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.”
See also in CEBE:
- Chris MacDonald, “Doing the Right Thing: A Brief Guide to the Jargon”, July 7, 2011 (The Business Ethics Blog)
- George G. Brenkert and Tom L. Beauchamp, eds., Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics (OUP, 2009)