Cover Page


Notes on Contributors

Preface to the Second Edition

Source Credits

1 Ethical Reasoning

A Prudential Model of Decision-Making

Possible Ethical Additions to the Prudential Model

How to Construct Your Own Model

How Do Ethics Make a Difference in Decision-Making?

Case 1: Social/Political ethics: The trolley problem


Case 2: Business ethics: Accountant at Alpha-Male Sport Shoes




2 Theories of Economic Justice


Marxian Liberalism

I. The Natural Right to Liberty

II. Property: Expression of Liberty and Constraint on Liberty

III. Property and Structural Coercion

IV. The Marxian-Liberal Original Position

V. The Just State


Reframing the Commonwealth: Commercial or Civic

The Privatization of the Commons

Adam Smith’s “Commercial Society”

The Legacy of Smith’s “Commercial Society”

The Privatization of Business Ethics

The Idea of the Commons

Commercial and Common Wealth

A Civic Platform

A Civic Commonwealth



Evaluating a Case Study: Developing a Practical Ethical Viewpoint

Situation One

Situation Two


3 What Is a Corporation?

A. The Corporation as an Individual

B. The Corporation as a Community: Stakeholder Theory


A. The Corporation as an Individual Can a Corporation Have a Conscience?

Defining the Responsibility of Persons

Projecting Responsibility to Corporations

Evaluating the Idea of Moral Projection

Leaving the Double Standard Behind


The Corporation as a Moral Person


Personalizing Corporate Ontology: The French Way


October Term, 2009 Supreme Court of the United States: Syllabus

B. The Corporation as a Community: Stakeholder Theory Corporations as Communities

I. “Private Property” and “Incorporation” as Social Constructs

II. Corporations Are the Property of ALL Who Invest in Them

III. Stakeholders and the Common Good


Business Ethics and Stakeholder Analysis


The Poletown Case

Stakeholder Analysis and Stakeholder Synthesis

Strategic Stakeholder Synthesis

Multi-Fiduciary Stakeholder Synthesis

The Stakeholder Paradox

The Problem of Boldness

Toward a New Stakeholder Synthesis



Stakeholders and Consent1

Stakeholders’ Interests


Informed Consent

Consent and Stakeholders

Putative Consent and Future-Oriented Consent



A Fiduciary Argument against Stakeholder Theory

I. Non-Fiduciary Stakeholder Theory

II. Morally Substantial Fiduciary Relations

III. The Manager-Shareholder Relation

IV. The Manager- (Non-Shareholding) Stakeholder Relation

V. The Moral Inadequacy of the Stakeholder Theory


Evaluating a Case Study

Case 1

Case 2

Checklist for Detecting Issues Concerning Professional Practice

Checklist for Detecting Ethical Issues

Macro and Micro Cases

4 What Are Proper Business Practices?

A. Competition and the Practice of Business

B. Advertising

C. Information Technology


A. Competition and the Practice of Business The Janus Faces of Competition

What Is Competition?

Competition as Bad

Competition as Good

Competition and Merit

The Traditional Position

The Social Welfare-Based Position

The Debate Reconsidered

The Deserts-Based Position



The Principle of Fair Competition


B. Advertising The Advertising of Happiness and the Branding of Values

1. Introduction

2. The Manufacturing of Happiness

3. The Association of Brands with Values

4. The Feel Good Argument

5. The Ethical Dimension of Happiness

6. Plato’s Quarrel with the Poets: What Plato Can Teach Us about Advertising Ethics

7. The Devaluation of Happiness and Values by Advertising

8. Plato’s Relevance and Lessons for Advertising of Brands

9. Conclusion



A Model to Explore the Ethics of Erotic Stimuli in Print Advertising


The Hypothetical Model

The Study



C. Information Technology The Importance of Information in Business Ethics

1. Introduction

2. Semantic Information

3. Transparency

4. Online Trust

5. Privacy

6. Conclusion



Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance: The Problem of Trust


Types of Workplace Surveillance

Workplace Surveillance Justifications

Workplace Surveillance Concerns

Trust in ICT

Accounts of Trust

Trust as “Seeing As”

Trust and Surveillance

Does It Matter?

Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance Revisited



Evaluating a Case Study: Assessing Embedded Levels

Case 1

Case 2

Macro and Micro Cases5


5 Ethical Issues within the Corporation

A. Working Conditions

B. Affirmative Action

C. Gender Issues

D. Whistle-Blowing


A. Working Conditions Of Acceptable Risk

Judging Safety

Guides to Acceptability

On Being, and Being Held, Responsible


Working Conditions in Home Care: Negotiating Race and Class Boundaries in Gendered Work

Home Care Workers: A Changing Labor Force

Methodological Considerations

Everyday Racism in Home Care Workers’ Work

Transforming Community Care




Sneakers and Sweatshops: Holding Corporations Accountable

B. Affirmative Action Preferential Hiring





Preferential Hiring: A Reply to Judith Jarvis Thomson


The Future of Affirmative Action

Defining Affirmative Action

The Problem


C. Gender Issues In Shouts and Whispers: Paradoxes Facing Women of Colour in Organizations

On Paradox

Paradoxes Facing Women of Colour

Speaking Out and Being Heard

Using Paradox


Compensation Inequality

Bread and Roses

Job Discrimination Defined

Evidence of Job Discrimination against Women

Job Discrimination Is Morally Wrong

Why Do People Underestimate the Extent of Job Discrimination against Women?

Less Disparate Treatment but Disparate Impact Still Runs Riot



D. Whistle-Blowing Whistle-Blowing

Some Examples

Principal Features of Whistle-Blowing

Ethical Context

Issues for Individuals

Issues for Organizations

Issues for Society



Mad as Hell or Scared Stiff?: The Effects of Value Conflict and Emotions on Potential Whistle-Blowers

Literature Review

Model and Propositions

Conclusion and Future Directions


Evaluating a Case Study: Applying Ethical Issues

Sample “Pro” Brainstorming Sheet for the Position

Sample Brainstorming Sheet Against the Position


Macro and Micro Cases4


6 The Context of Business

A. The Financial Services Industry

B. Global Business: Bribing

C. Globalization

A. The Financial Services Industry Ethics in Financial Services: Systems and Individuals


What Is Corruption?

The Purpose of Financial Markets

Is Greed a Factor in the Corruption?

Losing Sight of the Purpose of Financial Markets

Financial Services Professionals

Basic Ethical Principles: A Call to Reexamine Purpose


Derivatives and the Financial Crisis: Ethics, Stewardship, and Cultural Politics

Derivatives, the Credit Crisis, and the Right to Contract

Derivatives and the Financial Crisis

Failures of Stewardship

Stewardship, Complexity, and the Interdependence of the Financial System

Derivatives and the Financial Crisis: Cultural Politics and Pedagogy


Madoff and Kreuger: Fraud Theories, Red Flags, and Due Diligence in the Auditing Process


Theoretical Framework

The Fraud Triangle

The Fraud Diamond

Due Diligence

The Aftermath



B. Global Business: Bribing Bribery








Bribery and Implicit Agreements: A Reply to Philips


What’s Wrong with Bribery?

C. Globalization Economic Globalization: An Empirical Presentation and a Moral Judgment

1. Introduction

2. Poverty and Globalization

3. Income and Selected Indicators of Wellbeing

4. What about Child Labor and the Environment?

5. Further Analysis of Globalization

6. Does Globalization Have Any Downside?

7. A Final Note



Multinational Enterprises and Incomplete Institutions: The Demandingness of Minimum Moral Standards

Not above the Law

Do No Harm

Liberty and Security Rights

Duties of Assistance




Evaluating a Case Study: Structuring the Essay

Sample Essay

Macro and Micro Cases1


Further Reading

General Business Ethics

Chapter 2 Theories of Economic Justice

Chapter 3 What Is a Corporation?

Chapter 4 What Are Proper Business Practices?

Chapter 5 Ethical Issues within the Corporation

Chapter 6 The Context of Business: Nationally and Internationally

Praise for Business Ethics

“Boylan appropriately encourages the reader first to ‘know thyself,’ since construction of effective decision-making models begins with introspection. His guidance certainly is well-placed, given lessons of the past decade—and before. Business Ethics proceeds to equip its readers with the tools necessary to continue to construct those models while allowing for diverse results. Throughout the text, we are offered varying perspectives on classic ethical questions, allowing each of us to hone both our view of ourselves and our worldview, while also developing a more concise vocabulary for that articulation through the case response method.

Boylan’s text is both a challenge and a delight to read, as one is reminded that great minds do not always think alike; sometimes, what makes them great is that they offer exceptionally exquisite arguments on differing sides of ethical debates.”

—Laura P. Hartman, DePaul University


“Carefully crafted, this book contains a pedagogical gold mine of cases and essays on the key issues in business ethics today. It serves as a perfect introduction to the complex equation of balancing business and ethics.”

—Al Gini, Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University Chicago

“In the information age, corporate stakeholders are increasingly ‘connected’ to a global marketplace yet may find themselves strangely isolated, even alienated, within it. Taking as their starting point Michael Boylan’s ‘personal worldview imperative,’ which mandates that we cultivate comprehensive and coherent worldviews that inspire action toward the good, the dialogical essays collected in Boylan’s Business Ethics offer more than an introduction to ethics applied to business concerns. They provide a compass with which we may chart distinctive courses toward market relationships of integrity and satisfaction.”

