Institute of the Weltethos Foundation
at the University of Tübingen

First slide

Award for paper on Responsible Business Education

The authors of the paper “Leaving the Road to Abilene: A Pragmatic Approach to Addressing the Normative Paradox of Responsible Management Education” received an outstanding academic recognition on Feb. 10. Their joint article would allow people to better understand themselves, others and society, according to the editors-in-chief of the Journal of Business Ethics. In particular, the jury said, the paper’s pedagogical approach, which introduces the teaching concept developed and implemented by Dr. Christopher Gohl at the Global Ethic Institute, is reason for the inaugural R. Edward Freeman Journal of Business Ethics Philosophy in Practice Best Paper Award. This award will be given annually, beginning in 2022, for the best paper that uses a philosophical approach to examine and improve business practice.

It is early in the morning of February 10, 2022, when Prof. Dirk Moosmayer of Kedge Business School in France and his co-authors Prof. Sandra Waddock (Carroll School of Management, Boston College), Prof. Long Wang (California Polytechnic State University), Prof. Matthias Hühn (Saint Vincent College), Prof. Claus Dierksmeier (University of Tübingen), and Dr. Christopher Gohl of the Global Ethic Institute receive the happy news by email. They are being recognized for their joint paper with the first R. Edward Freeman Journal of Business Ethics Philosophy in Practice Best Paper Award. “Your paper’s analysis offers something that anyone can use to understand themselves, others, and society more generally in a variety of contexts,” the award announcement reads. And, “Empirical work should thoroughly describe and interpret the meaning of observations, as well as offer insights into future practice, and for this and other reasons the educational purpose in your paper made it stand out.”


In their paper, the authors address a fundamental, often described problem of management education at universities: Business educators want to promote social values, social responsibility and ethical habits through their education. But they often fail because they use theories that legitimize egoistic behavior and therefore have a counterproductive effect. This is a classic so-called Abilene paradox, argues the now-appreciated article: Collectively, management education is on its way to a goal that no one individually wants to achieve.

To resolve the paradox, the authors combine two approaches developed by Prof. Claus Dierksmeier and Dr. Christopher Gohl at the Global Ethic Institute. Dierksmeier is responsible for the argument that common economic theories understand freedom only quantitatively. Freedom then means being able to choose from as many options as possible. However, this understanding systematically excludes the qualitative question of what constitutes good and responsible options in the first place. Only when economic theories understand freedom in qualitative terms can ethical reflection on the responsibility of managers and companies become a natural part of economic practice.

Claus Dierksmeier, founding director of the Global Ethic Institute between 2012 and 2018, had with his work “Qualitative Freedom. Selbstbestimmung in weltbürgerlicher Verantwortung” laid the foundation for this first step of the argumentation. It was also he who, at the end of 2012, brought the Kolleg:innen together to discuss the moral costs of teaching egoistic theories. Along with Christopher Gohl, he first won over Dirk Moosmayer to the idea of a symposium at the 2013 Academy of Management (AOM) conference in Florida, when Moosmayer, working in China at the time, was staying at his parents’ home in Wurmlingen near Tübingen. Moosmayer, in turn, recruited other experts on the topic, Matthias Hühn and Long Wang, after visits to Hamburg and Hong Kong. Dierksmeier was joined by Sandra Waddock from Boston. In early August 2013, the perspectives all came together for the first time at the AOM conference.

It was then Prof. Waddock, a multi-award-winning pioneer of responsible business, who encouraged a joint publication. She recommended that Christopher Gohl’s contribution on dialogic orientation to business purposes be expanded and understood as a second step toward resolving the paradox. This was an important encouragement, firstly for the Global Ethic Institute, which is still in the process of being established. And secondly for Christopher Gohl to concretize his pragmatistic approach of dialogical learning theoretically and practically as a model of Responsible Management Education. Today, this approach shapes the teaching of the Global Ethic Institute, which Gohl coordinates.

In the second step, the paper accordingly ties in with Dierksmeier’s recommendation to recognize freedom beyond the choice between a set of already existing options also in the evaluation of their purposes. This evaluation, according to Gohl, can already be practiced in teaching. Dialogic teaching should be understood here as a process of inquiry in which students mediate the focus of practical problems with the body of existing and diverse theories. This approach draws on the ideas of pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.

According to Dewey’s theory of action, we either solve problems using the routines of habitual action. Or we have to get creative because the routines no longer work.
When we become creative, such as acting entrepreneurially and innovatively, new knowledge emerges. This is, as Dewey’s epistemology describes it, a learning process in which actors try out their freedom and learn through feedback from others.
And in this way they learn to use their freedom effectively and responsibly, according to Dewey’s ethics. They cannot avoid asking themselves what kind of people they want to be and what kind of world they want to live in.
In short, they must develop a qualitative view of the possibilities of their (thus responsible) freedom. Which fulfills Dierksmeier’s recommendation and could thus be a contribution to the resolution of the Abilene paradox.

Fig. 1: Figure of the essay “Leaving the Road to Abilene:
A Pragmatic Approach to Addressing the Normative Paradox of Responsible Management Education.”


In their citation, the award’s jury indicates that it is this condensation, above all, that makes the paper a real learning opportunity for people. A teaching and learning approach that has been practiced at the Global Ethic Institute for years. Under the leadership of Director Prof. Dr. Dr. Ulrich Hemel, it has been further developed, deepened and refined since 2018 as “plurality-capable identity learning for self- and world responsibility,” for example through a “method case” for learning ethical language and judgment skills. In this form, it shapes the university’s teaching program today and is the standard for the selection of external lecturers. It is also expressed in the Institute’s World Citizen School (“ACT. LEARN. CHANGE. Learning to change the world through collective action.”) and the Executive Education Program for the “Global Ethic Ambassadors”.

Fig. 2: The teaching and learning understanding at the Global Ethic Institute (model from 2017).

Together with the authors, the entire Global Ethic Institute, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, is delighted about the award. For Dr. Christopher Gohl, however, it is a special encouragement to continue his John Dewey-inspired research on learning processes in business: “The award’s patron, R. Edward Freeman, founded the stakeholder perspective with his school. This also has its intellectual roots in pragmatism. And it is becoming increasingly important as an alternative to the shareholder perspective.” According to Gohl, this applies not only to business and economic ethics, but also to practitioners. One example, he said, is the U.S. Business Roundtable’s sensational 2019 statement, which, advised by Freeman, adopted profit maximization as a corporate purpose: “Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans.'”

“At our institute, you can learn what this change of course means for the research, teaching and practice of responsible management,” Gohl said. “But rethinking takes time, takes places, takes openness and curiosity. As pleased as I am about the recognition of our 2019 essay, I know for sure: We all still have a lot to learn.”