Ethics is a large concept, with a lot of variables to consider. Whether you are in the business world, or just weighing your options and taking an ethics centered approach to making a decision, having an understanding of the various theories will assist with making the “right” decision. In this article we’ll draw the distinction between ethics and morals (in as few words as possible), we’ll cover a few ethical issues with examples, we’ll review ethics in business, and the last segment of this article will review a few (of the many) ethics theories.
Ethics vs. Morals - What is the difference?
Often ethics and morals are confused to be synonymous with one another, but there is a distinction. The cut and dry answer is: ethics takes into account the collective social perspective of decision making, while morals are an individual possession; the individual decides the wrongness or rightness of an action, which is generally based on a motive. You can see where this is a slippery slope. If an individual believes it is morally acceptable to steal food for survival (the motive), that doesn’t mean it is an ethical decision to steal the food (as there are alternatives to stealing, such as telling the owners of that food you are willing to work for the food). In this situation the person feels it is morally conscionable from their personal perspective; it is okay to steal when in distress- but collectively, society may believe it is unethical as there are alternatives.
In short, ethical decisions are made based upon our moral principles- You can’t possess ethics, or be ethical, until you have acted upon your moral principles.
This scenario, and topic, could receive hours of attention and still end in an open, unresolved, debate! If you are philosophical, this IS an area of study that will occupy your mind for many, many hours- even years.
We are constantly confronted with issues that test our ethics and often the choices we make fall within a grey area. It can be something as simple as consciously taking a pen home from work, to something more complex, like accepting a new golf bag from one of your vendors. While these 2 examples are related to business situations, there are a number of unresolved social ethics issues, such as; should abortion be made illegal, is smoking in public okay, should partners of the same sex be allowed to marry, or is the death penalty (capital punishment) acceptable? Regardless, being aware of ethical theories and using them as the foundation from which you make future decisions will assist with making the right decision- at least the right decision for you. Since there are a large number of ethical issues, this article will focus on a few to illustrate the issue and how you may confront and resolve the issue by making a sound decision based on an ethical approach.
Next (Business Ethics pg. 2)