Why Business Ethics?
Carnegie Mellon University
Everyone agrees that business managers must understand finance and marketing. But is
it necessary for them to study ethics?
Managers who answer in the negative generally base their thinking on one of three
rationales. They may simply say that they have no reason to be ethical. They see why they
should make a profit, and most agree they should do so legally. But why should they be
concerned about ethics, as long as they are making money and staying out of jail?
Other managers recognize that they should be ethical but identify their ethical duty with
making a legal profit for the firm. They see no need to be ethical in any further sense, and
therefore no need for any background beyond business and law.
A third group of managers grant that ethical duty goes further than what is required by
law. But they still insist that there is no point in studying ethics. Character is formed in
childhood, not while reading a college text or sitting in class.
These arguments are confused and mistaken on several levels. To see why, it is best to
start with the question raised by the first one: why should business people be ethical?
Why Should One Be Ethical?
There is already something odd about this question. It is like asking, “Why are bachelors
unmarried?” They are unmarried by definition. If they were married, they would not be
bachelors. It is the same with ethics. To say that one should do something is another way of
saying it is ethical. If it is not ethical, then one should not do it.
Perhaps when business people ask why they should be ethical, they have a different
question in mind: what is the motivation for being good? Is their something in it for them?
It is perfectly all right to ask if there is a reward for being good, but this has nothing to do
with whether one should be good. It makes no sense to try convince people that they should be
good by pointing to