Moral Saints and Moral Exemplars: Volume 10


Table of contents

(17 chapters)

This chapter makes a case for Adam Smith’s description of the market as a moral exemplar. More specifically, it argues that the behavior of the individual agents who inhabit Smith’s market is indeed morally exemplary.


The basis for this argument is that economic self-interest drives market participants to look beyond any inherent prejudice or tendency to discriminate on the basis of preconceived opinions or beliefs. Some historical context is provided that illustrates conservative opposition to this perspective from unlikely sources.

A simple moral framework is created to provide one possible representation of Smith’s interpretation of the market. In this framework self-interest is characterized as a “trump” that overcomes potential prejudices. It is further argued that this framework can be considered a moral exemplar, and that it is also important in facilitating exchange between participants.


The central argument is tested when the self-interest criterion is exposed to competition from the alternative moral value of altruism. The moral framework presented, and the principle of economic self-interest in particular, is resilient against this moral challenge.

Social implications

The social implications of this argument relate directly to our normative understanding of how individuals should behave in a market context. The chapter establishes a link between this moral framework and the functioning of the market.

Originality/value of paper

The chapter is original in its attempt to defend the underlying morality of Smith’s market without recourse to his other works, such as the Theory of Moral Sentiments. It also links an understanding of market egalitarianism with a broader moral framework of market activity. Furthermore, it offers a clarification of why economic self-interest, and not altruism, is the appropriate motivation for market activity.


In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith explores the influence of commercial society on the moral character of individuals. Industry builds character, he argues, but it can also corrupt it. It is therefore very important to educate the “moral sentiments” and encourage sympathy especially in young people whose characters are still malleable. Vanity, Smith argues, is closely linked to the sentiment of sympathy and can be used as a stepping-stone to virtue. This chapter uses Smith’s remarks on vanity as a perspective on contemporary business ethics education. In properly engaging and redirecting vanity, education can help students become impartial spectators. Seeing a promise in a character trait most people consider a vice, Smith offers a refreshing view relevant to business ethics education today.


There is significant debate regarding the necessity for and existence of moral exemplars in business. We believe it is both necessary and beneficial for free market economic systems to be viewed as a moral exemplar by business students, educators, practitioners, and ethicists. Since much of the world operates under some type of free market economic paradigm, it is important that there be a moral base for these operations.

Free market economic systems are usually defended on utilitarian grounds, that they produce better results than other systems. In this chapter we take a micro approach and show that free market economic systems support individual rights and dignity. This is important because business persons need moral exemplars based in their own discipline’s theory to recognize the vocational aspects of business. That is, business persons must understand why free market systems serve the greater good.

Free market systems are not a complete or perfect moral exemplar. Business persons need to know the limits of the economic system and find other moral exemplars for their role as citizens. We illustrate this with the discussion of monopoly and Option for the Poor.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST), the moral exemplar of the Roman Catholic Church, has been developed over many centuries. The purpose of this chapter is to show how free market economic outcomes are compatible with CST goals. Illustrating the consistency between CST and free market systems provides compelling evidence that such systems are indeed a moral exemplar for business persons.


A proposed typology of moral exemplars in business highlights instances selected to illustrate standards for inclusion. The typology distinguishes among champions, heroes, and saints as different kinds of business exemplars. The typology reflects variations in both specific decision conditions and moral value emphases of business actors. The typology also differentiates moral exemplars from moral neutrals (i.e., amoral actors) and moral sinners (i.e., moral value scofflaws). The objective is to advance understanding of moral character and moral courage in business settings.


The methodology combines original conceptual argument and brief case summaries taken from available literature. The chapter is not a systematic survey of literature but cites key works. Construction of the typology involved iteration between conceptual development and case interpretation.


The chapter separates business cases into private business and public business, and applies Adam Smith’s distinction between citizenship and good citizenship. An additional distinction is made between extreme conditions and normal conditions. Moral heroism in business is restricted to life-and-death or strongly analogous situations in extreme conditions such as hazardous whistleblowing. Moral sainthood in business involves extreme maximization of a single value going far beyond simple compliance with legal requirements and typical ethical norms – Smith’s definition of citizenship. Moral championing in business concerns some degree of lesser self-sacrifice in defense of important values reflecting Smith’s definition of good citizenship.

