What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

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What Are Ethical Theories?

Ethical theories are assertions or descriptions of the moral standing or obligation that individuals should uphold. They intend to offer ethical considerations while making judgments based on ethics.

Types Of Ethical Theories

Using ethical theories to comprehend these moral dilemmas is the next stage. A theory of ethics is a systematic method to addressing ethical issues from a particular philosophical standpoint. The Western tradition of moral philosophy has produced a variety of ethical systems.

What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

In the consideration of marketing ethics, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics are frequently employed. When applied to the same ethical situation, each may result in a unique conclusion.

Utilitarian Ethics

The earliest ethical philosophy of normative ethics, utilitarianism, is sometimes linked with “the greatest benefit for the greatest number.” The concept is that ethical judgments are based on the consequences of an action, which is why it is often referred to as consequentialism.

Curtin, Gallicano, and Matthew discovered that when confronted with ethical problems in public relations, “Millennials will employ utilitarian thinking to avoid conflict and reach compromise.” This ethical approach may be appealing because it appears to be a method for determining the greatest benefit for the largest number of individuals by weighing the consequences of activity.

Despite the idea’s initial attraction, especially in a subject with a fundamental obligation to the public, it does not provide a robust ethical foundation for decision-making. When public relations practitioners rely on utilitarian ethics to make judgments, three primary difficulties arise.

First, instead than examining the choice or action itself, decision-makers are compelled to speculate on the possible implications of their choice in order to evaluate what is ethical. This is a flawed line of thinking, according to Grunig, who stated:

“We believe that public relations should be founded on a worldview that includes ethics into the process of public relations, as opposed to a perspective that discusses the ethics of its consequences.” In other words, ethics should focus on the process of decision-making rather than the outcome, which cannot be guaranteed.

Second, utilitarian ethics “raises conflicting problems regarding which part of society should be regarded as more significant” when considering the “good” or outcome. In other words, would it be ethical if the majority profited from a solution that severely harmed a minority group? This seems to contradict the objective of public relations, which is to develop connections that are mutually beneficial, regardless of the size of a specific stakeholder group.

It is not always feasible to forecast the effect of an action, which is the third issue. Bowen argues that “consequences are too unexpected to constitute an adequate gauge of a situation’s ethics.” In other words, the outcomes of actions might be extremely variable or even impossible to foresee.

Therefore, using outcomes as a gauge of ethics will not offer professionals with an appropriate approach to determine if decisions are ethical. Professionals must be able to analyze decisions and options based on specific ethical standards, as opposed to expecting that certain results would result in their making an ethical decision.

Numerous experts in public relations see these and other concerns as proof why utilitarianism, often known as consequentialism owing to the concept’s reliance on the outcome of a choice, is not as well-suited to public relations professional ethics.

What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

Deontological Ethics

Immanuel Kant, the father of contemporary deontology, is related with the second significant notion, deontological ethics. He was recognized for his “Categorical Imperative,” which seeks universal principles applicable to all humanity. The concept is that “humans should be treated with decency and respect since they have rights.”

People have a responsibility to respect the rights of others and to treat them properly, according to deontological ethics. This is predicated on the idea that all individuals are subject to objective obligations or responsibilities. When confronted with an ethical dilemma, the process consists of defining one’s obligation and making the right choice.

However, this approach is challenged by 1) conflicts that develop when there is no consensus regarding the principles involved in the decision; 2) the implications of choosing a “good” choice that has negative effects; and 3) what judgments should be taken when duties clash. When depending on this as an ethical framework, it is unquestionably necessary to examine these obstacles.

Despite these problems, however, many have discovered that deontology is the most effective paradigm for practical public relations ethics.

Bowen, for instance, believes that “deontology is built on the moral liberty of the person, comparable to the autonomy and freedom from invasion that public relations attempts to achieve in order to be seen as outstanding.” This theory’s ideological coherence provides a sound theoretical framework for public relations activity as well as a normative theory function.”

Similarly, Fitzpatrick and Gauthier argue that “practitioners require a foundation for judging the correctness of the daily judgments they make.

They require ethical standards drawn from the underlying values that characterize their job as professionals in public relations.” The premise that there must be objective morality upon which experts may rely to evaluate ethical action is central to this concept.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics, a third and expanding domain of philosophical reasoning alongside ethics, has earned more attention in recent years in public relations study. This philosophy, which derives from Aristotle, is centered on the qualities of the decision-maker.

The central question in virtue ethics is “what makes a decent person?” or, in the context of this debate, “what makes a good public relations professional?” Virtue ethics requires the decision-maker to comprehend which qualities are beneficial for public relations, and then decisions are made based on these specific virtues.

If, for instance, the virtue of honesty is of the highest significance to a skilled public relations professional, then all decisions must be made in an ethical manner to ensure the preservation of honesty.

