Religious belief, corporate leadership, and business ethics

Religious belief, corporate leadership, and business ethics

Religious Convictions and Ethical Motivation

Several years ago, a recently retired, evangelical Christian corporate chief executive officer left my business school ethics class in near revolt by advocating a response to a hypothetical drug testing policy based on the Biblical prescription to “love thy neighbor.” This businessperson gave an impressive, impromptu recitation of a series of Biblical passages to show why he, as a sincere Christian, should care deeply for his employees and in doing so should implement a drug testing policy almost identical to the one that the students had separately designed after extensive debate about balancing individual privacy concerns against a business’s rights. Despite the CEO’s indistinguishable position, the students, who represented all of the major world religions, deemed him a “bigot” who had “shoved religion down our throats.”

My students are not alone in this type of reaction. Many people believe that religious convictions have no appropriate role in business decision making. Yet, whether or not religious beliefs should play an influential role in the ethics of business is an important question. Is belief-motivated decision making an opportunity for exploitation and discrimination? Or is it a legitimate means of ensuring that business is conducted in ways that take into account the consequences of corporate actions on nonshareholder constituents such as employees, the community, the environment, suppliers, creditors and customers?

Religious Convictions and Ethical Motivation

The field of business ethics has not paid sufficient attention to the questions of why a person would want to be ethical.(1) Much of the business ethics literature assumes people’s interest in being ethical and consequently addresses the appropriate thought experiments to determine moral behavior.(2) Unfortunately, without examining why a person would be interested in being ethical, business ethics is truly academic, particularly since there are limits to justifying ethical behavior in terms of economic profitability. Despite very sound arguments that, under certain circumstances, good ethics is good business ethical decision making at times can be cumbersome and unprofitable.(4) Religious convictions provide some business leaders with a strong motivation for conducting business ethically even when their profit motive might not. A growing body of literature addresses such religious motivation. Laura Nash’s recent book, Believers in Business, describes how evangelical Christians attempt to blend ethics and business, often resulting in exemplary treatment of employees(5) and impressive stewardship and philanthropy.(6) Similarly, Oliver Williams and John Houck,(7) and Joseph Sullivan and Thomas McMahon(8) have documented the work of Catholic businesspersons whose commitment to ethical business behavior is truly outstanding.(9) In addition, businesspeople who are themselves religiously motivated have written books about their philosophies. Tom Chappell,(10) Robert Greenleaf,(11) James Autry,(12) and Steven Covey.(13) Examining the motivations for ethical behavior on an individual level raises ontological and epistemological questions that businesspersons tend to leave unaddressed and which are too complex to be addressed here in any appropriate depth. Yet, they can be addressed in part. In a culture that has diverse ideas about reality and human nature, such ontological and epistemological questions are risky. One problem, exemplified by my students, reactions, is that reliance on religious beliefs can be incendiary and can excite discriminatory responses.(14) To a significant extent, our society has come to distrust religion when applied to public issues. In Nash’s book, for instance, evangelicals find themselves facing cultural norms that mandate that religious talk reveals inauthentic belief. An openly devout leader is burdened by comparisons to sleazy televangelists.(15) Yet his beliefs are so fundamental to his business activities that to not speak of them would be as phony as he is accused of appearing.(16) Moreover, people’s incendiary reactions to expressed religious convictions allow them to overlook the fact that the integration of business and religion can result in good business ethics. Nash notes the commitment of evangelicals to the “Christian concept”(17) of high quality,(18) to investment in the development and training of employees,(19) and to “dignification”(20) (an aspect of love of neighbor). Executive compensation under evangelical leadership is generally limited, with the average differential between lowest and highest paid worker a factor of twenty, compared to the national average of a factor of eighty-five.(21) Participatory work forces and egalitarianism tend to be more prevalent as well.(22) Many evangelically inspired managers have policies that promote diversity and make them less subject to charges of discrimination, although Nash found that equal treatment of women is a “blind spot.”(23)

Given such laudable management, why have evangelical CEOs and other religious business leaders been forced to “secularize” their belief?(24) Nash argues that many of these leaders “disguise” their beliefs(25) because there has been

[A] severe rupture of the traditional task of religion, which was precisely the establishment of an integrated set of reality that could serve as a common universe of meaning for the members of society. The world-building potency of religion is thus restricted to the construction of sub-worlds, of fragmented universes of meaning, the plausibility structure of which in some cases are no longer than the nuclear family.(26)

In a country where religious speech is suspect, should religiously motivated corporate leaders censor themselves? My goal in this article is to examine within a moral and methodological framework the reasons why a CEO like my class speaker should or should not reveal the religious beliefs motivating her or his decisions about specific corporate policy, particularly when those decisions relate to ethical dilemmas. This inquiry implicates not only religious beliefs, but any controversial moral belief, secular or sacred.(27) In fact, given the difficulty of scientifically “proving” any moral position, secular or religious, then any imposition of ethical practices is at least somewhat implicated as well.

