The exteriority of ethics in management and its transition into justice: a Levinasian approach to ethics in business



Levinas did not present any new ethical theories; he did not even give any normative recommendations. But his phenomenological investigations help us to understand how the idea of ethics emerges and how we try to cope with it. The purpose of this paper is to suggest some implications from a reading of Levinas on how ethical challenges are handled within a management perspective. The paper claims that management, both in theory and in practice, is necessarily egocentric and thus ethically biased. Therefore, ethics, defined as the idea that it is possible to do otherwise than pursue one's own interest, must have its source outside the scope of management. Levinas identifies this source as the call for responsibility from the Other, beyond the reach of managerial control. He also suggests how this idea of ethics is put into practice, especially in economic life: the existence of money makes it both possible and necessary to compare unique and incomparable others. Management tools may be used in the service of always more justice, as it also may be used for the opposite purpose. Instead of trying to draw a normative conclusion from Levinas, we may distinguish between two ways of experiencing reality: one through language and knowledge, covering both descriptive and normative knowledge, including ‘business ethics’, and the other through the particular events of encounters, from where this knowledge is continuously questioned through the call for responsibility, and thereby may provide possibilities for continuous improvements towards always more justice.