Today it is exactly 25 years ago that Prof. Dr. Edgar Karssing made his ‘friendship’ with Nyenrode Business University official. As a graduated economist and philosopher he went to work. He describes young Edgar as a “youngster with an idealistic world view, shoulder-long hair and red sneakers” and didn’t think of himself as the typical Nyenrodian. “When I was offered a permanent contract, I knew that Nyenrode accepted me for who I am and it was then that I cut off my long locks. Which I happened to be tired of already anyways”, he adds with a smile.
So after 17 months of temporary contracts and alternative military service, Karssing signed his permanent employment contract on June 1, 1996. At the same time he went from a long to a short, curly hairdo and found out quickly that just thinking about the ideal world, only inspires so many people. “A wise lady once told me: “Who do you think you are that you can design the ideal world for me?” And that made me think.”
Edgar Karssing was recently appointed as Professor of Philosophy, Business Ethics and Integrity Management. He started his career under Henk van Luijk who he calls his inspiration and who already was his professor during his college days (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen).
Karssing calls Henk van Luijk his intellectual father and describes him as a special friend. He even was the master of ceremonies at Van Luijk’s funeral. The business ethicist can offer you perspectives, can help you think, but the essence must be coming from you, is what Henk van Luijk taught him.
Since the eighties, Henk van Luijk had held the first chair of business ethics in Europe. “He played an important role in the rise of ethics within Europe and made the field of expertise concrete. That is how he, even then, helped shape the concept of Stewardship, which is still a core value of Nyenrode and has been part of the DNA of the educational institute from the very beginning.” Van Luijk established the European Institute for Business Ethics (EIBE) at Nyenrode in 1994, together with the European Business Ethics Network. Besides Karssing, also Ronald Jeurissen, André Nijhof and Sacha Spoor belong to the team.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle takes an eminent place during the classes of Edgar Karssing. And his views on friendship in particular. “Aristotle described friendship as a combination of affection, benevolence, reciprocity and awareness. But friendship also has a foundation. You don’t become friends overnight.” He distinguishes between three categories of friends: the fun friends, with whom you play tennis for example. The beneficial friends, who always come in handy when you are moving. But, when fun and benefits disappear, so does the foundation of your friendship. Then only one category remains: the true friendship, with people who share the same norms and values and who live their lives in a similar way.
“When you want to work together as friends, look at the foundation. Keep asking yourself and each other the question: what exactly is it that connects and inspires us? You can enjoy the benefits of your friendship, you can have fun in your friendship, but the best thing about friendship is striving to do what is right together.”
To the question whether Nyenrode has become a friend over the years, he answers with a smile: “Without a doubt. Colleagues are not only important to keep you on your toes in your work, but also to grab a cup of coffee with. And especially during the past year it has become obvious how much you can really miss your colleagues”.
The space and freedom he is been given for more than 25 years now is what makes this friendship so valuable to him. “I don’t like doing nothing. I enjoy teaching, writing, reading, consulting companies, leading external trainings and workshops and all of that is possible at Nyenrode.” Striving to do what is right, the ethics, that is for Karssing the icing on the cake and what makes his employment a true friendship.
Looking at the future, the newly appointed professor takes a big leap back in time. To the year 1759 to be exact, to Adam Smith. Smith, a moral philosopher, is the founder of modern economics. To Edgar Karssing he is a huge source of inspiration who helps him shape his chair of philosophy, professional ethics and integrity management in the years to come.
“He has only written two books: an economics and an ethics books. That is to keep things simple”, he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
“I want to use Smith to study how moral competences can be enforced, which ties in with the theme of my own, very first book. Smith describes in his ethics book a unique way of how our moral compass develops itself, which has hardly received any attention in the philosophy. But what he says can now actually be substantiated with modern knowledge from the evolutionary psychology, brain science and behavioral economics. With these contemporary insights, I want to give Adam Smith’s story an update. Which I also want to translate into ways of how we can foster the morality in people.”
Adam Smith was extremely critical towards the commercial society, while simultaneously embracing it. “He had a fiery debate with philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau about the matter, who rejected a market society as such completely. So what can we learn from their debate in this day and age and what does it mean for the compass of accountants, controllers and managers?”
“Smith also talks about creating circumstances to be able to do the right thing. Or at least not getting in the way of it. That is my third theme. I like to use the metaphor of the gardener in that perspective. The gardener creates the conditions for a beautiful garden. So does that guarantee you a beautiful garden? No. But as a gardener you can do your utmost best to put in the right foundation. And whether you look at society as a whole or at organizations, how can you guarantee fertile soil?”
Edgar Karssing will give his inaugural lecture in the spring of 2022. But what it is about remains a secret. For now...
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