Defining Business Ethics

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1 Response

  1. Scotty Jenkins says:

    Mr. Volkov,

    I’m a compliance professional with a graduate-level academic background in philosophy and ethics. I enjoy your blog, but I get irritated when people in compliance define ethics to exclude ethical considerations that fall outside of the compliance domain (Roy Snell, CEO of SCCE, also did this in a blog post last year). I would agree with you that such ethical considerations should not be the concern of the compliance professional, but, in case you were unaware, business ethicists concern themselves with issues beyond the realm of compliance. Compliance does not own the term “business ethics,” and defining business ethics in such a way as you do, all while disparaging the legitimate contributions of ethical theory, comes off as arrogant. It also reveals how little you know about the systematic study of ethics in general and business ethics in particular. Of the four philosophers you name, mainstream practical/applied ethicists would draw only on the virtue ethics developed by Aristotle (and probably endorsed by you in your personal and professional life).

    Also, I can’t help but notice that your purportedly simple two-part test (which is more about organizational culture than business ethics, anyway) only works when you pack the concepts of “trust” and “integrity” with other ethical concepts like welfare, organizational justice, transparency, equal treatment of similarly-situated individuals, and other underlying ethical assumptions. What happens when these obligations conflict? What are the appropriate “ethical standards designed to promote the welfare of [an organization’s stakeholders”? What is the “high standard” to which executives should hold themselves? Why not equal treatment of ALL individuals, regardless of how they are situated? What is organizational justice, exactly?

    If business ethics was simple and a matter of common sense, the answers to the above questions would be self-evident. But they’re not. Business ethics is hard, and so is philosophy. I encourage you to read this primer on Applied Ethics ( published in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a peer-reviewed site maintained by the University of Tennessee – Martin.

    Scotty Jenkins