Ghislain Deslandes

Ghislain Deslandes, DBA, Ph. D. in philosophy, is Associate Professor at ESCP Europe (Paris Campus) and Academic Director of the Specialized Master programme in Media Management.

A graduate of ESCP Europe's Media  MS (class of 1994), he started his career in the press, with Les Echos - a daily -, before his nomination as chief editor of Diginews, a publisher of  CD-Roms and digital news media. He then was associate director of Coplanet (a Web Agency within the Fi System  Group) during 5 years, counselling such groups as Alsthom, Vivendi Havas Publishing, Société Générale, Bertelsmann and Sanofi-Aventis as to their online strategies. Lastly, he became chief internet  editor for  EMAP (now Mondadori France) and CEO of Worldex Media, a publisher in the professional press, from 2003 to late 2007.

In 2000, he obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. His thesis draws a comparative analysis of Kierkegaard and Pascal's philosophies. He then got a DBA from Université Paris Dauphine, which deals with the concept of organizational identity in communication business. In 2011, he participated to the ITP (International Business Program) at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Then he did his Habilitation (HDR, French post-doctoral qualification for Ph.D. Supervisor) at the Paris Dauphine University. His Dissertation was entitled: Nosce te ipsum : Identité, Ethique et Management.

From 1995 to 2005, he was also publisher and member of the editorial board of La Voix du Regard a journal focused on semiotics and visual arts affiliated to the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Fontenay St-Cloud).

At ESCP Europe, where he has been the academic director of  the Media MS since 1997, his teaching activity focuses on media and cultural management, and also business ethics. Since 2008, he has also headed the master major entitled  « The management of cultural and media industries ».

Knowledge @ ESCP Europe

Business Ethics

Indirect communication and business ethics: Kierkegaardian perspectives


Article published in Business & Professional Ethics Journal 2011 (see online CV for exact references)


By deliberately categorising ethics as communication, Kierkegaard aims to demonstrate that it is a type of knowledge unlike any other. Thus, direct communication is distinguished from indirect communication in that one targets objective knowledge, whereas the other concerns subjective knowledge.

In this text, which presents the philosophy of communication and Kierkegaardian ethics, especially from the aspect of irony and pseudonymity, the author proposes to question the conditions of the possibility of a discourse on business ethics, in particular its educational dimension.

To this end, he proposes the four determinations of communication, the sender the receiver, the object and the medium, in the specific context of the ethics applied. Subsequently, he shows how the teaching of ethics, having the characteristics of an art rather than knowledge, may be changed thanks to the concept of indirect communication regarding two essential points: the transformation of the position of the master of ethics and the strengthening of the sender / receiver pedagogical relationship to the detriment of the object.


The dialectic of communication and the two sources of the ethical stage.

Communication is primarily distinguished from information in the strictest sense as it produces an effect on the other.

The latter is linked to the former. According to Kierkegaard, it is not a question of knowing the other but respecting their difference, their freedom, their interior (also, judging the other is simply impossible, as indeed is imposing an opinion on them).

There are two forms of morality here which are in permanent opposition.

The first, named life-ethic (Saedelighed) by Kierkegaard and which owes as much to him as to Hegel, is the objective communitarian and normative side of morals.

The subjective side is the one we have partially described above; that of morality itself (Moralitet), in which the “I” is a critical force (Politis 2002a). We see again the correct distinction that Remington Abramson made in his study of the story of his non-tenure and categorised by Kierkegaard, between the object-ethical sub-sphere and the subject-ethical sub-sphere: on one side public morals and on the other, private morals.

On one hand are ideals whose values are recognised by a community, and on the other, the intensely personal commitment of an individual who does not equate moral reasoning with strict objectivity. (2011).

We note at this stage that the classic and “honourable” Kantian dichotomy (heteronomy/autonomy) no longer holds true as the individual is dialectically, by the remarkable recovery of humanity, is simultaneously the species and the individual, the determined and the autonomous.

By opposing generation and individual, Kierkegaard thus refuses the abrogation of the personality and the self; not a psychological, philosophical or phenomenological self, but an ethical self. We could say that, in indirect communication, it is in reality a conception of ethics opposed to any speculative objectification.

A conception which is firstly a question of life-style, rather than theoretical speculation.

The What (as object of knowledge), is displaced towards a How (as a way of life) and which is chosen as such.

Kierkegaardian philosophy of communication finally reopens the ethics question in two ways: by showing that ethics is firmly grounded in the sphere of communication which links the self to the other, and by examining the problem of communication (in the sense of “what is communicating”) providing new ethical perspectives as soon as one takes the Socratic tradition of the examined life as a starting point.

If communication in fact runs the risk of turning the personality into a mere product of mass society, it may also be, when exercised in an indirect way, that is to say capable of enabling each individual to find again the traces of their integrity, their primitiveness and their simplicity, a fundamental element in their ethical education.

This research has given us the opportunity to question the conditions of the possibility of a discourse on business ethics, and notably its educational dimension.

Consequently, in the article we propose the four determinations of communication, the emitter, the recipient, the object and the medium, in the specific context of the ethics applied.

We show that the net distinction that Kierkegaard made between direct and indirect communication enables us to reconsider the figure of the ethicist and the master of ethics, while minimising the importance of the contents taught in favour of a rejuvenation of the teacher-student relationship.


In addition, this work is far from exhausting all the possibilities of renewal in the field of business ethics offered by Kierkegaardian thought. However, one such possibility comes to the forefront: secrets, ambiguities and misunderstandings; all of which are numerous in the world of organisations (De maria 2006, Hannah 2005, Gardner et al. 2010, Wexler 1987), have a central place in Kierkegaardian ethics (Turnbull 2010) and its continual theme of the opposition between interior/exterior.

As also noted by Levinas (1976), the interior of the other always remains hidden.

However, the secret of indirect communication is, above all, “to liberate the other” in Kierkegaardian thought (Papers, X 71).

The possibility of incomprehension, the ambiguity of certain situations and the lack of transparency are at the very heart of the ethical stage, as shown in this short passage of the “Dialectic”:

“If someone were to praise love, to the question of whether he does it out of love, the answer must be “no one but themselves can really know: it is possible that he does it out of vanity or pride, in a word, Evil: it is also quite possible that he does it out of love.” (OC XIV, 346).

But to those who are already eulogise ethics in business as objective knowledge, what should we reply?