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The Moral Background:
An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics
Gabriel Abend

Co-Winner of the 2016 Viviana Zelizer Award for Best Book, Economic Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association
Co-Winner of the 2015 Outstanding Published Book Award, Altruism, Morality and Social Solidarity Section of the American Sociological Association
Honorable Mention for the 2015 Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book, Sociology of Culture Section of the American Sociological Association

Paperback | 2016 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691171128
416 pp. | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2014 | $42.00 | £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691159447
416 pp. | 6 x 9 | 14 line illus.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400850341 |
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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.


"The most incisive and theoretically sophisticated entry into the 'new sociology of morality' movement that has consolidated in recent years."--Omar Lizardo, Contemporary Sociology

"The Moral Background is an ambitious, deeply researched, and engaging book. . . . Abend's account is both thorough and broad, and the erudition he displays is astounding. . . . [A] masterful book."--Simone Polillo, Social Forces

"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

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