Marc Le Menestrel
Affiliate Professor of Decision Sciences
This paper argues that economic rationality and ethical behavior cannot be reduced one to the other, thus casting doubt on the validity of assertions such as ‘profit is ethical’ or ‘ethics pays’. In order to express ethical dilemmas in a way which opposes economic interest with ethical concerns, the authors propose a model of rational behavior that combines these two irreducible dimensions in an open but not arbitrary manner. Behaviors that are neither ethical nor profitable are considered irrational (non‐arbitrariness). However, behaviors that are profitable but unethical, and behaviors that are ethical but not profitable, are all treated as rational (openness).Combining ethical concerns with economic interest, ethical business is in turn seen as an optimal form of rationality between venality and sacrifice. Because everyone prefers to communicate that they act ethically, ethical business remains ambiguous until some economic interest is actually sacrificed.The authors argue, however, that ethical business has an interest in demonstrating its consistency between communication and behavior by a transparent attitude. On the other hand, venal behaviors must remain confidential to hide the corresponding lack of consistency.This discursive approach based on transparency and confidentiality helps to further distinguish between ethical and unethical business behaviors.