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Beyond Self

Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of Economics


Laszlo Zsolnai

This book addresses ethical and spiritual issues in economics. The central idea advanced in the book is that the extreme focus on the self by economic actors leads to the destruction of both material and non-material values.
The assumptions of self-interest in behavior represent the core of mainstream economics today. From this perspective, the welfare of economic agents depends on their own consumption; their goal is to maximize their own welfare; and their choice is guided by the pursuit of their own goals.
Throughout the book the author argues that self-interest-based actions and policies have a detrimental impact on nature, future generations, and society at large. If we want to survive and flourish in the material world we have to transcend the self and embrace wholeness. This value shift requires enormous changes in economics, politics and social life, but there may not be any other option in light of the current state of ecological degradation and human suffering.
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Chapter 4: Ethical Decision Making

1 Perverse Decisions of Modern Organizations


← 44 | 45 → CHAPTER 4

Ethical Decision Making*

The self-centeredness of modern organizations leads to environmental destruction and human deprivation. The principle of responsibility developed by Hans Jonas requires caring for the beings affected by our decisions and actions. Ethical decision making creates a synthesis of reverence for ethical norms, rationality in goal achievement, and respect for the stakeholders. The maximin rule selects the ‘least worst alternative’ in the multidimensional decision space of deontological, goal-achievement and stakeholder values. The ethical decision maker can be characterized as having the ability to take multiple perspectives and make appropriate balances across diverse value dimensions. Modern organizations should develop a critical sensitivity to and empathy toward human and non-human beings with which they share a common environment.

Modern organizations are disembedded from their environmental and social context and usually consider the natural environment and human persons as mere means to accomplish their own purposes and goals. The dominating self-centered orientation of modern organizations produces ecological destruction and human deprivation at large scale.

← 45 | 46 → Perverse decisions of modern organizations appear in such phenomena as decision under risk and discounting in space and time. Prospect theory and the general theory of discounting can help us in describing and analyzing these phenomena.

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