Course Syllabus | LH's Virtual Office | Chapter 1 Outline

Business Ethics: Concepts & Cases: Chapter 1 Learning Objectives and Overview
Ethics and Business

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand Velasquez's argument that ethical behavior is the best long term business strategy.
  2. Understand the meaning of "business ethics".
  3. Grasp the distinctions between, legality, "morality", and ethics.
  4. Understand ethcal relativism and the arguments against it.
  5. Understand moral reasoning as the application of evaluative principles to factual premises.
  6. Understand Velasquez's case for business ethics.
  7. Understand conditions making for -- and mitigating or excusing persons from -- moral responsibility.
  8. Understand issues about corporate and individual responsibility and regarding subordinate's responsibilities.


Ethical behavior is arguably the best long term business strategy.  Doing ethical business is warranted by three things:
  1. business is a part of life, all of which is subject to ethics (the Simple Argument)
  2. ethical standards are necessary, in general, for the very existence of commerce and organization (Argument from Business' Need for Ethics)
  3. ethical behavior is consistent with the pursuit of profit (Argument from the Consistency of Ethical Considerations with Business Pursuits).
Ethics is the critical analysis and conscientious pursuit of "morality": business ethics is the ethical analysis of, and the application of "moral" principles to, business practices.  Legality is something else: not everything legal is moral, and not everything moral is legal.  The distinction between "morality" and ethics is underlined by the differences between the various "moral" principles to which different people and cultures subscribe.  Ethical relativism -- the view that whatever the "morality" a group or culture prescribes is what's truly ethical for that group -- is objectionable insofar as it puts group "morality" above criticism.

Perhaps the most basic form of moral reasoning, is exemplified by the "practical syllogism" of which the following is an example:

Such reasoning is subject to three criteria of adequacy:
  1. logical validity:  Does the conclusion actually follow from the premises if true?
  2. factual accuracy: Are the claims made by the factual premise true?
  3. normative adequacy: Is the moral principle stated by evaluative premise true?
Besides the evaluation of acts as good or bad, or right or wrong (as in the practical syllogism), assignment of moral responsibility is another important topic of  moral reasoning.  To be morally responsible for something is to be justifiably subject to blame for it (if it's bad) or credit (if it's good).  Individuals are morally responsible for what they knowingly and freely do.  Complete lack of knowledge of the nature or consequences of the deed, or complete inability to have avoided doing it, completely excuse an individual from moral responsibility,  Partial lack of knowledge or partial inability to avoid the act, mitigate (or lessen) an individuals'  responsibility.

Are corporations themselves morally responsible agents or is it only the human individuals that comprise these corporations who are morally responsible for its deeds & misdeeds.  What are the moral responsibilities of subordinates carrying out orders?  These are disputed questions.  In these connections, it is generally acknowledged, since the Nuremburg verdicts against Nazi war criminals after WW2,  that "following orders" is not completely excusatory, though it may be mitigating.

Course Syllabus | LH's Virtual Office | Chapter 1 Outline