Chapter 3 'Think Theory' answers

Evaluating Business Ethics: Normative Ethical Theories



Think about the concepts of absolutism and relativism in the context of bribery. How would each theory conceptualize the problem of bribery and what course of action might they suggest for someone faced with a corrupt official?

Bribery is always wrong; the person faced with a corrupt official should certainly not engage in bribery and depending on the policies in place should also take the matter to the authorities.

Bribery may be wrong; the person faced with a corrupt official should make a judgement based on the culture in which they are operating and the specific circumstances of the interaction. If the judgement is that engaging with the corrupt official would be wrong, the person should act as above; if the judgement is that it is not wrong, no barrier exists to ‘greasing the wheels’.


Stakeholder theory has also been considered from other theoretical perspectives. How would you apply utilitarianism for instance to the concept of stakeholder theory? Do you think that the two different perspectives would suggest different obligations towards stakeholders?

There is a basic difference in the two approaches, rendering different obligations. The Kantian ethics of duty is non-consequentialist: stakeholders are ends in themselves, and firms should treat them all with dignity. Utilitarianism is consequentialist. Here, an action is morally right (only) if the result is the greatest good for the greatest number. Individual stakeholders can therefore be treated instrumentally. One example to illustrate how utilitarianism could be applied: a supermarket chain might be justified in pressurising its suppliers to deliver goods at disadvantageous conditions (if the utility to customers and shareholders outweighed the costs to suppliers).


In chapter 2, in the context of the extended conceptualization of corporate citizenship, we have discussed the role of companies in the provision of basic entitlements such as water, security, and health. From the perspective of John Rawls’ theory of justice, could you imagine a situation in which the involvement of private corporations in the provision of public services (such as the provision of water) could be considered as morally just?

Yes. Provision of public services such as water is arguably essential for people to be able to enjoy their basic liberties – considered as social rights under the extended view of corporate citizenship discussed in Chapter 2. Where the government is either unable or unwilling to provide such public services and a private corporation is able to do so, then the involvement of a corporation in providing these services is morally just, as it contributes to provision of basic liberties. Such services must be affordable, however, otherwise they fail to meet Rawl’s second criterion.


Think about your own experiences in class or work. Have you experienced different feelings of responsibility to your friends than strangers? How might this play out in a business context? What role do you think emotions have in your own ethical decision making?

Although the answers to these questions are incredibly personal, here are a few example responses. You may have found that you feel a higher sense of responsibility for friends or family, or others that you have an association with, for example, if you go to university with them, work in the same place as them or are in the same sports club. Conversely, you may feel little or no feelings of responsibility towards individuals you don’t know. For example, you may not perceive it to be your responsibility if you see, someone fall over on the street. However, on the other hand, you may believe that we as humans all have a responsibility towards each other, regardless of the lack of an intimate relationship with a person, so therefore if you saw someone fall over on the street you would be morally responsible for ensuring that person was ok.

In a business context such responsibility to others may play out in a number of ways. For example, if you were the owner of a small business and you believed you had a high level of responsibility to the people around you, this may lead you to, for instance, cut your own salary to ensure your employees can be paid during hard economic times, give food away to others in your community you know to be struggling financially, or donating funds to a local sports club or cultural project.

The perceived role of emotions in ethical decision making can vary immensely. At one extreme, people may perceive their ethical cognitive functioning to be totally based on rationality and not related to what they are feeling, while others may believe that much or all of their ethical decision making is driven by empathy for others, and the emotions they experience when they see others in distress.