—Sybol Anderson, St. Mary’s College of Maryland


For Éamon

Notes on Contributors

Jane Aronson is professor and director of the faculty of social sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.

Michael Boylan is professor and chair of philosophy at Marymount University.

Marvin T. Brown teaches business and organizational ethics in the philosophy department, University of San Francisco and in the organizational systems program at Saybrook University in San Francisco.

Thomas L. Carson is professor of philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago.

Stephen Cohen is professor of philosophy at the University of New South Wales.

Thomas Donaldson is the Mark O. Winkelman Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania.

Ronald Duska is Charles Lamont Post Chair of Ethics and the Professions at The American College.

Mary Jane Eichorn is an investor reporting specialist at the Navy Federal Credit Union.

Amitai Etzioni is university professor at the George Washington University.

Peter A. French is the Lincoln Chair in Ethics, professor of philosophy, and the director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University.

Kenneth E. Goodpaster is the David and Barbara Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics at the University of St. Thomas.

Erika Henik is an affiliate professor at the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Tony L. Henthorne is associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Nien-hê Hsieh is associate professor of legal studies and business ethics and ­co-director of the Wharton’s Ethics Program at the Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania.

Rekha Karambayya is associate professor of organization studies and chair of ­organizational behaviour/industrial relations at York University, Canada.

Michael S. LaTour is associate professor of marketing at Auburn University.

William W. Lowrance is a consultant in health research ethics and policy, based in La Grande Motte in the south of France.

Alexei M. Marcoux is an honorary lecturer in philosophy at the department of ­philosophy, University of East Anglia.

John B. Matthews, Jr. is a professor at the Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University.

David E. McClean is a lecturer at Rutgers University and also the principal at David E. McClean Associates, a financial services consulting group.

Terrance McConnell is professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Sheila M. Neysmith is professor, associate dean of research, and RBC Chair in Applied Social Work Research, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Michael Philips is professor emeritus of philosophy at Portland State University.

Behnaz Z. Quigley is professor of accounting at Marymount University.

Farhad Rassekh is associate dean for academic management and professor of ­economics at the University of Hartford.

Jeffrey Reiman is William Fraser McDowell Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Washington, DC.

David M. Schilling is a United Methodist minister and director of Global Corporate Accountability at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York.

Robert Simon is Marjorie and Robert W. McEwen Professor of Philosophy at Hamilton College in New York.

Edward H. Spence is a senior lecturer in moral philosophy and professional ethics in the School of Communication, Charles Sturt University, Australia. He is also a senior research fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) in Canberra.

Mariarosaria Taddeo is research fellow in Cyber Security and Ethics, PAIS, University of Warwick, England, and research associate, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford.

Judith Jarvis Thomson is professor of philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scott Turow is an author and practicing attorney.

Jane Uebelhoer is associate professor of business ethics at Marymount University.

John Weckert is professor of computer ethics in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and professorial fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) in Canberra, Australia.

Preface to the Second Edition

Business Ethics is one of my three texts on applied ethics that is now being published by Wiley-Blackwell. The idea behind each of the books, in general, is to present some of the most pressing questions in applied ethics through a mixture of classic essays and some new essays commissioned precisely for these volumes. The result is a dialogue that I think readers will find enriching.

In addition to the essays, there is an ongoing pedagogical device on how to write an essay in applied ethics—using case response as the model. To this end, the major ­chapters of the book are followed by two sorts of cases: macro cases and micro cases. In macro cases the student takes the role of a supervisor and must solve a problem from that perspective. In the micro cases the student becomes a line worker and ­confronts dilemmas from that vantage point. Some felicity at both perspectives can enable the student better to understand the complication of using ethical theories (set out in Chapter 1) to real-life problems.

Others using the book may choose instead to evaluate selected essays through a “pro” or “con” evaluation. This approach emphasizes close reading of an article and the application of ethical theory (set out in Chapter 1) to show why you believe the author is correct or incorrect in her/his assessment of the problem. In order to make this approach appealing to readers, some effort has been made to offer different approaches to contemporary questions in healthcare ethics.

What is new in this second edition:

It is my hope that this second edition will meet the needs of classroom instruction in a unique way while recognizing that responsible business practice occurs within a diverse context that must be understood in order to be effective. The world moves on and now, more than ever, we need vehicles to stimulate our students to be aware of how they can integrate social responsibility into the way they make decisions—either at the micro or macro level. To this end, students must learn when and how to adapt the principles of its theoretical core in order to meet these practical demands.

