Rethinking the Purity of Moral Motives in Business: Kant against Moral Purism

Wim Dubbink, Luc Van Liedekerke

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Abstract

Moral purism is a commonly held view on moral worthiness and how to identify it in concrete cases. Moral purists long for a moral world in which (business) people—at least sometimes—act morally worthy, but in concrete cases they systematically discount good deeds as grounded in self-interest. Moral purism evokes moral cynicism. Moral cynicism is a problem, both in society at large and the business world. Moral cynicism can be fought by refuting moral purism. This article takes issue with moral purism. The common strategy to tackle moral purism is to reject the exclusion thesis which states that self-interest and the ‘pure’ moral motive (and thus moral worthiness) exclude each other. We develop a different strategy. We argue that moral purists are mistaken in the way they judge moral worthiness in concrete cases. They employ the wrong procedure and the wrong criteria. We develop a proper procedure and proper criteria. We build on Kant, who we argue is unfairly regarded as the champion of moral purism. In order to see how Kant can develop a consistent (non-purist) philosophy, the exclusion thesis must be embedded in Kant’s transcendental philosophy. Properly embedded, Kant turns out to be both anti-purist and anti-cynical.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - May 2019

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