Alejo José G. Sison, the renowned Spanish-Filipino philosopher, takes us on a thrilling journey towards the core of virtue ethics, from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Alejo has written extensively on ethical issues in business and management and in our interview we continue to explore the implications of Virtue Ethics for organisational governance and transformation. We dive deeper into Alejo's "common good" theory of the firm and also discuss - en passant - the need for moral capital of leaders and the intriguing challenges at the intersection of Ethics and AI. Brace yourself for an stimulating exploration of the "ultimate value proposition"!

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BEHIND the interview

Why is the interview important? Who are we talking to?



We chose to interview Alejo for three specific reasons. Firstly, we wanted to further deepen our understanding of virtue ethics, in the context of "Thomism", MacIntyre's notion of practice and Catholic Social Teaching. What exactly is good, both private and common? What is the relevance of Aristotelian telos versus ergon? Secondly, Alejo had extensively studied management from the perspective of Aristotle's political philosophy and we were intrigued by Alejo's attempt to operationalize virtue ethics in modern corporate governance, a topic that is at the heart of our inquiry. Finally, we wanted to further scrutinise the linkage between virtues, "eudaimonia" and happiness, in order to understand better how individuals could practically cultivate a good character and lead a good life.


  • What are the key concepts of Virtue Ethics and how are they defined? What exactly are virtues? What is eudaimonia?
  • How can the "common good" be operationalised in management?
  • How can we become good by practicing virtues?


Alejo Sison is a professor for business ethics at the School of Economics of the University of Navarre. He is Visiting Ordinary Professor at the Busch School of Business of the Catholic University of America and Adjunct Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. He was President of the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) from 2009 to 2012. In 2019 he was elected to the board of the Society for Business Ethics and in 2023 he will be President.

His research is at the juncture of ethics, economics, and politics, with a focus on the virtues and the common good. In our interview, we discuss a virtue ethics perspective on the theory of the firm, corporate governance, the moral capital of leaders, Ethics and AI, and also his latest sole-authored book on “Happiness and Virtue Ethics in Business: The Ultimate Value Proposition” (Cambridge University Press, 2015). 

Exploring the Critical concepts for this session

Short overview on virtue ethics in comparison to deontology and utalitarianism. Four approaches are distinguished: 1) eudiamonistic, b) agent-based, c) target-centerd and d) platonistic virtue ethics.

Catholic social teaching (CST) is an area of Catholic doctrine which is concerned with human dignity and the common good in society. It addresses oppression, the role of the state, subsidiarity, social organization, social justice, wealth distribution. CST's foundations are considered to have been laid by Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical, Rerum novarum, which advocated distributism. Its roots can be traced to Catholic theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo.

Catholic social teaching (CST) is an area of Catholic doctrine which is concerned with human dignity and the common good in society.

Short overview on the theory and practice of the common good from greek city states to contemporary approaches.

This article proposes a theory of the firm based on the common good. It clarifies the meaning of the term “common good” tracing its historical development. Next, an analogous sense applicable to the firm is derived from its original context in political theory. Put simply, the common good of the firm is the production of goods and services needed for flourishing, in which different members participate through work. This is linked to the political common good through subsidiarity. Lastly, implications and challenges arising from the positing of work as the common good of the firm are explored

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A Resource Kit to launch your explorations

Excellent homepage with links to all his publications.

Society for Business Ethics

European Business Ethics Network 

The purpose of this article is to explain the differences between neo-Aristotelian virtue and positive organizational virtuousness from the virtue ethics perspective. Although closely related, we believe that these two notions are not identical. If we understand neo-Aristotelian virtue correctly, then it cannot be judged exclusively on what is externally verifiable, as is the case with virtuousness. For these reasons, we attempt our own differentiation, highlighting the gains and losses realized in the migration from neo-Aristotelian virtue to positive organizational virtuousness, and establishing guideposts to meaningfully combine the strengths of both concepts.

A literature analysis with the aim to chart how virtue ethics articles have evolved through the decades and to establish ‘schools’ or clusters of authors as well as clusters of themes. The results of this quantitative analysis of authors, ‘schools’, themes, and publications provide a foundation for the future study of virtue ethics in business and management, identifying its achievements and potentials.

