Thread 2: Continental philosophy and business ethics? You may have noticed that this book is calledBusiness Ethics and Continental Philosophy. The business ethics part of the title should be relatively clear: this book will in some way involve the application of ethical thought to business practice. But what is continental philosophy and why did your professor pick this book as opposed to other books that don’t concern themselves with continental philosophy?As the book explains, continental philosophy primarily refers to philosophy coming from Continental Europe (mainly France and Germany). This distinguishes it from analytic philosophy, which is primarily represented by English speaking countries. Also, the distinction between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy is a development of Western philosophy during the 20th century. So not only has the analytic/continental distinction not always existed, but it is not relevant to non-western philosophical traditions (so, for example, if you are a philosopher in the Confucian tradition, the analytic/continental tradition is perhaps of no importance to you). To further complicate this issue, many people in English speaking countries do continental philosophy and many people in France and Germany identify themselves as analytic philosophers.In terms of content and style, there are some significant distinctions between the two traditions. Analytic philosophy is closely allied with modern science, and sees itself as either a science in its own right or as performing services in the name of science such as eliminating fuzzy concepts and reframing problems in such a way that they become amenable to scientific investigation. The relation of analytic philosophy to the history of philosophy is also analogous to how science relates itself to its own history; just as no physicist trying to determine the properties of the Higgs boson would think that a thorough understanding of the history of science, starting with Aristotle and running on up to Peter Higgs and beyond, is relevant to solving this problem, in analytic philosophy an understanding of the history of philosophy is not understood to be relevant to addressing contemporary philosophical problems. Analytic philosophy also views itself as valuing clarity and logical precision above all else when it comes to how one expresses oneself as a philosopher. In contrast, continental philosophy has a greater affinity with literature and the arts, is often more experimental and literary and thus challenging in its manner of expression, and is much more engaged with its own history in its attempts to elucidate and explore contemporary philosophical problems.However these distinctions between the analytic and continental traditions in terms of content and style are also not accurate in all circumstances. In understanding the differences between analytic and continental philosophy, it is important to remember that the distinction itself originates in English speaking countries and for political reasons, as Anglo-American philosophy departments tried to define what they understood as the right way to do philosophy and the right sorts of questions that philosophers should ask. In doing so, analytic philosophers excluded a great number of philosophers from the category of what counts as proper philosophy.With all of this in mind, why approach business ethics from the perspective of continental philosophy, when business ethics has largely been the concern of analytic philosophy? One reason that the editors give is that business ethics has largely been content to analyze what is right or wrong within the context of business practice, and in so doing they accept the status quo of business practice without question. Because of continental philosophy’s deeper engagement with both the history of philosophy and history more generally, the editors of our book suggest that continental philosophers are better able to appreciate the fact that thestatus quo of today has not always been the status quo, and thus they are also better able to question the status quo of business and business ethics in more depth than analytic philosophers are usually willing to do.So with that in mind, what is the status quo of business practice today? And how might one question it? Why is a critique of thestatus quo valuable? And how does the critique of the status quodiffer from and supplement the analysis of what is right and wrong, which is the core concern of ethics?To answer a lingering question concerning why I picked this book, it is because my sympathies largely lie with the continental tradition, though my own work and research resides between and outside these two traditions.
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