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Business Ethics: Practice versus Concept

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, there is a difference between the concept of business ethics and what is actually put into practice. There are many debates among academic business ethicists over the different aspects of business ethics. However, in my opinion, these debates focus only on the conceptual ideas behind business ethics and what they think should be taught in universities throughout the country instead of on practical and helpful information regarding ethics. Another issue is that the business ethics discussed in this article only revolve around large, publically traded companies. In reality, this type of business is a minority compared to the multiple styles of business so the article cannot really represent all business ethics.

In the article, business ethics is discussed in segments starting with the history, the role of the corporation, employment relations, international business ethics, and criticisms. The history section of the article is pretty short and simple since the academic discipline of business ethics has only been around for a couple of decades even though ethics has been around for centuries.

 The role of the corporation is split up into two main questions. The first question is “Is the corporation a moral agent?” This raises the debate among business ethicists of whether the corporation is seen as a moral person or a moral agent. The second question is “How and in whose interest ought the corporation to be governed?” Again, the classic debate of the stakeholder theory versus the shareholder theory is raised once more as business ethicists cannot agree.

Yet another issue that occurs among business ethicists centers on employment relations. The dispute focuses on the ethics of at-will employment versus just cause employment.

The last issue that arises in business ethics revolves around international business ethics. Each country and culture has a different set of ethical codes so when companies expand internationally; they need to know to either follow their own ethics or the ethics of the host country. Business ethicists therefore argue over which set of ethics to follow.

These four different never-ending debates reinforce the idea that business ethics is focused on debating issues rather than collaborating on a shared meaning. If the purpose of business ethics is to educate the younger generation of entrepreneurs on making the “right” decisions then all that business ethicists have done is cause confusion on what exactly should be done. Instead of being stubborn on these issues, business ethicists should work together to develop an common definition of business ethics in order to help entrepreneurs in the future in a practical manner instead of conceptually.


About Amanda Skonezney

I am a senior accounting major and anthropology minor at Bucknell University. I am also apart of the division I women's water polo team. I currently live in Harrisburg, PA. After graduation, I plan on going into tax and earning my CPA.


6 thoughts on “Business Ethics: Practice versus Concept

  1. Amanda, thank you for providing a breakdown of the numerous debates from the Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Business Ethics. The issue raised about international business ethics is of most interest to me. For my summer internship, I did a decent amount of research on the Dodd-Frank Act and in particular, the effect that this legislation is having on hedge funds. In response to what most hedge funds view as overly stringent regulations, some of them are moving their businesses abroad to dodge regulation and relocate to tax haven countries such as Gibraltar, Monaco, and Switzerland. While this practice is certainly legal, it could be interesting to evaluate the ethics behind the actions of these hedge funds. Additionally, applying the shareholder v. stakeholder theory could also be a way to evaluate the differing perspectives that individuals and society as a whole would have on this response that hedge funds are having to recent regulation.

    Posted by Beth O'Brien | January 31, 2012, 4:02 pm
  2. I am also intrigued by the dilemma of international business ethics. In the past, it seems that businesses have set up headquarters in their home country and then expanded overseas into new markets. Many businesses already had ethical standards set in place that accommodated the societal values and laws of their home country. Once they moved into new countries, their ethical standards did not necessarily apply to the societal beliefs and laws of the new country, therefore, they had to alter their ethical standards. The emergence of globalization has caused many businesses to engage in international business or foresee this as a valid possibility. Therefore, businesses who think they will go global should adopt ethical standards apply to many different countries. This would mean companies would set up global standards of ethical practices for their company.

    Posted by Lauren Daley | January 31, 2012, 6:16 pm
  3. I also found the international business ethics issue to be a very interesting concept brought up regarding the Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Business Ethics. This immediately reminded me of my marketing class I took here at Bucknell, because we discussed a lot of issues regarding global marketing and how advertisements may affect one culture differently than another. There were some instances where a certain color or phrasing meant something completely different in the foreign country they were marketing to, and ultimately were against the specific country’s codes of ethics. For this reason, I think it is crucial, when going into business internationally, to fully understand the cultures that will be integrated into the company. This way the company will know how to abide by the different ethical code or will at least give them a better understanding of what types of ethics they are dealing with, and how to formulate an appropriate strategy.

    Posted by alyssakinell | January 31, 2012, 8:10 pm
  4. I think that the fact that this is such a young theory is the main culprit for our lack of definite answers. In time, we might have a set of procedures to handle the dilemmas that we might face in the business world. I don’t know. Unfortunately, I also could also see us making very little progress in the field of business ethics. I think that business decisions are so complicated, and have so many different factors that go into them, that it will be tough to come up with the answers that we are looking for in this discipline.

    Posted by Ryan E | January 31, 2012, 9:11 pm
  5. It is hard to justify what could and should be included when speaking to business ethics. With the article focusing on large, publicly traded companies, there are massive chunks missing. Public, private and not-for-profit sectors all operate with different mindsets and missions. To think that there are finite answers out there seems farfetched to me. I feel that yes, there are generally accepted ethics that firms should be abiding by. But, as the article gets into international ethics, more layers of what is appropriate conduct are added to the muddle. With societal laws and values, there might be some way to create a “road map” to help decipher that specific country’s ethical guidelines. On the other hand, with so many businesses on track to be global, what is to say they cannot dictate their own draft of ethics and follow that to the letter, and dial back on external factors? I agree with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy stating there is a difference between the concept of business ethics and what is actually put into practice. For business ethics, I don’t think the solution is a “one for many” type of concept.

    Posted by Danielle Marquette | January 31, 2012, 11:36 pm


  1. Pingback: PPT Presentation on Ethics in International Business « The Papers of SL Douglas - February 25, 2012

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