Monday, February 8, 2016

The Spirit of Enterprise

In a recent interview, MSBA professor Max Torres describes what his course 'The Spirit of Enterprise' is all about.

Michael Novak has written that the virtue of enterprise requires two ingrained habits, one intellectual and the other moral. The intellectual habit is the ability to see the possibilities of enterprise, to see what people need and how to provide it to them profitably. The moral habit is the ability to push through obstacles, to surmount and overcome them. Many will recognize these as the cardinal virtues of Prudence and Fortitude, which require the virtues of Justice and Temperance to operate. This course aims to integrate contemporary business practice with classical wisdom. It seeks to broaden the vistas of MSBA students to encompass the full range of human goods at stake in managerial decision-making beyond those of mere utility and pleasure.

While our graduates learn to get things done efficiently, they also learn that there is a right way and wrong way of doing so. Successful enterprise is animated by a generous and rightly-ordered spirit that includes, but is not limited to, effectiveness. One way of expressing this is to say that participation in enterprise requires moral virtues, which are something about which the occidental tradition (not exclusively) has much to say. Indeed, recent intellectual theorists from Peter Drucker to Francis Fukuyama and beyond have confirmed this insight by underscoring the economic necessity of integrity-based trust.

Our methodology will be to utilize headline events in a case-like fashion to learn from other people’s too-public experience. The news is rich with practical lessons that highlight what has been said above. Additionally, through our reading of Catholic social teaching, we will consider some of the big issues such as the conflict between capitalism and socialism, the morality or immorality of profit and private property, and the existence or absence of limits on behavior. We will address questions germane to functional areas of business such as finance, human resource management, marketing and sales, manufacturing, and international business. Finally, we will consider morally-sensitive industries such as Health Care, Pharmaceuticals and Media, as well as some basic moral technology, e.g., how to resolve moral dilemmas.

In order to make the exercise practical, students will apply their knowledge and these “soft” skills in research projects drawn from today’s headlines. For instance, how is the spirit of enterprise rightly, or wrongly, manifest in recent events at Volkswagen, FIFA, Uber and Chipotle, and by what standards? What principles apply, and why? Ultimately, how do business practices contribute to, or detract from the raison d’ĂȘtre of enterprise: human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. Any program dedicated to being a force for good cannot prescind from such inquiries.

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