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  • 8/10/2019 Confucian Ethics and Japanese Management Practices


    Confucian Ethics and Japanese Management PracticesAuthor(s): Marc J. DollingerSource: Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 7, No. 8 (Aug., 1988), pp. 575-584Published by: SpringerStable URL: .Accessed: 12/01/2015 13:23

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  • 8/10/2019 Confucian Ethics and Japanese Management Practices


    Confucian Ethics and Japanese

    Management Practices Marcj. Dolling*

    ABSTRACT. This paper proposes that an important method

    for understanding the ethics of Japanese management is the

    systematic study of its Confucian traditions and the writingsof Confucius. Inconsistencies and dysfunction in Japaneseethical and managerial behavior can be attributed to

    contradictions in Confucius' writings and inconsistencies

    between the Confucian code and modern realities. Attention

    needs to be directed to modern Confucian philosophy since,

    historically Confucian thought has been an early warningsystem for impending change.

    There seems to be little doubt that the management

    practices of Japanese corporations will have, and


    an important impact on management

    thinking and practice in the United States and the

    rest of the world (Abegglen and Stalk, 1986). In the

    academic arena, papers are being published and

    research programs launched to determine the nature


    of thephenomenon.

    Amajor portion


    the curricula development effort in 'International

    Business' is directed toward the study of, and con

    tact with, the Japanese firm and trading company.

    Japanese firms and the Japanese government have

    established academic centers within the universityenvironment to help foster cooperative projects and

    mutual understanding.Questions have naturally arisen concerning the

    adoption of Japanese ways and whether or not non

    Japanese firms can successfully implement techniques

    which have been proved in another culture (e.g.,Tsurumi, 1978; Buckley and Mirza, 1985; Dillon,

    1983; Sethi et al, 1984). The debate over the issues of

    Dr. MarcJ. Dollinger

    is an AssistantProfessor of Management


    Indiana University. He received his PhD. from Lehigh Uni

    versity in 1983. Hiscurrent research isfocused

    on the strategic

    management of smallfirms and entrepreneurship

    convergence and divergence places the question in

    an academic framework and the evidence is thor

    oughly mixed (Dunphy, 1987). It is unclear fromboth theoretical development and empirical findings

    whether or not the Japanese (and therefore other

    East Asian economies) are becomingmore like the

    West or vice versa.

    Even though references to cultureas a factor in

    the convergence debate are ubiquitous, a gap existsin our understanding of the ethics of Japanese cul

    ture. Most Westerners, including business academics,have had litde or no exposure to original


    materials (in translation). There has been consider

    able reliance on secondary sources for interpretationsand representations of the cultural phenomena. For

    example, Ouchi (1981) offers a set of managerial

    prescriptions and concludes that both East and West

    areconverging on

    a Z form of organization which is

    not dependent on Japanese culture for its existence.

    Abegglen and Stalk (1985) briefly summarize the

    theory that Japanese managerial and industrial practices are embedded in the culture, and then discount

    the theory's influence. Hamada (1985) rejects TheoryZ and attempts to build a model of the corporationwhich integrates corporate practices, Japanese cul

    ture and the economic environment. Jaeger and

    Baliga (1985) attribute the effectiveness of control

    systems in Japanese organizations to the shared

    values and culture. All of these authors, and others

    (see Dunphy,1987, for a voluminous


    their interpretation of the culture of Japan and their

    enactment of it. Since most Western readers have no

    direct experience of Japanese ethics and society, its

    philosophical and historical roots, the reader is

    forced to accept reconstructions of Japanese culture

    rather than the logic-in-use (Kaplan, 1964).The purposes of this paper are twofold. One

    design is to offer original material from one of the

    Journal ofBusiness Ethics 7 (1988) 575-584.? 1988 byKluwer Academic Publishers.

    This content downloaded from 20 on Mon, 12 Jan 20 15 13:23:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  • 8/10/2019 Confucian Ethics and Japanese Management Practices


    576 Marcj. Dollinger

    major sources of Japanese ethical tradition, the

    Analects of Confucius, and illustrate its contributions

    in the context of Japanese managerial and industrial

    practices. The Analects are regardedas the most

    reliable source of Confucius' writings. In the Ana

    lects, Confuciusset


    and introduced themajor themes of Chinese philosophy. The


    important of these themes is humanism. Confucius

    wrote of the importance of the individual, the

    character of human nature and the value of devel

    oping oneself through learning. He wrote of the

    perfectability of human beings and the need for

    constant renovation of the spirit in order to achieve

    that perfection.The second purpose is to offer the hypothesis that

    much of the contradictory results obtained in re

    searching the convergence-divergence question canbe explained by the contradictory nature of Japanesetradition. This approach may be termed an exercise

    in hermeneutics. Hermeneutical method relies on

    textual interpretation and emphasizes the historical

    dimension of research. The researcher interprets first

    level-constructs found in the text material and trans

    lates these into symbolic representations (Steffy and

    Grimes, 1986). Hermeneutical exegesis is one of a

    number of methodologies that fall into the generalclassification of subjective, qualitative research,



    idiographic perspective (Morey and

    Luthans, 1984).

    Japan is a complex society combining Buddhism,Shintoism and Confucianism with the artifacts of

    modernization. The contributions of Confucian

    thoughtare directed at the ethical aspects of human

    interaction, leadingsome to call Japan a Confucian

    society (Adler et al, 1986; MacFarquhar, 1980).

    Japanese Confucianism has at its core four distinct,

    thoughnot mutually exclusive (or consistent)


    in its most essentialform,


    ism is a humanistic philosophy and the human beingis regarded with dignity and respect. Second, Confu

    cianism inculcates the values of harmony with its

    concurrent emphasis on loyalty, group and familyidentification, and the submergence of the individ

    ual. Righteousness and the acts of righteous individ

    uals within the framework of loyalty providea third

    dimension. Lastly, there is the integrating theme of

    the morally superior person, the Chun-Tzu, who

    leads by example and is devoted to the other Con

    fucian values. It is through the Chun-Tzu that the

    ethical system comes alive and is actuated. The

    Chun-Tzu is the leader of the Confucian society.Before beginning,

    a note of caution is offered. The

    purposes here are not to subsume all managerial

    phenomena undera cultural imperative model. Cul


    notthe only determinant of managerial

    behavior. Models which posit cultureas the single

    cause of managerial behavior and practice have been

    critiqued by Kagono et al. (1985) and theseare seen

    as insufficient to explain all Japanese business phenomena. Indeed the empirical question of whether


    not Confucian societies differ more among them

    selves than with theWest has not been settled. There

    is no suggestion that societiescannot

    change insome

    ways while maintaining underlying traditions. This

    is in fact exactly the Japanese experience, reflected in

    one of Japan's most famous slogans of the modernization era, Eastern ethics, Western science (toyo


    do toku, seiyo no gei ). However, although causalitycannot be proved, two of the three criteria of

    causalityare present, covariance and time prece

    dence (Selltiz et