An investigation of the libertarian philosophy, applied to business ethics

Hattingh, Cornelius Johannes (2016-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Libertarianism, as a broad philosophy and frame of thinking, is concerned with one core concept, that of personal liberty; specifically, the liberty of each person to live according to her own choices, with the caveat that she does not attempt to coerce other people and/or prevent them from freely living according to their own individual choices. This view of human beings, and by extension what constitutes im/moral behaviour, also includes what sorts of role(s) the state is justified in playing in people’s lives – when it comes to issues within business ethics, libertarians hold that they should be resolved from within instead of via state-intervention. Libertarianism, as a popular philosophy, has gained more and more traction over the past few years across the world, and especially in the United States, and it could possibly challenge other perspectives on government action in the years to come (Croucher, 2014). The field of business ethics offers us many challenges and issues to confront and possibly solve, and the overall goal of this paper will be to assess whether libertarianism can bring anything useful to solving these issues. This thesis will attempt to examine and understand the libertarian philosophy and where it might lack certain points of justification and to then judge whether those points can be surpassed or whether they are fatal for the perspective itself. The case for libertarianism, as advocated for by the philosopher Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, will be examined in this paper, with the goal of better understanding this particular school of philosophical thought and then applying libertarian principles to the field of business ethics. Instead of a more traditional shareholder or stakeholder view, I will argue that the libertarian lense brings more to the table to aid us in solving, or at least attempting to solve, some issues within the field of business ethics, such as sustainability. Instead of a pragmatic, whichever-method-works-best approach, I believe that a strong, philosophically principled approach can provide a much stronger basis from which to work. Examining the underlying philosophical foundations of documents such as the third King Report in South Africa through this libertarian perspective will prove to be a contextual and highly-relevant exercise, as we need to make sense of these important documents, and the ideas proposed within them, if we are to successfully navigate the business ethics field, both at home and abroad, and to in turn assist other people in doing the same. In addition to using Nozick’s writings, the work of other libertarians will be used to bring different nuances into the discussion. Finally, certain critiques of the libertarian philosophy will be used for the purposes of better examining the philosophy and assessing whether its weaknesses are serious enough to jettison the philosophy instead of advocating in favour of it.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING:Die libertynse filosofie is gefokus op een sentrale ideë; die van persoonlike vryheid van elke persoon om haar lewe te lei volgens haar eie rasionele oordeël. Hierdie vryheid het die een voorwaarde dat sy nie die vrye keuses van ander mense afdwing nie. Hierdie siening van die mens (dit sluit in wat im/morele gedrag is), sluit ook die verskillende rol(le) wat die staat in mense se lewens kan speel. Wanneer dit kom by kwessies binne besigheids-etiek, dink die libertyn dat mense hulle eie probleme moet oplos, sonder inmenging van die staat. Libertarianisme, as 'n filosofie, het meer en meer momentum oor die afgelope paar jaar in die wêreld, en veral in die Verenigde State van Amerika, ervaar. Dit kan moontlik binnekort ander perspektiewe op die rol van die staat verander (Croucher, 2014). Die gebied van besigheids-etiek bied ons baie uitdagings en kwessies om te konfronteer en hopelik op te los, en die oorhoofse doel van hierdie vraestel sal wees om te bepaal of libertarianisme enigiets nuttig kan bring tot die oplossing van hierdie kwessies. Hierdie tesis sal probeer om die libertynse filosofie te ondersoek en te verstaan, en of daar sekere aspekte die strengste kritief kan oorleef. Die saak vir libertarianisme, soos aanbeveel deur die filosoof Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia sal in hierdie skripsie ondersoek word, met die doel om 'n beter begrip van hierdie spesifieke skool van filosofiese denke te bekom, en daarna die toepassing van hierdie beginsels tot die veld van besigheids-etiek. In plaas van 'n meer tradisionele aandeelhouer of belanghebbendes perspektief, sal ek argumenteer dat die libertynse lens meer na die tafel bring om ons te help in die oplossing, van 'n paar kwessies binne die veld van besigheids-etiek, soos byvoorbeeld volhoubaarheid. In plaas van 'n pragmatiese benadering glo ek dat 'n sterk, filosofiese, sistematiese benadering 'n baie beter basis om van te werk kan voorsien. Die ondersoek na die onderliggende filosofiese ideës van dokumente soos die derde King-verslag in Suid-Afrika, deur middel van hierdie libertynse perspektief, sal ‘n konteks-sensitiewe en hoogs-relevante oefening wees, aangesien ons moet sin maak van hierdie belangrike dokumente as ons suksesvol wil wees in die veld van besigheids-etiek, in Suid-Afrika sowel as die buiteland, en op sy beurt om ander mense te help om dieselfde te doen. Benewens die gebruik van Nozick se boek sal die werk van ander libertyne gebruik word om verskillende perspektief te betrek. Ten slotte sal kritiek van die libertynse filosofie gebruik word om te verseker dat ons die filosofie beter kan beoordeel en besluit of dit die kritiek kan weerstaan.

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