Justice Within the Workplace

By Robert Hughes '20 | October 29, 2018

Dr. Daniel Finn Speaks

On October 22, Dr. Daniel Finn gave a talk on “Justice Within the Workplace: The Power of Structures, not Persons.” Dr. Finn is a Professor of Theology at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota where he teaches economics and Christian ethics. He also serves as the director of the True Wealth of Nations research project at the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.

The evening event with Dr. Finn was hosted by Saint Anselm College’s Center for Ethics in Business and Governance, who regularly holds events related to social responsibility, stewardship, and sustainability. The Center works to promote education and ethics amongst New Hampshire businesses, governmental leaders, students, and the general public. Funding for the Ethics in Governance Speaker Series comes from a $2 million endowment from the N.H. Secretary of State awarded to Saint Anselm College in 2013.

In keeping with the mission of the Center for Ethics in Business and Governance, Dr. Finn’s presentation addressed the idea of justice in the workplace, and the role that structures play in aiding or obstructing justice. Dr. Finn addressed the numerous moral challenges and dilemmas that social structures pose to the workplace environment and to life’s broader stage, more specifically the risks and rewards that social structures impose on members of an organization to speak up against or ignore an injustice.

Dr. Finn shed light on the role of risk-reward relationships in workplace injustices around the world. He proposed three theories about the role of individuals within social structures: the collectivist perspective, which Finn rejects, states that people are compelled to do things by social structures; the methodical individualist approach, which Finn does not subscribe to either, emphasizes the role of individuals in structures. The critical realist perspective, which Dr. Finn believes in, views persons within organizations as moral agents: structures have influence on an individual’s conscience, but ultimately it is the individual who makes decisions.

The presentation highlighted the importance of individual agency in business and governmental organizations. People who refuse to stand up against immoral practices and injustices help perpetuate them. Dr. Finn’s presentation is especially relevant with the upsurge of people speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace. Dr. Finn’s model provides a template for evaluating reasons why one might or might not come forward with a complaint and the reasons why management might choose to further investigate the claim.  

Dr. Finn successfully led an affordable housing campaign in five central Minnesota cities and has lectured globally, including in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. He is also distinguished for having been president of the Society of Christian Ethics, the Association for Social Economics, and the Catholic Theological Society of America. He has written a number of books and articles about the application of Christian ethics in governance, economics, and in business, including: Christian Economic Ethics: History and Implications; The Moral Ecology of Markets: A Framework for Assessing Justice in Economic Life; and The Ethics and Economics of Market Complicity: Moral Agency in a Global Economy.