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Virtue Ethics and Corporate Governance

The purpose of this interpretative phenomenological study was to explore directors’ lived experience of ethics in their task of corporate governance so as to capture some of the multiple facets of this phenomenon: specifically how directors understand the role of ethics in their task of corporate governance and how they understand and practise ethics. The focus of the investigation was the role and relative importance of directors’ personal ethics as opposed to corporate governance rules or regulations and to what extent their understanding and practise of ethics as such, resembled Kantian ethics, utilitarianism and Aristotelian virtue theory (AVT). Such issues have implications primarily for the influence of leaders’ personal ethics in the context of corporate governance failure and whether AVT in particular can contribute to the achievement of best-practice governance. AVT differs from the other two ethical theories because it focuses on the importance of a good character for the making and carrying out of sound ethical judgments. It assumes that human nature contains the seeds of ethics and that a good character can develop over time with the help of role models and experience. The study also discusses the subjective aspects of the ethical experience and the debate about the relationship between descriptive and philosophical branches of business ethics. The researcher chose to take an interpretive phenomenological approach using an AVT conceptual framework. The focus of the inquiry was what the individual’s narratives imply about what he or she experiences every day. This allowed the researcher to go further by interpreting the meanings for the purposes of practice and research. The use of the AVT conceptual framework facilitated the examination of the relevance of philosophical ethics for business practice in general and in particular to investigate the relevance of AVT as opposed to the two other ethical theories. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirty-four directors, eight of which were interviewed a second time. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) technique was used to interpret the data. The findings revealed that directors understand ethics to be integral to their task and that they rely on their personal ethics in carrying out their corporate governance activities. Moreover their experience of ethics resonated with the key features of AVT, aspects which on the whole were not addressed by Kantian ethics and utilitarianism. What is more, directors’ understandings seem to point to an innate objective element underpinning their personal code developed over time through learning and experience. This finding highlights the need to accommodate the subjective-objective complexity of the lived experience of ethics. The findings also indicate that philosophical ethics is needed to adequately account for the lived experience of ethics; directors’ descriptions of their experience contained and were inseparable from ethical standards, the realm of philosophical ethics. In light of the resemblance between AVT and directors’ lived experience of ethics, corporate governance reformers and educators should place just as much emphasis on the development of good character as on learning about ethical duties and how to balance outcomes.
Type of thesis
Grant, P. L. (2013). Virtue Ethics and Corporate Governance (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8330
University of Waikato
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