As a basis for examining this question, I will deal extensively with the political-religious literature. That literature questions whether a legislator or any other public figure should be prevented from relying upon religious beliefs in proposing policy or deciding cases.(28) I assume that these leaders and business leaders can and should rely upon what is in fact motivating them. The harder question is whether such decision makers should rely upon religious beliefs in justifying their decisions to others. That was where my class speaker ran into trouble. The debate that has taken place in the political-religious literature, including a 1995 book by one of the most careful thinkers in the field, Kent Greenawalt,(29) provides a basis for understanding if and when influential persons, including business leaders, ought to be circumspect, and perhaps even silent or misleading, in publicly justifying religiously based decisions.

The remainder of this article focuses narrowly on the question of whether leaders should be able morally to justify actions based upon religious belief. In particular, I will reject Kent Greenawalt’s sensible and sensitive position that influential leaders ought not justify decisions by referencing religious beliefs, although he argues that non-influential citizens may. The first section contrasts the inclusionist rationale for not excluding religion from public decisions with Greenawalt’s middle position. The second and third sections delve deeply into the issues of religion and politics. While those issues may seem far afield from corporate behavior, I believe that a complete examination of the narrow question concerning the legitimacy of relying upon religion to justify a political position will help shed some light on the times, if any, when business leaders should use religious language to justify a corporate decision. That is because corporations are, to some degree, public places as are political institutions. The third section also provides a methodological analysis of why Greenawalt’s middle position and a more extreme exclusionist position are flawed. The final section summarizes the implications of the methodological analysis for business leaders.

To confine the scope of this article, I leave to the side several quite important questions, such as when and how employees may exercise their religious beliefs, when a CEO may make the business into an extension of ecclesiastical ritual, and the constitutional dimensions of these issues. Preaching to employees about their salvation,(30) holding mandatory devotional services,(31) or even the use of religious symbolism and content in corporate mission statements and identities,(32) raise interesting questions beyond the scope of this article. My present focus is on instances when the ethical decisions made by a CEO have consensus support within the company, but the CEO’s reasons for the decision, if known, would be highly objectionable.

It is important for the reader to remember that the stakes here are, at least for the purposes of this article, methodological. The question is what sources are appropriate for public justification of decision-making. In a liberal democracy where belief and speech are constitutionally protected, is it legitimate to prevent a person from revealing his or her justifications for a decision because it does not meet Enlightenment standards of rationality? If restrictions are legitimate, what would they be? Alternatively, should persons be morally justified to speak honestly about those motivations inspiring their decision? Without this methodological focus, this article could be dismissed as a personal reflection or as being incomplete because it decides no practical issue, such as the drug-testing issue presented at the article’s beginning. With the methodological focus in mind, however, the issue of the appropriate grounds used to determine moral issues cuts to the very heart of discussions of moral authority in a free society.

A Middle Ground for Moral Dialogue?

The Inclusionists’ Claim

Kent Greenawalt writes out of the context of political and juris-prudential theory, in which serious challenges have been made to those who use religious convictions in public debate. Even absent First Amendment concerns,(33) disagreements have arisen between “inclusionists” who support the use of religion as a legitimate basis for decision making and “exclusionists” who reject the use of religion because it is not a neutral source of moral principles shared by citizens of diverse backgrounds.(34) Religious language, it is argued by the exclusionists, is inherently not shared, nor shareable: Justifying a position on religious grounds prohibits dialogue because at least one of the interlocutors privileges a position on nondialogical, faith-rooted, nonrational grounds.(35) The inclusionists respond that there should be no restrictions on the language a person uses to justify a position because any such restrictions are arbitrary. Their arguments are generally made along one of four lines: 1) no position, including “neutral” liberalism, is in fact neutral

