Religious aphorisms relevant to business ethics
November 8, 2008 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for aphorisms, from a variety of religious traditions, relevant to business ethics.

Do you have any suggestions that meet both of these criteria?
1) An individual could easily draw inspiration from the aphorism for his/her ethical behavior (in the context of business)
2) The aphorism is found in a sacred text (or text central to the religious tradition).

Here are two examples that epitomize what I am looking for (I’m especially--but, not exclusively--interested in examples from non-Jewish, non-Christian traditions):

Christian: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” Matthew 16: 26 (Oxford RSV)

Jewish: “You shall not… put a stumbling block before the blind…” Leviticus 19:14 (Oxford RSV)
posted by langedon to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm, not really an aphorism, but this parable has some good business wisdom in it. I'm not entirely sure what the "correct" or orthodox reading of it is, but I've always taken it to mean that if you negotiate a fair deal be happy with it, even if others are lucky and get more.

I see it as a response to your (1) as follows: If your payment for your work is fair, then do your work honorably and enjoy it. Don't worry about others who cut corners, work less, cheat, are greedy, and make more.
posted by losvedir at 12:01 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I listened to the BBC on WNYC late last night and heard a wonderful interview with two brothers who together wrote The Puritan Gift, which blames the rise of a professional management class for the growing separation between how a business is run and what it does, resulting in a host of ills. I imagine the text itself could be full of aphorisms, but other interviews would likely contain at least a few. I don't remember any offhand because I was half-asleep while listening.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:07 PM on November 8, 2008

Ben Franklin? Not theological in any sense, but he's solidly Protestant and pro-business, and among the more quotable figures I can think of.
posted by puckish at 12:30 PM on November 8, 2008

From the Koran

[The Examined One 60.8] Allah does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of (your) religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely Allah loves the doers of justice.

[The Cow 2.275] Those who swallow down usury cannot arise except as one whom Shaitan has prostrated by (his) touch does rise. That is because they say, trading is only like usury; and Allah has allowed trading and forbidden usury. To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, he shall have what has already passed, and his affair is in the hands of Allah; and whoever returns (to it)-- these are the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it

[The Women 4.161] And their taking usury though indeed they were forbidden it and their devouring the property of people falsely, and We have prepared for the unbelievers from among them a painful chastisement.

[The Children of Israel 17.35] And give full measure when you measure out, and weigh with a true balance; this is fair and better in the end.

[The Accessions 8.41] And know that whatever thing you gain, a fifth of it is for Allah and for the Apostle and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you believe in Allah and in that which We revealed to Our servant, on the day of distinction, the day on which the two parties met; and Allah has power over all things.

From the Bible

Leviticus 19:13
You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.

Proverbs 11:1
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.

Proverbs 16:8
Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.

Colossians 4:1
Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

James 5:4
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
posted by pseudonick at 1:04 PM on November 8, 2008

One more from the Koran

[The Holy Prophet 11.85-86] And, O my people! give full measure and weight fairly, and defraud not men their things, and do not act corruptly in the land, making mischief: What remains with Allah is better for you if you are believers, and I am not a keeper over you.
posted by pseudonick at 1:09 PM on November 8, 2008

Here's one from the Tao Te Ching (J. H. Macdonald translation), chapter 17, although it may be more "wise leadership" than "business ethics:"
The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.

If you don't trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:47 AM on November 10, 2008

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