Some Closing Thoughts

Chapter Summary

This concluding chapter discusses three possible reactions that you may have after reading Ethics Theory and Business Practice. The first is one of perplexity; that is, after looking at ethically charged business issues from a range of different perspectives you may find it even harder to say what is ethical and what is unethical than you did before you started the book. The second is a feeling of ambivalence; that there are aspects of contemporary business that you find ethically appealing, but that there are also aspects that you find ethically unappealing. Therefore, you may not know quite what to think about the ethicality of business practice. The third possible reaction is one of powerlessness; a feeling that, whatever conclusions you may have drawn about the ethical desirability of what you see happening in today’s business world, you can do nothing to affect anything.

This chapter suggests that these are understandable reactions to a philosophically based study of business-ethics. However, it also proposes that perplexity need not stop you from forming firm ethical opinions; on the contrary, it might serve to enhance the quality of those opinions. It also suggests that ambivalence about the ethicality of business activity need not mean that you have to accept the bad with the good; rather, it offers a basis for exploring ways of doing business which minimize the bad whist retaining the good. And this concluding chapter also suggests that, when it comes to influencing business practice, you may have more power at your disposal than you think. Finally, the chapter reflects on the possibility of co-optation of business ethics to commercial agendas, which may make it even harder to work out what businesses are really up to.

Self-Test Questions


1.      Why, according to Aristotle, should we not expect ethical evaluation to deliver precise conclusions?

2.      How, according to Sartre, should we respond to the fact that there are no hard and fast rules to guide ethical evaluation?

3.      What can we do to ensure that our ethical convictions are as well-founded as they can be?


4.      Does the fact that there are ethically appealing and ethically unappealing features of contemporary business practice mean that we have to accept the bad in order to get the good?

5.      What does naturalization mean in relation to business ethics?


6.      What, According to Jürgen Habermas, is likely to happen if economic and political systems get out of sync with ethical expectations that prevail in the sociocultural realm?

7.      List three particular sociocultural expectations of economic and political systems identified by Habermas.

8.      Describe two ways in which ordinary people might be able to express their dissatisfaction with business activity and encourage businesses to conduct themselves differently?

The Co-optation of Business Ethics

9.      How does a normative approach to the study of business ethics differ from an instrumental approach?

10.  How might the instrumental co-optation of business ethics by some corporations make it hard to work out what those corporations are really up to?

11.  What do you think you should do if you find that your views about business ethics conflict with those that prevail amongst business practitioners and business academics? 

Web Links

The Critical Management website provides a portal for information about academic activity that challenges conventional forms of management and organization.

The Economics pages of Roberto Unger’s website contain a number of articles which discuss alternative, more socially and environmentally sustainable ways of arranging economic activity.

This Wikipedia page provides information about the World Social Forum; a meeting that takes place annually to provide new social movements with the opportunity to exchange perspectives, explore alternatives, and influence global economic activity.


The sustainability pages of firms such as Price Waterhouse Cooper and KPMG provide the opportunity to view consultancy services offered to companies who wish to respond to the ethical expectations of their influential stakeholders.