This inclusionist approach provides a rationale for making and justifying political and business choices on religious grounds. That rationale allows an individual to base political choice on religious grounds. As Michael Perry, one of the most prominent inclusionists, writes:

It is one thing to reject certain beliefs as theologically unsound, or epistemologically unsound, or both, and where it is fitting to do so, to be willing to challenge them as such

The essence of the inclusionist claim is that religious persons have as much validity and right to public engagement based on their beliefs as anyone else and to restrict them from justifying their position on the basis of those beliefs unfairly discriminates against them without proof that any other system of moral belief is intrinsically superior to religious belief. In business, the inclusionists, approach would mean simply that leaders ought to state honestly their motivations for their business practices. It would reject the notion implicitly advocated by my class preventing a CEO from publicly relying upon religious beliefs when taking an action that would affect others. The inclusionists, claim is that rather than promoting deception and ignorance by discouraging leaders from revealing the actual motives behind decisions, the inclusionist position correctly and effectively allows the religious and nonreligious rationales implicit in a particular decision to emerge and be addressed.

Finding a middle ground in the debate between the inclusionists and the exclusionists is difficult. Indeed, Michael Perry eventually moved to the inclusionist position despite having provided a compelling defense of the middle position on the basis of public accessibility and recognition of the fallible nature of human moral judgment.(41) While Perry once held that religious language could be used only if the believer used language in terms that were accessible to all persons and if the believer recognized the possible fallibility of one’s religious justifications for a moral position,(42) he now summarizes the inclusionists, position.

There is no good reason to accept any middle ground exclusivist ideal. In particular, there is no good reason to exclude religious beliefs – religious beliefs that, in view of those who embrace them, support controversial moral beliefs – as a basis for political choice even when no other basis is available.(43)

Greenawalt tries to reestablish a middle position. I follow Perry’s argument and will claim, at least insofar as his position relates to business, that Greenawalt has not overcome the objections of the inclusionists and consequently the inclusionists, position ought to be adopted in business.(44) However, Greenawalt is onto something important – the consequential dangers that inclusivism must face. That recognition, however, should not lead to categorical restrictions of religious speech and conduct, but the development of a more appropriate methodology that accurately describes social life.

Religious Belief, Corporate Leadership, and Business Ethics Timothy L. Fort

Should business leaders whose religious convictions lead them to a management philosophy that explicitly integrates ethics into business practices censor their religious motivations? While business ethics has not taken the harsh exclusionary position that has been taken in a good deal of academic writing about religion’s role in politics, there is a sense that religiously motivated executives ought not identify those motivations as reasons for their ethical practices. A 1994 book by business ethicist Laura Nash demonstrates that this issue is a dilemma for many leaders in business, and a 1995 book by legal philosopher Kent Greenawalt refines the debate over religion’s role in politics. Using these books as a starting point for analysis, business leader’s ought not restrict referencing their religious beliefs when making corporate decisions. Neither epistemological nor consequentialist arguments excluding religion are sound. Instead, one ought to adopt an inclusionist approach in which leaders are free to identify the reasons for their ethical (or other) business practices.

Greenwalt’s Middle Ground

Kent Greenawalt specifically asks and answers the question of the appropriate grounds for political decision making and debate. Should officials, and even ordinary citizens, restrain themselves from relying in public politics on some grounds that appropriately influence them in their private lives and within their nonpublic associations?(45) He rejects the notion that religious convictions, comprehensive philosophies and other “nonaccessible” rationales should, as a general rule, be excluded from political life.(46) He also rejects the opposite notion that nonaccessible views should always be advanced.(47) His intermediate position depends on each individual actor’s role in society. Greenawalt’s position allows individuals to come to decisions based upon religious convictions and allows ordinary citizens to advocate positions in religious language. A person with influence, however, should not use religious language in advocating positions, even if this tactic is implicitly deceptive.(48) Essentially, Greenawalt is concerned with the kind of unrest honest reliance would create.(49) This concern is a problem not only for historical reasons,(50) but also because it rests upon a methodology pervasive in contemporary culture, a methodology frustrating Nash’s CEOs, that an individual’s religion is essentially a personal, private choice and cannot be shared with others.