As is always the case in projects like this there are many to thank. I would first like to thank all the scholars who have written original essays expressly for this edition. Their fine work has added a unique character to the book. To the anonymous reviewers of this book, a thank-you for your thoughtful comments. I would also like to thank Jeff Dean, my editor, for his support of the project and the whole Wiley-Blackwell team.

I would also like to thank my research team at Marymount: Tanya Lanuzo and Lynn McLaughlin. Their expertise helped with my original essays that are in this volume. Finally, I would like to thank my family: Rebecca, Arianne, Seán, and Éamon. They continually help me grow as a person.

Source Credits

The editor and publisher gratefully acknowledge the permission granted to reproduce the copyright material in this book:

Chapter 3

Kenneth E. Goodpaster and John B. Mathews Jr., “Can a Corporation Have a Conscience?” Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review from Harvard Business Review, 60 (Jan./Feb. 1982): 132–141. Copyright © 1982 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

Peter A. French, “The Corporation as a Moral Person.” Reprinted by permission of the ­publisher from Collective and Corporate Responsibility by Peter A. French; 59–68. Copyright © 1984 Columbia University Press.

Thomas Donaldson, “Personalizing Corporate Ontology: The French Way.” Reprinted with kind permission of the editor and the author from Shame, Responsibility and the Corporation, ed. Hugh Curtler (New York: Haven Publishing, 1986); 101–112.

Citizens United v. FTC (U.S. Supreme Court Case, 2010).

Kenneth Goodpaster, “Business Ethics and Stakeholder Analysis.” Reprinted with ­permission of the Philosophy Documentation Center from Business Ethics Quarterly 1 (1991): 52–71.

Stephen Cohen, “Stakeholders and Consent.” Reprinted with permission of the Philosophy Documentation Center from Business and Professional Ethics Journal 14, 1 (1995): 3–16.

Alexei Marcoux, “A Fiduciary Argument against Stakeholder Theory.” Reprinted with ­permission of the Philosophy Documentation Center from Business Ethics Quarterly 13.1 (Jan., 2003): 1–24.

Chapter 4

Tony L. Henthorne and Michael S. LaTour, “A Model to Explore the Ethics of Erotic Stimuli in Print Advertising.” Reprinted with kind permission of Springer from Journal of Business Ethics 14 (1995): 561–569. Copyright © 1995.

Chapter 5

William W. Lowrance, “Of Acceptable Risk.” From Of Acceptable Risk (Los Altos, CA: William Kauffmann, 1976).

Sheila M. Neysmith and Jane Aronson, “Working Conditions in Home Care: Negotiating Race and Class Boundaries in Gendered Work.” Reprinted by permission of the publisher from International Journal of Health Services 27, 3 (1997): 479–499. Copyright ©1997 Baywood Publishers.

David M. Schilling, “Sneakers and Sweatshops: Holding Corporations Accountable.” Reprinted by permission from The Christian Century, October 9, 1996: 240–244. Copyright © 1996 Christian Century Foundation.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Preferential Hiring.” Reprinted with permission of Princeton University Press from Philosophy and Public Affairs 2.4 (1973): 364–384. Copyright © 1973 by Princeton University Press.

Robert Simon, “Preferential Hiring: A Reply to Judith Jarvis Thomson.” Reprinted with ­permission of Princeton University Press from Philosophy and Public Affairs 3.3 (1974): 312–320. Copyright © 1974 by Princeton University Press.

Michael Boylan “Affirmative Action: Strategies for the Future.” Reprinted with permission from Journal of Social Philosophy 33.1 (2002): 117–130.

Rekha Karambayya, “In Shouts and Whispers: Paradoxes Facing Women of Colour in Organizations.” Reprinted with kind permission of Springer from Journal of Business Ethics 16 (1997): 891–897. Copyright © 1997.

Terrance McConnell, “Whistle-Blowing.” Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd from R.G. Frey ed., A Companion to Applied Ethics: Blackwell Companions to Philosophy (2003); 570–582.

Erika Henik, “Mad as Hell or Scared Stiff? The Effects of Value Conflict and Emotions on Potential Whistle-Blowers.” Reprinted with permission of Springer from Journal of Business Ethics 80.1 (June 2008): 111–119.

Chapter 6

Michael Philips, “Bribery,” Ethics 94 (July 1984): 621–636. © 1984 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Thomas L. Carson, “Bribery and Implicit Agreements: A Reply to Philips.” Reprinted with kind permission of Springer from Journal of Business Ethics 6 (1987): 123–125. Copyright © 1987.

