Role of Ethics in Business Success

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When business people speak about "business ethics" they usually mean one of three things: (1) avoid breaking the criminal law in one's work-related activity; (2) avoid action that may result in civil law suits against the company; and (3) avoid actions that are bad for the company image. Businesses are especially concerned with these three things since they involve loss of money and company reputation. In theory, a business could address these three concerns by assigning corporate attorneys and public relations experts to escort employees on their daily activities. Anytime an employee might stray from the straight and narrow path of acceptable conduct, the experts would guide him back. Obviously this solution would be a financial disaster if carried out in practice since it would cost a business more in attorney and public relations fees than they would save from proper employee conduct. Perhaps reluctantly, businesses turn to philosophers to instruct employees on becoming "moral." For over 2,000 years philosophers have systematically addressed the issue of right and wrong conduct. Presumably, then, philosophers can teach employees a basic understanding of morality will keep them out of trouble.

However, it is not likely that philosophers can teach anyone to be ethical. The job of teaching morality rests squarely on the shoulders of parents and one's early social environment. By the time philosophers enter the picture, it is too late to change the moral predispositions of an adult. Also, even if philosophers could teach morality, their recommendations are not always the most financially efficient. Although being moral may save a company from some legal and public relations nightmares, morality in business is also costly. A morally responsible company must pay special attention to product safety, environmental impact, truthful advertising, scrupulous marketing, and humane working conditions. This...
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