There are a number of objections that may be brought to this idea, despite its rising acceptance. First, in the context of the public relations profession, the emphasis on the qualities of professionals tends to overlook the significance and function of commitments to clients and audiences.

What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

The industry is not defined just by what public relations professionals perform, but also by the effect their actions have on society. Moreover, it has the same difficulty as deontological ethics when virtues are in conflict. If devotion to a customer and public candor are both virtues, what occurs when they conflict? Which authority should an expert defer?

These three ethical theories—utilitarian ethics, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics—form the basis of normative ethics discussions. It is essential, however, that professionals in public relations understand how to apply these notions to their actual work. Applied ethics, which focuses on how a professional makes judgments, is greatly impacted by the function or purpose of the profession within society.

Ethical Theories in Business

Ethical theories are a means to define society’s moral criteria and norms in accordance with ethical principles. There are a variety of ethical theories, each of which provides a distinct perspective on ethical considerations while making a decision.

Why Is Business Ethics Important?

It ensures compliance with all applicable laws before anything else. Operating legally, whether on a local or national scale, preserves the company’s standing among its peers and future clients or consumers, and enables it to continue operations.

Additionally, a company’s business ethics aid in attracting qualified staff. Employers that care for their employees at all levels and treat them with the utmost integrity are appealing to job searchers. Also, if you work for a firm that values its employees, you are more likely to perform well and remain with the company for a long time.

Lastly, a business that handles its consumers or clients with integrity fosters trust and a lasting connection. These clients will be repeat customers, and they are likely to refer the firm to others within their sphere of influence. In addition, a corporation with a reputation for adhering to the highest ethical standards might acquire respect and improve its brand.

Types of Business Ethics

Various sorts of corporate ethics exist. Both the nature of the company’s industry and its location can influence the ethics it prioritizes. The following are many of the most widespread business ethics.

1. Personal responsibility

Each employee, whether at the senior or entry-level level, will be required to demonstrate personal accountability. This may involve accomplishing tasks provided by your management or just carrying out the obligations outlined in your job description. If you make a mistake, you accept responsibility and do whatever is necessary to correct it.

2. Corporate responsibility

Businesses owe duties to their staff, clients or customers, and, in certain instances, their boards of directors. Some of them may be contractual or legal duties, while others may be pledges, such as to conduct business honestly and to treat others with respect. Regardless of the nature of these commitments, the firm is obligated to fulfill them.

3. Loyalty

Companies and their workers are expected to demonstrate loyalty. Employees should be loyal to their coworkers, supervisors, and the organization. This may entail speaking highly about the company in public while discussing personnel or corporate concerns in private.

What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

Customer or client loyalty is essential for a firm not just to preserve strong business ties, but also to attract new business through a positive reputation.

4. Respect

Respect is an essential business value, both in how the firm handles its clients, customers, and workers, and in how its people respect one another. When you treat someone with respect, that individual feels like a valued teammate or an essential customer. You value their input, honor your commitments to them, and strive expeditiously to resolve any difficulties they may have.

5. Trustworthiness

A business cultivates its clients’, customers’, and workers’ trustworthiness via honesty, openness, and dependability. Employees should have confidence that the company will adhere to their employment agreements. Customers and clients must be able to entrust the company with their funds, data, contractual duties, and sensitive information. Being trustworthy fosters business relationships and helps you retain a favorable reputation.

6. Fairness

When an organization is fair, it applies the same standards to all employees, regardless of their position. The same requirements of honesty, integrity, and accountability that apply to an entry-level employee also apply to the chief executive officer. The company will treat all of its clients with the same degree of courtesy and will supply the same goods and services under the same conditions.

7. Community and Environmental Responsibility

Businesses will not only operate ethically with regard to their clients, customers, and workers, but also the community and the environment. Numerous businesses seek to give back to their communities through volunteer labor and financial commitments. They will also implement waste reduction and environmental protection initiatives.

Examples of Business Ethics

There are several ways in which corporations can display their principles. Typically, an organization will have a code of conduct that informs employees of their ethical obligations. Additionally, businesses may publish a values statement that promotes the ethical norms to which they adhere. These are some instances of how a corporation may uphold its ethical standards.

1. Data Protection

Frequently, businesses gather information on their clients. Depending on the nature of the business, this may merely be an email address, but it might also include their physical location or health or financial information.

Companies that acquire consumer data often guarantee that the information will be protected and not shared without the client’s consent. The same holds true for employee data. Generally, business ethics secure employee personnel files and restrict access to those with a legitimate need to know.

2. Customer Prioritization

A business demonstrates customer respect by prioritizing the client’s demands, even at the expense of the firm. For instance, if a consumer purchases substandard goods or services, the firm will do everything is necessary to compensate the customer.

