An Introduction to the Philosophy of Management


Paul Griseri

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  • Back Matter
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    ‘This is a welcome, long overdue, groundbreaking textbook, at the intersection of modern organisational life with perennial philosophical debates on existence, knowledge, values, and human action.

    Anchored in solid logical foundations, this book invites us on a challenging journey from epistemologies of organising to meanings of work and principles of collective action, using the work of classical and modern thinkers – such as Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Foucault.'

    Dr Cristina Neesham, Department of Management, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

    ‘This book is skillfully directed at invoking a wide audience to re-explore key issues such as: What is work or what can we “know” about organisational life?

    The book is carefully built up by posing questions and offering deliberations from different angles – thereby activating our own processes of reflection.'

    Norma R. A. Romm, Research Professor, College of Education, University of South Africa, South Africa


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    About the Author

    Paul Griseri has worked in management and business education for over 25 years, and has taught philosophically related subjects to business students at all levels – from pre-undergraduate through to doctoral levels. He has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Kent, and Postgraduate Diplomas in Management and Human Resource Management. Paul has published several books applying philosophical ideas in business contexts, and is currently the Managing Editor of the journal Philosophy of Management.

  • Conclusion

    On reviewing what has been written in this book, it is striking how much has not been said. There is a wealth of philosophical material that could have been employed – process philosophy for example, or existentialism, or the many renewed developments in recent decades of some of the ancient Asian philosophical traditions. Also there are many topics that have been hardly touched upon – wisdom, leadership, the nature of thought and its relationship with language, consciousness, to name just a few.

    In defence of the coverage in this text, I might remind the reader of what was stated at the start: that this introduction to the field would not be a complete exploration of the philosophical ‘space’, but rather it would shine a light into some of the more important spaces. In doing this, the most valuable lesson that one might draw is what more needs to be considered. A few of the questions that merit greater exploration, in the light of the discussions in this book, are:

    • What exactly do we mean when we talk in collective terms about an ‘organisation’?
    • Is there anything special about the thinking processes, and judgement, exercised in the managerial role?
    • What, exactly, is ‘knowledge‘ in organisations, and how does this relate to the ‘intellectual’ virtues?
    • How far can we hope for general theories about how organisations work, or should we restrict ourselves to more narrowly focused or even organisation-specific ideas?
    • How does freedom fit with the authority and control implicit in organisations?
    • Is it even possible, in principle, for a company operating in a market environment to completely fulfil its ‘social obligations’?

    As indicated at the start, philosophising is not evaluated by the conclusions it reaches, but rather by the processes taken in order to reach them. It is not a search for answers, but rather an examination of the structure of our thinking and rationale that underpins the answers we already have. If after reading this you have questions about what an organisation is, what we know about it, or what can be said about how it ‘acts’, then even if you disagree profoundly with the answers given here, the job of this text is done.


