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Introduction

Different philosophical frameworks inform our understanding of moral behaviour in the field of ethics. Aristotle invented virtue ethics, which places a strong emphasis on cultivating virtues and character development for a happy life. Consequentialist theory utilitarianism prioritises the well-being of the whole population and assesses actions according to their results. Non-consequentialist Kantian Ethics emphasises moral obligations and principles, arguing that intrinsic values are more important than external outcomes. Every viewpoint provides distinct insights into moral decision-making, impacting our comprehension of values, outcomes, and universal precepts in both private and professional settings.

Main Body

a) Virtue Ethics (Aristotle)

Overview 

Aristotle invented virtue ethics, which places a strong emphasis on developing moral character to achieve eudaimonia, or flourishing. According to Aristotle, moral character is formed by virtues that lead to virtues in action (Sytsma, 2020). Courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance are central virtues; the golden mean promotes moderation between extremes. In contrast to rule-based ethics, virtue ethics emphasises the cultivation of virtues and encourages moral judgment based on inherent goodness. It places a strong emphasis on the need for community, the pursuit of excellence, and personal development for a happy and morally pure existence.

In the context of business ethics

The foundation of moral philosophy, Aristotle's virtue ethics, moves the ethical emphasis from actions alone to the essence of people. Character is what makes a person who they are; it includes their attitudes, relationships, values, and beliefs (Steen et al. 2021). According to virtue ethics, one's actions reveal their character and, therefore, it is important to cultivate virtues like courage and justice to lead a happy and meaningful life. Within the context of business ethics, virtue ethics encourages an analysis of how morality impacts choices and behaviours. People who find themselves in moral binds in the workplace have to balance their principles with those of the organisation. The philosophy of Aristotle promotes deliberate decision-making, acknowledging that decisions have a reciprocal effect on one's character and affiliations with organisations (Gal et al. 2020). Making morally right decisions is consistent with the formation of a moral character, highlighting the complex relationship that exists between personal and professional ethics in the business setting. Selecting businesses that share the virtues of organisational cultures becomes essential because these cultures mould and impact individual character. 

Essentially, virtue ethics challenges people to consider their decisions, recognising the ability of deeds to alter one's character within the complex web of both personal and professional life. The dynamic interaction between individual decisions and the culture of the organisation takes centre stage. People who are faced with moral dilemmas must strike a careful balance between following their moral convictions and doing what the corporate world expects of them (Dierksmeier & Seele, 2020). The reciprocity between character and behaviour is also emphasised, highlighting the fact that moral choices influence people's moral fibre over time in addition to their immediate consequences. One considers the organisation one chooses to work for to be very important because the culture of the workplace eventually shapes and influences an individual's character.

Limitations

The emphasis placed on virtues like bravery, justice, and temperance may be a reflection of a specific cultural bias, which calls into question the universality of these principles. The idea that a fixed set of virtues can govern ethical conduct universally is challenged by the fact that what defines virtuous behaviour can differ across cultures and historical periods (Coeckelbergh, 2021). The practical application of virtue ethics in a globalised and culturally diverse world is limited by this cultural relativity. Another restriction results from people's ability to distort the idea of virtue to defend immoral behaviour. In order to justify actions that might be harmful to other people or the larger community, dishonest people sometimes mask their unethical behaviour under the banner of promoting virtues. This is done by taking advantage of the subjective nature of virtue ethics. 

Furthermore, virtue ethics is often retroactive, emphasising the assessment of character after actions. This temporal feature may be restrictive in terms of helping people make moral decisions at the moment. Some ethical frameworks, like consequentialism, evaluate the results of actions instead of concentrating primarily on the actor's character, offering more direct guidance (Morrell & Dahlmann, 2023). Despite the importance of compliance standards and quantifiable metrics in the field of business ethics, virtue ethics may find it difficult to establish objective standards by which to measure ethical performance. In corporate environments where accountability and measurable outcomes are valued above all else, the absence of a clear and measurable framework may prevent it from being widely adopted.

b) Consequentialist Theories (Utilitarianism)

Overview

Utilitarianism is one example of a consequentialist theory that holds that an action's morality is decided by its consequences. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill introduced utilitarianism, which holds that a deed is morally right if it maximises overall happiness or pleasure and minimises suffering. It highlights the greatest good for the greatest number of people and promotes choices that maximise well-being all around (Häyry, 2021). Utilitarianism emphasises the practical evaluation of outcomes while rejecting absolute laws. Critics point out that quantifying happiness is difficult and that it may compromise individual rights, but utilitarianism is still relevant in discussions of ethics, particularly when it comes to solving societal problems.

