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Proximity and Rationalisation: The Limits of a Levinasian Ethics in the Context of Corporate Governance and Regulation

Samuel Mansell
Journal of Business Ethics
Vol. 83, No. 3 (Dec., 2008), pp. 565-577
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25482396
Page Count: 13
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Proximity and Rationalisation: The Limits of a Levinasian Ethics in the Context of Corporate Governance and Regulation
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Abstract

In this article, I explore how the ideas of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas offer insights into a debate often held today in the field of corporate governance, concerning the relative merits of statutory and voluntary approaches to the regulation of business. The philosophical position outlined by Levinas questions whether any rule-based systematisation of ethical responsibility, either statutory or voluntary, can ever equate to a genuine responsibility for the other person. I reflect on how various authors have adapted Levinas's philosophy to form a critique of bureaucracy and rule following in business, and the lack of ethical authenticity in corporate codes. However, this article also considers the question of whether a theoretical separation can be made between an ethical responsibility based on sensibility (as is suggested by Levinas) and a rational conceptualisation of how one is required to act. Considering the difficulty of disentangling these notions of ethics, I return to the problem of corporate governance and suggest an approach to stakeholder conflict based on mediation and dialogue, which rules out neither principles of conduct nor an openness of responsibility to the Other.

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