This week’s research tidbits bring together papers which explore the intertwining of the psychology of the self and business ethics.

Self-esteem and ethics

This paper aims to provide an account of the relationship between self‐esteem and moral experience. In particular, drawing on feminist and phenomenological accounts of affectivity and ethics, the author argues that self‐esteem has a primary role in moral epistemology and moral action.

The author starts by providing a characterisation of self‐esteem, suggesting in particular that it can be best understood through the phenomenological notion of “existential feeling.” Examining the dynamics characteristic of the so‐called “impostor phenomenon” and the experience of women who are involved in abusive relationships, the author then claims that self‐esteem fundamentally shapes the way in which self and others are conceived, and the ethical demands and obligations to which they are considered to be subjected.

More specifically, the writer argues that low self‐esteem – which in the experience of women may be rooted in particular assumptions regarding gender roles and stereotyping – can hinder autonomy, make it difficult to question other people’s evaluative perspectives and behaviours, and attribute to others responsibility for their actions.

Anna Bortolan. 2018. Self‐esteem and ethics: A phenomenological view..

Hypatia, 33(1), 56-72.

Social moral licensing for moral people to misbehave?
Moral licensing theory posits that individuals who initially behave morally may later display behaviours that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic.

While previous literature mainly focused on individual moral licensing, the influences from the social environment have barely been investigated. To address this issue, the present paper develops a conceptual framework of social moral licensing and outlines two main avenues for future research via six propositions.

The first avenue entitled “the conspicuousness of moral licensing” considers moral licensing that comes into play when people are observed by others. The second avenue entitled “the relativity of moral licensing” focusses on social comparisons between individuals, their ingroups and outgroups. Specific and testable social moral licensing effects are derived in both avenues. By doing so, this paper outlines promising directions for future studies in this new research stream.

Wassili Lasarov & Stefan Hoffmann. 2020. Social moral licensing.

Journal of Business Ethics, 165, 45–66.

Critical business ethics: From corporate self‐interest to glorifying the sovereign master
Research in critical business ethics has demonstrated how economic self‐interest is the primary reason that businesses adopt nominally ethical practices.

After reviewing this body of research, the authors propose that it can be further developed by questioning its conception of self‐interest, by exploring its non‐economic dimensions and by reconsidering the meaning of the ‘self’ that is said to have such interests. Drawing insights from feminist theory and political theology, the paper interrogates corporate business ethics as a public glorification of corporate power based on a patriarchal conception of the corporation. Genealogically rooted in early Christian ceremonial practices used to glorify God the Father, this is a glorification for the sake of glory rather than just for the sake of commercial ends. The authors further argue that corporate business ethics is rendered as the feminised servant of the sovereign corporate patriarch, always at hand to glorify the master.

The meaning of corporate business ethics is hence one where the feminine is not absent, but rather is servile to a masculinity conceived in relation to domination, greatness and sovereignty. Collectively, this shows how the power wielded and desired by corporate business ethics far exceeds the pursuit of financial self‐interest; it is also related to modelling the corporation on a male God.

The paper concludes by considering how research in critical business ethics can be extended through forms of inquiry that destabilise the ethical glorification of the corporation, and displace its masculinist privilege.

Rhodes, Carl & Pullen, Alison. 2018. Critical business ethics: From corporate self‐interest to the glorification of the sovereign pater.

International Journal of Management Reviews, 20(2), 483-499.

Stakeholders and their relational self
Stakeholder theory has been an incredibly powerful tool for understanding and improving organisations, and their relationship with other actors in society. That these critical ideas are now accepted within mainstream business is due in no small part to the influence of stakeholder theory.

However, improvements to stakeholder engagement through stakeholder theory have tended to help stakeholders who are already somewhat powerful within organisational settings, while those who are less powerful continue to be marginalised and routinely ignored. In this paper, the authors argue that one possible obstacle preventing less powerful stakeholders from speaking up and/or being heard by organisations is found at the ontological level, where the authors have identified an ‘essentialist self’ underpinning the stakeholder concept.

By deconstructing the stakeholder concept through how it is defined, discussed and debated, and linking this back to the practical consequences of the theory for the least powerful stakeholders, the authors are able to make three contributions.

One, through deconstruction, it is clear that at an ontological level, stakeholder theory is underpinned by an implicit, and problematic, assumption of the ‘essentialist self’, where the organisation is treated as the ‘natural, universal self’, and anyone not closely resembling this narrow (and unrealistic) view of self is treated as ‘other’.

Two, the authors build on the work of authors such as Wicks et al. (Bus Ethics Q 4(4):475–497, 1994), who highlight the need for consideration of the self within stakeholder theory. The authors thus take their findings from contribution one and begin to build a more holistic view of the self within the stakeholder concept, where each self is encouraged to recognise common selves outside and inside the corporation.

Third, the authors link the theoretical discussion to the practical by discussing some imperfect ways in which a more holistic, enriched stakeholder concept might begin to help mitigate marginalisation for some stakeholders.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Krista Bondy & Aurelie Charles. 2020. Mitigating stakeholder marginalisation with the relational self.

Journal of Business Ethics, 165(1), 67–82.

Bringing psychology and business ethics together
Arguing that psychology and business ethics are best brought together through a multi-level, broad-based agenda, this essay articulates a vision of psychology and business ethics to frame a future research agenda.

The essay draws upon published work, but also identifies gaps where published research is needed, to build upon psychological conceptions of business ethics. Psychological concepts, notably, are not restricted to phenomena “in the head”, but are discussed at the intra-psychic, relational, and contextual levels of analysis. On the basis of this presentation, the author discuss future directions for development in psychology and business ethics, including but not limited to studies of personality, emotion, decision making, motivation, and the biological bases of psychology and business ethics.

An inclusive approach to these and related areas, it is argued, will both bring about depth of understanding on the psychological bases of business ethics, and allow dialogue across disciplinary areas within JBE.

Gazi Islam. 2020. Psychology and business ethics: A multi-level research agenda.

Journal of Business Ethics, 165(1), 1–13.