Since these are costly ethical activities that seem irrelevant to the business goal of maximizing owner value, many businesses choose to bluff and engage in some amount of deception and mask these little sins by justifying them with ethical theories that say such acts are ethical under the circumstances. This report examines these theories and perspectives on business ethics to determine if businesses can be forgiven for unethical behavior and, if so, at what point should one draw the demarcation line.
Business ethics has been the focus of passionate debates since the time of Plato and Socrates. The possible reason for the diverging views is that people always have different concepts and perceptions of what is good or bad, and what is right and wrong. Aronson (2001) believes the study of business ethics can help provide the standards for determining what behavior is good and bad or what is right and wrong. The literature on business ethics suggests ways to discuss the many different perspectives or theories by grouping them according to their similarities. The most frequently used perspectives fall under two groups of theory called deontology and teleology. Deontology is also described as formalism while teleology is utilitarianism, which means that the former is non-consequentialist while the latter is consequentialist (Christensen, 2005). In ethics, formalism is defined as a concept that views an act as right or wrong irrespective of the consequences, while utilitarianism holds that right conduct is determined by its usefulness in promoting the most good for the largest number of persons and thus keeps an eye on the consequences of the act. From these definitions, one can start forming an idea of which of deontology and teleology is the better ethical approach to business.
2.a. Teleology & Deontology
Teleology and deontology essentially uphold the same behavior that businesses should observe, which is business ethics. They differ only in their perspectives, means and desired results. Teleological theories focus on the "what" whereas the deontological view looks at the "how" of ethical behavior (Christensen, 2005). This means that in teleology, the outcome is more important than the intent, which is the reverse in deontology. Accordingly, teleology and deontology are traditionally seen as opposing viewpoints, with the former looking into the future to determine the best outcomes for everyone while the latter looking back in history to establish ethical guideposts from traditional culture and religion (Brady, 1985). Teleology is defined as the theory in which the only right-making properties are those that promote the good (Gaus, 2001). As for deontology, it is the perspective of doing what is morally right, regardless of the amount of good or evil that results from the act (Christensen,2005). Thus, teleology promotes what is good, while deontology promotes what is right (Gaus, 2001). For teleology, the more important thing is the outcome and less the behavior. It is the other way around for deontology.
2.b. Deontology at Work
Deontology is derived from the Greek words deon (duty) and logos