Ethical and Moral Philosophies

Published July 19, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair


A person’s livelihood is a remarkable opportunity to express their dreams and passions. It can be the source of empowering nourishment, transformation, inspiration, and tranquility. It can also provide a source of anxiety, depression, pain, discomfort, stress, and discontent. Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn (2012) contends that the choices people make can determine the amount of joy and happiness they create in their home or at work (Hanh, 2012). Morality and moral reasoning play a pivotal role in the kinds of choices individuals make as well. Leaders, for example, rely on their principles or philosophies to help them decide what behavior is acceptable when making the most effective decisions in the workplace. This research centers on the role ethical and moral philosophies play in the decision-making process for business leaders. It will examine how moral philosophies are applied to affect behavior and illustrate how these values affect outcomes. In addition, the study will provide examples of corporations and the strategies they implement to shape moral philosophies into their culture and codes of conduct. These findings will deduce that ethical and moral philosophies influence the behavior of a leader in the decision-making process because they help them: (a) identify right and wrong behavior, (b) develop a code of conduct that guides business practices, (c) integrate global strategic planning efforts to avoid violations, and (d) navigate the company toward positive outcomes.


A Closer Look at Ethics and Morality

Moral Philosophy Defined

Moral philosophies influence behavior because for one thing, everyone has an opinion about something. In other words, human beings make judgments and evaluations constantly. It is part of human nature. When the topic of philosophy is discussed, however, most people refer to it as the general set of values they accept. However, moral philosophy applies to specific regulations and principles that people follow to determine correct and incorrect behavior. It also offers an explanation and justification as to why things happen. Kurzynski (2004) points out that ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was one of the most significant principal figures of philosophical thought and considered a great, if not the greatest, thinker of his era. He was instrumental in asking questions that made people ponder character development, integrity, personal responsibility, and empathy towards others (Kurzynski, 2004).  In short, he made important contributions to society by providing insight into human behavior. This in turn helped individuals to identify the constructs of what makes life worth living.

Leaders that do not adhere to moral and ethical behavior justify their misconduct as a viable means to achieve the end goal. This kind of leader does so without taking into consideration the short or long term repercussions, as witnessed in the Enron scandal. This occurs because moral judgments differ. People judge behavior, omissions, and also form opinions on other people in general.  For example, a person might consider someone a shady character based on the kind of garments they donned. This kind of judgment, however, tends to lead to inaccurate conclusions. Barcalow’s (2007) research offers a blueprint for making moral decisions about right or wrong by asking some of the following important questions: (a) what are all the relevant facts about a situation, (b) how will the social and physical environments be affected, (c) what actions will produce the least and the most harm, (d) what rules apply to the situation, (e) what would be the most caring and compassionate thing to do under the circumstances, and (f) what (if any) violations have occurred  with respect to the rights of others that are relevant in this situation (Barcalow, 2007). By asking these and other pertinent questions, leaders can help ascertain the most logical course of action that will achieve the highest benefits.


How Moral Philosophies Influence Behavior

Ethical and moral philosophies can play a significant role to influence a leader’s behavior in the corporate environment. Forsyth (1992) purported that a business leader’s moral judgments are influenced by two fundamental components – a concern for values and promoting well-being. For example, an individual with a teleological philosophy performs as a situationist that advocates setting goals for the best possible consequences regardless of moral tenets. A leader who acts from a virtue ethics philosophy is a subjectivist, on the other hand, and may veto moral guidelines and core judgments based on personal principles and practical concerns, whereas an individual that follows a utilitarian philosophy is an absolutist that assumes their actions are ethical, contingent upon yielding positive outcomes that conform to moral rules (Forsyth, 1992). Most experts agree, however, that an individual’s moral beliefs, attitudes, and values create an interconnected system that defines the makeup of their personal moral philosophy.  These set of values and beliefs dictate a leader’s decisions taking into consideration the nature of the issue.

