Grounding the theory of virtue
Business plays a powerful role in contemporary society, but this increasing role has been accompanied by a growing concern regarding the social and moral impact of enterprising endeavour. One of the greatest challenges of our time is the need to channel entrepreneurial energies in ways that benefit, rather than harm, society. This research contributes to the development of a conceptual framework that addresses the practical issues at the intersection of business and society. The tension between the realms of business and society has revealed gaps in the management literature on a variety of levels. This research is directed toward the deep-seated assumptions that are commonly seen to govern and motivate contemporary business. The dominant economic and moral theories are no longer convincingly reconciled with observable practices, justifying the search for an alternative lens that can sufficiently bridge the gap. Epistemologically, it appears there is a paradigm shift taking place; a challenge to the set of assumptions, and very purpose, which business is seen to serve. The purpose of this study is to engage this challenge by identifying and outlining an alternative lens for resolving the oft-conflicting realms of business and society. After reviewing prominent contending paradigms, a pre-modern theory of virtue is shown to hold promising characteristics for addressing the present gaps while resolving the shortcomings of the dominant paradigm. This research attempts to answer the following question: How, if at all, does Aristotle's theory of virtue contribute to a better understanding of the strategic and normative issues at the intersection of business and society? This investigation begins by reviving an Aristotelian theory of virtue that is more dynamic and holistic than implied in recent studies. Aided by the work of Alasdair Maclntyre, Aristotelian concepts have been granted a philosophical grounding and definitional framework upon which contemporary insights are built, and conflicting interests are reconciled. After recasting Aristotle's theory of virtue in this fashion, it is possible to direct this conceptual lens to the study of organisations. A suitable unit of analysis has been found in entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial process is shown to be amenable to such an exploration, due in part to its distinctive capacity to unify individual and institution, and at the same time, psychological and sociological considerations. Additionally, a rich level of analysis is identified in organisational culture. The cultural paradigm of an organisation provides an optimal setting for an inquiry based on Aristotelian concepts. In developing and directing the conceptual lens in this way, the methodological parameters of this study are significantly determined. This study explores the paradigmatic value of the theory of virtue, and attempts to ground Aristotle's theory in contemporary business practice. To this end, an inductive approach develops and compares cultural sensemaking as located in five consultancies. Inductive methods and indepth fieldwork were employed to obtain a deep understanding of the cultural paradigm of each venture. Comparative case research prescriptions were used for their capacity to provide new insight into phenomenon that has proven elusive to empirical investigation. Individually and comparatively, these five ventures have yielded a number of significant findings and practical implications for viewing business through the lens of virtue. In response to the research question, key components of a cultural paradigm of virtue are established, virtue is located in an organisational setting, and the powerful effect of Aristotelian concepts are studied among comparative contexts. This study was facilitated by the creation of an interactive joint inquiry instrument that is introduced, refined and applied herein. Through an iterative process, traversing frequently between the findings and emerging theory, a grounded approach was employed for divulging patterns and themes within and between specific contexts. As such, this investigation has not only succeeded in grounding the theory of virtue in business, it has shown the unique, practical benefits of this emerging theory for deepening the dialogue and resolving pressing social and moral conflicts. This investigation makes an original contribution in three significant ways: 1) offering a new interpretation of existing philosophy and scholarship, 2) providing a new synthesis of contexts and concepts, and 3) bringing new evidence to bear on an old issue. More specifically, this research has successfully applied Aristotle's theory of virtue to contemporary business, grounded virtue in organisational culture, and developed its components into a comprehensive paradigm that unifies normative and strategic claims, thus bridging the gap between theory and practice. Finally, in the entrepreneurial process, this research has identified a champion for establishing a revolutionary, pre-modern paradigm of business.