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.
"This major, innovative study of what American businessmen were urged to do, be, and believe between the 1850s and 1930s reveals differing underlying assumptions that shaped how business was viewed, and how it viewed itself. It brings a new depth and subtlety to the emerging field of the sociology of morality."--Steven Lukes, author of Moral Relativism
"A successful treatment of the history of business ethics, this book provides what surely must be the most thorough account of the business ethics literature ever done. Coming at the material with a new, fully developed, and convincing theory, Abend analyzes business ethics from the perspective of the science of morality. A fine work."--Richard Swedberg, Cornell University
"With exceptional intellectual maturity, ambition, and vision, Abend skillfully deploys his analysis of moral background through an in-depth look at how business ethicists, businessmen, and journalists dealt with moral tensions, scandals, and failures. The result is a magisterial historical analysis that adds complexity to current approaches, particularly to the study of moral dilemmas. This book is sure to have a lasting impact on the study of morality in sociology and beyond."--Michèle Lamont, Harvard University
"Exploring large questions of morality, The Moral Background is a thoughtful, innovative, and absorbing account of business ethics, most specifically the history of business ethics and business ethicists in the United States between the 1850s to 1930s. With an authoritative voice and vigorous prose, Abend displays a talent for conveying complex ideas with lucidity and he illustrates sophisticated concepts with apt examples. A major contribution to the fields of cultural and economic sociology."--Viviana Zelizer, author of Economic Lives
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