The rationality-of-ends/market-structure grid: positioning and contrasting different approaches to business ethics

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Abstract

This paper presents the ‘rationality-of-ends/market-structure grid’. With this grid, the article contrasts, in economic terms, different approaches to business ethics and addresses the question how far and what type of business ethics is feasible. Four basic scenarios for business ethics are outlined that imply different conceptualizations of business ethics. The grid interrelates a rationality-of-ends dimension with a market-structure dimension. The rationality-of-ends dimension ranges from opportunism and self-interested egoism to self-interested altruism and ultimately to authentic altruism. The market-structure dimension ranges from perfect competition/no information problems/perfectly dispersed market power to imperfect competition/high information problems/concentrated power. Rather than presenting economic, legal, ethical and discretionary issues in a hierarchical fashion, the grid interrelates these issues. Conclusions are spelled out regarding the empirical observance of business ethics and the programmatic, ‘theoretical’ positions that are behind empirical observations. Practical implications for managers and public policy makers are outlined.

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