In the context of business ethics

The consequentialist ethical theory of utilitarianism holds that an action's morality depends on its effects. Producing results that maximise human well-being—which includes happiness, health, dignity, integrity, freedom, and respect—is advocated by the guiding principle. The main principle states that activities ought to be directed towards achieving the best possible ratio of good to bad for all those impacted (Etieyibo, 2023). Act utilitarianism places a strong emphasis on judging every action according to its own merits and aims to maximise happiness for the largest possible number of people. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, emphasises the overall societal impact and applies the utilitarian standard to general rules or moral codes. 

Now, comparing this to virtue ethics according to Aristotle, it can be seen that the two approaches have different bases. Character development is the main focus of virtue ethics, which emphasises virtues like justice and courage. In terms of business ethics, virtue ethics promotes a moral corporate culture by encouraging people to make decisions based on these virtues. When applied to business, utilitarianism can help make decisions by evaluating how actions will affect stakeholders' well-being overall and potentially justifying actions that will benefit the majority (Bednar & Spiekermann, 2022). For example, utilitarian principles are adhered to by a company that uses environmentally sustainable practices to improve the health of the community. On the other hand, virtue ethics provides an alternative viewpoint, encouraging people to think about the growth of virtues when overcoming corporate obstacles. Selecting moral business practices turns moral qualities into an expression. For example, a leader who upholds moral principles by emphasising ethical labour practises fosters virtue in the individual as well as the organisation. Virtue ethics emphasises making decisions based on one's character, whereas utilitarianism depends on determining one's overall happiness. When a business leader exhibits integrity and makes decisions based on utilitarianism, these two ethical frameworks come together harmoniously.

Limitations

Despite its enticing appeal, utilitarianism has several drawbacks. Among the criticisms are the difficulties in accurately gauging and contrasting happiness and the possibility of ignoring justice and individual rights. Concerns about ethics arise when actions that sacrifice minority interests for the benefit of the majority are justified by the focus on the overall consequences (Timmerman & Cohen, 2020). Furthermore, it is challenging to accurately predict long-term effects, and the strategy might encourage actions that have short-term benefits but serious long-term consequences. The moral conundrums with the utilitarian theory are brought to light by its capacity to defend immoral actions, such as infringing on an individual's rights in the name of alleged societal benefits. Moreover, the requirement for objectivity might downplay the significance of interpersonal bonds and particular moral duties. These drawbacks highlight the necessity of a sophisticated ethical framework that takes into account virtues as well as consequences when tackling difficult moral dilemmas.

C) Non-consequentialist Theories (Kantian Ethics)

Overview 

Non-consequentialist theories contend that morality is based on inherent principles rather than the results of an action, as demonstrated by Immanuel Kant's Kantian Ethics. The importance of moral obligations that are grounded in reason and universal principles is emphasised by Kantian ethics, especially concerning Kant's categorical imperative (Chignell, 2022). These imperative states that people should only act following maxims that have the potential to become infallible universal laws. Morality stems from self-imposed, logical laws that uphold the intrinsic value of every person and encourage moral decision-making regardless of the ramifications. In contrast to consequentialist methods, Kantian ethics places moral values above the results of actions.

In the context of business ethics

Immanuel Kant's Kantian Ethics provides a deontological framework that prioritises moral obligations and ideals over outcomes. "Goodwill," the "categorical imperative," and the notion of treating "humanity as an end, never as merely a means" are among the key ideas. "Goodwill" is the innate moral characteristic that drives deeds carried out out of obligation. The "categorical imperative" functions as a moral yardstick, assessing deeds based on their applicability as universal principles and their universality (Samuel, 2023). This means that people have to consider whether their public actions could act as a moral example for others. Treating "humanity as an end" emphasises the intrinsic worth of people, stressing that they should never be used for purposes other than those for which they were created. Respect for each person's autonomy and dignity is encouraged by this principle.