The research question of this article is what ought to be done for financial activities to truly contribute to eudaimonia or human flourishing (Aristotle), to the achievement of three distinct kinds of goods as required of virtue, “those internal to practices, those which are the goods of an individual life and those which are the goods of the community” (MacIntyre), and to “[help] man on the path of salvation” in the midst of complex network of relationships in modern societies (CST).

This paper juxtaposes the dominant theory of the firm as a nexus of contracts to a personalist and common good approach. It argues how a personalist and commong prinicples approach create a framework that not only acoomodates business ethics better but also affords a more compelling understanding of business as a whole.

After defining the essential elements of Aristotelian citizenship, the article proposes to apply these criteria in its search for the equivalent of a citizen within the corporate polis. It argues that shareholding managers are the best positioned among a firm’s constituents or stakeholders in fulfilling the role of corporate citizens. Greater participation by management not only in the control but also in the ownership of firms brings about benefits for the firm as a whole and for the managers themselves, as organizational citizenship behavior literature, among others, suggests.

Beginning with the question of who constitutes the firm, this article seeks to explore the historical evolution of concepts such as corporate social responsibility, corporate accountability, corporate social responsiveness, corporate social performance, stakeholder theory, and corporate citizenship. In close parallel to these changes are differences in interpretation from Anglo-American and Continental European perspectives. The author defends that the ultimate reasons behind these differences are of a philosophical nature, affecting both the anthropology and the political theory dominant in each of these cultures.

In today's business world the focus lies on accomplishments. The means with which they were achieved are at best secondary, and in a society where money "rules", even less attention is paid to the moral value of outcomes. According to the authors, however, virtues do play an important role in the business context.

Further essays and materials from other authors

This paper introduces the work of moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in the area of virtue and organization. It aims to provide one point of entry to MacIntyre’s work for readers who have not been introduced to it and makes some novel suggestions about its development for those who have. Following some initial comments on MacIntyre’s approach to social science, it traces the development of his ideas on organization from 1953 to 1980, before outlining the general theory of virtues, goods, practices and institutions which emerged in the publication of his seminal After Virtue in 1981. Finally, the paper outlines some of the uses to which these ideas have been put in the organizational literature.

We focus on virtue ethics measures for business academicians and practitioners. Despite virtue ethics' long history, virtue ethics scale development is a somewhat new field. Here, we introduce conceptualizations of virtue ethics and the attributes that define it, including three challenges to developing virtue ethics scales: subjectivity (virtues are person specific), cultural relativism (a globally recognized set of virtues may not exist), and psychological ego (people's programming dictates responses to stimuli).

This paper argues that realistic Personalism can be integrated into virtue-based business ethics, giving it a more complete base. More specifically, two principles are proposed: the Personalist Principle (PP) and the Common Good Principle (CGP). The PP includes the Golden Rule and makes explicit the duty of respect, benevolence, and care for people, emphasizing human dignity and the innate rights of every human being. The CGP entails cooperation to promote conditions which enhance the opportunity for the human␣flourishing of all people within a community. Both principles have practical implications for business ethics.

This paper argues that CST, mainly through the virtue ethical doctrine of the mean, is saved from having become an ideology and is much closer to the ideal of science as a self-questioning system than the mainstream in business ethics. This essay explains this counter-intuitive conclusion by tracing the history of CST and embedding it in an epistemic discussion and then suggesting what business ethics could take from CST to regain the all-important discursiveness it once had.

Selected published works

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What have we learned? Our "Best Bit" takeaways from the Interview