    • Act utilitarianism An ethical theory that holds the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its direct consequences. Contrasted with rule utilitarianism.
    • Alienation The idea that a human being may be placed in a social context that inhibits the full expression of their true human nature.
    • Categorical Imperative An ethical view of Immanuel Kant, that what is right is what represents a command of duty irrespective of personal desires. Formulated in several ways, but based on the idea that a principle of action, when ethically right, applies with equal import to all rational beings.
    • Cogito ergo sum According to Descartes, the one thing that we can be sure of without doubting is that we think (translated from the Latin, the phrase means, I think therefore I am).
    • Coherentism The idea that knowledge is best understood in terms of how its different elements fit together – how coherent is the whole body of knowledge.
    • Connotation The elements of the sense of a term: what we understand by a term, as opposed to what things we actually judge are examples of that term. So the connotation of the term ‘human being’ would be what we think of when someone talks to us about being a human being – the ideas we have about what a human is. See also denotation.
    • Consequentialism The ethical theory that what is right or wrong, ethically, is determined by the consequences of an action. Best known example of this is utilitarianism.
    • Critical theory The project to liberate us from those assumptions that lock in social attitudes and prejudices, by critically examining and reflecting on their origins and influence in our thought. Associated with several European philosophers of the twentieth century, notably Jurgen Habermas.
    • Denotation The totality of objects referred to by a term, contrasted with connotation. So the denotation of the term ‘human being’ is the totality of things that can be described in this way. The different ways in which connotation and denotation are seen to inter-relate form the bases of many theories of the meaning of a term.
    • Deontology The conception of ethical rightness as lying in the nature of certain actions in themselves, rather than looking at the results or the personal traits of those who perform these. The best known, but by no means the only, example of deontology is Kant's idea of a categorical imperative.
    • Desire-belief model of action The view that actions can be explained in terms of what someone desired or wanted, in the context of their beliefs. Often, though not necessarily, associated with the idea of action as the means to achieve desired ends.
    • Determinism The claim that all our actions are fully explained in terms of their preceding causes. See also free will.
    • Discourse ethics A conception of ethics developed by Habermas, which presents ethical norms as justified in so far as these are accepted communally via a process of dialogue.
    • Doctrine of the mean Aristotle argued that virtuous behaviour was a mean between extremes of behaviour. There are some similarities with the teachings of Confucius.
    • Double hermeneutic The idea of Giddens that the technical language of social science, and the ordinary language we use in day-to-day life, have a two-way relationship, so that each domain influences the other.
    • Dreamtime The traditional world-view of native Australians, that combines ideas of myth with geographical orientation.
    • Emancipatory theory See critical theory.
    • Empiricism The emphasis on experience via our senses as the key source of our knowledge.
    • Essence Stemming from Aristotle's theory of definition, the idea that something has a specific nature which captures what it basically is, such as (perhaps) having the desire to socialise with others as part of the essence of a human being. Contrasted with accident which would be a feature that something happens to have but not in virtue of what it actually is – say a particular colour of hair.
    • Eudaimonia In ancient Greek, this meant something like ‘human flourishing’ and it was a central concept in the ethical views of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It is sometimes construed as ‘happiness’ but really quite a specific kind of happiness – that of leading a fulfilled life – is what is intended.
    • Expectancy or valency theory A theory of motivation associated with Vroom and others (and similar to the desire-belief model of action) under which someone is motivated to do something in so far as they are attracted to it and they hold appropriate beliefs about how to achieve it.
    • Falsifiability Popper held that a genuinely scientific theory should take risks – should not only explain what was the case, but also make predictions that had both the possibility of being confirmed and the possibility of being falsified. Theories that insulated themselves from the possibility of being refuted were, Popper argued, pseudo-science.
    • Family resemblance Wittgenstein's conception that the different ways we use a term may have similarities without necessarily having a single underlying basis that justifies all and only the uses made of that term.
    • Foundationalism The idea that knowledge should be based on sure foundations, and that the main job of the philosophical theory of knowledge is to find out what those foundations are and how we can build on them. Often contrasted with coherentism.
    • Free will The view that humans can feely choose (at least some of) what they do, and that we are not forced by natural causes to act in given ways. Previously seen as the contrary of determinism.
    • Gettier examples Counter-examples to the theory that knowledge is justified true belief, the first example being developed by Edmund Gettier. The counter-examples all are based on the idea that the ‘justification’ is interrupted and then restored, so that although the belief is true the individual is incorrect in relying on their ‘justification’ as warranting their belief.
    • ‘Great man’ theory of leadership The idea that leadership is best understood in terms of the qualities of great leaders of the past.
    • Guanxi The Chinese idea that there should be a strong personal linkage between people before they can rely on each to do business together successfully.
    • Heuristic principles Methods of resolving questions that are not logically watertight, such as trial and error, rules of thumb, or approaches that work well in practice even though not supported by theory.
    • Hypothetico-deductivism Popularised (but not invented) by Karl Popper, the idea that a scientific investigation proceeds by drawing out (deducing) observable consequences from the theory or hypothesis that then function as predictions of the theory, and then checking to see if these predictions come about.
    • Inductivism View that a scientific theory is proved or disproved by the accretion of supporting data.
    • Infinite regress A weakness of a position, that it can never be resolved to a fundamental conclusion, but either each step of justification can be further questioned (e.g. using a repeated ‘why’ technique) or the position itself gives rise to repeated iterations of the same idea without any basis for this terminating.
    • Inter-subjectivity The phenomenon of generally agreed practices, beliefs or theories, which cannot be objectively justified, but are nevertheless accepted by all members of a given community.
    • Interpretavism An approach to knowledge of social phenomena based on the idea that these cannot be objectively described, but always require interpretation by observers.
    • Justified true belief The theory that knowledge needs not only to be true but also to have a sound justification. Originally propounded by Plato. See Gettier examples.
