Reorienting Management Education: From the Homo Economicus to Human Dignity

31 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2011

See all articles by Claus Dierksmeier

Claus Dierksmeier

Global Ethic Institute; Humanistic Management Network

Date Written: February 21, 2011


The recent economic crises added fuel to the debate about the social impact of the teachings of economics and of management theory. After about 200 years of imitating the methods of the natural sciences and their thoroughly positivistic approach, and after decades of relegating any and all moral considerations to the margins of business theory, often belittling its tenets as not amenable to quantitative models, now, arguably, a paradigm shift is under way. We are seeing an ever stronger (re-)orientation of economic and business theory towards the social sciences and the humanities, and we are witnessing the return of qualitative methods and ethics to economics. In the wake of these developments, a new economic anthropology will be needed. Management education, having inched away from the homo economicus-model for several years now, is about to cut loose fully from its former moorings in the mechanistic paradigm of the past. Instead of tracking the behavioralistic depictions of human behavior as a mere pursuit of profit-maximization, a new course has to be chartered.

In what follows, I argue that management theory should set sail towards the shores of a humanistic paradigm, centered on the idea of human dignity. To understand human agency we must penetrate the normative dimension of the human mind. Descriptions of economic behavior match reality only when they are observant to the moral prescriptions that inform said behavior. Not incidentally, therefore, philosophical reflections on human nature and values have been at the forefront of economic thinking for more than two thousand years, from ancient times up to the late 18th century. This wisdom of the ages, I hold, we must not overlook. I will unfold this thesis in favor of a new management theory centered on the idea of human dignity in the following steps: (1) I investigate how in 19th century the introduction of mechanistic models of human behavior, like the homo economicus-theorem, economic thinking impacted and impaired modern management education. (2) Then, in order to prepare the philosophical grounds for a future humanistic management education, I will glean the central normative tenets of a humanistic ethics from the history of philosophy. (3) Last, I investigate the possible contributions of a more humanistic pedagogy, centered on the idea of human dignity, to reorienting education in today's business schools.

Suggested Citation

Dierksmeier, Claus, Reorienting Management Education: From the Homo Economicus to Human Dignity (February 21, 2011). Humanistic Management Network, Research Paper Series No. 13-05, Available at SSRN: or

Claus Dierksmeier (Contact Author)

Global Ethic Institute ( email )

Waldhäuser Strasse 23
Tübingen, 72076

Humanistic Management Network ( email )

St. Gallen


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