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Is Philosophy Relevant to Applied Ethics?: Invited Address to the Society of Business Ethics Annual Meeting, August 2005

  • Richard Rorty

If, like Hegel and Dewey, one takes a historicist, anti-Platonist view of moral progress, one will be dubious about the idea that moral theory can be more than the systematization of the widely-shared moral intuitions of a certain time and place. One will follow Shelley, Dewey, and Patricia Werhane in emphasizing the role of the imagination in making moral progress possible. Taking this stance will lead one to conclude that although philosophy is indeed relevant to applied ethics, it is not more relevant than many other fields of study (such as history, law, political science, anthropology, literature, and theology).

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1. John Dewey, “Art As Experience,” in The Later Works of John Dewey, vol. 10 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), 348. The quotation is from Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry,” where Shelley also writes that “The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.”

2. Philip Pettit, “Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy” in The Future For Philosophy, ed. Brian Leiter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 306.

3. Brian Leiter, “Introduction” to The Future of Philosophy, 2.

4. Patricia Werhane, Moral Imagination and Management Decision Making (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), ix.

5. Ibid., 13.

6. I have defended this view of moral principles in “Ethics Without Principles,” an essay included in my Philosophy and Social Hope (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2002). See also “Trapped between Kant and Dewey: The Current Situation of Moral Philosophy,” in New Essays on the History of Autonomy: A Collection Honoring J. B. Schneewind, ed. Natlies Brender and Larry Krasnoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 195–214.

7. Werhane, Moral Imagination, 93.

8. See “Human rights, Rationality and Sentimentality” and “Feminism and Pragmatism,” both included in Richard Rorty, Truth and Progress (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). See also “Justice as a Larger Loyalty,” in Justice and Democracy: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, ed. Ron Bontekoe and Marietta Stepaniants (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997), 9–22.

9. Ronald Duska, “Business Ethics: Oxymoron or Good Business?” Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1) (January 2000): 128.

10. Laura Nash, “Intensive Care for Everyone’s Least Favorite Oxymoron: Narrative in Business Ethics,” Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1) (January 2000): 283.

11. Ibid., 282.

12. Joanna Ciulla, “On Getting to the Future First,” Business Ethics Quarterly 10(1) (January 2000): 54.

13. Edwin M. Hartman, Organizational Ethics and the Good Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 111.

14. Ibid., 85.

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
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