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Foundations of the
of Business Ethics
Classical Ethical Philosophies:
An Introduction
Lesson Objectives
• To define philosophy
• To distinguish between ethics and philosophy
• To identify the various branches of philosophy
What Is Ethics?
 These are the principles of conduct governing
an individual or group.
Examples: personal ethics (rules by which an individual
lives his or her personal life), accounting ethics (codes
that guide the professional conduct of accountants)

 It is the study of morality.

Important note: Although ethics deals with morality, there
is a distinction. Whereas morality is the subject matter
that ethics investigates, ethics is a kind of investigation,
which includes both the activity of investigating as well as
the results of that investigation.
What Is Philosophy?
It is the “study of the fundamental nature of
knowledge, reality, and existence”.

It helps us better
understand who we
are, why we are here,
and where we are
Three Branches of Philosophy
1. Metaphysics
• It is concerned with reality and existence.
• It is the philosophy of being.
• It answers the question “What is the nature of
• It can be subdivided into:
a. ontology, which deals with the nature of
existence; and
b. cosmology, which inspects the origin and
organization of the universe.
2. Epistemology
• It raises questions about the nature of
• It answers the question “What is the nature of
• Logic is a key dimension.
• It can be distinguished between:
a. deductive logic (moving from general to
specific), and
b. inductive logic (that is, from specific facts
to generalization).
3. Axiology
• It explores the nature of values.
• It answers the question “What is the nature of
• It can be subdivided into:
a. ethics, which studies human conduct and
examines moral values; and
b. aesthetics, which values beauty, nature,
and aesthetic experience (often
associated with music, art, literature,
dance, theater, and other fine arts).
More on Ethics
 It involves a discipline that examines good or
bad practices within the context of a moral
 It is the discipline that examines your moral
standards or the moral standards of a society.
 It asks how these standards apply to your life
and whether these standards are reasonable
or unreasonable—that is, whether they are
supported by good reasons or poor ones.
 So personal ethics start when you take the
moral standards you have absorbed from
family, church, and friends and ask yourself:
• What do these standards imply for the situations
in which I find myself?
• Do these standards really make sense?
• What are the reasons for or against these
• Why should I continue to believe in them?
• What can be said in their favor and what can be
said against them?
• Are they really reasonable for me to hold? Are
their implications in this or that particular
situation reasonable?
Strands of Philosophy
1. Idealism
• This is considered the oldest philosophy of
Western culture.
• It refers to the world of mind and ideas,
where reason is primary.
• Leading proponents of Idealism are:
Socrates, Plato, Augustine, René
Descartes, Immanuel Kant, and Georg
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
2. Realism
• This can be considered the antithesis of
idealism, whereby “the universe exists
whether mind perceives it or not.”
• Leading proponents of Realism are:
Aristotle, Francis Bacon, John Locke, and
Comenius, Rousseau and Pestalozzi.
3. Neo-theism
This would date to the time of Thomas
Aquinas (1225–1274), and is also known as
theistic realism, whereby “God exists and
can be known through faith and reason.”
4. Contemporary philosophies
a. Pragmatism
It is also known as experimentalism.
b. Existentialism
Appeared as a revolt against the mathematical, scientific
philosophies that preceded it.
c. Analytic philosophy
• It sought out to clarify and define philosophies.
• It began in post World War I era (the Vienna Circle) and
studied the alienation between philosophy and science.
• It established the concept of logical positivism, which
states that there are logical and empirical types of
scientific expression.
• It has recently focused on political philosophy, ethics,
and philosophy of the human sciences.
Discussion Questions
1. What is philosophy?
2. What is ethics?
3. How would you distinguish between ethics
and philosophy?
4. How would you differentiate the various
branches of philosophy?
5. Under which branch of philosophy would
business ethics fall?

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