This article traces the historical roots of some of our current preoccupations with the ethics of business. It argues that many of the contemporary criteria that we use to evaluate the ethics of business are not new; rather, they date back several centuries. This argument is illustrated by comparing historical and contemporary discussions of three sets of issues: the relationship between ethics and profits, the relationship between private gain and the public good, and the tension between the results of capitalism and the intentions of businessmen. The fact that these tensions are inherent in the nature of capitalism, if not human nature itself, does not make our contemporary concerns or standards any less valid. On the contrary, it underlies their significance. Contemporary discussions of business ethics constitute part of an ongoing moral dialogue with both deep secular and religious roots.
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