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The good life
  • There are many ways of understanding it. One, it’s not so much the destination, but the journey. But of course, I mean, the journey only makes sense if there’s a destination, right? So, you can’t really separate one from the other. So, the good life is the inquiry about the good life. And in philosophical terms, it’s what you call an axiom, an indemonstrable first principle, without which everything else falls apart. In any given science worth its soul, you have a first principle, which, unfortunately, is indemonstrable, at least in that system alone. For us human beings the first principle of our existence is our inclination towards happiness as eudaimonia and everything else draws from there.
On the meaning of relationships for the good life
  • We are social and political beings. Now, how do I get that idea across? I say, okay, who of you doesn’t have a navel? I see no hands going up. So, if you have a navel, what is that telling you? That’s telling you, that you’re here, thanks to someone else, thanks to other people. And that’s just going to be the way it is. I mean: live with that. We are social beings, we always need other people. And then I also tell them that, look, what we’re looking for, is not something you could achieve isolated from the rest individually. Rather, all the other people have to be able to achieve it at the same time as you do. That is how I bring on the idea of the common good. […] The good has to fulfill both conditions, you have to like it, it has to benefit you. And the utmost good that we desire, flourishing or happiness is a common good. It’s something you could achieve only together with everyone else in the political community.
Good is not an idea, it lies in the constant action
  • The good life is not an idea. Rather, it’s an activity. Something that we do, that we engage in. Why is it so important? Because of Plato, who was Aristotle’s teacher, who thought that the good was an idea. Hence, in that frame, it would be enough that some really brilliant fellow saw the idea and told everyone else about. So, he had the master plan. And people just had to fall in line, do as they were told, and it was all worked out. Obviously, this is a recipe for disaster. Right? So, what Aristotle says, is that the good is not an idea, at least when we’re talking about flourishing, it’s not an idea, rather it’s an activity. It’s an activity that we all share, hence, the need for joint deliberation.
What is “good” needs to be deliberate
  • The starting point is morality. Yes, everyone thinks they have what they consider to be the best version of a good life. So, what do we do with this when there are disagreements? Let’s talk about it. Yeah. So speech, language is the “killer app”.
Contemporary critiques on virtue ethics
  • One of the main critiques against virtue ethics is that it’s tautological. It presupposes the very thing that it’s supposed to prove, right? Why this so? So, because it says: virtue is what the virtuous person does. If I am not virtuous, or cannot claim to be virtuous, I will never know what virtue is, what a virtuous action is. So that’s one difficulty. The other difficulty is that it clashes with modern scientific knowledge. […] Objective data, which is what anyone could verify and hence is seen as universal in terms of time and place. So, I mean, it wipes out everything else that’s based on subjective experience, on knowledge that has accrued through time to a person, through narratives. […] This, of course, the death note for virtue ethics, because what virtue ethics says that only people of a certain kind are qualified to be judges of virtue. So, it’s not something that a neutral third party observer could distinguish.
The logic of virtue ethics lies in the “becoming” virtuous
  • [not tautological nor unscientifical] And what is the explanation? We have referred to developmental moral psychology a lot. Becoming virtuous is a transition. First, we have what we call vicious people, vicious people like doing evil, and they will do it, they enjoy doing evil things. Thankfully, I think they’re outliers. The majority of people would fall between one of the following two categories, first of the acratic person, meaning the person who knows what they should be doing, but nonetheless, experiences a weakness of will, that they’re not able to do what intellectually rationally they know they should be doing. So that’s the second stage. The third stage is the incratic, or continent person who knows what they shouldn’t be doing and does it, but doesn’t really feel good inside. In other words, they’d rather be doing something else. So, because it’s painful for them, it requires a bit of effort to do the good thing. Yeah. And then the last stage is, is the decision of the virtuous person, who does the right thing and wouldn’t do it any other way and actually enjoys doing the right thing.
  • We are living subjects. In other words, we’re changing. And what virtue does, is that it transforms us. Meaning I’ve ever played the violin. Yeah. So I mean, the street musicians, I think they’re doing great. But a professional violinist, they could tell just how is the rendition of this musical piece? I think I’m fairly good at hearing. But certainly, we’re not referring to like biological or medical acoustics here. We’re talking about something else, perception integrated with judgment, etc. So, a concert violinists have changed, have transformed themselves, so much so that they’re aware of the standards of excellence in a way that I am not. I think something similar occurs regarding the moral good. Some people are further ahead in the stages of moral development, they have an appreciation for the finer things.