If a product is defective, the company will give a replacement or a refund. Typically, if a consumer receives poor service, the business will apologize and give a discount or other sort of compensation.

3. Workplace Diversity

A corporation may demonstrate fairness by placing a premium on having a diverse workforce. Achieving a diverse workplace necessitates the use of recruitment strategies that provide equal opportunity to individuals from various racial, gender, and social groups.

This might add time and work to the recruiting procedure, but it is beneficial. Employing a varied group of individuals provides the organization with access to a variety of opinions. It also reflects the company’s commitment to equality and respect for all individuals.

4. Whistleblower Protection

As a firm expands, it becomes more difficult to ensure that its personnel adhere to its ethical standards. Sometimes the firm will rely on a whistleblower to expose unethical behavior within the organization.

What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

Frequently, in order to motivate employees to disclose unethical conduct, firms provide safeguards against unfavorable outcomes. With these protections, employees do not need to worry about losing their employment or face disciplinary action for reporting unethical activity.

5. Corporate Transparency

A transparent organization will communicate clearly with both its personnel and its clients or consumers. The terminology will be clear so that there is no ambiguity on the rules and priorities that influence corporate choices. Corporate communications that are transparent will also be honest and forthright. Everyone who works for or interacts with the firm should be able to rely on its claims.

6. Community Outreach

Businesses frequently feel a need to give back to the communities in which they operate. This can take the form of volunteer initiatives in which workers are urged to devote their time, perhaps at the expense of the firm.

Examples of such programs include volunteering at a soup kitchen, assisting with house repairs, cleaning up after a natural catastrophe, and teaching skills at the local community center. These initiatives not only aid individuals in need, but also foster communal respect and trust.

7. Environmental Awareness

Numerous businesses take environmental problems seriously, whether through reducing waste or cleaning the land, water, and air. Businesses can respond in a variety of ways, such as by minimizing air travel and maximizing the use of teleconferencing technologies. Businesses may also encourage recycling in their offices by providing containers for recyclable garbage and arranging for their frequent emptying.

8. Employee Compensation

Companies adhering to the ideals of justice and courtesy will pay their employees a compensation commensurate with their education, experience, and the nature of the work. They will also examine and modify employee remuneration on a regular basis to ensure that it continues to accurately reflect the employee’s position and expertise.

Bonuses are a common type of employee recognition for great performance. These are effective incentives for workers to work hard and remain with the organization. They also allow the company to express its appreciation for the employees’ efforts.

What Are the Different Types of Business Ethics Theories?

Theories of business ethics serve as the basis for appropriate workplace conduct and choices. Some professionals’ professional principles may align with their religious rules of behavior.

The bulk of professional ethics are centered on doing what is best for the group and focusing on the moral ability of the action, as opposed to the outcome.

The three principal theories of business ethics are deontological theory, utilitarianism, and norm theory. Kantian theory, a type of norm theory, has been one of the most significant effects on contemporary corporate ethics.

In all instances, ethical action should adhere to a predetermined set of laws or principles, according to deontological philosophy. Even while the actual results of adhering to moral standards may vary, the outcome does not indicate whether or not an action is ethical.

According to deontological theory, for instance, it would always be immoral to lie, even if doing so might avert a negative result such as death.

Utilitarianism is the belief that business behavior should consider the conclusion that would benefit the greatest number of individuals. Regarding theories of business ethics, there are likely to be a large number of possible interpretations.

In international trade, for instance, the effects of the decision to apply tariffs may be more favorable to one side of the transaction than the other. In addition, it may be argued that the decision’s implications may help the greatest number of people in the short-term, but hurt the greatest number of people in the long-term.

The norm theory asserts that all members of a group should adhere to a set of moral norms. Typically, appropriate forms of behavior are specified for a number of anticipated scenarios.

The concept of employee handbooks and corporate codes of conduct is a notable illustration of norm theory in business. Typically, they establish a framework for how workers should respond and behave in particular situations, with violations leading in disciplinary action.

In business ethics ideas connected to norm theory, Kantian ethical concepts are included. A Russian philosopher and theorist who believed that ethical norms should speak to mankind as a collaborative group formulated these ideas.

Theories of business ethics grounded in Kant’s philosophy should view humans as goals rather than means. In other words, a person adopting a code of behavior should not utilize others for his personal benefit or goal.


Ethics are the moral principles that guide a person or organization to determine right and wrong actions and follow through with those decisions. In business, there are three main types of theories about business ethics:


1. Utilitarian Ethics

2. Deontological Ethics

3. Virtue Ethics

Utilitarian ethics is based on the idea that people and organizations should act in ways that produce the best outcome for all parties involved. This theory holds that you should be rewarded for doing good and punished for doing bad. In other words, it’s all about getting the best deal.

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