Connecting Theory and Practice: A Review of the Work of Five Early Contributors to the Ethics of Management

Connecting Theory and Practice: A Review of the Work of Five Early Contributors to the Ethics of Management

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Connecting Theory and Practice: A Review of the Work of Five Early Contributors to the Ethics of Management

By Michael W. Small

The Open Ethics Journal, Vol.1 (2007)

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to review the work of five people whose comments on ethical behaviour influenced the practice of management ethics as we know it today. The focus of the paper is on the theory expressed in the writings with which these five are associated viz.

(i) Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (C. 480-524/5?), the first of the scholastic schoolmen, was the author of De Consolatione Philosophiae (Consolation of Philosophy). The work consists of five books combining poetry and prose. Consolatione takes the form of a dialogue between Boethius and a personified ‘Lady Philosophy’. Boethius addresses issues such as the desire or lust for power, the question of free-will, and the fact that life itself is temporary. They discuss the meaning of moral wisdom, happiness and virtue. They agree that happiness is the absolute good, and that wealth and earthly power do not mean very much. The only real and permanent quality is virtue.

(ii) Pope Saint Gregory I or Gregory the Great (540-60) was the author of Liber Regulae Pastoralis (Book of Pastoral Rule) (C. 590), the Commentary on Job – thirty-five volumes, sixty-five sermons, and a life of Saint Benedict. Liber Regulae Pastoralis addresses the selection of men for the Church, the type of life which they should lead, the best methods of dealing with the different types of people with whom they would have to deal, and the need for the pastor to guard himself against egotism and personal ambition. Liber Regulae Pastoralis was written primarily for senior clerics in the sixth century, but with a little imagination it could be used in teaching ethical management practice to modern day business executives.

(iii) Alfred the Great (849-901) was the last of the Anglo-Saxon monarchs. As the scholar/king he learnt to read and write Latin at the age of thirty-eight translating Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae, Bede’s Historia Ecclesiasticus Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), the Soliloquies of Saint Augustine and Pope Gregory’s Liber Regulae Pastoralis into Anglo-Saxon or Old English. The reasoning behind this literary output was Alfred’s desire to place his rule and that of his senior administrators on a firm intellectual basis. He used Liber Regulae Pastoralis as a reference for the moral and spiritual qualities required of those who had the responsibility of governing others.

(iv) Cardinal Stephen Langton (1155-1228) and Magna Carta (15 June, 1215) were chosen because issues such as rights, rectam justiciam (right justice), coram rege (power and the king’s court), accountability, and ethical standards and behaviour were becoming evident during this period. Langton had sided with the barons who were opposed to the King over the details in Magna Carta (i.e. the Great Charter guaranteeing personal and political liberty).

(v) Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was a barrister, and has been described as the most outstanding lawyer in our time in the way he dealt with the moral issues which were to cost him his life. He had lived in a Carthusian monastery and had considered becoming a monk. He had refused to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church. For More this was essentially a matter of conscience. A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation was written in the Tower of London while sentenced to death, possibly by a reluctant Henry VIII-a similar situation to that of Boethius. In A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation More addressed the causes of ‘tribulation or grief’ saying that the ‘natural wise men of this world, the old moral philosophers, had laboured much in this matter, in respect to problems caused by matters of worldly wealth’. He demonstrated his professional ethics and his personal integrity by writing ‘devout and virtuous instructions’, prayers for his friends and even prayers for his enemies. According to Rawlinson, More was the first man in modern times ‘to show us the way’, referring to men in public life who might have to pay a high price if they were to maintain their moral position.

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