PHILOSOPHY AT COPENHAGEN BUSINESS SCHOOL

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1 PHILOSOPHY AT COPENHAGEN BUSINESS SCHOOL by Ole Thyssen research professor, dr. phil Dept. Of Management, Politics and Philosophy Copenhagen Business School In 1986, a position in general systems theory was advertised at the Dept. of Computer Science at the CBS. Three persons applied all of them with a background in philosophy. And, much to the surprise of everyone, all three was employed. In a period of time, when is was difficult for philosophers to be employed at the universities, the CBS was conducting a more informal way of employing, arguing that if you have a well qualified person, you should be able to find a position to him or her, while the universities had a more strictly formal procedure, with much less flexibility. This, of course, is also due to the fact that at Danish universities, positions are the end of the line, whereas an employment at a business School is often considered an intermediate position, opening for other possibilities in business or in public administration. For a philosopher, a position at a business school was unusual, because in Denmark, as opposed to the US, universities and business schools are not integrated and, on the contrary have for many years been both hostile and ignorant of each other. When I finished my formal education as a philosopher, many possibilities were open to me, but in my own mind a business school was not one of them. Business schools had a reputation of offering practical and untheoretical solutions to practical business problems, whereas the humanities were proud of occupying themselves with purely theoretical, and very unpractical, issues. This opposition has been weakened during the 80'ies. Much to my own surprise, I had been invited to give presentations in business contexts, as part of the new idea of management education. Whereas it was possible to receive a formal education as a lawyer or a doctor, no education as a manager, as opposed to at specialist, was available. Therefore, both inside the companies, and in specialized management or consultant firms, in-service courses and seminars were implemented, teaching not only technical stuff, but also philosophical themes such as knowledge management, ethics, cultural theory and even aesthetics. Philosophy became fashionable. And in the mid-80'ies, an Academy of Applied Philosophy was established in Copenhagen with the intention of bridging the gap between the universities, business and public administration. The idea was to offer management courses, developing a new agenda of the tasks of a manager. This was much in line with a global trend of redefining the role of private business. In the 60'ies and the 70'ies, the cultural climate was rather hostile to business and management,

2 2 with Marxism in the center of the Zeitgeist. Managers were not allowed to show pride of themselves on the public scene, only in their own fora. With Marxism gradually weakening and ultimately disappearing completely, the scene was set for a re-evaluation of management. The very idea of doing business was culturally accepted, the new-rich yuppies were very visible, and the managers moved from being tolerated outcasts to being modern heroes, developing a new sense of cultural pride. Without this background, I doubt than a philosopher would ever have considered it possible to apply for a position at a business school. And even now, fourteen years later, I am often asked what a philosopher is doing at a business school, as if the simple answer, "teaching philosophy", is not possible. For philosophy is not considered part of what could be of interest to the business world. It must be admitted, that by employing three philosophers, the CBS had a solution, but was still short of a problem. In the beginning, the philosophical capacity was used in an unorganized manner, that is, the three of us were teaching philosophy of science, cultural theory, and the like, and were used as jokers in many different contexts. But five years ago, this changed. In the first place, the CBS accepted an international evaluation of some of its departments, and the philosophical group got very high rations. Whether deserved or not, these rations were a fact, increasing the reputation of the group. And when a larger Department was planned, Philosophy was accepted as a subject parallel to Management and Politics in a new Department. Behind this position This position was also supported by the fact that the idea of having a formal education was being launched. Using the new won reputation of the philosophical group, my colleague, Professor Hans Siggaard Jensen, used his imagination and his political capacity to make this idea acceptable in the agencies of CBS. Programs combining Economics with other subjects such as language, law or computer science are quite normal at the CBS. The model for combining Economics and philosophy was taken from Britain. In the good old Victorian era, British civil servants were taught programs combing economy and law with philosophy and classical studies, so that they could maintain their cultural identity while serving in the Commonwealth. Hans Siggaard Jensen had also been active in developing Ph.D. programs at the business school, so that the teaching could be more research-based and not so exclusively practical as earlier. This change in the very identity of the business school, from a very practical institution offering "tools" and "tool boxes" to business, to a more scientific institution, combining a private and a public perspective, so that not only private business, but also public

