Projective History

What of the future?

Business ethics is well entrenched in ordinary discourse and the media, has been sanctioned and promoted by legislation, and has been incorporated into corporate structures. The Society has developed over twenty-five years and changed. Philosophers and historians are not prophets or seers. So I cannot see into the future of the Society. But in pursuing projective history we can see what is already present and pregnant with the future. Of the many possible scenarios. I shall briefly consider only two.

The first takes off from the splendid success of the past twenty-five years. In the coming year, through the persistent efforts of Denis Arnold, the Society will sponsor sessions on the main American Philosophical Association programs at the Eastern and Pacific meetings, and the following year at the Central Division as well. This indicates at long last acceptance by the APA of business ethics. That achievement comes, ironically, as the Society’s membership is no longer dominated by philosophers. Also, because a business ethics session is on the main program it perhaps means that for the first time in twenty-five years, the Society will not have a Society meeting at the APA. How long will the Society continue to meet with the APA since so few of Society members attend those meetings and, since, because—they are neither the annual nor special meetings—they are, according to the Society’s By-laws, no longer official Society meetings?

At the same time, the Society has also been successful in joining forces with those in Social Issues in Management. More and more members seem to make no distinction between business ethics and social issues in management. The meeting with the Academy seems less and less in doubt each year, even though the 2005 meeting with the Academy in Hawaii was put to a vote of the members. The SIM meetings coincide more and more with those of the Society for Business Ethics—whether they be doctoral consortia on Fridays and Saturdays or joint meetings on Sundays. The success of the Society on both the APA and the Academy fronts may paradoxically threaten its future as it is assimilated into the mainstream of both. Has the World Spirit used the Society for the purpose of spreading business ethics societies around the globe only in the not too distant future to consign it to the dustbin of history, its mission having been accomplished?

A second scenario is that as the Society looks back at its roots and early history, it decides that it continues to have something important and distinctive to offer; that the philosophical approach, with its emphasis on theoretical ethical structure, on a critical approach to issues in business, and on the rigor in argument that philosophers have developed, is worth preserving; and that the imagination and intellectual courage that led the founders to start a new society is an example that continues to deserve emulation, especially as the Society confronts the new developments in the 21st century’s business environment. In that scenario, the Society has not run its course or served its function in history, but still has much to do.

Many other scenarios are possible.

I suggest it has been an exciting and impressive twenty five years. As to the future, despite my Hegelian references, I conclude,as Leo Ryan did at the end his Presidential Address, that the future of the Society is in the hands of its members and its leaders.