The aim of this paper is twofold: first, to present Alain Badiou's ethical theory (Badiou 2000). Second, to discuss how this might contribute to the field of business ethics.
Badiou's ethics is difficult to integrate into the field of business ethics without some conceptual discussion. The reason for this is that business ethics mainly has been focused on three traditions of ethical thought: utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics (Jones, ten Bos, Parker 2006). Badiou's ethical theory does not explicitly link to these traditions. Hence, a conceptual clarification is necessary. In his ethics, Badiou turns against understandings of ethics built around a notion of evil. Rather than to combat evil, Badiou wants to create an understanding of ethics focusing on the Good. To understand what Badiou means by Good, we need to understand concepts such as Truth, Event, Subject and Fidelity. Based on this understanding of the Good, I will follow Badiou in discussing three types of Evil, namely Simulacrum/Terror, Betrayal and Disaster. These concepts will be explained in the paper.
For fulfilling the second aim, to discuss how business ethics can be enriched by using Badiou, I will discuss the present state of the practice of business ethics, and how it is focused, especially in its practice in the business world, on a negative, reactive view on business ethics. Business ethics is a fundamentally reactive endeavor, where everything seems to be about putting out fires: "we don't pollute, we don't discriminate, we don't pay bribes ". These are all reactive responses to different kinds of Evil. Sustainability reporting and especially the word "compliance" very much capture the present nature of business ethics. Businesses are often beneath Good and evil.
Badiou instead wants to focus on the Good, not the avoidance of some Evil. This paper will discuss how a conception of the Good might contribute to the field of business ethics. If we could discuss business ethics without talking about compliance, transparency and reporting and instead discuss Truth, Subject and Fidelity, we might create a new understanding of the role of business in society. I will briefly discuss whether a corporation can be a subject formation (see also Lennerfors 2009) and more thoroughly focus on the "sustainability movement" as a possible truth process and how to avoid the three different types of evil discussed by Alain Badiou, Simulacrum/Terror, Betrayal and Disaster.
The outline of the paper is as follows: In the first part, I do a short presentation of Alain Badiou's work and a literature review of the use of Badiou in business ethics and in business/organization studies. In the second part, I describe the three trends in modern ethical thought which Badiou criticizes: 1) taking Evil as judged by a Universal Subject as the point of departure for ethical thought, 2) basing ethical thought on the Other, 3) To prefer Nihilism rather than any collective Good. I describe each of these trends, giving examples from the field of business ethics. In the third part, I briefly describe Badiou's philosophy and why it is needed to understand what Badiou means by Ethics. The fourth part consists of an application of Badiou's philsophy to business ethics and especially "sustainability" as a truth process. In the fifth part, I discuss the relation of each of Badiou's three evils to the sustainability movement.