3 3 administration is served, has revealed a profound gap between the practicians, who considers theory and, even more so, philosophy to be "hot air", and the advocates for applied theory, accepting the practical perspective of a business school, but at the same time arguing that without integration in the global research system, no business schools could fulfil its obligations in modern society. A profound difference between the university and the business school students is the practical interest of the latter, having only occasionally an interest in pure theory. The idea of introducing a combination program of philosophy and Economics activated this diving line in the competent agencies of the CBS. And it was only with a narrow margin, 7 against 6, that the program was finally accepted in the faculty, having been scrutinized to the last detail in the Ministry of Education. But such is the beauty of the democratic system, that when a majority has accepted a proposal, the institution is supporting it one hundred percent. So, as the first business school in the world, CBS started a full philosophy program, transcending the more isolated courses in business ethics and the like. Still, opinions are divided as to whether the future Masters of Philosophy and Economics will have good or bad prospects of employment. Of course, no fixed type of employment is waiting on them, such as is the case with doctors or lawyers. It is up to the candidates themselves to define the focus of their career. But in modern society, flexibility, innovation and learning are normal expectations to highly educated employees. And the idea of a predefined career pattern has in many areas of employment become obsolete. People with broad and creative minds, trained in philosophical argumentation from Ancient to Modern times, and still having a background in traditional business school teaching should be able to find occupation. The general argument for the development of philosophy at CBS is that the competence given in this combination of business and philosophy is particularly well suited to both business and public administration in modern society. In times of high innovation and, therefore, high oblivion, any curriculum is quickly made obsolete by the development of new knowledge. It might therefore be useful to present a general program of reflection, making the students able to reflect in general. The medium for such reflection is, of course, philosophy which develops and tests models of thinking and has an experience of 25 centuries of doing so. So the students are trained in philosophical thinking, developing their sense of arguing and discussing. What specific use then will give this capacity is still open. I could imagine a great variety of different employments, especially in the mass media, in information sections and in

4 4 general management. At the same ting, training in handling themes such as research problems, environmental questions, ethical concerns and the fusion of economical and political rationality in what has been named "the society of negotiation" is giving the student a broader vision than normal experts, being trained in only one kind of rationality and concern. Very often, just being an expert is simply not enough, because experts, with a background in, say, biology, will quickly experience that the professional competence must be integrated in an economic and political setting, combining different kind of criteria, so that the idea of a "purely objective" solution must often be abandoned. In the same fashion, managers operating only with economical parameters and boasting of being very "realistic" will often, as a matter of fact, behave in a very unrealistic manner, because they are abstracting from non-economical parameters such as ethics, political concerns and the like. So the education is attracting young persons who have a keen interest in philosophy, yet at the same time wanting to make practical use of the knowledge. The curriculum is interesting, ambitious, and very broad. When it was finally accepted, an experienced manager claimed, with something resembling envy, that this was the kind of education he would have loved to have when he was young. The curriculum is covering traditional business school subjects such as Microeconomic and Behavior, General Business Economy, Organization and Management, Statistics and - a little outside the beaten track - a course in the history of the firm, dealing with the relations between business and society. The philosophical subjects have a bias towards social and ethical theory, even if rationality and logic are also taught. At the Bachelor level, a very extensive course is taught in the History of Philosophy and Economical Theory, with three lectures a week and to additional lectures concentrating on text readings, so that the students are forced to examine the "machinery" of the texts. This course runs for four semesters and the students are presented with first hands readings of the great philosophers from Plato to Habermas plus basic economical movements. Another important subject is Rationality, covering logic and theory or argumentation, game theory, strategy, but also more holistic oriented types of rationality, which breaks with the traditions of isolating f.i. the economical type of rationality and trying to optimize this criterion at the expense of any other kind of value. Political, ecological and ethical subject matters are also introduced, and so is the philosophy of language and management. Also courses in Modern Theory of Society and in Methodology are given.

5 5 SUBJECTS AT BACHELOR LEVEL, 1. AND 2. YEAR Philosophical and economical theory Rationality Values Philosophy of language and management Modern theory of society Methodology On the Masters level, we only have the experience of one year, where the students are being taught the following courses: SUBJECTS AT MASTER LEVEL, 1.YEAR The possibility of philosophy after postmodernism Reflexive praxis The development of the International Firm Management of Research and Technology Aesthetic communication Strategic Management in the Society of Negotiation So, all the three dimensions of philosophy, knowledge, ethics and aesthetics, are covered by this education. But with some qualifications: Instead of discussing only the problems of pure knowledge, we discuss the problems of knowledge management - not just to define the different kind of knowledge, in the tradition

6 6 of librarians, but reflecting on what is knowledge, what is research based knowledge, and what kind of problems emerge when an organization uses such knowledge and has to operate in a field of knowledge surplus, turbulent innovation, network relations and high costs. Instead of just defining what is god and bad, and what are the relations between the good and the just, we discuss why ethics and values are becoming pertinent to an organization, what specific kind of ethical problems arises in organizations, and how is an organization capable of defining and handling its own values, facing the fact that values in society as a whole are highly important as areas of increased sensitivity, but at the same time given over to individual reflection. And instead of just defining what is beauty and art, we discuss how an organization are using aesthetic effects, namely the surplus of meaning inherent in a sensual arrangement, in areas such as image, design, advertisement, rhetoric and architecture. The future will show whether this competence will be in great demand. To me, there is no doubt that our students will be extraordinary well qualified to meet the challenges of modern society.

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