Greenawalt’s rules are. 1) judges should rely on religious convictions only as a last resort and then with specific limitations

Greenawalt’s position that any kind of moral justification ought to be made in publicly accessible terms raises two key questions: 1) the epistemology of accessible rationales and their methodological adequacy, and 2) the applicability of this methodological position to religious convictions. Greenawalt assumes that religious beliefs are inherently inaccessible to others which makes their use problematic, particularly if done by someone who is powerful. The issues underlying the quandary of Nash’s subjects, as well as religion and politics generally, is this methodological position that controversial moral beliefs are inherently unshareable and therefore should remain private. This methodological position, however, is not as clear as our contemporary culture might think, so it merits careful consideration.

The Methodology of Shared Values

Greenawalt’s position is a “middle-ground” because it does not fully exclude religion from public debate. Greenawalt is trying to articulate a position for our contemporary culture, not for any given culture, so that his position is more open to religious influence from the nongovernmental culture than are the positions of other scholars.(53) Moreover, Greenawalt’s position does exclude advocacy in religious language only if the advocate is an influential person, and even those persons may reach their decisions based upon religious grounds

The Shared Values Position

The centerpiece of the exclusionist school of thought is shared values: the belief that the precepts used in moral, public dialogue ought to be those that are shared by the interlocutors. Thus, Thomas Nagel, a contemporary proponent of the shared values school, would exclude religion from political dialogue. Nagel argues that a “highest order impartiality” in politics requires a “common critical rationality.”(54) To develop a common critical rationality, according to Nagel, one should not, for fairness reasons, identify any conviction based on faith and revelation. One should not try to coerce others on grounds that others can reasonably reject. What kinds of grounds does one then use?

[I]t must be possible to present to others the basis of your own

beliefs so that once you have done so, they have what you have,

and can arrive at a judgment on the same basis. That is not possible

if part of the source of your conviction is personal faith or

revelation – because

to report your faith or revelation to someone else is

not to give him what you have, as you do when you show him your

evidence or give him your arguments.(55)

Michael Perry argues that Nagel’s criterion for determining what evidence can be shared is itself problematic. Perry asks, for instance, if the personal experience of being a drug user (i.e., direct evidence) can be shared with the vicarious experience of the spouse of a drug user (i.e., someone with only indirect evidence).(56) More problematic, Perry argues, is finding broader cultural traditions or experiences that can be shared in Nagel’s sense. Defining such shared experiences is not only extremely difficult, but most likely “impossibly restrictive.”(57) From the other side of the equation, is it not possible to share another person’s religious experience well enough to understand it? To build on Perry’s example, the experiences of a drug user and a spouse of a drug user may well be similar enough, albeit with real differences, to share and comprehend them. Religious experience may be gained individually, but it is not so clear how really different such experiences may be. Thus, either any experience is too idiosyncratic to be communicable, or it can be in many important respects. Either way, religious belief cannot be singled out for exclusion.

Nagel’s position is replicated in various forms by Bruce Ackerman and John Rawls. Ackerman, for instance, goes even further than Nagel by denying a citizen reliance upon (as opposed to justifying one’s position by) “controversial notions of the good.”(58) Instead, Ackerman advocates using neutral moral premises to conduct argument.(59) Rawls argues that public dialogue ought to be conducted through a “public reason” formed from an overlapping consensus among various comprehensive moral beliefs. Each of the exclusionists primarily defines acceptable moral debate in terms of shared values. Greenawalt takes a similar position.

The Concept of Accessible Rationales

Greenawalt focuses on how to define accessible arguments. Greenawalt argues that presenting arguments in accessible language is necessary to avoid unfairness or social disharmony.(60) Three accessible grounds are available. The first is realist dictates, nonrelative truths determined by common human understanding.(61) Thus, if freedom is commonly understood to be a preferred state, it can be the basis of opposition to totalitarianism.(62) The realist approach contends that all other things being equal, happiness is better than pain, love better than hate, health better than illness.(63)

The second accessible ground is shared social concerns, whereby participants generally begin with the same premise. One such premise is a commitment to equality, although there are certainly different conceptions of what equality means. In many instances, equality can be an accessible rationale because it has a consensual basis.(64) For instance, Greenawalt cites Hillary Putnam’s characterization of equality in western culture as belief in the essential moral equality of human beings, the need to respect even the least talented, and the equal importance of all peoples, happiness and suffering.(65) Since members of our culture generally agree with these premises, we can use them as the basis for decision making in normative politics.(66)

Greenawalt notes that it is hard to separate realism from shared social concerns in real life(67) He is right. Furthermore, it is hard to distinguish the two philosophically, since ultimately a realist argument is determined by appealing to a shared understanding among people, the same process called for under the shared social concerns approach. This approach harms Greenawalt’s case because in the final analysis, what is real and what is shared becomes an issue of degree. A realist argument has great consensus because there is a shared belief that it is true. A shared moral position’s consensus is not as firm as it is with a realist claim, but it also has its moral weight determined by the degree to which it is shared by others.

