Ethical philosophy can be applied to many aspects of people's life; however, there are basic theories that represent the philosophy of a certain subject. Moreover, today ethical philosophy is applied to business. Hence this field can be viewed through the prism of philosophies that were formed decades or even centuries ago. Nevertheless, there are ethical theories of such philosophers as Aristotle, Kant and Mill that created fundamental principles for everything that can be related with the notion to ethics. Their theories differ from each other; however, they make it easier to understand the nature of the business ethics. In fact, these theories form the basis of ethics, and they were adapted to the modern understanding of the discipline. This paper is dedicated the ethical theories of Aristotle, Kant and Mille and their contribution to the system of ethical philosophy.
Ethical Theory of Aristotle
The philosophy of Aristotle has become the fundamental for the future generations. The most relevant is Aristotle's philosophy of virtue which primarily deals with the way in which the individual should live. This philosophy was puzzled from time immemorial and stays relevant even to date. In fact, Aristotle gave the most logical explanation of how to live a good life and act in the way that other individuals would not be harmed as a result of his or her actions. However, in order to understand Aristotle's ethics philosophy, one should acknowledge that Aristotle gave the simple interpretation of his notion. Unlike other Ancient Greek philosophers, who believed that good living involves multiple higher forms, which person cannot observe, Aristotle philosophy says that one should simply make disregarded distinctions between what is good for one person and what is morally good. After studying views of other philosophers, one can conclude that Aristotle theory is unique: Aristotle concluded that the ultimate intrinsic good is happiness (DesJardins, 2014). Therefore, individuals should satisfy their own needs, as well as strive to help those people who surround them. Moreover, there are other works of Aristotle that can be relevant to the business ethics, such as his Nicomachean Ethics. In this work, philosopher reveals the basic understanding of what cooperation assumes (Flynn, 2008). In fact, Aristotle concluded that the role of the leader is to create the environment in which all individuals can realize their own potential. The interpretation of Aristotle's works poses the whole set of questions about the organization and its role in the human growth and fulfillment. Moreover, he raises the issue of distribution of rewards based on the principles of rewarding people proportionally to their contribution (DesJardins, 2014).
Nevertheless, Aristotle says that, in order to succeed in their work, individuals should involve the ethical analysis of their own actions; thus, although it is hard, but the bottom line of ethics depends on asking tough questions.
Immanuel Kant's Theory
Kant is one of the most known names, when it comes to business ethics. In fact, Kant agrees that each person has the obligation to fulfill moral duties to oneself as well as other individuals. However, according to the theory Kantianism, there are two types of duty, and these are categorical and hypothetical imperatives. Categorical imperative is when a person performs an action which end result should be perceived as right within the society where he or she lives. Another notion is the hypothetical imperative, whereby individual should perform a certain action in order to achieve a certain result. Kant believed that categorical approach is the basic principle to whether one action is ethically correct. Moreover, he proposed three visions or maxims of categorical imperatives (Flynn, 2008). The first one is that, when one makes action, it can be ethically correct if it is made in response to universal law. In fact, it means that lie can be accepted if the greater good is hidden behind it.
The second claim is that the individual should be treated as the end, but not as the means to achieve the end result. Therefore, it means that individual should be treated with respect, and not as an instrument for the achievement of personal goals or happiness.
The third principle is the idea of perfect kingdom where all members act as one, and he or she is both the ruler and subject to these rules. The meaning of this statement is rather simple, which means that rules should be accepted by everybody.
In fact, Kant's philosophy can be applied to the business ethics; moreover, his states are directly related to this topic. However, his vision of ethics differs from Aristotle's philosophy, yet he is right in some sense by providing people with such philosophy (Flynn, 2008).
Mill's theory is based on the philosophy of utilitarianism. According to the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill, person's actions are considered correct if they are made in order promote pleasure of happiness among the greatest number of people, and wrong if the person makes the opposite. However, for many philosophers such approach can be considered as morally bankrupted philosophy and animalistic way of determining good from wrong. Mill states that not all pleasures are equal, and people should consider it when applying his theory (Flynn, 2008).
Mill argued that pleasure of intelligent human being is that of higher quality and order than of animalistic one. In fact, Mill states that sometimes people can substitute higher pleasure with the lower one. This is attributed as the weakness of an individual. For instance, if people know that some actions are bad, they still continue making them. Therefore, there are differences between lower pleasure and noble pleasure. In fact, Mill argues that satisfaction of the noble pleasure can form the basics of morality. Ultimately, the main statement of the Mill is that individual should stimulate the mind with pleasure and be useful.
Nevertheless, utilitarianism can be used in any business decision making that seeks to maximize the positive effects; thus it will help make it not only morally correct, but also financially profitable. Utilitarianism deals with outcomes rather than processes. Hence, if the outcome leads to the good or the least harmed for the greatest number of people than it justifies the means (DesJardins, 2014).
However, it can be assumed that utilitarianism suffers from difficulty that costs and benefits may not be equally distributed. Therefore, this theory fundamentally differs from Aristotle's and Kant's theories, because it considers such notions as pleasure, and sets outcome on the first place.
To sum up, there is no doubt that all above mentioned theories can be applied to the business ethics. However, these theories have different features, and each of them deals with business in a different way. First of all, Aristotle made fundamental principles of ethics that can be used to date, as well as applied to business. However, one of the most relevant works is his interpretation of cooperation and leadership. Another theory is Kant's and his categorical and hypothetical imperatives. This theory gives the basic understanding of how individual should act in the business environment. The last but not least is Mill's philosophy and his utilitarianism concept, which concentrates on the importance of outcome and the higher happiness and pleasure. Ultimately, all these theories are important in the paradigm of business ethics, and each of them deals with specific aspects of ethics philosophy.
- DesJardins, J. (2014). An introduction to business ethics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Flynn, G. (2008). Leadership and business ethics. Dordrecht, London: Springer.