How to Practice Aristotelian Deliberation in Business Organizations

Sandrine Frémeaux and Christian Voegtlin reflect on their article, “Strengthening Deliberation in Business: Learning From Aristotle’s Ethics of Deliberation,” which was published in Business & Society.

We observe that deliberation is receiving increasing attention in organizations that either try to better integrate their employees in decision-making or seek to engage in multi-stakeholder initiatives. At the same time, it is also the subject of much criticism. Indeed, as we discuss in the article, deliberation is vulnerable to ideological conditioning. It can also be misused to encourage artificial debates disconnected from morally higher ends and from the reality of work. Finally, it can be instrumentalized by the most powerful people—not necessarily the most competent or visionary—in order to control peer action and exercise a relationship of domination. We realized that these limitations pose a paradoxical challenge to deliberation in business: while deliberation presumably contributes to more well-informed and legitimate decisions regarding good business practices, its pathologies can produce the opposite result by furthering solely personal interests or business goals.

Sandrine Frémeaux, left, and Christian Voegtlin

Starting from these observations, we set out to propose that an Aristotelian perspective on deliberation can help to address these challenges. This perspective is innovative but also relevant: Aristotle provided an in-depth reflection on deliberation, particularly in Nicomachean Ethics, and the Aristotelian corpus is a foundation of the common good perspective, which offers novel ways of thinking about and practicing deliberation in business organizations.

Embracing an Aristotelian perspective helps to address the critical points mentioned above by revealing the relevance of both individual and collective deliberation, deliberation on the ends and the means, and both decisive and cooperative deliberation. We argue that this Aristotelian ethics of deliberation is a safeguard against the risks of ideological conditioning, false debates, and instrumentalization of power by the strongest people.

There is a reason for this argument: in the Aristotelian perspective, deliberation is more than collective exchanges between individuals. It is both an intimate reflection and a decision-making process. Although common good thinking is sometimes misunderstood as idealistic or excessively demanding, we believe that the Aristotelian perspective is particularly realistic and effective because it respects everyone’s skills and perspectives while encouraging decisive deliberation.

We argue that it is possible to adopt a practical approach that integrates individuals’ personal experiences (their lessons of life) that respects the hierarchy of ends and means and includes the multiplicity of interpretations of the common good. We invite practitioners to experiment with the approach and scholars to shed further light on the conditions that enable and hinder Aristotelian deliberation and investigate the influence of the context in which such deliberation can take place.

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Sandrine Frémeaux and Christian Voegtlin

Dr. Sandrine Frémeaux (pictured) is a professor of management organization and law at Audencia Business School. Dr. Christian Vögtlin is an associate professor in corporate social responsibility at Audencia Business School.

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