Ethical theories applied to business

  • Created by: chlpe
  • Created on: 29-09-16 20:07

Ethical theory



Kant would completely reject the idea that a business' main responsibility was to its shareholders. This would be treating humans (the workers) merely as a means to an end. In Kant's ethical framework, you need to imagine yourself as a law-making member in a kingdom of ends. In other words, you need to consider all stakeholders.

Kant would reject espionage, saying we have a perfect duty not to spy on others. Spying is self-contradictory. It's one of those ideas that works if only some people do it, like not paying a TV licence. Imagine if, rather than developing your own products, everyone just relied on someone else to do it, and then tried to steal their ideas. It wouldn't work, because there would be no ideas to steal.

The same idea applies to a whistle-blower. The consequences, losing her job and the subsequent suffering of his family, are irrelevant. If someone is acting unethically, you have a duty to expose them. Put another way, if you were being scammed, you would want somebody to say something. If a factory was leaking dangerous materials and you lived nearby, you would want someone to alert the authorities. As such, you are duty bound to act this way yourself as well.


Utilitarian’s would have high expectations of businesses. It isn't enough to merely consider shareholders - in fact, each shareholder's happiness is worth no more or less than the happiness of each worker. As there are usually far more workers than stockholders, Utilitarianism will protect workers’ rights, ensuring fair pay, safe working conditions, sociable hours etc.

People in business might misuse Utilitarian arguments. For example, imagine I am a buyer for a company. I am placing a large order - worth £50,000. I know that one company will send me a free family holiday worth £2,000 if I place my order with them. If they happen to also give the best quote, who am I harming if I take the holiday? The pleasure my family gets lying on the beach makes it ethically right to take the bribe. An Act Utilitarian would have to agree, but a Rule Utilitarian may say that taking bribes generally leads to bad decisions being made, with negative consequences. Can I really be trusted to make an unbiased choice if a free family holiday is involved? It is a common criticism of Utilitarianism that people cannot be trusted, and are likely to make a selfish decision and then try to justify it afterwards with Utilitarian arguments.

In some cases, lying was wrong because it didn't work. If it had worked, a Utilitarian would seem to have to say it was an ethical action. Preference Utilitarian’s may disagree, as being lied to would go against the preferences of all of the shareholders.

Natural Law

One of the purposes of human life is to live in an ordered society. As such, businesses need to be regulated to prevent those mistreating workers. Another Primary Precept is


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