There are two opposing points of view presented by Robert C. Solomon and Gilbert Harman on the question of ‘Can Individual Virtue Survive Corporate Pressure?’ The two views can be loosely classified as pitting ‘determinism’ against ‘freewill’. Robert Solomon argues that “whatever the structures, the individual’s choice is free, and therefore his character or virtue is of the utmost importance in creating a good moral tone in the life of a business.” Gilbert Harman, on the other hand, “employs determinist arguments to conclude that no individual can of his own free choice make a difference in a group enterprise”. (Newton, et. al., 2011, p.60)
Robert Solomon objects to the deterministic standpoint, by noting how there is an evasion of ‘responsibility’ by both corporations and its managers for their actions. When corporate executives cite ‘market forces’ as ‘compelling external circumstances’ that hinder sovereignty in their decision making, they are merely exposing their lack of leadership skills. Moreover, as Solomon points, workers in corporations “tend to behave in conformity with the people and expectations that surround them, even when what they are told to do violates their ‘personal morality’.” (Newton, et. al., 2011, p.63) In many ways, what are considered as meritorious within the confines of a corporation is usually seen as vices outside this realm. For example, qualities such as the tendency to blindly obey authority, act in unison with the crown and refusing to take personal responsibility for broader consequences have no value outside the corporate framework. Solomon then goes on to cite eminent philosophers from the past, including Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and David Hume in emphasizing the importance of individual character and virtue. He even refers to ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Confucius to underscore his point. Although these philosophers lived before the industrial era, their ideas hold good across contexts, for they do address the merits of holding firm in the face of ‘external’ compulsions and authorities. In the modern context, the dominant institution for authority and conformity is the business corporation. But the preoccupation of these philosophers is not only whether individual virtue ‘can’ survive external pressure, but also whether it should. And to this question they answer largely in the affirmative.
What Robert Solomon is able to do is present a brand of virtue ethics that adapts the most enduring aspects of empiricism (with its emphasis on character) with more recent insights offered by the social sciences. Hence a viable compromise between agency and environment can be achieved, whereby, a theoretical and practical model of character can be drawn “that emphasizes dynamic interaction both in the formation and in the interplay between personal agency and responsibility on the one hand and social pressures and the environment on the other”. (Newton, et. al., 2011, p.63)