The process of implementing Kantian ethics in business settings is multi-step. The first step is to identify the fundamental idea behind the action in question. To promote truthfulness in marketing, for instance, a company might choose to use honesty and transparency in its product advertising. Second, people need to consider if this idea is something that all rational creatures could agree upon as a general guideline (Zhang et al. 2020). The question of whether encouraging honesty in advertising is a principle that could be applied universally without contradiction arises in the context of marketing. If so, it is morally acceptable by Kantian Ethics. Making sure that no one is being unfairly treated to further the goals of the moral agent is another aspect of the assessment. Kantian Ethics would consider a marketing strategy unethical if it included manipulating vulnerable populations because it treated people like nothing more than tools to further corporate objectives. In addition, Kantian Ethics demands that people reflect on their responsibilities and whether they are met. If a business must give its workers safe working conditions, Kantian Ethics would assess if this obligation is met (Rostbøll, 2021). Ignorance of such obligations would be regarded as morally unacceptable. Treating consumers and employees with respect, for example, is in line with Kantian principles when a company implements fair labour practices and transparent communication. Kantian ethics, however, conflicts with a business that uses dishonest tactics or exploits employees purely for financial gain.

Limitations

One of Kantian ethics' drawbacks is that it applies universal principles rigidly, which could result in moral absolutism. Due to its abstract nature and tendency to ignore unintended consequences, the categorical imperative can have contradictory effects. Additionally, the framework finds it difficult to offer helpful direction in difficult, real-world situations, which could lead to moral conundrums (Ekman, 2022). Furthermore, Kantian Ethics might downplay the significance of advancing general well-being and overlook circumstances in which competing obligations emerge. Its applicability in complex ethical decision-making may be limited by its rigid adherence to duties and principles, which in some situations may be viewed as unduly demanding and unrealistic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Kantian ethics places a higher priority on innate principles, utilitarianism stresses outcome-based decision-making, and virtue ethics emphasises the development of character. Every framework provides insightful viewpoints on ethical issues. A comprehensive approach to ethical decision-making can be fostered by striking a balance between virtues, consequences, and universal principles. This can lead businesses and individuals towards morally sound decisions. An individual can negotiate challenging circumstances, foster moral development, and contribute to a society that is more ethically aware by comprehending and integrating these various ethical viewpoints.

References

Bednar, K., & Spiekermann, S. (2022). Eliciting Values for Technology Design with Moral Philosophy: An Empirical Exploration of Effects and Shortcomings. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 01622439221122595. https://doi.org/10.1177/01622439221122595

Chignell, A. (2022). Inefficacy, Despair, and Difference-Making: A Secular Application of Kant's Moral Argument. DOI: 10.4324/9781003043126-5

Coeckelbergh, M. (2021). How to use virtue ethics for thinking about the moral standing of social robots: a relational interpretation in terms of practices, habits, and performance. International Journal of Social Robotics13(1), 31-40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-020-00707-z

Dierksmeier, C., & Seele, P. (2020). Blockchain and business ethics. Business Ethics: A European Review29(2), 348-359. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/beer.12259

Ekman, I. (2022). Practising the ethics of person‐centred care balancing ethical conviction and moral obligations. Nursing philosophy23(3), e12382. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/nup.12382

Etieyibo, E. (2023). Metz’s Heterochthonous Relational Moral Theory and Business Ethics. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-023-10383-3

Gal, U., Jensen, T. B., & Stein, M. K. (2020). Breaking the vicious cycle of algorithmic management: A virtue ethics approach to people analytics. Information and Organization30(2), 100301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infoandorg.2020.100301

Häyry, M. (2021). Just better utilitarianism. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics30(2), 343-367. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180120000882

Morrell, K., & Dahlmann, F. (2023). Aristotle in the Anthropocene: The comparative benefits of Aristotelian virtue ethics over Utilitarianism and deontology. The Anthropocene Review10(3), 615-635. https://doi.org/10.1177/20530196221105093

Rostbøll, C. F. (2021). Kant and the critique of the ethics-first approach to politics. In Facts & Norms (pp. 55-70). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698230.2017.1403125

Samuel, O. S. (2023, June). Addressing fragmented human–nonhuman interactions through an ubuntu ‘mixed’ethics. In The Philosophical Forum. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/phil.12335

Steen, M., Sand, M., & Van de Poel, I. (2021). Virtue ethics for responsible innovation. Business and Professional Ethics Journal40(2), 243-268. https://doi.org/10.5840/bpej2021319108

Sytsma, D. S. (2020). John Calvin and Virtue Ethics: Augustinian and Aristotelian Themes. Journal of Religious Ethics48(3), 519-556. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jore.12324

Timmerman, T., & Cohen, Y. (2020). The limits of virtue ethics. Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics10, 255-282. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198867944.003.0012

Zhang, J., Deephouse, D. L., van Gorp, D., & Ebbers, H. (2020). Individuals’ perceptions of the legitimacy of emerging market multinationals: Ethical foundations and construct validation. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04599-x

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