Making Business Ethics a Cumulative Science

When businesses and researchers cooperate, collaborate and communicate, everyone wins. A new article in the premiere edition of Nature: Human Behavior by Ethical Systems founder Jonathan Haidt of NYU Stern and collaborator Linda Trevino of the University of Pennsylvania  illustrate just how far deeper partnership can take the field of business ethics research and why that will help companies and people to flourish.

In their piece, entitled “Make Business Ethics a Cumulative Science” Haidt and Trevino outline the various factors that have impeded ties between the business and research communities. Some are due to the misalignment between operational models— academics depend on open access to information towards the goal of building on research and understanding, while businesses need to maintain tight control over information about their inner-workings and ethics— while others are based in the complexity of business ethics as a field.

For business ethics research to be of maximal value to companies, as well as fellow researchers, it is best if it is an ever-updating discipline. From the article:

…Improving business ethics is not a one-time achievement. The world of business is ever-changing. We need to…generate a constant stream of innovations in business ethics, which are then tested empirically and selected so that the most effective ones become more common throughout the business world, while those that are ineffective or counter-productive fade away.

The article ends with specific suggestions for how to transform business ethics research to make it maximally useful to real businesses. The authors propose a business ethics “moon shot” – a large network of companies and researchers who work together to test when and why ethics pays, and to find ways to make it pay more reliably for more companies.

We urge you to read the article online and share your thoughts in the comments about ways to strengthen ethics and culture in companies >>



Jonathan, I have been changed for the better as a result of your perspectives per The Righteous Mind. So Grateful! Thanks!
That said, I admit to feeling very sad about the 'business ethics' thrust you are taking (at least as I am currently perceiving it).
Having experienced numerous organizations who on paper articulate 'ethical' stances, I believe that, as you largely taught me, individuals are 90% ape-ish and 10% hive-ish - and if they can get away with doing (unethical) things they will do so. Although VW's diesel scam is one example, I think that there are very few individuals, particularly we WEIRD ones, who have, more than superficially, developed skills of empathy, compassion and fairness, particularly when faced with our current omnipotent neoliberal God paradigm and modelling (including your own Pres. Don). Any ‘organization’ is only as good as it’s members (and stakeholders) are: a bunch of individuals who may or may not be engaging in competitive hiving to move their group to better things. And that brings up the question of ‘better things’: your hockey stick example is material wealth based. Happiness, many argue, has not necessarily increased with the ‘business / profit / financial accounting we have been using. Real Wealth, many assert, is inherent to being. Resource destruction / exploitation, however rationalized (rational lies) cannot continue indefinitely – there are limits.

So, please tell me I'm missing the point. More importantly, explain to me how imposing rules from on high (including your well-meaning, but ‘business based’ organization) will not work, either short-run or long term. Capitalism can be saved but requires huge paradigm shifts away from neoclassical/neoliberal to humane / sustainable. See Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Reich, Paul Hawken and Manfres Max-Neef for some modalities.