Reinventing Ethical Entrepreneurship: The Virtue Ethics Approach

THE STATUS QUO

Entrepreneurial ethics education usually takes one of two forms: (1) the teacher assigns a set of readings and then lectures the class; (2) the teacher leads a case study discussion with students focusing on an economic, business, or legal problem. In both forms, the teacher’s role is to impart knowledge. The tacit assumptions in teaching entrepreneurial ethics are something like this: in order to teach business ethics, the class should read what ethicists have said; in order to teach entrepreneurship, the class should study the actions of entrepreneurs and the mistakes of failed businesses.

Evidence suggests these approaches do little to encourage the development of ethical character in entrepreneurs or business leaders. Moreover, they fail to address the question of how both business and entrepreneurship can be intrinsically ethical activities.

Hence the desire for a new kind of business ethics and entrepreneurship education.

REINVENTING ETHICAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Our curriculum avoids the traditional approaches for teaching entrepreneurial ethics. Rather than presenting knowledge through lecture, Reinventing Ethical Entrepreneurship places students in the role of active business practitioners and entrepreneurs. Students work in teams in practical situations that simulate various entrepreneurial scenarios. Students are given free rein to decide how they will solve problems they face. Classes take the form of activities students participate in and work in teams to succeed. Knowledge acquisition is secondary – the goal is to face problems and solve them through a series of mistakes and failures.

This approach follows Aristotle’s adage that “we learn by doing.” By immersing students in practical situations requiring them to do in order to succeed, we encourage the development of ethical and entrepreneurial character traits. Traits students can carry forward outside the classroom and apply to every aspect of their lives. By acquiring ethical and entrepreneurial traits through practical experience – in a word, by developing their character – students establish a foundation and framework for future excellence and success benefitting them no matter what line of work they pursue.

The character traits they develop are entrepreneurial virtues: by problem-solving, they develop rationality; by facing failure and speaking before their peers, they develop courage; by taking the lead on projects and being the one to make the hard call, they develop leadership. And so on for each of the twelve virtues our activities cultivate. All told, our activities encourage the development of twelve virtuous character traits helping students undertake ethical business practices and promote entrepreneurial excellence.

The twelve virtues are: rationality, objectivity, imagination, skill, courage, perseverance, ambition, self-esteem, leadership, justice, integrity, and trust.

BENEFITS OF THE VIRTUE ETHICS APPROACH

By focusing our educational resources on the practical development of character traits, our material achieves the following unique results:

  1. Practical experience facing the problems of business practitioners and entrepreneurs.
  2. The development of virtuous character traits to be carried forward into all areas of life.
  3. Enjoyment in the classroom –students teach themselves through hands-on problem-solving and engaging activities.
  4. A practical understanding of the challenges they can expect to face in business and entrepreneurial endeavors and of the personal and professional resources they possess to meet these challenges.

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