Scott Turow, “What’s Wrong with Bribery?” Reprinted with kind permission of Springer from Journal of Business Ethics 4 (1985): 249–251. Copyright © 1985.


Ethical Reasoning


What is the point of studying ethics? This is the critical question that will drive this chapter. Many people don’t think about ethics as they make decisions in their day-to-day lives. They see problems and make decisions based upon practical criteria. Many see ethics as rather an affectation of personal taste. It is useful only when it can get you somewhere. Is this correct? Do we only act ethically when there is a win–win situation in which we can get what we want and also seem like an honorable, feeling, and caring person?

A Prudential Model of Decision-Making

In order to begin answering this question we must start by examining the way most of us make decisions. Everyone on earth initiates the decision-making process with an established worldview. A worldview is a current personal consciousness that consists of one’s understanding about the facts and values in the world. It is the most primitive term to describe our factual and normative conceptions. This worldview may be one that we have chosen or it may be one that we have passively accepted as we grow up in a particular culture. Sometimes the worldview is wildly inconsistent. Sometimes the worldview has gaping holes so that no answer can be generated. Sometimes it is only geared to perceived self-interest. And sometimes it is fanciful and can never be put into practice. Failures in one’s personal worldview model will lead to failures in decision-making.

One common worldview model in the Western world is that of celebrity fantasy. Under this worldview, being a celebrity is everything. Andy Warhol famously claimed that what Americans sought after most was 15 minutes of fame.1 Under this worldview model we should strive to become a celebrity if only for a fleeting moment. What does it mean to be a celebrity? It is one who is seen and recognized by a large number of people. Notice that this definition does not stipulate that once recognized the object is given positive assent. That would be to take an additional step. To be seen and recognized is enough. One can be a sinner or a saint—all the same. To be recognized is to be recognized. If this is the end, then it is probably easier to take the sinner route. In this way, the passion for celebrity is at heart contrary to ethics.

Another popular worldview model is one of practical competence. Under this model the practitioner strives to consider what is in his or her best interest and applies a practical cost–benefit analysis to various situations in order to ascertain whether action x or action y will maximize the greatest amount of pleasure for the agent (often described in terms of money). Thus, if you are Bernie Madoff (a well-known financial swindler) you might think about the risks and rewards of creating an illegal Ponzi scheme as opposed to creating a legitimate investment house that operates as other investment houses do. The risk of setting off in your own direction is that you might get caught and go to prison. The rewards are that you might make much more money than you would have under the conventional investment house model. Since you think you are smarter than everyone else and won’t get caught, the prudential model would say—go for it! Madoff did get caught, but who knows how many others don’t? We couldn’t know because they haven’t been caught. But, even if you aren’t caught, is that the best worldview approach? The prudential model says yes.

Possible Ethical Additions to the Prudential Model

Some people, including this author, think that the prudential model is lacking. Something else is necessary in order have a well-functioning worldview by which we can commit purposive action (here understood to be the primary requirement of fulfilled human nature). First, we have to accept that the construction of our worldview is within our control. What I suggest is a set of practical guidelines for the construction of our worldview: “All people must develop a single comprehensive and internally coherent worldview that is good and that we strive to act out in our daily lives.” I call this the personal worldview imperative. Now one’s personal worldview is a very basic concept. One’s personal worldview contains all that we hold good, true, and beautiful about existence in the world. There are four parts to the personal worldview imperative: completeness, coherence, connection to a theory of ethics, and practicality. Let’s briefly say something about each.

First is completeness. Completeness is a formal term that refers to a theory being able to handle all cases put before it and to determine an answer based upon the system’s recommendations. In this case, I think that the notion of the good will provides completeness to everyone who develops one. There are two senses of the good will. The first is the rational good will. The rational good will means that each agent will develop an understanding about what reason requires of one as we go about our business in the world. In the various domains in which we engage this may require developing different sorts of skills. In the case of ethics it would require engaging in a rationally based philosophical ethics and abiding by what reason demands.

Another sort of good will is the affective good will. We are more than just rational machines. We have an affective nature, too. Our feelings are important, but just as was the case with reason, some guidelines are in order. For ethics we begin with sympathy. Sympathy will be taken to be the emotional connection that one forms with other humans. This emotional connection must be one in which the parties are considered to be on a level basis. The sort of emotional connection I am talking about is open and between equals. It is not that of a superior “feeling sorry” for an inferior. It is my conjecture that those who engage in interactive human sympathy that is open and level will respond to another with care. Care is an action-guiding response that gives moral motivation to acting properly. Together sympathy, openness, and care constitute love.