Why do firms exist?
  • First, we create organizations, because there’s certain activities that you cannot do by ourselves. We need a collaboration of other people, because those objectives are necessary, and they benefit not just us, but everyone else in a given way. […] Firms exist because there are certain objectives which cannot be reached except through collaboration, cooperation and joint deliberation. […] The common good of the firm is work. By work, we understand any productive activity, in so far as it processes this double dimension again, on the one hand the objective dimension, which would be the products, the services, and if you’re efficient at what you’re doing and the use of resources, you’ll be rewarded by the market with profits, that’s part of it as well. […] But more importantly, part of work is the subjective dimension, or the subjective meaning, which refers to the knowledge that we gain by engaging in our work, the skills that we develop, the information that we’re able to acquire, the skills and the virtues that we develop by performing our work. The only caveat proviso is that we have to prioritize the subjective dimension over the objective dimension. Why so? Because the subjective dimension in here is immediately in human beings, you cannot separate a person’s ideas from the person themselves, nor the habits nor the virtues from the person themselves. So, in a nutshell, I think that’s a common good theory of the firm. It simply means that the first objective cannot be reached individually. It’s a collaborative effort. And in that collaborative effort, aka work, we have to prioritize the subjective over the objective dimension.
Embarking humans on the journey towards virtue ethics
  • What can we do instead of offering a list? It is more about understanding a story. It’s understanding a story. You referred earlier, to the Catholic tradition, and the Gospels. These are stories. So, it requires some getting into the story. And then you realize now I understand. And this is very powerful. I do not think the way to influence other people’s behavior certainly is through PowerPoint presentations and graphs, and pie charts and numbers and financial statements. No, they get bored with that. People change their behavior and their conduct through stories. Yeah, you tell them the story with which they can identify. And they realize the pros and cons of the alternatives, of the dilemmas and how there is growth in the characters. That’s how you change their behavior.

Learning to become virtuous
  • Well, there are many ways — one is practice. And the other is instruction. Yeah, I was just going through a few notes yesterday, I’m doing a revision for a journal article, and how do we learn writing articles? So one is through instruction, someone tells us, which I call learning discipline. And another way would be through what Latins call inventio, finding out by ourselves. I think they do complement each other. We learn things by finding out by ourselves. After all, we have this innate curiosity for things and that innate curiosity, whether we like it or not, is oriented toward what is good or what is true, and sometimes we have to take on what other people say. Thats learning discipline.
On “virtue lists”
  • I share with you that disappointment, and in no small degree, and frustration regarding the plethora of virtue lists. You go through them and sometimes, it all boils down to wordplay. With the best of intentions, but in the end, I think it’s wordplay. Why so? Remember that the virtues aren’t values. Virtues aren’t values. Virtue ethics isn’t a supermarket of values. A supermarket shelves stocked with values. So, whatever is valuable to you may not be valuable to me, but let’s put them side by side on the supermarket shelf. And we’re fine. Yeah, you just pick and choose. Virtues need an anchoring. We’ve mentioned one of the anchors: telos, eudaimonia, which is the good life. But it also has another anchor. And I wouldn’t be called essentialist for saying so. But there’s such a thing called human nature.
Internal, external and the common good in practices
  • MacIntyre would come in, he has some sort of a triple level notion of virtue. The very first level refers to what he calls practices. These are socially complex activities, which have internal goods, meaning goods that cannot be achieved or obtained through any other way. And that the standards of excellence, virtue means excellence, could only be known to those who are engaged in such an activity. And, most importantly, the goods of these activities aren’t zero sum they could be shared. These are common goods.[…] But this is just the first level of virtue, because MacIntyre says that we’re not violinists 24/7. No one is. So, virtuous actions have to be embedded in virtuous lives, in virtuous biographies. That means in our lives, I mean no one is just a violinist, they happen to be a son, or daughter, or spouse, girlfriend, the neighbor, etc. And amongst these different roles, we experienced conflicts, should I continue playing the violin when my child has a 39 degree fever? Probably not. […] Then there’s a third level, which for MacIntyre means participating in community traditions. So, as I said, virtuous acts enrich not only the individual, but the whole community. That is something that can be shared somewhere, can be participated in. So, the whole community has a say, because it affects them on the standards of excellence.

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diving deeper

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✿ Good Life and Good Society

Dive deeper into Virtue Ethics and its comparison to other moral systems

Virtue Ethics and Human Enhancement

by Barbro Fröding

Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View

by Christine Swanton

Virtue Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction

by Liezl van Zyl

Virtues in Action: New Essays in Applied Virtue Ethics

by Michael Austin

Christian Ethics and Moral Philosophy: An Introduction to Issues and Approaches

by Craig A. Boyd

Virtue at Work: Ethics for Individuals, Managers, and Organizations

by Geoff Moore

Theology and the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience

by James A. Van Slyke (Editor) et al

Virtue Rediscovered: Deontology, Consequentialism, and Virtue Ethics in the Contemporary Moral Landscape

by Nathan Wood

Alasdair Macintyre: An Intellectual Biography (Catholic Ideas for a Secular World)

by Emile Perreau-Saussine

Thomas Aquinas on Virtue

by Thomas M. Osborne Jr

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