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1.5 Overview of The Business Ethics Workshop

This textbook is organized into three clusters of chapters. The first group develops and explains the main theories guiding thought in business ethics. The goals are to clarify the theoretical tools that may be used to make decisions and to display how arguments can be built in favor of one stance and against others. The questions driving the chapters include the following:

  • Are there fundamental rules for action that directly tell us what we ought to do? If so, are the imperatives very specific, including dictates like “don’t lie”? Or are they more flexible, more like rules broadly requiring fairness and beneficence to others?
  • Are fundamental rights—especially the conviction that we’re all free to pursue the destinies we choose—the key to thinking about ethics? If we have these rights, what happens when my free pursuit of happiness conflicts with yours?
  • Could it be that what we do doesn’t matter so much as the effects of what’s done? How can a framework for decisions be constructed around the idea that we ought to undertake whatever action is necessary (even lying or stealing) in order to bring about a positive end, something like the greater happiness of society overall?
  • To what extent are perspectives on right and wrong only expressions of the particular culture we live in? Does it makes sense to say that certain acts—say bribery—are OK in some countries but wrong in others?

The second cluster of chapters investigates business ethics on the level of the individual. The goal is to show how the tools of ethical reasoning may be applied to personal decisions made in connection with our nine-to-five lives. The questions driving the chapters include the following:

  • What values come into play when a career path is selected?
  • Can I justify lying on my résumé? How far am I willing to go to get a raise or promotion?
  • Besides a paycheck, what benefits will I seek at work? Money from a kickback? An office romance?
  • What do I owe my employer? Is there loyalty in business, or is there nothing more than the money I’m paid and the duties I’m assigned according to my work contract?
  • Do I have an obligation to report on someone else doing something I think is wrong?
  • If people work for me, what responsibilities do I have toward them inside and outside the office?
  • What values govern the way I hire, promote, and fire workers?

The third cluster of chapters considers institutional business ethics. These are general and sweeping issues typically involving corporations, the work environments they promote, and the actions they take in the economic world. Guiding questions include the following:

  • What counts as condemnable discrimination in the workplace, and what remedies ought to be tried?
  • Which attitudes, requirements, and restrictions should attach to sex and drugs in the workplace?
  • Should there be limits to marketing techniques and strategies? Is there anything wrong with creating consumer needs? What relationships should corporations form with their consumers?
  • Do corporations hold ethical responsibilities to the larger community in which they operate, to the people who aren’t employees or consumers but live nearby?
  • Is there a corporate responsibility to defend the planet’s environmental health?
  • Should the economic world be structured to produce individually successful stars or to protect the welfare of laboring collectives?