Moreover, a process in which decisions are made only upon arguments whose essential features are shared depends heavily upon the existence of a language by which dialogue takes place. Such language communicates the consensus. But dialogue, in order to value fully all social parties, must be open to all. Otherwise, those excluded from dialogue have no voice in the development of language itself, so that Jurgen Habermas is right to argue that “[t]he metainstitution of language as tradition is evidently dependent in turn on social processes that are not reducible to normative relationships. Language is also a medium of domination and social power

Of course, any organization, whether society or corporation, must have some sense of shared values to hold itself together. But that which is shared must maintain a commitment of openness to all and results acceptable to corporate constituents. Dialogue fundamentally requires an openness to convictions beyond those which are initially thought to be shared precisely because the shared values language otherwise legitimates and hides oppressive social structures. This country’s history has witnessed a shared language in which neither women nor African-Americans were full citizens. Keeping the language open to non-shared truths brings social change. Shared values, whether validated by a realist argument of common understanding or a consensus of shared concerns, does not unmask social prejudice. Privileging shared values as accessible rationales, as Greenawalt does, threatens to perpetuate these dominations.

Greenawalt’s third and final accessible ground is authority, that is, deference to what a higher authority determines one should do.(69) Respecting authority, Greenawalt argues, benefits society.(70) For instance, using a realist claim, he argues that citizens require executive officials to carry out the decisions of legislators(71) in order to assist in the organization of a decent human life. Civilization simply works better when people carry out socially recognized duties.(72) Under a shared premises theory, he further argues that officials should perform heir duties.(73) As a society, we agree that one has an obligation to carry out duties.(74) Finally, realist and shared values arguments support his third contention that officials explicitly or implicitly promise to perform the prescribed duties of their offices and should, therefore, fulfill those promises.(75) The authority rationale thus also relies upon a combination of realist and shared values arguments that, I have argued, are themselves essentially indistinguishable and make the authority rationale subject to the same criticisms.

Greenawalt’s three accessible grounds on which language in public debate can be based – his “accessible rationale” – each depend on the argument that the only reasons that are accessible, and therefore legitimate, are those that rely upon some notion of shared values. The “accessible rationales” methodology is thus not a meaningful departure from the exclusionist school. In both, the reasons one uses depends upon a kind of argument that the exclusionists believe is not characterized by religion. Thus, one central problem for Greenawalt’s accessible rationale approach is the same as for all shared values approaches. It risks censoring prophetic voices that challenge social oppression. The second problem is that it discriminates against religious belief. That is, then, the next subject.

Accessible Rationales and Religious Convictions

It is important to remember that, although I am making an argument for inclusionists by critiquing Greenawalt, his middle ground position is closer to my position than the exclusionist positions of Nagel, Ackerman, and Rawls. However, Greenawalt’s position still excludes a good deal of religious involvement. I have raised methodological questions about the accessible rationale position. The issue, however, is not simply theoretical., it also shapes how he will treat more practical matters. Greenawalt’s conception of accessible rationales dictates that he will approach religious claims as things personally important, but socially dangerous. He agrees with legal scholar William Marshall’s characterization of religion as having a “dark side”, although not one as dark as Marshall describes.(76)

Marshall argues that religion should be kept separate from politics, not on epistemological grounds, but as a practical response to religion’s history of potentially dangerous intolerance.(7) Drawing on Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Marshall claims that the danger of religion is that out of love of humanity The Grand Inquisitor practices intolerance and persecution.(78) Humanity shies away from embracing freedom in favor of following religious doctrine and rituals.(79) Doctrines and ritual replace God. Then, clinging to often meaningless doctrine and ritual, human beings can only assert their authority, not justify them (80). According to Marshall, such passionate adherence to doctrine and ritual, when brought into public, political conflict with similarly held beliefs, creates the danger of a modern round of Inquisition-like intolerance.(81)

While Greenawalt refers to these arguments as “among the best arguments for keeping religion out of political life”,(82) he claims that religious arguments should not be excluded from public debate unless there are present, significant, non-hypothetical reasons to do so.(83) He is deeply concerned, however, with the consequential implications of allowing religion to play a public political role. Moreover, his methodology characterizing religious belief as inaccessible makes it exceedingly difficult for religion, or other comprehensive moral views, to play a part in political debate and choice.

