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Corporate Governance and the Ethics of Narcissus

  • John Roberts

This paper offers an extended critique of the proliferation of talk and writing of business ethics in recent years. Following Levinas, it is argued that the ground of ethics lies in our corporeal sensibility to proximate others. Such moral sensibility, however, is readily blunted by a narcissistic preoccupation with self and securing the perception of self in the eyes of powerful others. Drawing upon a Lacanian account of the formation of the subject, and a Foucaultian account of the workings of disciplinary power, it is then argued that the governance of the corporation is effected precisely through encouraging such a narcissistic preoccupation with the self. For the most part our narcissistic concerns are bound to ethically indifferent financial interests. But in recent years they have also been harnessed to the demand for environmental, social and ethical responsibility by the corporation. It is argued, however, that the desire to be seen to be ethical—the ethics of narcissus—is the obverse of “being responsible for.”

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
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