Integrating Moral Philosophies in Business

Employers that integrate moral philosophies into their business practice look for more effective ways to achieve win-win solutions.  According to Mobley (2002), the upsurge in restructuring and the downsizing of organizations has limited professional advancement opportunities for employees. As a result, job security, fair wages, decent working conditions, and equitable treatment are now concerns that managers face. These dilemmas force leaders to manage the ethical implications of these changes. Most are inadequate because they lack the skills and tools to help employees transit. Studies indicate that education plays a significant role. Evidence suggests that training executives can help with the decision-making process. It helps equip them to handle the morality issues better that often result from such events like downsizing, outsourcing, or other significant occupational changes that occur, like incorporating greener business practices (Mobley, 2002). For instance, leaders at corporations like Patagonia and Esprit have taken more innovative approaches to adopt green business policies. Esprit, for example, created a product line called the E-collection which consists of socially aware products that are manufactured in an environmentally conscious manner. The Patagonia Corporation, on the other hand, has developed a self-imposed earth tax that is designed for the preservation and restoration of natural resources. These are two examples of how huge conglomerates have incorporated ethical and moral philosophies in their business practices. These companies adopted ethical business practices as part of their corporate wide culture. They consider these modifications as necessary efforts and sacrifices to maintain their commitment to a socially responsible process that is in continual motion.


The Impact on Global Strategic Planning

The moral and ethical philosophies of an organization also impact global strategic planning. Callahan (2008) suggested that recognizing moral judgments often buried in arguments, especially that postulate matters of economic science, are likely to expose views based on moral assumption rather than rational examination. This can lead to closer scrutiny of the arguments which inevitably produces better policy choices (Callahan, 2008). For example, when corporate giant, The Gap, discovered their foreign manufacturing plants were creating toxic conditions that caused harm to the employees, local residents, and the environment, immediate actions were taken to find solutions to the situation. Events such as these, inspire executives to look closer at who they conduct business with and in many cases motivate leaders to implement more socially responsible choices in their business practices even if that equates to partnerships with smaller vendors.


Codes of Conduct

Ethics and moral philosophies also play an integral role to help leaders establish a code of conduct that helps guide personnel behavior and achieve desired goals in alignment with an organization’s vision. Singer (2012) suggested that every great team, culture, society, religion, and organization that has stood the test of time have one thing in common – a simple set of powerful rules that guide internal behavior and expectations. This set of rules is known as a code of ethics. These policies guide and empower an individual or group to reach successful goals. Organizations that implement a code of ethics do so to maintain, enforce, and implement controlled growth for the entity. It can include parameters that identify acceptable personality traits, behavioral boundaries, outline desired performance levels, as well as identify social and work ethic expectations (Singer, 2012). The intent is to create a set of guidelines that organizations use to help influence employee behavior and organizational outcomes. For example, one organization may create a code of ethics that requests staff members to engage in the following virtuous conduct as a representative of the company: (a) stand up for the weak and defenseless, (b) engage in transparency business practices, and (c) always speak the truth. This code of ethics example, offers simple guidelines easy enough for any individual to follow.


Leaders are influenced by ethical and moral philosophies. This helps them navigate their organizations with confidence to attain their goals.  Hanh’s (2012) teachings reminds us that people have a lot more influence than they realize when it comes to creating an ethical work environment. Leaders that are properly trained to make mindful decisions are presented with an opportunity to cultivate joy and passion in the workplace without creating harmful consequences that affect other sentient beings or contaminate the environment. When organizations work in partnership with employees and other stakeholders, there is great potential to contribute to positive outcomes that are beneficial to all living things (Hanh, 2012). In conclusion, the findings of this study deduced that leaders who operate without moral standards justify their reckless actions as a means to achieve high levels of success, usually without regard for consequences. Businesses with leaders who incorporate ethical and moral philosophies, on the other hand, influence positive results by establishing a code of conduct that guides their business practice. Leaders that design socially responsible business strategies ultimately encourage higher levels of integrity in staff behavior and achieve outcomes that equate to long term success.



Barcalow, E. (2007). Moral philosophy: Theories and issues. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Callahan, G. (2008, Summer). Economic analysis, moral philosophy, and public policy. The Independent Review. Oakland, CA, USA. Retrieved July 4, 2013, from

Forsyth, D. (1992, May). Judging the morality of business practices: The influence of personal moral philosophies. Journal of Business Ethics. Dordrecht, Netherlands. Retrieved July 4, 2013, from

Hanh, T. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Kurzynski, M. (2004). An examination of Peter F Drucker’s management philosophy as compared to Aristotle’s moral philosophy. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Retrieved July 4, 2013, from

Mobley, S. (2002). The study of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development theory and ethics: Considerations in public administration practices. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from

Singer, B. (2012). Team code of honor: The secrets of champions. Minden, NV: BZK Press LLC.

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