Imposition Rules

The way in which Greenawalt argues for the limited times in which religious language can be used reveals the consequences of a methodology based on accessibility. In developing his notion of “imposition rules,” he distinguishes between religiously motivated efforts to cause embarrassment or to proselytize from those that sincerely advocate social change.(84) Thus, he distinguishes between a school official who wants to introduce school prayer specifically to embarrass Jewish children and encourage them to abandon their faith from a citizen who promotes, for religious reasons, a law regulating factory farming in a manner that ensures the humane treatment of animals.(85) The first example typifies an inappropriate “imposition reason”, while the second presents an acceptable “non-imposition reason.”(86) Greenawalt’s approach, however, seems to create a rule by which advocacy for a position is acceptable, as long as it occurs for a legitimate reason, that is, a shared values context, but advocacy that creates a harm-inflicting evil is not acceptable if pursued for nonshared reasons.

I would also “share” the hypothetical’s abhorrence of the former and consideration of the latter. Moreover, I would agree that there are grave dangers lurking for dressing harmful actions in religious garb. Such a distinction, however, privileges those religious beliefs that use the shared values perspective. The distinction also may fail to meet Greenawalt’s own requirement that a citizen involved in polities present accessible reasons for her position: The animal rights advocate would violate the accessibility rule unless she presented accessible arguments (which may not exist) for her non-imposition reasons. Such a shortcoming could undermine the appeal of the animal rights advocate’s argument, as well as Greenawalt’s effort to provide a means by which religious reasons can at times enter into public debate. Instead, I would argue that the animal rights advocate should be fully entitled to make her arguments even if they were wholly “inaccessible.” What is important is the commitment to the process of sharing one’s values, not a prior agreement on the values themselves. Given the possibility that shared values may also be oppressive just as religious language can be intolerant, it is not clear which produces more harm. Resolving that question may entail empirical analysis beyond the scope of this article. For purposes of this article, I simply wish to suggest that the matter is not as clear as the shared values school may think.

Greenawalt offers a second reason justifying when the use of religious language may be appropriate. Reliance upon religious beliefs can be acceptable when those beliefs are an accepted part of a cultural tradition, bur not when they are separate from that tradition.(87) Greenawalt essentially argues that beliefs of religious origin that have become part of shared values are acceptable., current religious beliefs that are not part of shared values are not. Greenawalt thus has added another rule: Past religious evangelizing is legitimate, but current evangelizing is not. Such a position, however, seems to mitigate against social change. Such change requires a prophetic voice inherent in secular and religious evangelizing.

Thus, Greenawalt requires the use of some variation of shared values restrictions whenever a participant in political discourse is affecting decisions about potentially coercive laws. The more conclusive or influential the person’s authority, the more that person must rely on public reasons in the debate. While there may be significant strategic wisdom in this approach, I believe that Greenawalt’s shared values framework is too restrictive and undermines any discussion of the modes of oppression that ought to be the enemy of a liberal political theory.

Five Problems with Imposition Rules

Five main problems exist with the kinds of imposition rules that Greenawalt seeks to establish. First, as a matter of critical rationality, Greenawalt’s approach does not provide for the openness that challenges social oppression. Religion, like any other comprehensive system, including liberalism, may have a dark side, but as Greenawalt himself notes, it also has a good side that has provided significant and occasionally overwhelming support for the creation of religious freedom in America,(88) the abolition of slavery,[89] and the civil rights movement.(90) These religiously influenced, often religion-dominated movements were able to maintain a critical rationality outside of the language of shared values. Drawing lines of when participation of religious leaders and institutions is proper is a treacherous morass and one that threatens to eliminate prophetic social critique.

