JOBE_A_Conflict_Case_Approach_to_Business_Ethics - A Conict...

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A Conflict Case Approach toBusiness EthicsJohannes BrinkmannKnut J. ImsABSTRACT.Departing from frequent use of moralconflict cases in business ethics teaching and research, thepaper suggests an elaboration of a moral conflict approachwithin business ethics, bothconceptually and philo-sophically. The conceptual elaboration borrows fromsocial science conflict research terminology, while thephilosophical elaboration presents casuistry as a kind ofpractical, inductive argumentation with a focus on para-digmatic examples.KEY WORDS: case approach, casuistry, conflict man-agement, ethics teaching, moral conflictIntroductionBusiness ethics as an academic field has two mainfunctions. On the one hand it challenges self-satis-fied business people by inviting moral criticism andself-criticism of business practices. On the otherhand, business ethics is potentially helpful when itcomes to analyzing, handling and preventing con-flict in business contexts, with a focus on moralaspects (cf. as drafts of such a perspective Frenchand Allbright, 1998, pp. 177–178, with furtherreferences, or Brinkmann, 2002b, pp. 161–162).This paper suggests taking a better look at such apotential conflict management function of businessethics.The use of moral conflict cases in businessethics teaching and researchMoral conflict cases are the most popular way ofteaching business ethics, consisting of more or lesscomplex and authentic conflicts without an easy self-evidentsolution.Businessethicscasebooksarereaders of business life, of conflict histories and issues(see e.g. Beauchamp, 1997; Donaldson and Gini,1995; Harvey et al., 1994; Hoffman et al., 2001;Jennings, 2002). While full-format cases are meant asrepresentativesofreal-lifeconflictcomplexity,teaching sometimes (and research normally) uses lessrepresentative and more focused short versions ofconflict cases, often called ‘‘scenarios’’ or ‘‘vignettes’’(see e.g. Bain, 1994; Brinkmann, 2002a; Chonko,1995; Peck et al., 1994; Weber, 1992). Such con-flicts or dilemmas, short ones or long ones, real onesor constructed ones are normally designed as ahopeless choice between contradictory responsibili-ties where at least one stakeholder will be hurt. Thefollow-up question is usually in the format of ‘‘whatwould you do if you were person X?’’ or ‘‘whichconflict party would you side with, and how wouldyou justify your choice?’’ or ‘‘identify and clarifymain issues, parties and stakeholders, options andwisest solutions’’.Cases and case teaching market ethics as usefultools for analyzing and handling understandable andinteresting moral conflict stories, trigger standpointJohannes Brinkmann is professor at BI, the Norwegian School ofManagement in Oslo Several of his articles have appeared inthe Journal of Business Ethics, Teaching Business Ethics,Business Ethics: A European Review. He has also publishedtwo business ethics books (in Norwegian, 1993 and 2001).

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