When confronted with any novel situation one should utilize the two dimensions of the good will to generate a response. Because these two orientations act differently it is possible that they may contradict each other. When this is the case, I would allot the tiebreaker to reason. Others demur.2 Each reader should take a moment to think about her own response to such an occurrence.

Second is coherence. People should have coherent worldviews. This also has two varieties: deductive and inductive. Deductive coherence speaks to our not having overt contradictions in our worldview. An example of an overt contradiction in one’s worldview would be for Sasha to tell her friend Sharad that she has no prejudice against Muslims and yet, in another context, tell anti-Muslim jokes. The coherence provision of the personal worldview imperative says that you shouldn’t change who you are and what you stand for depending upon the context in which you happen to be.

Inductive coherence is different. It is about adopting life strategies that work together. When they work against each other it is inductive incoherence. In inductive logic this is called a sure loss contract. For example, if a person wanted to be a devoted husband and family man and yet also engage in extramarital affairs he would involve himself in inductive incoherence. The very traits that make him a good family man: loyalty, keeping your word, sincere interest in the well-being of others are damaging to a philanderer, who requires selfish manipulation of others for his own pleasure. The good family man will be a bad philanderer and vice versa. To try to do both well involves a sure loss contract. Such an individual will fail at both. This is what inductive incoherence means.

Third is connection to a theory of being good, that is, ethics. The personal worldview imperative enjoins that we consider and adopt an ethical theory. It does not give us direction, as such, as to which theory to choose except that the chosen theory must not violate any of the other three conditions (completeness, coherence, and practicability). What is demanded is that one connects to a theory of ethics and uses its action guiding force to control action.

The final criterion is practicability. In this case there are two senses to the command. The first sense refers to the fact that we actually carry out what we say we will do. If we did otherwise, we’d be hypocrites and also deductively incoherent. But second, it is important that the demands of ethics and social and political philosophy be doable. One cannot command another to do the impossible! The way that I have chosen to describe this is the distinction between the utopian and the aspirational. The utopian is a command that may have logically valid arguments behind it but is existentially unsound (meaning that some of the premises in the action-guiding argument are untrue by virtue of their being impractical). In a theory of global ethics if we required that everyone in a rich country gave up threequarters of their income so that they might support the legitimate plight of the poor, this would be a utopian vision. Philosophers are very attracted to utopian visions. However, unless philosophers want to be marginalized, we must situate our prescriptions in terms that can actually be used by policy makers. Beautiful visions that can never be should be transferred to artists and poets.

How to Construct Your Own Model

The first step in creating your own model for which you are responsible is to go through personal introspection concerning the four steps in the personal worldview imperative. The first two are global analyses in which an individual thinks about who he or she is right now in terms of consistency and completeness. These criteria are amenable to the prudential model. They are instrumental to making whatever worldview one chooses to be the most effective possible. This is a prudential standard of excellence. What constitutes the moral turn is the connection to a theory of the good: ethics.

Thus the third step is to consider the principal moral theories and make a choice as to which theory best represents your own considered position. To assist readers in this task, I provide a brief gloss here of the major theories of ethics.

Theories of ethics

There are various ways to parse theories of ethics. I will parse theories of ethics according to what they see as the ontological status of their objects. There are two principal categories: (a) the realist theories that assert that theories of ethics speak to actual realities that exist;3 and (b) the anti-realist, that assert that theories of ethics are merely conventional and do not speak about ontological objects.

Realist theories

Utilitarianism is a theory that suggests that an action is morally right when that action produces more total utility for the group as a consequence than any other alternative. Sometimes this has been shortened to the slogan, “The greatest good for the greatest number.” This emphasis upon calculating quantitatively the general population’s projected consequential utility among competing alternatives, appeals to many of the same principles that underlie democracy and capitalism (which is why this theory has always been very popular in the USA and other Western capitalistic democracies). Because the measurement device is natural (people’s expected pleasures as outcomes of some decision or policy), it is a realist theory. The normative connection with aggregate happiness and the good is a factual claim. Utilitarianism’s advocates point to the definite outcomes it can produce by an external and transparent mechanism. Critics cite the fact that the interests of minorities may be overridden.

Deontology is a moral theory that emphasizes one’s duty to do a particular action just because the action, itself, is inherently right and not through any other sorts of calculations—such as the consequences of the action. Because of this nonconsequentialist bent, deontology is often contrasted with utilitarianism, which defines the right action in term of its ability to bring about the greatest aggregate utility. In contradistinction to utilitarianism, deontology will recommend an action based upon principle. “Principle” is justified through an understanding of the structure of action, the nature of reason, and the operation of the will. Because its measures deal with the nature of human reason or the externalist measures of the possibility of human agency, the theory is realist. The result is a moral command to act that does not justify itself by calculating consequences. Advocates of deontology like the emphasis upon acting on principle or duty alone. One’s duty is usually discovered via careful rational analysis of the nature of reason or human action. Critics cite the fact that there is too much emphasis upon reason and not enough on emotion and our social selves situated in the world.

