Natural Law and Business Ethics: A Blossoming Relationship?

Helen Alford, O.P.

Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas – Angelicum

After a brief look at some of the history of business ethics, the paper will focus on three issues: 1) some attempts to bring Thomism and natural law to influence the field of business ethics before the financial crisis of 2008-2009; 2) developments in the field subsequently to the crisis, with a particular focus on the rise of interest in virtue ethics in the main business ethics journals and some of the key players in this; 3) some potential future developments. Perhaps the most important set of developments influencing these changes is the combination of environmental and social crises with emerging results from the fields of genetics, neuroscience and behavioural economics – a kind of “pincer action” that is driving business practitioners and theorists, and then also economists, to reconsider the importance of the tradition of natural law and an ethics of virtue, sometimes in an interreligious perspective.

Helen Alford studied Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Cambridge, and worked in various manufacturing companies including Michelin Tyre. After finishing a PhD thesis on “human-centred technology,” she joined the Dominicans and as a result was sent to teach at the Dominican University in Rome, the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum). She is now an Ordinary Professor of Economics and Ethics and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences; between 2017 and 2021 she was also Vice Rector in the same university. Her research mostly looks at the role and impact of ethics and Christian social thought in the field of management, sustainability and, increasingly, artificial intelligence. She is an Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a Consultor to the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development and Senior Adviser to the “Blueprint for Better Business” based in the UK.