I'm in Melbourne, at the Religion in the Public Square colloquium. Just finished our first day. Dr. Scott Rae from Biola University is the keynote speaker. He's speaking on business ethics.
One thing that provoked my interest today is: is virtuous self-interest possible?
Virtuous self-interest permits Christian business ethics. The purpose of business is profit - that is, self-interest. The point of going into business is to make more return (money!) than expenses. If you don't have a profit motive, you're not in business; you're a charity.
The justification for virtuous self-interest goes like this: Self-interest is not the same as greed. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. Self-interest is the desire to improve yourself.
You can be greedily self-interested - you can want to improve yourself, in an uncontrolled, unlimited way. If you are greedily self-interested, you will use and abuse people to get what you want, with no care for them.
Or, you can be virtuously self-interested: your desire to improve yourself is controlled, guided and limited by principles like honesty, truthfulness, fairness, respect, and so on. If you care virtuously self-interested, you won't use and abuse people to get what you want. On the contrary, you'll look after them. You'll make sure you give them a fair return (a "fair price") for whatever they've given you; you'll keep your promises to them, even if you don't have to; and so on.
You can see how virtuous self-interest permits Christian business ethics. If virtuous self-interest exists, then a Christian should demonstrate Christian character in their business, while also making profit.
My question is: is this possible? Does it make sense? Or is it just playing with words, so as to baptise greed under the phrase "virtuous self-interest"?