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Does virtue and character matter in business? Can workplaces be transformed by the caliber of people present? What insights do scripture and the Christian tradition of theological and philosophical reflection offer for the challenges of the modern workplace?

In October 2023, twenty-five theological ethicists, business ethicists, economists, and philosophers gathered in New Orleans to explore the importance of virtue in business ethics for Christians. The symposium was hosted by Loyola’s Center for Ethics and Economic Justice and funded by generous support from the kern Family Foundation and the Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Faithful Business. The four papers in this issue, each a keynote at the symposium, represent both the fruit and the spirit of our discussion. In many ways, these are not only the product of the gathering but also convey its spirit. Written by scholars from different institutions, different denominations, and different disciplinary backgrounds, they capture the breadth of thought and expansive interdisciplinary engagement among the scholars at the symposium. Perhaps more importantly, they capture the approach of rigorous scholarly engagement carried out with charity within a community shaped by prayer, discussion, laughter, good food (it was New Orleans, after all), and eagerness to learn about both the ideas and the people present—many of the same components which go into creating the very communities capable of forming virtue which each paper discusses.

Daniel Finn, professor of theology and Clemens Professor of Economics at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary (College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University), draws on sociology, theology, and philosophy in order to analyze business as social structures. Like Wong, he considers the question of what type of social structure is capable of cultivating virtue in its participants. Through carefully examining the significance of social structures in our daily lives (from buying bus tickets to professors giving grades in a university), Finn analyzes how social structures can work “upwards” and “downwards” in the development of virtue. Drawing on the social encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI, Finn then considers what impact it would have on moral formation for businesses to be social structures informed by practices of reciprocity and gratuitousness. Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, turns back to education to consider how a university places professional business education within the liberal canon in order to form future businesspeople for virtue. Naughton draws on John Henry Newman to analyze the university principle—the “essence” of education—with the “collegiate principle”—the integrity of university education. How can we situate business education (and professional education) within both the canon of liberal education and the entire collegiate experience? Naughton provides a helpful schematic for the appropriate type of education that might make this possible, integrating courses which promote discovery (the traditional liberal education), application (business courses), and bridge courses (which integrate the two often through experience). He also considers the importance of the whole collegiate experience—the world beyond the classroom—for giving the students formation and integration necessary for practical wisdom in the business world.

Hannah Stolze, the William E. Crenshaw Chair of Supply Chain Management at Baylor University, turns to the wisdom literature of the Bible to consider conceptual structures for businesses that seek to promote wisdom. Drawing on biblical exegesis and scholarship focused on the noble woman of Proverbs 31, Stolze considers especially the demands placed on firms to respond to the need for quick strategy changes and expansion in a rapidly changing global marketplace, especially as this relates to the complexity of supply chains. Following the example of the noble woman, she considers how firms might chose to pursue a path illuminated by the virtue of wisdom rather than responding unwisely to current challenges.

Kenman Wong, professor of business ethics at Seattle Pacific University, draws upon business ethics and theology to question the critiques of Alasdair MacIntyre that business by its very nature cannot serve as a “community of practices” capable of promoting virtue. Taking the example of Dayspring, a professional services company formed explicitly with the goal of being a part of Jesus’s work in “reconciling all things” through their business practices, Wong provides a compelling example of what it might actually look like, and the sacrifices required, for businesses to become communities where virtues are actually cultivated.

While the papers focus on a different aspect of formation in virtue, when read together, they trace a trajectory from business education, through businesses’ place in society, to virtuous business as understood through paradigm and practice. Each approach offers a challenge to business practices as they are today. More importantly, each offers hope for the future of virtuous business as well as practical steps and theoretical framing for pursuing this future.

Cite this article
Elisabeth Rain Kincaid, “Theme Editor’s Preface: Virtues in the Practice of Business”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 53:3 , 3-4

Elisabeth Rain Kincaid

Elisabeth R. Kincaid, J.D., Ph.D., is the incoming director of the Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL) at Baylor University. She also serves as associate professor of ethics, faith and culture in Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Management in the Hankamer School of Business.