Adam Smith and Corporate Social Responsibility as a Master Virtue

Date: 19 December 2018

Venue: Antwerp University, Stadscampus, Annexe - Lange Winkelsstraat 9 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 5:00 PM - 7:30 PM

PhD candidate: Regimon Cherian

Principal investigator: Prof. Luc Van Liedekerke & Prof. Hendrik Opdebeeck

Short description: Phd defence Regimon Cherian - Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy


In this dissertation the thesis is developed that Adam Smith (1723-1790), the founder of commercial society would endorse virtue ethics-based Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) despite his support for self-interest, free market and limited government. The first chapter is an enquiry into the political economy of Smith that promotes the free market for its overall benefits. The second chapter looks into the evolution of market economy sans moral character that brought Smith unjustly under fire and necessitated invoking CSR. The third chapter explores the Smithian virtue ethics proviso as explained in his moral philosophy. The fourth chapter evaluates the reactions against the Smithian Thought including the “Adam Smith Problem.”
Finally, the fifth chapter arrives at the conclusion that Smith the virtue ethicist who advocated a more benevolent and responsible society, would definitely stand for CSR as a master virtue. Adam Smith called for a competent regulatory environment that encourages virtue, and a virtuous culture which is both voluntary and mandatory, and which relies on both benevolence and self-interest. The efficiency of the system is in discovering the right mix of regulations and freedoms, or self-interest and benevolence. Virtue alone prevents the “corruption of self-love” that could flow from commercialization of society as this malaise is part of a deeper transformation of character. Sympathy should guide the commercial society. Social responsibility being a master virtue in accordance with the unity of virtues and stemming from the ethic of responsibility, Smithian virtue ethics is a solid foundation for CSR. Smith would not simply leave individuals’ and organizations’ “tendency to avarice’’ to the impersonal market forces. Instead, he would ask the commercial society to encourage its members’ benevolence to protect those who suffer the brunt of their insensitivity, through education and institutions. Nature has provided humans with the passions and filters to consciously choose to be a wise and virtuous ‘sociologus’ who seeks higher virtues for their own sake. It is not impossible to remedy the ills of commercial society and make use of its greater benefits, as virtues are teachable and vices redeemable. Though depending on others’ self-interest is the surer bet to satisfy one’s needs rather than waiting for others’ benevolence, Smith in TMS directs the greedy and selfish to be benevolent and praiseworthy for human flourishing.

The greatest challenge today is to initiate a cultural change predicated upon a revolution in education aimed at convincing a new generation to put virtue above success and others before themselves. The first step toward it is to admit the human capability for altruism which could become a social culture by reinforcement. Until it evolves into a full bloom virtuous society that lives the spirit of the law even in the absence of law, it should develop a CSR culture which relies on benevolence as well as self-interest, which is voluntary and enforced by a government that encourages virtue.

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