Research Limitations and Implications

The chapter is a selection of literature undertaken in iteration with the conceptual development effort. The original research aspect of the chapter is thus quite limited. The author is not positioned to judge the accuracy of published information, for or against a particular instance. The classifications thus depend on whether the instance would, if the generally reported facts are basically accurate, serve as a reasonable illustration of standards for inclusion. Criticisms have been made concerning some of the instances discussed here.

Practical Implications

The emphasis is on providing standards for defining moral exemplars for business to suggest how much can be accomplished in business through moral influence.


The conceptual contribution is original, although drawing on the philosophical literature debate about saints and heroes. The chapter treats exemplar as the overarching construct, separated into three kinds: heroes, saints, and champions. Sinner is implicit in the notion of saint. The chapter adds moral champions and moral neutrals to isolate moral heroism. The cases exist in the literature, but have been combined together here for the first time.


While scholars discuss the theory of “Business Ethics,” students grapple with applying those theories to hypothetical case studies and business people struggle to live business ethics in practice. Many fail, casting large and ominous shadows. We are inundated with their stories. We need to hear more often stories of those who have succeeded and why their examples are important to the field of Business Ethics.


This chapter, after providing a brief overview of the differing uses of the term, Business Ethics, expands upon the metaphor of “ethical space” as the eye of a moral hurricane, provides diagrams illustrating the formation of ethical space in a business behavioral context, applies those diagrams to the examples of Andersen and Feuerstein as moral exemplars, discusses ways to mitigate the shadows that eclipsed their example, and suggests ways to enlarge corporate ethical space.


Ethics is a habit learned through mentoring and developed through practice. In a world of conflicting influences, we each carve out our own ethical space that can serve as an example to others as they face their own individual ethical challenges, but at the corporate level, a moral exemplar will inform the larger corporate ethical space only when the leadership of the corporation consciously adopts and constantly reinforces the example of its moral exemplar.


This chapter uses the visual metaphor of the eye of a hurricane to discuss the formation and importance of ethical space to moral exemplars in a world of conflicting influences and moral pressures.


Moral exemplarity is a desirable but complex achievement. The chapter discusses the meaning of moral exemplarity and examines how the self, as a psychological and spiritual centre within a Jungian perspective, contributes to fostering moral commitment.


A narrative study was conducted amongst ten spiritual healers in New Zealand and France. Stories were collected and analysed interpretively to uncover meaningful patterns about spiritual healers’ moral stance and apprehension of the self.


Spiritual healers demonstrated a deep commitment to the self which clearly sustained a commitment to serve or help others. Commitment to the self was articulated around five core values: self-work, self-reflection, humility, self-integrity and love.


The chapter highlights the moral value of inner work. The self, in its archetypal sense, carries as potential an ‘innate morality’ that resonates in the heart and nurtures integrity and authenticity. To commit to the self requires undertaking a long and painful exploration of the psyche and integrating unconscious material into ego-consciousness. The participating spiritual healers, who had committed to their self and were well advanced on their psychological exploration journey, displayed moral qualities akin to exemplarity.


We argue that Oskar Schindler is a moral exemplar. Oskar Schindler and other moral exemplars should, according to Mayo, be emulated. Emulating Schindler when he acted as a moral exemplar could have led to others’ being helped during truly terrible times. Yet, had officialdom at that time known what Schindler was doing, he would have lost his life, and the lives of the many others he was able to save – as well as their progeny – would also have been lost. Thus, we underscore that it can be extraordinarily difficult for someone to be recognised as a moral exemplar when a moral exemplar is so desperately needed.


Whom should we consider a moral saint or exemplar? This chapter looks at the relationship between the virtue of courage and the concept of a moral saint in an organisational context, apart from war and religion. It seeks to show that careful consideration of the nature of saints and heroes and of the response of the wider population to them will help us to understand the purpose of moral exemplars and the impact they can have on our lives. Thomas Carlyle’s description of the changing relationship between people and hero since the time of the ancient Greek and Scandinavian gods provides a central core for the analysis.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN