Moral Issues in Business - Chapter 2 Notes

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Normative Theories of Ethics

Chapter Summary Points

1. Consequentialist moral theories see the moral rightness or wrongness of actions as a function of their results. If the consequences are sufficiently good, the action is right; if they are sufficiently bad, the action is wrong. However, nonconsequentialist theories see other factors as also relevant to the determination of right and wrong.

2. Egoism is the consequentialist theory that an action is right when it promotes the individual’s best interests. Proponents of this theory base their view on the alleged fact that human beings are, by nature, selfish (the doctrine of psychological egoism). Critics of egoism argue that (a) psychological egoism is implausible, (b) egoism is not really a moral principle, and (c) egoism ignores blatant wrongs.

3. Utilitarianism, another consequentialist theory, maintains that the morally right action is the one that provides the greatest good for all those affected. In an organizational context, utilitarianism provides an objective way to resolve conflicts of self-interest and encourages a realistic and result-oriented approach to moral decision making. But critics contend that (a) utilitarianism is not really workable, (b) some actions are wrong even if they produce good results, and (c) utilitarianism incorrectly overlooks considerations of justice and the distribution of happiness.

4. Kant’s theory is an important example of a purely nonconsequentialist approach to ethics. Kant held that only when we act from good will (moral reason) does our action have moral worth. Good will is the only thing that is good in itself.

5. Kant’s categorical imperative states that an action is morally right if and only if we can rationally will that the maxim (or principle) represented by the action be a universal law. For example, a…...

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