    • Knowing how and knowing that The distinction between skills-based knowledge and knowledge of facts.
    • Master-slave relationship Hegel's theory of human self-consciousness and interaction, based on an idea of a struggle for domination.
    • Modernism The belief in a steady upward trend of progress in science, and thereby in society generally. Based on a confidence in rational methods of enquiry and policy.
    • Moral luck The phenomenon of an individual's ethical actions depending on chance events in the world, so that in one case driving a speeding car is just dangerous, and in another case the driver kills someone, and thus in the latter case becomes a killer, whilst in the first case they were just foolish – though the intentions and bodily movements in both cases were the same. Often given as an argument against ethical theories that rely solely on motive as the basis for rightness.
    • Nominal definition The theory that definition is solely of words. Contrasted with real definition.
    • Normal science Kuhn depicted scientific investigation as falling into two contrasting periods: ‘normal’ science when the main work of scientists was to elaborate on and solve puzzles created by the dominant paradigm explanation; and ‘revolutionary’ science when the paradigm itself was rejected and there was no commonly accepted guiding principle or model to direct investigation.
    • Noumena Kant's term for things in themselves, about which we can have no direct knowledge (apart perhaps from our own sense of freedom). We experience things not as they are, but as they appear to us. See phenomena.
    • Ostensive definition Defining something not by words, but by showing examples of it.
    • Ought-is question The argument about whether evaluative statements (marked often by containing the word ‘ought’ or its cognates) can ever be derived logically from factual statements (i.e. statements of what is the case). Hume originated this way of expressing the argument, himself arguing strongly that an ‘ought’ cannot be derived from an ‘is’.
    • Paradigm Kuhn's term for the dominant model in a scientific discipline, that guides further research. A good example might be evolution in biology.
    • Phenomena In Kant's use of the term, these were things as they presented themselves to us, and subject to certain principles of how we can experience them (e.g. as existing in space and time, and subject to causation). Contrasted with noumena.
    • Phronesis Ancient Greek term used in particular by Aristotle, generally translated as ‘practical wisdom’ though sometimes also associated with prudence.
    • Positivism The view that all knowledge is founded in what is observable – the term originated with August Comte, and is closely allied with empiricism.
    • Postmodernism A cluster of attitudes towards knowledge and society, based on the view that modernism is unable to capture the full range of social phenomena or policy; postmodernism is sometimes loosely linked with critical theory.
    • Practical reason Reasoning as applied to action. Deliberation about what to do. Aristotle and Kant in particular discussed quite distinct approaches to this concept.
    • Pseudo-science Popper's term for theories that purported to be scientific, but did not fit his conception of falsifiability. He particularly singled out Marxism and psychoanalysis as examples.
    • Rationalism Generally the belief in the use of reason to gain knowledge, but often applied specifically to the assumptions of certain European philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (especially Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza) who believed that our knowledge of the world could be entirely gained via the use of reason.
    • Real definition The idea that defining a term reveals its true, real nature, rather than just an indication of the use of words. Generally seen as the opposite of nominal definition.
    • Realism The belief that our senses provide us with knowledge of a world that is independent of us, and of our perceptions, and that we can have a fairly accurate knowledge of what it is like.
    • Referential opacity A statement where one term cannot be substituted by another with the same reference is said to be referentially opaque: for example suppose it is a fact that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays – it still can be the case that someone (who does not know this) might believe that the author of those plays was gay, and yet not believe this of Francis Bacon. In contrast, a statement that I shook the hand of the President of the USA (in 2012) says the same thing as one that says I shook the hand of Barak Obama – it is referentially transparent.
    • Relativism The idea that all knowledge is relative to the culture or background of individuals or groups, and that therefore there is no basis for correcting the statements of someone from outside one's own cultural circle.
    • Revolutionary science Kuhn's term for those periods when a scientific discipline lacks any overall guiding model or framework. A good example of this might be the state of physics just before Einstein proposed his theories of relativity.
    • Rigid designation A term that refers to the same thing, even had the facts been different – so the term ‘Henry Ford’ refers to the same person no matter what might have actually happened (or it refers to no one) but the term ‘The founder of Ford Motors’, which actually refers to Henry Ford, could have been different, if someone else had set up that company. So ‘Henry Ford’ is a rigid designator, whilst ‘Founder of Ford Motors’ is not. This idea, developed by Saul Kripke, has been compared to Aristotle's idea of essence.
    • Rule Utilitarianism A version of utilitarianism whereby it is not an individual action that is justified in terms of its results, but a general rule of behaviour. Some have argued that this is less a consequentialist view and rather more like a deontological one.
    • Scepticism The general doubt as to whether what we access through our senses provides us with knowledge of the external world – not in individual cases, but in general, of whether there is a world out there at all.
    • Servant leadership A view of leadership that depicts it as a service to the team and other stakeholders.
    • Stipulative definition A definition that fixes, intentionally, how a term is to be used. Often employed when there is no general agreement about the peripheral examples of the term.
    • Substance In Aristotle's writings, the fundamental basis of all existence is a substance, though his explanation of this term is not unanimously agreed even today.
    • Transference (Freudian) The idea that clients of a Freudian analyst will often transfer feelings, especially sublimated or repressed ones about their parents, on to the analyst.
    • Ubuntu A view widely held in southern Africa, based on the idea that humans should be understood primarily in collective terms, rather than as individuals.
    • Utilitarianism The most common version of consequentialism, stating that what is right is what produces the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’.
    • Vertu A term used by Machiavelli, denoting a certain form of enterprise or courage.
    • Virtue Ethics The view that what is ethically right should not be sought in the act itself (deontology) or in its consequences (utilitarianism) but in the nature of those who act ethically – in their virtues; deriving from Aristotle and Confucius, the virtues that are cited in this context often include personal qualities such as prudence, humility, courage, honesty, integrity, charity.

