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What is Ethics?

Kirk O. Hanson
Executive Director
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

www.scu.edu Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


WHAT IS ETHICS?

Ethics is the study of


standards of behavior
that promote human
welfare

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


WHAT IS BUSINESS ETHICS?

Business Ethics is the study of


standards of behavior in business
that promote human welfare

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Ethics is About Behavior

– Not intention – Not just religion

– Not aspiration – Not following the law

– Not sometimes – Not what others do

– Not feelings – Not what science says

…but about actual behavior

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Ethics is About Behavior That Promotes
Human Welfare

 Makes people’s lives better


 Makes them happier and
more fulfilled
 Helps them be how they
want to be
 Makes them free to decide
and capable of choosing

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


What is Missing in this Definition?
 The interests of future generations
 The welfare of other living things
 The quality of the environment
 Value of abstract concepts – goodness, beauty, purity, etc.
 Any way to choose among the interests of different people
and groups, and of these other concerns

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Why is Ethics Important?
 Teaches us how to live
 Creates value through cooperation
 Makes organizations possible – through cooperation
 Makes community possible – through trust
 Makes individual fulfillment possible because it leads you
to live as you know you should

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Ethical behavior
begets
Ethical behavior
(a virtuous circle)

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What Happens when Ethics is
Absent?
 Cannot trust others
 Cannot cooperate with others
 Cannot form long-term friendships
 Cannot have an economy
 Cannot have a society

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Without ethics, we
will continue to live in
a state of isolation,
defensiveness, and
even brutality.

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Ethics and Ethical Choices Occur at
Every Level of Life
 Personal level
 Organizational level
 System level

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Personal Ethics
 How you live, how you behave, how you treat
others
 The standards and principles that guide your
behavior
 Taking responsibility for how your behavior affects
others
 Reflecting before and after you take action

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Organizational Ethics
 How the organization behaves and treats others
 The standards and principles – the culture and policies –
that guide behavior in the organization
 Taking responsibility for the impact of the organization’s
actions
 Assessing the impact of the organization’s behavior

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


System Ethics
 How the economic system treats all who are affected by it
 The rules and principles – the culture and laws – that guide
behavior in the system
 Taking responsibility for the negative effects of the system
 Creating a system that best serves everyone’s welfare

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


You Have a Role in Guiding the Ethics
at All Three Levels
 Personal Ethics – you choose
how you will behave
 Organizational Ethics – as a
manager or supervisor, you
make decisions that impact
others; you influence policy
 System Ethics – you vote,
you lobby, you make the
system more humane or more
harsh by your voluntary
actions

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics