As a supplement to my article about the suitability of ethical theories in business, I want to give voice to Peter Ulrich one more time. During his final lecture at St. Gallen, the expert in business ethics said that the “social embedding of the market economy is the main problem of the 21st century”.

His approach is based on a criticism of the currently prevailing neo-classical/neo-liberal attitude that has resulted in the world-wide economical crisis. Social interactions are interpreted as mutual exchange of advantages between homines oeconomini, which is in theory supposed to cause a win-win situation that guarantees efficiency, justice and individual freedom.

What Ulrich justifiably sees as the problem is the fact that the normative logic inherent in the exchange of advantages is not identical with the normative logic of practiced humanity. After all, practiced humanity does not just consider and appreciate your own advantage. Instead, it also takes care of the welfare, the dignity and the rights of others. In other words: if understood as a rational and ethical issue, the market principle cannot replace the moral principle.

The basic principle of “unconditioned mutual appreciation” of individuals in their dignity and role as free citizens is a normative requirement for a fair and legitimate market economy. Our current form of market economy, says Ulrich, must be “civilizated”. He illustrates this with the following comparison:

1. The actual situation: we have the

economic rationality: normative logic of exchanging advantage

based on power and interest groups (what counts is usefulness)
the main interest is individual maximum success
cooperation between self-serving, alternatively non-interested individuals based on advantage which results in the


total market society

2. And here is what Ulrich proposes for a (new) social consensus:

ethical rationality: normative logic of practiced humanityi.e.
based on justice (what is legitimate is prevalent)
inter-subjective reliability
unconditioned mutual appreciation and respect of individuals as persons with equal dignity
from which follows the


“civilised” market economy

I think the direct opposition clearly shows which society we would prefer to live in. Consequently, we have to ask ourselves how we can achieve this civilized social state of affairs. Instead of wondering how high managerial income should be or if bankers should receive extra dividends, we would be well advised to give precedence to practiced humanity as an economical guidance.

There is probably no other way than starting with yourself: listen to your own conscience, practice humanity in your own enterprise instead of mobbing, demand inter-subjective responsibility from your financial advisor, instead of private maximum success, etc. It includes your honorary work in clubs and parties.

And in order to gain the public ear, we must talk about it: in our families, enterprises, parties, etc (and internet blogs (:lol: )).

We must not wait until our governments come up with rules that will only motivate those who want the maximum interest to find ways of breaking or juggling through them.

(Translated by EG)

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