Paragraph on the Nature of Business Ethics

Paragraph on the Nature of Business Ethics!

Ethics is the study of what ought to be, of what is the ultimate “good” and how we ought to achieve it. Business ethics is thus the study of business activity in light of such judgement.


An advertising manager who is trying to decide whether or not to use deceptive but psychologically persuasive techniques, or to be scrupulously truthful, can make a fully informed choice only if his decision procedure includes awareness of the ultimate good his action serves and of the means appropriate to this ultimate good.

Without such awareness, his procedure may well have to rest upon the rules his society provides. As useful as these rules often are, all too often they are unclear or contradictory. In this case the manager may well sense both an obligation to be truthful at all times. Since this conflict in obligations is rooted in conflicting ideas about the good and how we ought to achieve it, it can be resolved only by study and decision on the level.

Such decision is not easy. Some argue, e.g., that the ultimate goal of human activity is pleasure, and those acts, (for types of acts) which have the consequence of producing the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people affected by this act are morally right.

Taking this approach, if using deception leads to the production of more pleasure than pain, deception ought to be used. But other experts disagree with using the consequences of an act to judge its moral worth, believing instead that acts are intrinsically right or wrong regardless of their consequences, and that we have a duty to do or not-do then accordingly.


Being always truthful, regardless of the consequences, is often one of the “duties” in this approach, and so deceptive advertising, 110 matter how productive of general “pleasure”, would not be approved.

Given the present stage of human wisdom, it is often hard to choose between such competing and sometimes incompatible moral principles, but unless such fundamental questions are raised, the roots of even the most practical of moral dilemmas may well stay obscured.

It is difficult to raise such questions, however, no morality can condemn all business activity and so there is sometimes tendency within business to take the internal, instrumental, measures of success (profits, for instance) to be ultimate ends in themselves.

As understandable as this is, it makes it hard to step back and see the conflicts between the instrumental goals of business and other, perhaps more ultimate, ends. But such investigation is necessary.

Business is a practical activity, but it need not be simple a practical art. Systematic and even scientific approaches are appropriate, even in matters relating to morality. Although the economic systems are based on free competition, we should not accept arbitrary standard for the morality expected in the operation of business relations. Adam, Smith, in setting economics as a field for systematic enquiry, emphasized the large societal framework and the fact that the pursuit of profit is only one element of human activity.

The problems facing business ethics do not end with disputes over ultimate goods and basic moral principles. After corporate policies are established, they must be made operational. This is not an easy task.

If, for example, the executive decides to use consequences as a way of judging the moral worth of an act, he/she must be able to project what those consequences are, and decide which consequences are acceptable. If, on the other hand, he looks to “Corporate Policy” as a way of judging actions, he must judge which policy is appropriate in each specific situation.

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