“The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics” by Gabriel Abend brings a novel conceptual depth to the important field of the sociology of morality

business ethicsInvestigate the history of business ethics in the United States from the 1850s to the 1930s, this fine book (open access to the introduction) examines the work of numerous business ethicists and organizations—such as Protestant ministers, business associations, journalists 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.

k10263According 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.
The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics is a major contrubution to economic sociology and to, what I call, Sociology of Economic (Im)morality. Abend displays a talent for conveying complex ideas with lucidity and illustrating sophisticated concepts with apt examples. Must read.

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