Swing theories (may be realist or anti-realist)

Ethical intuitionism can be described as a theory of justification about the immediate grasping of self-evident ethical truths. Ethical intuitionism can operate on the level of general principles or on the level of daily decision-making. In this latter mode many of us have experienced a form of ethical intuitionism through the teaching of timeless adages such as “Look before you leap,” and “Faint heart never won fair maiden.” The truth of these sayings is justified through intuition. Many adages or maxims contradict each other (such as the two above), so that the ability properly to apply these maxims is also understood through intuition. When the source of the intuitions is either God or Truth itself as independently existing, then the theory is realist, the idea being that everyone who has a proper understanding of God or Truth will have the same revelation. When the source of the intuitions is the person herself living as a biological being in a social environment, then the theory is anti-realist because many different people will have various intuitions and none can take precedent over another.

Virtue ethics is also sometimes called agent-based or character ethics. It takes the viewpoint that in living your life you should try to cultivate excellence in all that you do and all that others do. These excellences or virtues are both moral and nonmoral. Through conscious training, for example, an athlete can achieve excellence in a sport (nonmoral example). In the same way a person can achieve moral excellence, as well. The way these habits are developed and the sort of community that nurtures them are all under the umbrella of virtue ethics. When the source of these community values is Truth or God, then the theory is realist. When the source is the random creation of a culture based upon geography or other accidental features, then the theory is anti-realist. Proponents of the theory cite the real effect that cultures have in influencing our behavior. We are social animals and this theory often ties itself with communitarianism, which affirms the positive interactive role that society plays in our lives. Detractors often point to the fact that virtue ethics does not give specific directives on particular actions. For example, a good action is said to be one that a person of character would make. To detractors this sounds like begging the question.

Anti-realist theories

Ethical noncognitivism is a theory that suggests that the descriptive analysis of language and culture tells us all we need to know about developing an appropriate attitude in ethical situations. Ethical propositions are neither true nor false but can be analyzed via linguistic devices to tell us what action-guiding meanings are hidden there. We all live in particular and diverse societies. Discerning what each society commends and admonishes is the task for any person living in a society. We should all fit in and follow the social program as described via our language and society. Because these imperatives are relative to the values of the society or social group being queried, the maxims generated hold no natural truth value and as such are anti-realist. Advocates of this theory point to its methodological similarity to deeply felt worldview inclinations of linguistics, sociology, and anthropology. If one is an admirer of these disciplines as seminal directions of thought, then ethical noncognitivism looks pretty good. Detractors point to corrupt societies and that ethical noncognitivism cannot criticize these from within (because the social milieu is accepted at face value).

Ethical contractarians assert that freely made personal assent gives credence to ethical and social philosophical principles. These advocates point to the advantage of the ­participants being happy or contented with a given outcome. The assumption is that within a context of competing personal interests in a free and fair interchange of values that those principles that are intersubjectively agreed upon are sufficient for creating a moral “ought.” The “ought” comes from the contract and extends from two people to a social group. Others universalize this, by thought experiments, to anyone entering such contracts. Because the theory does not assert that the basis of the contract is a proposition that has natural existence as such the theory is anti-realist. Proponents of the theory tout its connection to notions of personal autonomy that most people support. Detractors cite the fact that the theory rests upon the supposition that the keeping of contracts is a good thing, but why is this so? Doesn’t the theory presuppose a meta-moral theory validating the primacy of contracts? If not, then the question remains, “What about making a contract with another creates normative value”?

For the purposes of this text, we will assume these six theories to be exhaustive of philo­sophically based theories of ethics or morality.4 In subsequent chapters you should be prepared to apply these terms to situations and compare the sorts of outcomes that different theories would promote.
    The fourth step in modifying one’s personal worldview (now including ethics) is to go through an examination of what is possible (aspirational) as opposed to what is impossible (utopian). This is another exercise in pragmatic reasoning that should be based on the agent’s own abilities and situation in society given her or his place in the scheme of things. Once this is determined, the agent is enjoined to discipline herself to actually bring about the desired change. If the challenge is great, then she should enlist the help of others: family, friends, community, and other support groups.

How Do Ethics Make a Difference in Decision-Making?

