Use three philosophical theories from Chapter 4 to analyze whether it is more important for a business to be ethical or lawful. Provide one example of a situation in which it seems to be more important for a business to be ethical rather than lawful, and one example of a situation in which it seems more important for a business to be lawful rather than ethical.
Respond to at least two of your fellow students’ posts in a substantive manner.
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Apply a different ethical theory to the examples identified by your classmate. Discuss the difficulties faced by persons in the workplace who view business situations from different ethical perspectives. Suggest ways that those differences can be overcome while still ensuring the actions of the business are legal.
By definition, law concerns itself with issues of right and wrong and the administration of justice. Those who help shape the law need validethical reference points to steer the law in the direction of the common good.
Philosophy of Ethics
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the study of morality. Ethical inquiry centers on concepts such as good and evil andright and wrong. Thousands of years of philosophical inquiry into the field of ethics have produced numerous conflicting theories by notedclassical and contemporary philosophers. Not surprisingly, however, no consensus has emerged as to which theory is the most valid. While thismay not be surprising, it is troubling, since law is closely tied to the fragile, ephemeral principles that are at the heart of ethics.
Legislators, judges, presidents, governors, and regular citizens who help to shape the law through their official capacity or at the ballot box maynot consciously engage in the study of ethics in shaping their views on what constitutes justice or how to best promote the common good.Nevertheless, most of us act in accordance with certain principles that we may commonly refer to as our values. Whether we acknowledge it ornot, the guiding principles by which we steer our lives and which form the basis for our core ideas about right and wrong are an expression ofour ethical philosophy. The names of the ethical systems we adhere to, and the notable philosophers who espouse them, are not as importantas the views themselves, which help shape our government and mold our laws.
The quest to discover ethical truths has led Western philosophers on some very different paths throughout the past 2,500 years. Law inevitablyreflects a society’s ethical views and values. Therefore, even a brief glimpse at some of the core principles that underlie various systems ofethics can be very useful. This study will enhance our understanding of the common thread of ethics that runs through every nation’s system ofjurisprudence.
Ethical absolutism is an ethical philosophy with many diverse branches all tied in to the central idea that there are certain universal standardsby which to measure morality. Under this philosophy, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, and justice have a separate objectiveexistence that can be discovered and understood by human beings through philosophical inquiry and introspection. Right and wrong areconcepts that stand on their own and do not change based on circumstances or on the outcome of a person’s actions. If stealing is wrong, thenit is always wrong, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it. Thus, stealing is always morally wrong, whether it is done out of greed, forsport, or to feed a hungry child. Proponents of this broad branch of ethics represent a wide range of schools of thought that often includediametrically opposed worldviews.
Like ethical absolutism, religious fundamentalism as a theory of ethics relies on the existence of certain immutable truths. Unlike ethicalabsolutism, however, which requires that these values be discovered through philosophical inquiry and introspection, ethical norms underreligious fundamentalism can be found by studying the lives and writings of prophets or by consulting holy scriptures. Under this philosophy,living a moral life depends upon strict adherence to religious principles and values. Also, its proponents often view theocracy (a state governedby divinely revealed principles) as the most just form of government.
Utilitarianism has as its ethical basis the assignment of value to actions based on their outcome. Under utilitarianism, the ultimate good isdefined as actions intended to bring about the greatest utility (or greatest good) for the greatest number of people. Thus, moral action underutilitarianism requires the constant evaluation of actions based on their intended result. Actions that bring about the greatest good to thegreatest number of people are ethical, or good, whereas actions that fall short of that goal are unethical, or wrong. Put another way,utilitarianism does not recognize an intrinsic value to actions but rather assigns a positive or negative moral judgment to actions only in view oftheir intended consequences.
Deontology is a duty-based ethical theory that focuses on individual rights and good intentions. In this school of thought, an act’s moralitydepends on the actor’s motive, and the only unconditionally good motive is duty. Therefore, for an act to be moral or good, it must beundertaken out of a sense of duty. Unlike utilitarianism, in deontology, the rights of the individual are very important and there are some thingsone should not do, even if they would benefit a large number of people.
Like utilitarianism, ethical relativism denies the existence of absolute moral values. Also known as situational ethics, this system of thoughtholds that moral judgments cannot be made in a vacuum. Unlike utilitarianism, however, the yardstick by which to measure the morality of anact is not the common good but rather the circumstances that surrounded the person committing an act at the time it was committed. It is aprecept of this philosophy that a person’s actions cannot be judged other than by placing oneself in the same situation that the actor faced atthat point in time. So, stealing to feed one’s hungry child, for example, is not necessarily wrong. On a societal level, ethical relativismacknowledges differences among cultures (cultural relativism) in the definition of right and wrong, which means that what is considered wrongor even hateful in one culture may be acceptable in another.
Nihilism is a philosophy that denies the existence of any ethical standards. Derived from the Latin word for nothing, nihilism originated as aGerman philosophical movement that was popularized in 19th-century Russia and that is central to the political philosophy of anarchists, whoreject all centralized authority. In nihilism, we find the ultimate rejection of order, absolute codes of behavior, or the existence of anytranscendent truths. Assuming that each individual’s will, guided by the individual’s conscience, can dictate what is right or wrong, thencentralized government with its “arbitrary” laws and sanctions represents an illegitimate, oppressive restraint on individual freedom.
Virtue ethics looks at the basic values one needs to develop to have a good moral character. We develop these traits by making personalcommitments and practicing them in our lives. Some of the virtues we can encourage are honesty, truth, trust, tolerance, kindness, diligence,and self-restraint. We can learn as well as absorb these qualities from our parents, religion, and schools or consciously choose to strive to bevirtuous persons. This philosophy has practical application in the business world because we can model, encourage, and reward these traitsamong our employees and within our companies.
Justice ethics is based on the concept of fairness. This theory is closely related to deontology and the rights of the individual. The U.S. legalsystem has a strong grounding in procedural justice and is focused on judicial process. Many of our constitutional rights protect the integrity ofthe legal process and ensure that all people are treated fairly in the courts. We also find this philosophy in the procedures and consistent rulesthat businesses create for their employees and other stakeholders. In a similar fashion, appellate judges decide cases that set precedents thatapply to all of us. They must balance doing justice for the individuals involved in the case with the ramifications of how decisions will affectfuture case law and society as a whole.