Business Ethics

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RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MASLOW, KOHLBERG,

AND

ETHICAL AND UNETHICAL BUSINESS DECISIONS

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MASLOW, KOHLBERG AND
ETHICAL AND MORAL BUSINESS DECISIONS

INTRODUCTION

There are decisions made every day in the business world, some big, some small. The biggest struggle professionals face when making these decisions are the ethical consequences they face. Every decision that is made is going to have an impact on at least one person, no matter the size of the decision. And there are ethical consequences to all decisions. In the following paper I will be comparing Maslow’s Stages of Behavior and Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development with ethical and unethical behaviors of businesses and society. Both Maslow and Kohlberg have established a hierarchy of either behavior or moral development. I will take both of these hierarchies and apply them to the behavior of business and society, as well as including service-to-self and service-to-others concepts.

BACKGROUND (MASLOW & KOHLBERG)

Before we can discuss how Malsow and Kohlberg play a role in ethical and unethical behaviors in business and society, it is necessary to understand the values of these theories, beginning with Maslow’s Stages of Behavior. Malsow presents these stages in a hierarchical format, beginning with the lowest order, up to the highest level. The first level is physiological needs, followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and finally reaching the highest level of self-actualization. 1 In this hierarchy the first level is usually achieved before reaching the second level, and this continues along the hierarchy. Therefore, the ultimate level of reaching self-actualization isn’t usually achieved until all lower levels have been reached and in a sense, conquered. Similar to this theory is Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Kohlberg’s theory also states that the stages are reached in an order and one must be reached before the next, but can stop at any point, so that the highest level is not attainable by everyone. 2 Kohlberg’s stages of moral development consist of three levels and six stages. The first level is Pre-conventional morality (stages 1-2): Obedience and Punishment, Individualism and Exchange. The second level is Conventional morality (stages 3-4): Good Interpersonal Relationships, and Maintaining the Social Order. The third level is Post-conventional morality (stages 5-6): Social Contract and Individual rights, and Universal principles.3

FOCUS ON UPPER LEVELS

For both Maslow and Kohlberg there is a heavy emphasis on reaching the final stage or level. Reaching the self-actualization stage of Maslow’s stages shows that one has fully developed behavior, and moral behavior. Reaching the final stage of universal principles of Kohlberg’s stages shows that one has fully developed morally, very similar to Maslow. For Maslow’s stages a person is capable of reaching this final stage and then regressing back to lower stages.4Usually reaching this higher stage is only temporary and is seen as peak experience.4 This could be in a sort of out of body experience. But once someone has reached this stage, it usually impacts them for the rest of their life, and they do not immediately go back down to lower levels. This stage could also be called, or is known as having integrity.5 This integrity is for oneself and for others, including “a total commitment to the highest standards of behavior”. 5 This is where ethical and moral reasoning and behavior comes into play. People who have reached or have experienced the highest level of Maslow are going to act morally and ethically in their behavior.

The last stage of Kohlberg is universal principles. This stage “defines the principles by which we achieve justice”. 6 To me this stage entitles treating everyone with dignity. This reminds me of the integrity involved in the highest stage of Maslow. In this stage every human being is given equal respect and is...
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