Second, the shared values approach does exactly what liberal political theory tries to prevent. It creates classes of citizens. Those citizens who agree with the shared values are in a privileged position to enter politics, while those who do not are not. As a result, public debate fails to provide the critical rationality that challenges oppression and discriminates in the process. Third, while it may be strategically wise to use publicly accessible reasons in public debates, Greenawalt makes such arguments into normative obligations without completely grounding the “goodness” of liberalism’s premises. One must show that peace, harmony, and stability are morally superior to their alternatives and that limiting dialogue is a surer means to those goals than public debate.

Fourth, basing a moral choice solely on individual autonomy suggests that religion is an idiosyncratically personal, non-shareable, private choice. This implies there is no reason for any moral principle to outweigh any other personal choice, such as individual greed or self-aggrandizement in the way that business ethics, for instance, tries to require. Business ethics, where successful, defines self-interest more broadly than individual autonomy, taking into account each individual’s identity with others(91) On a more macro level, equating liberalism with individual autonomy divorces classic liberal theory from its republican aspects on which this country was founded.(92) A methodology that views religious beliefs as personal, albeit important, inevitably makes its entrance into public affairs potentially harmful.

Finally, what kind of religion is, in fact, wholly private? Richard Jones, for instance, argues that:

Religion creates a framework providing meaning for a person’s whole life. It is, therefore, unrealistic to hope to relegate religious faith to the realm of purely private opinion which should have no consequences for one’s public action in particular. Religion does not govern only limited areas in the life of the religious-it is not reducible to something exclusively personal or private. Instead, religion is comprehensive in the sense that all aspects of one’s life are related in one degree or another to this fundamental framework.(93)

It is one thing to acknowledge that religion is a personal matter. It is another thing to deem it to be private. Greenawalt does acknowledge that a principle of self-restraint that requires silence of one’s religious beliefs is unacceptable.(94) The problem really then comes down to a question of whether shared values or inclusive dialogue best promotes justice. As I indicated earlier, that question may have an empirical component to it, so I make no final conclusions here. I am, however, betting on inclusive dialogue.

Greenawalt’s accessible rationales theory is much closer to the inclusionist ideal than the exclusionists’ shared values position. Greenawalt recognizes both the impossibility of removing religious motivation from-individual lives and the dangers that can result from religious speech and conduct. Yet, in the final analysis, Greenawalt’s middle position replicates the exclusionists’ excessive restrictiveness because he employs a methodology that makes religion into a personal choice that should not be socially relevant. In fact, given Greenawalt’s rule that an influential person should not rely upon religion, but a private citizen may, il would seem that the cost of being religiously motivated and publicly concerned would be to forfeit one’s justification for public involvement.

Corporate Leadership and Religion

Having spent the bulk of this article considering this issue in terms of politics, it is fair to ask if there is a business aspect as well. It is important to remember the narrowness of the question I have posed. There may be constitutional limitations to the extent to which a business person integrates religious language and business life. There may be empirical questions of whether shared values or inclusionism creates greater consequential dangers. There are issues about the willingness of religious business leaders to reciprocate in allowing others, such as employees, to justify actions in terms of religion. These are important questions that must be addressed. The question for this article is simply whether business leaders should censor their religious motivations. The reason the question is proposed so narrowly is that discussion about religion can be controversial so that analytical categories are blurred in the ensuing passion of discussion. Keeping the question narrow allows the underlying methodological issues to emerge.

My conclusion is that business leaders should not censor their religious motivations. The same reasons for allowing them to speak freely of their motivations are the same as the reasons to allow political leaders to speak freely. One should not create classifications based on religion, one should not prevent the engagement of a motivation that does have positive contributions to make to society

If business leaders do publicly and honestly rely upon religious motivations, then the focus of the question shifts to what kinds of forums and epistemological redescriptions of public life are necessary for recipients of business leaders, words, such as the students in my class, to fruitfully engage in debate. A partial answer to that question is this article’s conclusion. that it is more fair to foster inclusionism than exclusionism. But that is only one step in addressing the role of religion in public life generally and business specifically.

Which methodological approach one chooses to employ within the realm of business ethics or political morality-shared values, accessible rationales or inclusionism-makes a big difference when applied to the quandaries of co pi ate managers. As is the case politically, there is no inherent reason to force a business person, regardless of the individual’s station in life, to compartmentalize the motivations that dietate her or his treatment of others. Such a restriction is particularly odd when the motivations often have beneficial consequences, and when the alternative is to require the person to be deceptive about her or his decision-making processes. To restrict the justifications available to a business leader for ethical behavior encourages the development of an oppressive language in which honesty itself is the first victim. Furthermore, compartmentalization does not prevent religious belief from significantly influencing behavior. Instead, silence promotes ignorance of other people’s motivations and rationales, including religion. Such ignorance is perhaps at least as likely to foster unrest and fear as is robust dialogue.

