Üzlet és etika

The entrepreneur's ethical conflicst as a problem in theology

2011. április 18. - sandorjeno

vallalkozok dontesei.pngAbstract

The goal of this paper is to define the ethical business conflicts as borderline situations, based on the work of the german lutheran theologian Thielicke. Thielicke’s starting point is, that the existential situation of human beings is determined by an escsatological tension. The tension, because he has knowledge about Kingdom of God, which promises a totally new quality of authority, truth and love, but has to live his life here and now, in the fallen world. That’s why human are getting again and again in such borderline situations between two worlds. Thielicke’s opinion is, that every real ethical conflict is a situation like this.


Theology accompanied the inspection of economic-ethical questions from the very beginning. The theological interpretation of economical thinking appeared first in the religious socialistic movement at the beginning of the 20th century, and about half a century afterwards, in works of theological ethics. Hereinafter I look for the answer to the following question: which relevant messages dispose theological ethics at a point, when the responsible attitude in business is slowly becoming an issue of society and behaviour pattern?
First I invoke Helmut Thielicke’s theology to define what we reckon as a relevant ethical question from theological point of view. Furthermore I take a short review of the representatives and theories of economic ethics that permit a theological explanation. Finally, I analyse the opportunity of justification for a human searching for a compromise through the exposition of Thielicke’s and Paul Tillich’s doctrine of justification.

The ethical conflict as a borderline situation

The World War II – also known as the negative catarsis of the 20th century – is a line of demarcation. The ethical questions came into the centre of protestant theological thinking in a way that was inconceivable before. Particularly german theologians felt that theology must deal with the traumacaused by Hitler. The traditional answers of theological ethics couldn’t remain true in undermentioned questions: is it a good ethical action to murder Hitler, to give money for lives in the course of saving jews, or to cooperate with offenders, i.e. to make small compromises with a despotic system to survive.

Helmut Thielicke was the first who redefined the problem of ethical questions in his work Theologische Ethik (Thielicke, 1955). Thielicke follows Bonhoeffer’s thought saying we cannot apprehend the reality of Christ and the reality of the world seperately from each other (Bonhoeffer 1958, 61). We can only make the acquaintance of Christ’s reality through the here-and-now reality of the world. That’s why a theology, that is defining ethics – in times when people have to choose every day between life and life, life and truth, truth and duty – consider conflicts like these as exceptionsand only have messages for the normal situation of life, cannot be authentic. The reality of world is the reality of exceptional situations, the reality of borderline situations.
„Es ist wohl ein Verhängnis der üblichen theologischen Ethiken - (…) - dassdas Modell der Wirklichkeit, an dem sie Mass nahmen, der „Normalfall” ist. Dadurch ensteht die Illusion, als ob mit gewissen christlichen Weisungen das
lösende Wort” gesprochen ist. (…) Der Grenz- und nicht der Normalfall stellt
vor die eigentlichen Fragen.” (Thielicke 1955, 202)
Thielicke is extending the assay – human existence as a borderline situation – of Jaspers when he adverts to the biblic roots of the concept : the borderline situation’s reality is not only the reality of human but also of the whole world. Namely christian people know that our world is in a borderline situation between the original creation and the new creation(Thielicke 1955, 206). This special status of the world, this borderline situation is the basis of every ethical conflict. Humans create these conflictsand also suffer from them at the same time. Niemand ist nur Objekt einer Konfliktsituation; er ist gleichzeitig immer schon dem menschlichen Subjekt zugeordnet, das sie hat provozieren helfen.” (Thielicke 1955, 223)

So the challenge for theological ethics is not to give solutions to solve these ethical conflicts or to define maximes that help us choose the less bad solution but to vouch about this borderline situation and describe it. In Thielicke’s opinion the three most important characteristics of the borderline situation are:
  • There is no one clear way out of the situation.
  • The sin coming out of the situation is becoming a structural, social and institutional sin.
  • The undertaken crime of the situation is increasing inside the human.

In my esteem, the definition of ethical conflicts as borderline situations in Thielicke’s system is useful for looking at the ethical questions in economic ethics from a theological point of view.

If we accept that the real ethical conflict is not a choice between a good and a bad opportunity, but a borderline situation from which there is no one clear way out, then we first face the question: what is a question in economic ethics from theological aspect at all?

Business ethics as ethics of interest conflicts

As we know, the economic-ethical questions got into the center of academic and mainstream thinking in the first half of the ’70s. The increasing influence of big companies posed the question of social responsibility.
The news about offense against the law, authority abuses, conscious environmental pollutions got great publicity and offended the moral sensitivity of thousands. The question of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), forced by different social groups, was the only issue of economic ethics for a long time. But from the theological aspect of ethical questions, we have to say, CSR problems are judiciary, political and sociological rather than ethical borderline situations. It is important to be conscious about that. A big temptation for theology is to act like the owner of justice and to identify business actors in this social discurse as evil, forgetting that it is also an actor and a constituentof the world it is judging.

Beyond bad juridical regulation and missing social control that promote offense against the law in economics, the borderline situations can also be found in business life.
Hoffman and Friederick think that real ethical questions can be defined as conflicts and decisions that are relevant, complex and ambivalent (Szegedi 2001).
Harmut Kreikebaum says, on the other hand, that economic ethics is nothing other than the inspection of these conflicts (Kreikebaum 1996). Kreikebaum, the professor of European Business School attempts to find a paradigm of responsibility ethics that can conciliate the reverse of short term business profit and long term moral view.
Apel and Habermans explain in relation to their discursive ethics that the morality is getting more and more out of the sphere of publicity as a consequence of technical thinking (Habermas 2001).
That’s why the entrepreneur stays on the edge of private and public sphere. Peter Ulrichagrees with Kreikebaum that the opposite views of responsibility should be integrated (Ulrich 2007).

When a leader has to decide whether he reduces the salary of all the employees by 10% or discharges them, when an investor decides which geographic area to invest in, when an employee has to choose between contractual obligation and collegial solidarity, we always talk about borderline situations from a theological point of view. No matter how these people decide, they get guilty in a way. The decisions they make are compromises forming the reality by the logic of the borderline situations, leading tostructural and increasing sin.

Businessmen searching for compromises

Theology has relevant and valid messages at this point. Thielicke was the first who worked on the field of systematic theological research of compromises. In his opinion the basis of every compromise is the compromise of God with the world. The world would brake likeGod’s will without his patience. The world is a fallen creation, that is perveratedby the decisions of humans (Thielicke 1955, 192). God is making a compromise with this world, and the humans have to make a compromise with this world too if they want to live (Orosz 2005, 165). That’s why compromises of people cannot be justified by the argument of necessity. Because, as already mentioned, they not only suffer from the borderline situations but also create them.

In Thielicke’s esteem, from theological aspect, the borderline situation is a verdict for christian people, that is revealing the functioning of sin. The christian people have the opportunity based on the Evangelium to accept this verdict, i.e. not to lie themselves any longer about the world they live in. „Die Vergebung erlaubt realistisch zu sein.” (Thielicke 1955, 232)
The reality of the Evangelium is an opportunity for christian people not to become a captive of decisions when they have to choose between sin and sin, and not to act in the forthcoming situation the way the functional logic of the borderline situation would recommend. So there is a justification for humans who search for compromises.


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A cikk másodközlés. Forrás: Spring Wind 2011 / Tavaszi Szél 2011 - Konferenciakötet, DOSZ


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