The Challenge of Ethics and Transcendence in Business Schools

The Teaching of Economics Has An Effect on Students’ Behavior

Transcendence in Business Schools
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Dr Alejandro Fontana, Professor of General Management and Management Control at the University of Piura, Peru, shares with Exaudi’s readers this article entitled “The Challenge of Ethics and Transcendence in Business Schools.”

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In 2012, Professor Luiggi Zingales sharply criticized the Management academic world. “Do Business Schools incubate criminals?” In his document, in addition to picking up the scandal of Barclays Plc, JP Morgan Chase & Co., the Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and other banks, he also mentioned the complaint and ultimate conviction for the illicit trade of confidential information of two of McKinsey’s Directors, both graduates of the prestigious Wharton and Harvard Schools of Business.

In his document, the author points out that there is empirical evidence that the teaching of Economics has an effect on students’ behavior; concretely, it makes them more egoistic and less concerned for the common good. This, however, “isn’t intentional, as the majority of Professors aren’t aware of what they are doing.” According to the author, the logic of economic rationality leads students to perceive as something rational and even more – as almost stupid not – to commit a criminal act that produces a greater profit than the sentence that must be served for the crime. And he concludes: “if the Professors pretend to be agnostic, they implicitly promote amoral behavior, without any responsibility.”

Professor Claudio Rivera writes in the same line. In an article on teaching ethical leaders, he pointed out: Professors in Business Schools become true influencers and they can have substantial effects not only on their students but on the future of businesses.” Rivera says that there must be explicitly in Business Schools criteria on how to manage properly the human angle of problems. Not to do so — and he agrees with Zingales on this –, means to transmit implicitly an erroneous notion of ethics and anthropology.

Anthony Annet said at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, that this mistaken notion of the human persons sinks its roots in the project of the Enlightenment. And, quoting Alasdair MacIntyre, he pointed out that the Enlightenment’s project had in itself a code error, a defect in the system: in its vision, human nature is taken as what it is and not as how it could become, thus rejecting the necessity to “correct, improve and educate “ human nature through the exercise of virtues.

Business Schools, which were born in a pragmatic and positivist ambit, have been unable to see this difference and their education has lacked — what Pope Francis pointed out, in a seminar in February of 2020, organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences –, that the process of education must “integrate the language of the head with the language of the heart and the language of the hands.” And, as this implies an education in values, the necessity to speak: “of truth, of goodness, of creativity.” And a value he highlighted especially was that: “one cannot educate without inducing to beauty, without inducing the heart to beauty.”

Despite what has been said about the necessity of ethics in the education of managers, this is still not sufficient to achieve a change,  in a pragmatic and positivist way, of thinking that characterizes the business realm. It’s not enough to transmit some ethical criteria, or to be content with an education of moral virtues in business managers, as Benedict XVI alerted in 2009 the members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences:

On one hand, “human reason must be constantly purified by faith, because it always runs the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by disordered passions and by sin and, on the other, given that each generation and each person must appropriate again human rights and human freedom, which proceeds from free choices <and> is always fragile, the human person needs unconditional hope and love, which can only meet in God and which leads to participate in God’s justice and generosity to others.

Hence, it is appropriate to add to what has been said, that it is necessary for Business Schools to facilitate personal contact with God — a God who is rational, good, and Father. Human reason needs the purification of faith, and as Benedict XVI pointed out in Deus Caritas Est, “if contact with God is completely lacking in my life, I can only see in my neighbor the other, without recognizing in him the divine image.” In other words, without that contact with God, there will be the greater risk to one’s personal interests before those of the common good.

In this connection, the promotion of volunteers and little services to society’s most needy groups can also be an appropriate channel for this rapprochement to God in Business Schools. As Pope Benedict XVI also pointed out, “only service to my neighbor opens my eyes to what God does for me and how much He loves me.” The sense of transcendence and the certainty that one will enjoy unconditional and incommensurable love will be another internal resource that will help to put the common good before one’s personal interest.

As Professor Claudio Rivera comments, at stake in Business Schools are the ethical standards of the business community and its impact on the whole development of society.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester