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Gordon E. Shockley
Arizona State University
Peter M. Frank
Wingate University


          The premise of this essay is that the study of ethics is an essential component in teaching all forms of “non-market entrepreneurship,” that is, all forms of entrepreneurship not undertaken solely for commercial purposes.  In non-market entrepreneurship, such as arts entrepreneurship, social enterprise, or social entrepreneurship, at least one other purpose instead of or in addition to profit motivates acting entrepreneurially.  In this essay we show how we add an ethical component to teaching social entrepreneurship in a discussion-based seminar in an American university.  The thrust of our effort is to require students read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” and the Father Zossima portions from The Brothers Karamazov, originally published in Russian in 1863 as a seminal work in the golden age of Russian literature.  Through the instructor’s structured and directed discussion of the text, students are presented with the argument that a personal ethic of “loving humility” as embodied in the character of Father Zossima might serve as an appropriate ethical guide for non-market entrepreneurship.



          Mark Hager (2007) in his famous The Nonprofit Quarterly article “The Ultimate Question” presents a classic case study of the ethics of arts entrepreneurship. The case centers on Metro Arts and Film (MAF), a fictitious nonprofit arts organization with an original mission “to provide instruction in filmmaking, still photography, videotaping, and emerging recording mediums” (Hager, 2007, p. 42) based on a real one from a larger study of nonprofits closing their doors (see Duckles, Hager, & Galaskiewicz, 2005). The “ultimate question” in the article’s title refers to the MAF’s board deciding to shutter the organization ostensibly because of the State Arts Board (another fictitious entity) cut its grant subsidy by 85 percent. The board’s almost-unanimous decision to close MAF was ironic as the organization was in good fiscal health following the launch of a successful entrepreneurial venture: it had developed its own earned-income streams and diversified its revenue sources away from a high dependence on government subsidies such as the State Arts Board and the National Endowment for the Arts (the actual federal agency) from which it also received a grant. MAF board member Peter comments on the organization’s successful enterprise: “Our service revenues are now by far our largest source of revenue and won’t be affected by these government cuts’” (Hager, 2007, p. 46).
          Instead of fiscal reasons, the board’s decision to close was the result of factors that have ethical dimensions. These factors included the influence of a domineering founding director, an uninvolved board, lack of leadership, and the substitution of its “new mission of ‘survival’” instead of the nonprofit’s original service mission (Hager, 2007, pp. 47-48). The same Peter quoted above, who incidentally was the sole MAF board member who voted against the closing, invokes one such ethical issue:

‘Close MAF? Why? I’ve been a student and client here for most of my adult life. We can’t just close. There are a lot of people who rely on services we provide’

(Hager, 2007, p. 45)

In summary, the case of the MFA board’s decision to close demonstrates that arts entrepreneurship does not occur in an ethical vacuum. Ethical issues often come into play before, during, and after even successful entrepreneurship.
          The premise of this essay is that the study of ethics is an essential component in teaching all forms of “non-market entrepreneurship,” that is, all forms of entrepreneurship not undertaken solely for commercial purposes (Shockley, Frank, & Stough, 2008). Of course, ethics should be equally involved in commercial entrepreneurship (and in all human behavior), but it is not constitutive of commercial entrepreneurship like it is of non-market entrepreneurship. In non-market entrepreneurship, such as arts entrepreneurship, social enterprise, or social entrepreneurship, at least one other purpose instead of or in addition to profit motivates acting entrepreneurially. The practice of arts entrepreneurship is more than just setting up a gallery or studio; arts entrepreneurship also encompasses developing tools for artist self-efficacy and self-actualization and providing an environment for artistic exploration and innovation (e.g., Beckman & Essig, 2012). If ethical considerations are not properly incorporated, then any of these practices or others could go awry, as demonstrated in the case of MAF and its board’s decision to close the organization in spite of its successful entrepreneurship as well as its insufficient attention to other obligations and responsibilities. Similarly, social enterprise in the United States by definition consists of pursuing profit and social goals (e.g., Kerlin, 2006; Larson, 2002). Likewise, it can be argued that ethics is the essence of social entrepreneurship in order to ensure that the entrepreneurial efforts are directed towards good societal ends (e.g., Bornstein, 2007; Yunus & Weber, 2007). Yet, when one teaches any of these forms of non-market entrepreneurship with the available stock of theory, one quickly realizes that ethics is often missing or at least neglected.
          In this essay we show how we add an ethical component to teaching social entrepreneurship in a discussion-based seminar in an American university. The thrust of our effort is to read with students Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” and the Father Zossima sections from The Brothers Karamazov, originally published in Russian in 1863 as a seminal work in the golden age of Russian literature. Through the instructor’s structured and directed discussion of the text, students are presented with the argument that an ethical notion of personal “loving humility” as embodied in the character of Father Zossima might serve as an appropriate ethical guide for social entrepreneurship. There are two parts to our essay. In the very brief first part we review the available stock of social entrepreneurship theories for their ethical content or for analogous mechanisms. For all of their robustness in other areas, we will find that theories of social entrepreneurship generally lack, or at best assume, ethical considerations. In the second and by far the larger part of this essay we walk through key passages of “The Grand Inquisitor” and the Father Zossima portions and build the argument that it might supply students with an appropriate ethical guide for non-market entrepreneurship. It should be noted – and students are warned upfront – that this is not an exercise in literary analysis of nineteenth-century Russian literature. Nor is the reading of Dostoevsky we offer necessarily a standard or canonical one, though some literary criticism intersperses our analysis and argument below. Instead, Dostoevsky the artist is directly engaged and his words considered on their face for their ethical content. In short, we are reading these works as a case study of the integration of ethics and social entrepreneurship. “More than educating us, the artist transforms us by what he says and makes us feel” (Idinopulos, 1975, p. 51).

Teaching Social Entrepreneurship

          Social entrepreneurship has developed into one of the most popular fields of entrepreneurship studies and practice. According to the most recent edition of the Social Entrepreneurship Education Resource Handbook (Ashoka & Brock, 2011), the study of social entrepreneurship has evolved from a kind of niche course of study at a few business schools in the 1990s to a series of rigorous, comprehensive, “cross-campus, interdisciplinary, ‘embedded’ programs that serve undergraduates, graduates, and executive education seekers” at seemingly every kind of institution of higher education (pp. 4-5).
          As at least a partial result of the explosion in the study of social entrepreneurship, instructors in the field have a plethora of theories from which to choose (see Table 1 for a partial selection of available theories). Yet even a superficial analysis reveals that ethical considerations do not figure prominently in the selection of theories. As addressed above, all forms of non-market entrepreneurship by definition must be motivated by at least one other purpose instead of or in addition to profit. Table 1 highlights in bold the non-commercial purposes in this selection of theories of social entrepreneurship. The most common purpose of social entrepreneurship is revealed in the key terms “social change,” “social value,” and “transformation.” None of these key terms or the larger quotes in which they appear incorporates anything to ensure that social change, social value, or transformation conform or satisfy a conception of the good, the moral, or the right. One can easily recall from history any number of instances in which social value served only a powerful few and social change, forces, and transformation are most appropriately described as fitting evil purposes. For all of their robustness in other areas, theories of social entrepreneurship that generally lack or at least neglect ethical considerations are at best incomplete and at worst dangerous. Therefore, it is imperative to include ethics in teaching social entrepreneurship, which is exactly what we propose to do by including in a discussion-based seminar on social entrepreneurship a component focused on Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor.”

Table 1: Partial selection of theories of social entrepreneurship

Theorist  (year of publication, page number) Systemic effects
    1. Young (1983, p. 36)
“…entrepreneurship in the nonprofit sector, as elsewhere, represents the cutting edge of the sector’s activity, and, as such, its study helps to reveal the driving forces and underlying character of its member organizations.”
    2. Waddock and Post (1991, p. 394)
Theory of social entrepreneurship is one of catalytic change.
    3. Dees’ earlier conception (2001, p. 4)



Social entrepreneurs as change agents “by adopting a mission to create and sustain social value.”
    4. Alvord, Brown, and Letts (2004, p. 279)
“‘Sustainable transformation’ in the social sector in the form of capacity-building initiatives alters local norms, roles, and expectations to transform the cultural contexts in which marginalized groups live…”
    5. Light’s earlier “inclusive” conception (2006, pp. 18-20)
Social entrepreneurship can come in the form of both new solutions to large, intractable problems or smaller, more modest technical or administrative change.
    6. Dees’ later conception (Dees & Anderson, 2006, p. 44)
 “Social entrepreneurs are individuals who reform or revolutionize the patterns of producing social value, shifting resources into areas of higher yield for society.”
    7. Bornstein (2007, pp. 1-2)
Social entrepreneurs as “transformative forces”: “People with new ideas to address major problems who are relentless in the pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take ‘no’ for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they possibly can.”
    8. Martin and Osberg (2007, p. 34)
The effects of social entrepreneurship are produced as the social entrepreneur “creates a new equilibrium, one that provides a meaningfully higher level of satisfaction for the participants in the system.”
    9. Swedburg (2009, p. 99)
Schumpeter’s full model of non-economic entrepreneurship: “The pushing through or the successful introduction of social change, through a new combination of elements that make up some way of doing things.”

Source: Adapted from Shockley & Frank (2011)

Adding an Ethical Component to Teaching Social Entrepreneurship

          Reading literature for its own sake and on its own terms is disappearing from higher education. The anti-humanities, pro-practical bias in higher education with an exclusive focus on employability has been decried for several decades now, very recently and eloquently so by Martha Nussbaum in her short book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010):

If this trend [against teaching the humanities] continues, nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements


In addition to higher education “producing generations of useful machines,” Nussbaum identifies another dangerous consequence of not reading literature that is particularly germane to teaching social entrepreneurship or any of the non-market forms of entrepreneurship: the capacity to “understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements.” Insofar as all forms of non-market entrepreneurship are motivated by another propose instead of or in addition to profit, the ability to relate to others, empathize, and understand others is central to teaching non-market entrepreneurship, not to mention for the healthy functioning of civil society and democracy. (Indeed, Nussbaum indicates as much in her book’s title “Not for Profit.”) As Indinopulos (1975) puts it, “The art of a Dostoevsky…does for us what the disciplines of theology, psychology, and journalism cannot do: It gives us a personal relationship to what we cannot otherwise grasp intellectually” (p. 60).
          Relating to others, empathizing with them, and understanding them in a humanistic way collectively are the essence of the ethical component we add to teaching social entrepreneurship. Very much following Shockley and Frank (2010) in using great literature to teach other aspects of social entrepreneurship, we devote the equivalent of a week’s worth of class sessions in a 15-week semester in the social entrepreneurship class to discussing Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” and the Father Zossima portions from The Brothers Karamazov. In particular, we use Hackett’s 1993 edition of Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor with Related Chapters from The Brothers Karamazov translated by Constance Garnett and edited and introduced by Charles Guignon (see Dostoevsky, 1993/1912; ISBN 0-87220-193-7). Through the instructor’s structured and directed discussion of the text over the weeks’ class sessions, students are presented with the argument that an ethical notion of personal “loving humility” as embodied in the character of Father Zossima might serve as an appropriate ethical guide for social entrepreneurship and, by extension, arts entrepreneurship.
          The basic flow of the structured and directed class discussion is as follows. First, we encounter the character of Ivan. Although endowed with superior rationality as well as compassion, Ivan attempts to solve the problem of evil – namely, if God is omnipotent and good, how can there be evil? Ivan’s efforts are analogous to modern social policymaking in that it applies rationality to solve social ills. Like many failed social and public policies in any national government, Ivan’s efforts end in utter despair because instrumentally rational, intellectualized solutions are frequently incomplete or misguided. Ivan takes it to the extreme as he would rather give up or, in some readings, commit suicide, than live in the world full of rampant evil. Second, we examine Ivan’s creation, the poem of the “Grand Inquisitor.” Based on Tomas de Torquemada, the actual historical Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries that sought a religiously (and racially) homogenous society by eradicating Islam and Judaism from Spain, Ivan’s poem is one of the most powerful critiques of the human condition in all of world literature. One of the lessons “The Grand Inquisitor” reveals is that mankind loathes his freedom. He says, “Nothing has been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom” (p. 25). Third, the character of the Russian monk Father Zossima appears in The Brothers Karamazov as an antidote to Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor. Father Zossima represents the personal ethic of “loving humility” that we are all responsible to all for all. This, we argue, might be an appropriate ethical guide for social entrepreneurship to ensure that the entrepreneurial efforts are directed towards good societal ends. Below we topically and descriptively outline in five parts how we structure those class sessions.

Part 1: Introduction and Historical Background
          “The Grand Inquisitor” selection from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is a quite moving piece of literature. As a work of art, it is disturbing, though strangely a lot less disturbing than what we can see on primetime TV any given night. Deeply and uniquely challenging readers for the last 150 years, this selection also gives us deeper insight into social entrepreneurship as it offers a powerful critique of the nature of social change – that it is directed toward good societal aims – implied or assumed but rarely stated in theories of social entrepreneurship.
          Charles Guignon’s introduction (1993) provides an excellent background for The Brothers Karamazov . Dostoevsky wrote the novel during a time of upheaval in Russian society. It was going through what might be called in entrepreneurship terms a “Schumpeterian moment of creative destruction” (see Schumpeter, 1950, Chapter 7) as the old way of feudalism was giving way to the new way of industrialization. It should be noted that Russia was already at least a generation behind in industrializing when compared to the West, particularly England. And Russia never fully committed to industrialization, which complicated its (in many respects) disastrous 20th century.
          Contributing to the upheaval of Russian society is what Guignon distills as the “Enlightenment paradox.” The Enlightenment that emerged in France in the 17th and 18th centuries and quickly spread throughout the West was based on mankind’s power of reason, its capacity for rationality to discover the laws of nature, also known as science, and to dispel myth and superstition, also known as religion. The American Revolution and French Revolution are widely seen as two of the most important products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradox means that the more reason and rationality were relied on to fix society’s problems – indeed, to perfect society – according to the ideals that they pointed to, such as rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the more those ideals themselves became reflexively suspicious. The Enlightenment paradox is very much about the limits of reason and rationality.

Part 2: Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” and the Father Zossima portions
          Dostoevsky’s novels are typically polyphonous, which means that there are many voices and viewpoints presented and each voice and viewpoint is uniquely associated with a single character. Another way to look at Dostoevsky’s polyphony is “as a conflict within the parts of oneself” (Oates, 1968, p. 207).
          In “Pro and Contra,” the first part of “The Grand Inquisitor,” we are presented with the debate between two of the Karamazov brothers, Ivan and Alyosha. Truly, it is less of a debate between them than it is Ivan’s monologue. Ivan is associated with the voice of reason, rationality, logic, and science. Ivan is both brilliant – as he represents reason – and compassionate – as he is consumed with the problem of evil and suffering in the world. This problem has also consumed philosophy and religion in the West for millennia. Ivan has the motivation of a social entrepreneur as he seeks to solve the problem of evil and suffering under a good and omnipotent God. Ivan announces to his brother Alyosha: “‘It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand; it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept’” (p. 5).
          wants to change society for the better. “‘People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel’” (p. 9). He therefore brings to bear on this problem all of the power reason, rationality, logic, and science can muster and concludes that man is the problem in a world in which evil triumphs. Ivan remarks, “‘I think if the devil doesn’t exist, but man created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness’” (p. 9). The final result is that Ivan gives up, “returns his ticket,” which means in some interpretations that he is willing to commit suicide rather than live in a world in which he (reason personified) is impotent against pain and suffering of children. Rationality fails Ivan and, unlike a social entrepreneur, hope leaves him.

‘Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.’

Dostoevsky apparently believes that reason, rationality, logic, and science are inadequate to this perennial problem. The inadequacy of reason and Ivan in this initial section of “The Grand Inquisitor” is a theme that parallels the larger The Brothers Karamazov novel of which it is literally a central part. As Joyce Carol Oates (1968) writes, “The bulk of the novel is one of affirmation, though Ivan, the most eloquent person in the novel, is not saved but made impotent, broken, most violently changed” (p. 205). Jeff Malpa (2012) describes why Dostoevsky is often considered one of the first existentialist literary artists:

Dostoevsky can be seen to set out, in the most vivid and powerful fashion, the problematic situation that underpins much existentialist thought – the situation of the solitary individual, the ‘outsider,’ who can no longer find any sure refuge in God or religion, for whom the usual standards of morality and conduct, even standards of reason itself, no longer seem to hold, and whose very existence is rendered uncertain and ambiguous.


Then, in a remarkable move that only a consummate artist like Dostoevsky can do, he has Ivan – reason, rationality, logic, and science – compose a poem (which is the opposite of scientific inquiry) about the Grand Inquisitor that takes us down even farther into the misery and suffering of the human condition.

Part 3: The Grand Inquisitor and Miracle, Mystery, and Authority
          Walter Kaufmann (1989) argues that the poem of the Grand Inquisitor is “inspired by [Dostoevsky’s] hatred of the Church of Rome” (p. 14). That may be true as Dostoevsky was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian. But the poem goes much deeper than a personal comment on history of Roman Catholicism as it reaches to an understanding of the human condition. The Grand Inquisitor was the real historical figure Tomas de Torquemada who was indeed the “Grand Inquisitor” leading the initial phases of the Spanish Inquisition of the late 15th century that sought to expose Christian heretics and force conversions to Christianity through torture. In Ivan’s poem Dostoevsky imagines the Grand Inquisitor’s words in the most remarkable of circumstances: Christ’s reappearance on earth during the Spanish Inquisition.
          Does a key leader of the Christian faith on earth welcome Christ’s return? No, he imprisons and condescendingly lectures him on his irrelevance to the human institution of Christianity. In a clear reference to Adam and Eve, the Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that mankind does not want freedom to make the right choice: “Nothing has been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom.” Instead, they want to be relieved of responsibility that freedom necessarily entails and be deceived by “miracle, mystery, and authority.” These three powers tell them how to live, what to think and do, “able to conquer and to hold captive forever the conscience of these impotent rebels [mankind] for their happiness” (p. 28). The Church of the Spanish Inquisition has supplanted Christ and taken away mankind’s freedom. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor declares:

‘And if it is a mystery, we too have a right to preach a mystery, and to teach them that it’s not the free judgment of their hearts, but a mystery which they must follow blindly, even against their conscience. So we have done. We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery, and authority.’

(p. 30, emphasis in the original)

According to Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, the institution of the Church oppresses mankind with mankind’s implied consent. “The core ethical temptation in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor lies in the replacement of moral freedom by social control and welfare” (Bouckaert & Ghesquiere, 2004, p. 32, emphasis in the original).
          This trenchant analysis of the human condition is no less true today than when Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov in the 19th century. And it is trenchant precisely because we are reading it as literature and on its own terms. Certainly no executive summary, journal article, or preamble to a professional code of ethics, no matter how well-conceived and well-written, can make us feel as we do when we directly engage the words of Dostoevsky. An irony of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and his institutionalized church is that, like Ivan, they love mankind and care about his suffering. Still more, they are social entrepreneurs by any of the definitions of social entrepreneurship in Table 1 or available elsewhere as they can be easily ascribed to the key terms “social change,” “social value,” and “transformation.” The Grand Inquisitor has produced massive social change, created social value, and transformed religious life in the West and as he has given man what he wants with miracle, mystery, and authority, thus relieving mankind of the burden of freedom. He has exploited this fundamental truth of the human condition that undermines all that Christ taught and represented historically and theologically. How does this sit with students (and us)? Do we really want to call the Grand Inquisitor a social entrepreneur even if he satisfies our theories of social entrepreneurship? Where is an ethic to ensure that the social change, social value, and transformation are directed towards positive societal ends?

Part 4: Father Zossima, Loving Humility, and the Antidote to the Grand Inquisitor
          We tell the students at this point: If Dostoevsky ends his novel with Ivan’s poem of the Grand Inquisitor, then how do we get out of bed every morning? Fortunately, he does not end here and offers an antidote to Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor in the figure of the Russian monk, Father Zossima, and the voice of Ivan’s brother, Alyosha (Father Zossima mentored Alyosha; Alyosha embodies Father Zossima’s teaching). Instead, later sections of The Brothers Karamazov, like the Father Zossima portion “advance a rather more positive message, even if not made fully determinate, centered on the essentially ethical path adopted by Alyosha” (Malpa, 2012, p. 298). Reason and rationality eventually lead to extreme individuation and, ultimately, isolation, and self-destruction, Dostoevsky seems to say, which is exactly where Ivan himself was led in seeking to “return his ticket.” Some critics intriguingly argue that the Grand Inquisitor and Father Zossima are one of the many doubles that can be found throughout Dostoevsky’s oeuvre (e.g., Oates, 1968, p. 212), possibly because they both profess to love mankind. Yet, even as the characters may be doubles, their solutions to the suffering and misery of mankind are diametrically opposed. Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima distinguishes himself from Ivan with the statement that “…true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort” (p. 58) like that of Ivan.
          There are twelve books in the full text of The Brothers Karamazov. The Father Zossima portion makes up Book VI while “The Grant Inquisitor” sits in the middle of Book V. Although they appear in consecutive books, there actually are two chapters between the end of the Ivan’s poem and the beginning of the Father Zossima portion. And the feeling of despair from “the Grand Inquisitor” and the dramatic tension in those intervening two chapters are beautifully wrought by Dostoevsky. To recreate a little bit of that effect when teaching, it is best to separate the “The Grand Inquisitor” and Father Zossima discussions, ideally by class sessions but even a break in a single class session would work. Furthermore, the Father Zossima section is much longer and more meandering than “The Grant Inquisitor,” intentionally frustrating the reader and making her painfully wait for any sort of resolution to the tension. That is preserved in the Guignon edition we suggest using in adding this component to a class in non-market entrepreneurship. To complicate matters more, Father Zossima’s message is a composite that comes from a variety of characters: Alyohsa, Father Zossima, Father Zossima’s brother when he was a child, as well as a “mysterious visitor.” The reader must work very diligently to construct Father Zossima’s composite message, but there is no doubt that Dostoevsky meant this composite message to answer Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor.
          In contrast to the Grand Inquisitor’s miracle, mystery, and authority, Father Zossima represents “loving humility” or, in biblical terms, serving as your brother’s keeper. First Father Zossima addresses indirectly Ivan’s scientific, individualistic approach “…but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fulness [sic] of life but in self-destruction, for instead of self-realization, he ends by arriving at complete solitude” (p. 58). Community, not isolated individualism, is a large part of Father Zossima’s composite message. Individualism, however, is still preserved by recognizing each human being’s spiritual dignity even in despair: “Equality is to be found in the spiritual dignity of man, and that will only be understood among us” (p. 72), which is to say, in a community. Father Zossima addresses the Grand Inquisitor’s suppression of man’s freedom by embracing the individual freedom of accepting responsibility for one another. Father Zossima expresses his personal ethic of loving humility:

‘There is only one means of salvation, then: take yourself and make yourself responsible for everything and for all men’s sins; that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and all things…’

(p. 76)

Attempting to solve the problem of evil and rectify pain and suffering through the application of pure rationality, which leads to isolation and “returning one’s ticket” like Ivan, or by institutionally suppressing mankind’s freedom like the Grand Inquisitor, which leads to slavery. Loving humility, being your brother’s keeper, accepting responsibility for one another, is the essence of social entrepreneurship.
          By reading “The Grand Inquisitor” and Father Zossima portions of The Brothers Karamazov, students see that loving humility can fill out those other purposes of social entrepreneurship that are beyond profit. Loving humility becomes an ethical guide in ensuring that the social change, social value, and transformation are directed towards good societal ends as well as being appropriately motivated. Father Zossima concludes: “‘Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it’” (p. 75). Dostoevsky also recognizes that loving humility is not an instantaneous transformation. In the words of the mysterious visitor talking to Father Zossima before he was a monk:

‘Believe me; this dream [of everyone recognizing that “we are all responsible to all for all”], as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It’s a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh [Schumpeterian change], men must turn into another path psychologically.’


Dostoevsky here is even using the language of social entrepreneurship in Father Zossima seeking to transform the world into one that recognizes our communal interconnectedness over our individual separateness. Father Zossima himself can even be seen as a 19th-century social entrepreneur because this transformation is the result of action. Again in the words of the mysterious visitor:

‘Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all.’

(pp. 57-58)

          It does not seem an exaggeration to argue that the obligations entailed in loving humility comprise the essence and spirit of social entrepreneurship. It provides an ethical guide to ensure such entrepreneurship is a force for good: entrepreneurship with a personal ethic in which we feel and act on a responsibility for the well-being of others.


          Adding a component in which the instructor structures and directs class discussion around the “The Grand Inquisitor” and Father Zossima portions of The Brothers Karamazov does more than incorporate ethics into the teaching of social entrepreneurship. Truly this ethical component significantly alters the theory of and potentially the practice of social entrepreneurship. It advances the theories in Table 1 from stopping at the effects of social entrepreneurship, such as social change, social value, or transformation, to taking into account the nature of that social change, social value, or transformation. It moves the theory of social entrepreneurship into more of a community- or civil society-based conceptualization, something akin to Alan Wolfe’s philosophy of social science developed in his book Whose Keeper? Social Science and Moral Obligation (1989). Wolfe writes of a major problem in liberal capitalist societies that emphasize rights over obligations:

The citizens of capitalist liberal democracies understand the freedom they possess, appreciate its value, defend its prerogatives [sic]. But they are confused when it comes to recognizing the social obligations that make their freedom possible in the first place. They are, in a word, unclear about the moral codes by which they ought to live


Like Wolfe’s publicly oriented philosophy of social science, social entrepreneurship concerns obligation first and foremost. Indeed, Dostoevsky’s personal ethic of loving humility might be as equally important as profit in many other forms of non-market entrepreneurship.
          Let us return to Hager’s case study of Metro Arts and Film’s board’s decision to close the nonprofit even though it had successfully diversified into enterprise models of funding. Hager writes, “Organizations that contribute value to a community have an obligation to that community to continue to provide their services” (Hager, 2007, p. 48). Was there much evidence that MAF’s board took its obligations to the community into account, that its arts entrepreneurship was guided by anything like Dostoevsky’s personal ethic of loving humility? That is a topic for another class discussion.

List of References

Alvord, S. H., Brown, L. D., & Letts, C. W. (2004). Social entrepreneurship and societal transformation. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(3), 260-282.

Ashoka, & Brock, D. D. (2011). Social Entrepreneurship Education Resource Handbook. Washington, DC: Ashoka U., the University Division of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public.

Beckman, G. D., & Essig, L. (2012). Arts entrepreneurship: A conversation. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 1(1), 1-8.

Bornstein, D. (2007). How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Updated ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Bouckaert, L., & Ghesquiere, R. (2004). Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor as a mirror for the ethics of institutions. Journal of Business Ethics, 53(1/2), 29-37.

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[1] All quotes and page numbers of Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” and the Father Zossima portions from The Brothers Karamazov cited in this essay come from the Guignon edition.

[2] Many synopses introduction to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov are easily available.  One particularly distinguished and brief synopsis appears in Oates (1968, pp. 205-207).  One of the remarkable features of “The Grand Inquisitor” and Father Zossima portions are self contained and can stand on their own without much knowledge of the rest of The Brothers Karamazov.  But it is not uncommon for anyone having read “The Grand Inquisitor” to take on the entire The Brothers Karamazov at a later date.