    General Further Reading

    If you wish to read more on this subject, there are several different sources, depending on your interests.

    If you want to know about philosophy in general:

    SimonBlackburn, Think, Oxford University Press, 1999.
    AndréComte-Sponville, The Little Book of Philosophy (trans F.Wynne), Vintage Books, 2005.
    Additionally, the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an invaluable and authoritative source for information on a whole range of philosophical ideas, and for the ideas of great philosophers of the past:
    Some of the great works of the past are quite accessible – notably Plato's dialogues in general, but especially relevant are: Protagoras, Meno, Republic, Theatetus; Descartes' Meditations and his Discourse on Method, and J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism.

    Of more modern texts:

    Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations is deceptive – easy to read individual paragraphs but the overall argument is more complex and more controversial than first sight might suggest.
    Alisdair Macintyre's After Virtue (Duckworth, revised edition 2007) is a classic study in ethical theory.
    If you want to explore more deeply the philosophy of management, there are a few books that are directly focused on this as a whole. A couple of titles that cover some aspects are:
    ClaesGustafsson, The Production of Seriousness: the Metaphysics of Economic Reason, Palgrave, 2011.
    JosKessels, ErikBoers and PieterMostert, Free Space and Room to Reflect: Philosophy in Organisations, Boom Publishers, 2004.
    CampbellJones and RenéTen Bos, Philosophy and Organisations, Routledge, 2007.
    PeterKoslowski, Elements of a Philosophy of Management and Organization, Springer, 2010.
    However, the journal Philosophy of Management, as its name suggests, is solely concerned with this field, and may be accessed online:
    Other journals such as the Academy of Management Review, Organization, or Organisation Studies also often run articles with a philosophical element to them.

    Names Index


    All books are a composite, trying to build on ideas that come to one from many directions and from many sources. Amongst the innumerable sources that have inspired me and helped develop my ideas in this area must specifically be named the following:

    My colleagues on the editorial board of the Philosophy of Management journal – Nigel Laurie, Ed Freeman, Frits Schipper, Mark Dibben and Wim Vandekerhove.

    Colleagues at Middlesex University and University College London who may not have realised that discussions with them were contributing to my thinking on this subject and how and whether to teach this at undergraduate level – especially but by no means confined to Alan Durant, Nina Seppala, Alison Megeney, Richard Pettinger and Andrea Werner.

    Other academic colleagues and teachers whose views (in some cases for quite some years) have influenced this writing of this book include Cristina Neesham, David Lutz, Michael Loughlin, Marja-Liisa Kakkuri-Kintilla, Pierre Guillet de Montoux, Jonathan Groucutt, James Wisdom, and Chris Cherry.

    The many students who have participated in Philosophy of Management, Business Ethics, and Research Methods modules that I have delivered at several institutions, have contributed – far more than they may have realised – to the content that has found its way into this book.

    There are very many others who also merit acknowledgement – too many to identify here.

    To all of these I owe my gratitude for the time, space and stimulation to consider issues of philosophy in the organisational context. But of course the content here is entirely my own responsibility, mistakes, omissions, warts and all.

    Lastly my great thanks to my wife, Lyn Thompson, for her support, as always with neither impatience nor deference, during the writing of this book.

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