The concepts of morality, ethics, and culture of behavior are usually attributed to the field of non-economic relations between people. To some extent, they are associated with official relations, usually tied to service in government organizations. Meanwhile, it is exactly the entrepreneur who needs the image of an honest, deeply decent person, guided by the principles of morality. The connection between business and morality stems from the very essence of entrepreneurship. Osiel supplies that “the law cannot possibly encompass all that society ethically expects of businesspeople” (2019 p. 246). While Whitehead proclaims the privilege of defining morality as belonging to the majority, it can still be said that universal values do not depend on the opinion of the larger part of society (2021). Thus, I disagree with the statement that businesses are not moral agents – they are, and they should be. Feldman offers some valuable perspectives on the repercussions of unethical business (2012). This essay defines why businessmen should adhere to and support with their work the universal moral principles of human society.
The strategic management of any company is based on decision-making. All business-related decisions must be consistent with the financial goals of the organization. Ethical issues arise when leaders make decisions to achieve personal goals for the good of the company, but with negative consequences for people and the environment. Personal interests and relationships should not harm or interfere with the interests of the business. However, on the other hand, these same words can be understood as a complete rejection of any moral restrictions in business for the sake of striving for profit. Feldman states that “today, all too many companies, in deed and often in word, articulate a single-minded obligation to serve only their investors by focusing exclusively on profitability” (2012 para. 1). The entrepreneur themselves might have nothing against a person, but the circumstances could develop in such a way that they would be forced to act against this person for the sake of their business. The issues that business ethics experiences affect not only the moral side of it but also the whole market as well.
Business is continuous contacts, relationships, negotiations, and contracts with many people. As already mentioned, a great many partners, other entrepreneurs, employees, suppliers, and consumers of the goods fall into the orbit of an entrepreneur’s actions. With all of them together and with each separately, businesses have to build relationships largely based not only and not so much on legal documents, but on faith and mutual trust. Thus, at this point, the question of morality comes into view, affecting the whole picture. It is impossible to create a large business without having a very clear system of values and principles because big business involves the participation of a large number of people. Bucatariu and Florescu add that “private businesses which have set ethic goals in business achieved a much higher profit growth rate than similar businesses that have not set business ethic codes” (2018 p. 161). Moreover, each company is individual in terms of its internal ethics, philosophy, goals, objectives, and values
It is this set of ethical and social norms within the corporation that forms the backbone of what is called corporate culture, and for achieving results, this virtual thing is of enormous importance. Just as Feldman claims that in not so distant past, businesses had a certain mission and moral obligations, which were equal in importance to gaining profits (2012). Each company, if it plans to achieve some degree of success, carries some kind of ethical principled charge. The question is how much this charge, this set of values, corresponds to public morality. Whitehead claimed that the majority determines morality; however, there are ethical values that have persisted from the beginnings of society (2021). Some were carried through history in the form of religious doctrines, and some prevailed in world literature in the form of ever-actual themes. Moral absolutism is a concept that could be used to explain the universality of morality, as it proclaims that there are ethical values – for example, religious ones – that can be found in any society.
While moral absolutism is, indeed, a strong base for the thesis that businesses should carry moral norms in them, it is not the only concept that can support this statement. While moral or ethical relativism usually stands in opposed to absolutism, claiming that morality is relative and varies from culture to culture, they still have the roots of universal moral values in them. Relativists can argue that different values among different cultures indicate that morality is relative to different people. However, these arguments confuse individuals’ actions (what they do) with absolute standards (whether they should do it). If culture determines what is bad and what is good, how can society condemn dishonest businessmen? Be that as it may, they only followed the morality of their culture. The actions of the people who commit crimes can only be called wrong if these crimes are generally and culturally frowned upon by the majority of the world. This is an homage to Whitehead’s words – however, while, indeed, some ethical values are upheld by the majority and despised by the minority, there are still general, universal rules that apply to everyone (2021).
Theological ethics supplies the discussion with examples of moral values from various religions. With the historical ties between religion and society, many explanations of ethics can be found in religious beliefs. While I believe that an entrepreneur should not proclaim religious values as their main set of morals, I still can recognize how close moral absolutism and theological ethics are in their cores. However, it would be better to apply deontological ethics to the question of business morality – after all, the process of maintaining business relationships is heavily dependent on the concept of duty. As per Kant’s categorical imperative, one should see others as goals, not means to use to achieve success – and this directly applies to business, as profits should not be the sole goal of it.
From there, process philosophy should be applied: the base category of a process is much better at facilitating the understanding of reality and the identification of individual entities than the base category of a thing. At the core of any business lies a process – and it would be foolish to deny that this process is mainly aimed at achieving profitability. However, every action has its repercussions, and, although the main goal of a business process is, indeed, a profit, the steps the company takes to reach it will have other consequences, as well.
It is often seen that the needs of big business are very different from public views on many things, and Whitehead has already stated that the majority, in his opinion, determines morals. There is a gap between them, and therefore, very often, the morality of large corporations seems hostile, and alien, because it is, in principle, unfamiliar to other people. Still, some universal moral values should prevail even in the competitive business environment. Feldman has already listed some of the consequences immoral business brings outsourcing of jobs, reduction in pensions, wage stagnation, and many others. Thus, it is crucial for companies, especially large ones, to uphold the ethical approach and apply moral judgment to their actions.
Bucatariu, M., & Florescu, I. C. (2018). The coin of morality. Proceedings of the International Conference on Business Excellence, 12(1), 161–170. Web.
Feldman, J. N. (2012). Sunday dialogue: How corporations behave. The New York Times. Web.
Osiel, M. (2019). 11. Commercial morality, bourgeois virtue, and the law. In The Right to Do Wrong: Morality and the Limits of Law (pp. 246-260). Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press. Web.
Whitehead, A. N. (2021). Alfred North Whitehead quotes. BrainyQuote. Web.