The shared-values school contends that the self is more fully served by not advocating religious views in political contexts. That is, the shared values view is that the person, as well as society, is better off for reasons such as peace and civility, by not basing political argument and choice on nonaccessible grounds. Under the shared values framework, the self is better served by embracing the liberal vision of what is good for the self rather than what one’s religious beliefs determine to be good for the self. Ironically, that appears to be an imposition reason based on a nonaccessible view of the superiority of unstated liberal premises over religious premises.

Business leaders ought to be able to rely upon religious justifications for their moral positions. They should be able to inform others honestly about why they are treating employees well, about being ecological stewards, and about contributing philanthropically to the community. At the same time, freeing business leaders to communicate this information should not provide the grounds for their making their religious beliefs the only acceptable moral language in their business.

In the course of dialogue, duties exist for both listener and speaker to foster exchange of truthful information. Offensive speech, short of actual discrimination or physical conflict, is unpleasant but should not be silenced. To the extent that it is deemed incorrect, it ought to be engaged. Thus, business leaders, speech, even if offensive, should be received and debated. If a business leader bases a business ethic on a controversial moral belief, religious or otherwise, his or her reasoning is entitled to dialogue. To the extent that leaders speak so offensively that they clearly sunder the dialogue in which they are engaged, they undermine the very inclusiveness that they need to advocate their own position. Thus, business leaders should be able to justify decisions in religious language when their decisions are religiously motivated, but they also should acknowledge that the failure to reciprocate sows. the seeds for others, when in power, to also fail to reciprocate.

I do not underestimate the divisive possibilities of my position. One simply cannot ignore the fact that religion and other controversial moral positions, even the idea of liberal freedom, can cause conflict. In the workplace, they also can result in discrimination and harassment. This article should not be construed as sanctioning business leaders, religiously motivated discrimination and harassment against their workers. Rather, I am challenging the notion that any belief ought to be censored, unless there is clear proof that reliance on such beliefs by business leaders produces actual danger. Specifying the meaning of that danger ought to be a subject of public debate. Public debate also ought to include a full discussion of why business persons ought to be ethical. Inasmuch as religious beliefs are important motivations for conducting business ethically, as demonstrated by Nash and by the CEO speaking to my class, then those motivations ought not be compartmentalized, but listened to, in order to advance the goal of infusing business with ethical concerns.


My goal in writing this article has been narrow, although, I think, important. No complex theory can be fully described within the confines of a single article

Just as political leaders ought to be able to rely upon religious or other controversial moral beliefs to justify a public action, so should business leaders. Preventing influential individuals from honestly articulating the reasons for their decisions is overly restrictive, unfair, and methodologically flawed. Moreover, while there are dangers in introducing religious language into any public dialogue, there are also dangers in fostering ignorance and in devaluing significant motivations for ethical behavior. (1) See Timothy L. Fort, The Dialectic of Business Ethics (1995) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University). The dissertation addresses the subject of this article more comprehensively and includes some of the material used herein. See also Timothy L. Fort, Religion and Business Ethics: The Lessons From Political Morality, J. Bus. Ethics (forthcoming 1996) (manuscript on file with author). This article confronts this issue from a more historical perspective. (2) See, e.g., Thomas Donaldson, Corporations & Morality (1984)

Law, Virtue, and the Corporation

Jeffrey Nesteruk

Business ethicists are turning increasingly to the work of Aristotle in analyzing ethical issues in the workplace. However, in drawing upon Aristotle, business ethicists have failed to develop a crucial dimension of Aristotle’s thought: his conception of law. Because this conception of law differs significantly from the notions of law implicit in many contemporary discussions of business ethics, it offers a way of reenvisioning the relation of law and ethics in the business environment. Exposing how corporate law concepts bear on the moral development of individuals within the corporation offers a new perspective from which to evaluate current controversies in corporate law. This new perspective on the relation of law and ethics within the business world has important implications for both ethical and legal inquiry. Most significantly, it exposes a deep interconnection between these two scholarly endeavors.