Cowton, Christopher J. (2008) On Setting the Agenda for Business Ethics Research. In: Trends in Business and Economic Ethics. Studies in Economic Ethics and Philosophy . Springer, London, pp. 11-30. ISBN 978-3-540-79471-4

Business ethics as a field of academic endeavour has made significant progress over the past two or three decades. It now boasts a substantial body of scholarly literature, which is a major resource in which much time and effort have been invested and from which much can be gained. However, there is still much work to be done, and the dynamic nature of both academic life and the world beyond it ensures that new issues and opportunities will continue to emerge. Business ethicists, individually and collectively, through the allocation of their limited research resources (especially time), will govern how well the field progresses and meets future challenges over the years to come. In particular, through our decisions about what we do or do not study and write about, we will determine the future shape of the scholarly literature – what it addresses successfully and on what it remains silent or inadequate. Implicitly or explicitly, individually and collectively, choices are made, and some are presumably better than others.

This paper is a reflection on the progress of business ethics as an academic enterprise. Of course, the development of business ethics as a focus of academic interest has been marked by several review papers already (e.g. Hosmer 1996; Werhane/Freeman 1999), some reflecting underlying concerns consistent with Enderle’s (1996, p. 43) comment that “in its present stage of development, business ethics appears to be far from being an established academic discipline”. Some might question whether something like business ethics can ever be an academic discipline as such, and for the purposes of this paper it will be helpful to distinguish between disciplines – such as philosophy, economics and psychology – and fields (such as business and management) to which the concepts and methods of academic disciplines can be applied. Nevertheless, whatever kind of academic activity business ethics is taken to be, there are significant issues relating to its academic status.

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