In order to get a handle on how the purely prudential worldview differs from the ethically enhanced worldview, let us consider two cases and evaluate the input of ethics. First, we will consider a general case in social and political ethics and then one from business ethics. The reader should note how the decision-making process differs when we add the ethical mode. In most cases in life the decisions we make have no ethical content. It doesn’t ethically matter whether we have the chocolate or vanilla ice cream cone. It doesn’t ethically matter if we buy orchestra seats for the ballet or the nosebleed seats. It doesn’t ethically matter if I wear a red or a blue tie today. The instances in which ethics are important form a small subset of all the decisions that we make. That is why many forego thought about ethical decision-making: it is only important in a minority of our total daily decisions. In fact, if we are insensitive to what counts as an ethical decision context, then we might believe that we are never confronted with a decision with ethical consequences.

To get at these relations let’s consider a couple of cases in which the ethical features are highly enhanced. Readers are encouraged to participate in creating reactions to these from the worldviews they now possess.

Case 1: Social/Political Ethics
The Trolley Problem

You are the engineer of the Bell Street Trolley. You are approaching Lexington Avenue Station (one of the major hub switching stations). The switchman on duty there says there is a problem. A school bus filled with 39 children has broken down on the right track (the main track). Normally, this would mean that he would switch you to the siding track, but on that track is a car filled with 4 adults that has broken down. The switchman asks you to apply your brakes immediately. You try to do so, but you find that your brakes have failed, too. There is no way that you can stop your trolley train. You will ram either the school bus or the car killing either 39 children or 4 adults. You outrank the switchman. It’s your call: what should you do?

Secondary nuance: What if the switchman were to tell you that from his vantage point on the overpass to the Lexington Avenue Station there is a rather obese homeless man who is staggering about. What if (says the switchman) he were to get out of his booth and push the homeless person over the bridge and onto the electric lines that are right below it? The result would be to stop all trains coming into and out of the Lexington Avenue Station. This would result in saving the lives of the occupants of the two vehicles. Of course it would mean the death of the obese homeless person. The switchman wants your OK to push the homeless man over the bridge—what do you say?


This case has two sorts of interpretations: before and after the nuance addition. In the first instance, you are faced with a simple question: should you kill 4 people or 39? The major moral theories give different answers to this question. First, there is the point of view of utilitarianism. It would suggest that killing 4 causes less pain than killing 39. Thus you should tell the switchman to move you to the siding.

There is the fact that when the car was stuck on the siding, the driver probably viewed his risk as different from being stuck on the main line. Thus, by making that choice you are altering that expectation—versus the bus driver who has to know that he is in ­imminent danger of death. Rule utilitarians might think that moving away from normal procedures requires a positive alternative. Killing four people may not qualify as a positive alternative (because it involves breaking a rule about willful killing of innocents). Thus, the utilitarian option may be more complicated than first envisioned.

Rule utilitarianism would also find it problematic to throw the homeless person over the bridge for the same reason, though the act utilitarian (the variety outlined above) might view the situation as killing 1 versus 4 or 39. However, there is the reality that one is committing an act of murder to save others. This would be disallowed by the rule utilitarian. If the act utilitarian were to consider the long-term social consequences in sometimes allowing murder, he would agree with the rule utilitarian. However, without the long-term time frame, the act utilitarian would be committed to throwing the homeless person over the rail.

The deontologist would be constrained by a negative duty not to kill. It would be equally wrong from a moral situation to kill anyone. There is no moral reason to choose between the car and the bus. Both are impermissible. However, there is no avoidance alternative. You will kill some group of people unless the homeless person is thrown over the wall. But throwing the homeless person over the wall is murder. Murder is impermissible. Thus, the deontologist cannot allow the homeless person to be killed—even if it saved 4 or 39 lives. Because of this, the deontologist would use other normative factors—such as aesthetics—to choose whether to kill 4 or 39 (probably choosing to kill 4 on aesthetic grounds).

The virtue ethics person or the ethical intuitionist would equally reply that the engineer should act from the appropriate virtue—say justice—and do what a person with a just character would do. But this does not really answer the question. One could construct various scenarios about it being more just to run into the school bus rather than the car when the occupants of the car might be very important to society: generals, key political leaders, great physicists, etc. In the same way, the intuitionists will choose what moral maxim they wish to apply at that particular time and place. The end result will be a rather subjectivist decision-making process.

Finally, noncognitivism and contractarianism are constrained to issues like, “What does the legal manual for engineers tell them to do in situations like this?” If the manual is silent on this sort of situation, then the response is what is the ­recommended action for situations similar to this in some relevant way? This is much like the decision-making process in the law, stare decisis et non quieta movere ‘support the decisions and do not disturb what is not changed’. In other words, one must act based upon a cultural or legal framework that provides the only relevant context for critical decisions.