Main Body

Business Ethics

Business ethics can be defined as the critical, structured examination of how people and institutions should behave in the world of commerce. It is a critical discipline in that it is interested in determining what ethical standards are best and most well-justified, rather than in cataloging the views that people actually happen to have. It is a structured pursuit in that it involves providing reasoned arguments, rather than simply stating opinions or feelings, about particular issues. In particular, it involves examining appropriate constraints on the pursuit of self-interest, or (for companies) of profit, when the actions of individuals or companies affect others.

In practical settings, business ethics may be thought of, rather than as a topic of intellectual inquiry, as a name for proper behaviour in the world of commerce. In this sense, we might say informally, for example, that a company has “good business ethics,” or that “business ethics requires that a company do such-and-such.”

In many contexts, terms such as CSR, corporate citizenship, or even sustainability, may be used equivalently to “business ethics.” Whether these are reasonably synonymous is a matter of controversy.

See also in CEBE:

Further Reading:


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The Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics Copyright © 2023 by Chris MacDonald and Alexei Marcoux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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