Why It Matters

Why describe, analyze and apply ethical issues in business, including their legal implications?


Photograph of Rodin's "The Thinker" in Paris. The statue is of a man sitting on a rock with his left arm resting on his left leg, and his right arm is bent so that his right elbow touches his left knee and his arm bends so that he can rest his chin on the top of his right hand. He is deep in thought.

Statue of Rodin’s “The Thinker.

What’s on his mind?  What is he “thinking”?  Maybe he is pondering…

“What should I decide to do? Which decision is the “right” one? The “moral” one? the “ethical” one to make?”

You and I too have asked ourselves those questions many times. Ultimately we chose one decision or the other. One was the “right” decision and the other was the “wrong” decision.

A business is a legal person not a flesh and blood person like you and me. But a business can only operate by decisions made be flesh and blood people like you and me. Every business, just like every person makes decisions after considering those same questions: “What should I decide to do? Which decision is the “right” one? The “moral” one? the “ethical” one to make?”

Of course, everyone of us has considered or flirted with the idea that maybe with this decision there really isn’t any right or wrong, at least for me…this time…in this decision. But, that’s really just a cop out and denial. The real truth in these moments is that we are overwhelmed by the difficulty and consequences of the ethics of our pending decision. We are afraid of and don’t want to consider the consequences of our decisions to ourselves and to others. If you or I have no moral considerations or ethics to aid our decision-making, then we become strangers, even enemies of our society.

This next section will not provide an absolute answer to these ethical questions, because that is always for you and me to decide for ourselves. But, this section will offer some theories and ideas about HOW you or I could or perhaps should think about and weigh these decisions before making them.

In the very first section of this course you were  briefly introduced to the Josephson Model of ethical decision making, now you will be introduced to several possible models and theories that could be used to make the “right” decision…the ethical decision.  In the closing section of this class you will discover and consider alternative theories and models of ethical decision-making including:

1)  Normative ethics (what you should do)  vs. descriptive ethics ( what you actually do)

2)  Do the “ends justify the means”?   Or is it the other way around?

3)  Duty Theories:

  • Aristotle’s Perennial Duty: develop and improve yourself and avoid doing harm to others.
  • Kant’s Categorical Imperatives: I should only decide and act as if everyone else always decided and acted the same way.

4) Rights Theories:

  • John Locke: the natural unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Libertarian’s:  the individual dominates over the government.

5)  Alternative “toe to toe” comparisons of rights and duties theories to actual ethical problems.

A little knowledge never hurt, right?  You’re going to be pondering the ethics of it all anyways.  Go get after it!


  • Define, analyze and apply differing philosophical approaches to ethics in business settings
  • Identify, describe and debate specific scenarios that pose ethical dilemmas