In recent years, many disciplines have become interested in the scientific study of morality. However, a conceptual framework for this work is still lacking. In The Moral Background, Gabriel Abend develops just such a framework and uses it to investigate the history of business ethics in the United States from the 1850s to the 1930s.
According to Abend, morality consists of three levels: moral and immoral behavior, or the behavioral level; moral understandings and norms, or the normative level; and the moral background, which includes what moral concepts exist in a society, what moral methods can be used, what reasons can be given, and what objects can be morally evaluated at all. This background underlies the behavioral and normative levels; it supports, facilitates, and enables them.
Through this perspective, Abend historically examines the work of numerous business ethicists and organizations—such as Protestant ministers, business associations, and business schools—and identifies two types of moral background. "Standards of Practice" is characterized by its scientific worldview, moral relativism, and emphasis on individuals' actions and decisions. The "Christian Merchant" type is characterized by its Christian worldview, moral objectivism, and conception of a person's life as a unity.
The Moral Background offers both an original account of the history of business ethics and a novel framework for understanding and investigating morality in general.
Gabriel Abend is assistant professor of sociology at New York University.
"Abend combines history, philosophy, and social science to suggest a comprehensive base for understanding moral behavior. While the book's focus is on business ethics, the insights presented have many applications."--Choice
"[A] stimulating book, essential to understand the place of the business world . . . in the moral landscape of America today, but also . . . to grasp the contemporary trends in corporate social responsibility."--Michel Anteby, Sociologie du Travail
"This is an enormously ambitious book packed with history, ethics, and philosophy of science as well as sociology. It is more historical than much history of philosophy and takes business ethics more seriously than most ethicists do. It is an important contribution to creating a field in which researchers in a variety of traditions mutually inform each other about morality."--Dale Jamieson, European Journal of Sociology
"The Moral Background discerns and details moral patterns in the echo chamber where business protagonists talk, mostly to each other, about ethical motives, obligations, and opportunities. Abend has done a yeoman's job in excavating, analyzing, and systematizing the discursive surrounds of business ethics, pushing us all to think about who can and cannot be seen in the moral background."--Robin Wagner-Pacifici, European Journal of Sociology
"Especially important among the virtues of Abend's research is his ability to work through a huge body of historical material . . . and to find meaning in these disparate sources that point back to the 'moral backgrounds' from which they emanate. This is a truly gigantic task of intellectual integration, and Abend’s book sets a high bar for future studies of the cultural meaning of intellectual, practical, and normative social realities."--Daniel Little, Understanding Society Blog
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