentalism of economic exchange and an ethics of situational ethical demand on the individual that goes beyond economic exchange. I agree with that, but this is indeed also a good argument for the primacy of ethics in the reciprocal relation of social exchange between human beings. Accordingly, ethical responsibility is a primary constitutive element of human existence. See for exemple Emmanuel Lévinas: L’humanisme de l’autre homme, Paris Gallimard 1972, p. 82-83: ”Par cette susceptibilité, le sujet est responsable de sa responsabilité, incapable de s’y soustraire sans garder la trace de sa désertion. Il est responsabilité avant d’être intentionnalité. See Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 114.

[lxxxii] Ibid.

[lxxxiii] Hans Jonas: Das Prinzip Verantwortung,  Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1979.

[lxxxiv]François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001., p. 168.