General Ethical Principles


Modern society has evolved with many aspects changes in various aspects of life. Currently, ethics is at the core of any business initiative or is seen to define the brand names of many companies, organizations, or corporations. This has led to the development of general ethical principles that are supposed to guide individual or group behavior in society or within the organizations they work for. This paper explains the following ethical principles: Self Interests; Personal Virtues; Religious Injunctions; Government Requirements; Utilitarian Benefits; Universal Rules; Individual Rights; Economic Efficiency; Distributive Justice; and Contributive of Liberty.

Self Interest

Self-interest as an act can be defined as a person exhibiting behaviors that can be considered to his or her concern (Block 3). However, this definition has been inclined more towards sociological views or closely associated with moral psychology. From the business and economics perspectives, the definition has evolved in two differing views. The first view is that self-interest is the desire of a person to invest in things that matter, particularly on economic terms (Block 3). In other words, if a chief executive of an organization works towards the success of its overall success, he is working in the self-interest of the organization as well as his or her legacy. This can be described as self-interest. Their main motivation is the desire to see the organization prosper when they finally hang up their boots or step aside. In some quarters, this is defined as stewardship, described as sets of principles and practices that have the potential to help people or business leaders make critical decisions for the benefit of the organization (Block 6). In other words, business ethics requires people to act in the interest of all those who are attached to the organization, and not their interest.

Not surprising is the fact that some scholars and observers have taken a different view of the self-interest theory. In what seems to be an attack on the executives who believe in incentives as a compensation strategy to motivate workers or stakeholders, Professor Brennan argues that self-interest as a business ethics principle is not justifiable as leaders of successful organizations do not and have never acted like self-interest (Block 6). He argues that people indeed behaved in self-interest, the world would be more brutish and not desirable to live in.

Personal Virtues

Described is defined as personal character traits that reflect an individual’s behaviors towards being good or in self-control (Peterson & Seligman 49). In general terms of purpose, personal virtues are supposed to promote an individual’s and group’s well-being. If it involves a group, every member should act in self-control to reflect personal virtue that benefits all members equitably. In other terms, it can be viewed in a broader context of personal values, where an individual is indented to his or her beliefs and ideas. However, the aspect of personal virtue comes in when that individual is expected to act, through his or her beliefs and ideas in a manner that would not interfere or jeopardize other people’s values. It’s sometimes viewed as personal integrity.

In the field of business or management in general, personal virtues are normally encouraged in the management of organizations. This is because virtues are known to encourage success in the management of corporations, thus enabling the stakeholders to achieve their common or collective goal asset in their strategic management plan (Peterson & Seligman 51). For example, a business executive who practices personal values in his core dealings in the management process is likely to attract a united corporation from all dimensions of the organization, hence earns the confidence and moral support. In this case, taking advantage of the position held in the organization to solicit for bribery will be against practice personal ethics of a leader who practices this ethical principle.

Religious Injunctions

The principle of Religious Injunctions requires that people only take particular actions which are generally kind and are in a position to build a sense of belonging in the society of community (Sullivan & Sheffrin 15). By acting kindly, there is a sense that the action is an inclusive one, hence fostering the needed desire to work together for a common goal for an organization. This means that if an action is not likely to bring a united front towards a specific goal, then it should be avoided and a more unitary one taken.

In the field of management, an organization is normally defined by specific codes of conduct that define the employees’ behaviors or actions. For example, organizations have their specific time when their employees should leave the office environment, that is, the period of the day that defines working hours. This is to ensure there is an established code of conduct that the organization has set to achieve a common goal or specific objectives. If an employee act against this by either leaving the office earlier than usual or purposefully work slower than others, then that particular employee may be considered unkind to others. This is because the failure to achieve the goal will be shouldered by the entire team. The best way such a person can change is by observing the principle of the religious injunction to avoid any conflicting behavior (Sullivan & Sheffrin 16).

Government Requirements

This ethical principle requires a person should act within the law. By that, any form of action that defies the law is already an act of violating the minimum standards of moral behavior. That is, the law is a tool to set moral-ethical conducts; hence any action that is not in line with the law is against the set standards of moral behavior. Leventhal & Karuza (167) state that legal requirements are not supposed to be seen as misleading clients or stakeholders but supposed to accompany the ethical aspects of behavior, which sometimes lack in society due to the human nature of ignoring the essentials. The Trades Descriptions Act 1968 was passed to ensure that companies observed a range of responsibilities such as contracts, torts, and many others (Leventhal & Karuza 169). If, for instance, the company does not observe the signed contract or disobeys the procedures that are required to complete a contract, then they are likely to face the consequences of their negligence or omission.

But as Konow (1188) observes, the law is visibly a “blunt instrument, capable mainly of drawing large thick lines between problems”, hence leaving a large chunk of decision making to the leaders, who unfortunately may lack the required ethical principles make a justified and acceptable judgment. It, therefore, follows that for the principle of government requirements to work it must be merged with other ethical principles to make the necessary changes needed for an effective running of the organization. To avoid any eventualities of going against the law, the company and other signatories of the said contract are supposed to observe the principle of government requirements as this offers the benchmark for measuring the level of ethical principle.

Utilitarian Benefits

The principle of utilitarian benefits states that people should always act in a manner that is for the greatest benefit of society (Ayn 120). In other words, if a particular action is not likely to benefit the community or society as a whole, then it would be of great good if the plans to execute them are shelved. This is to say that in an individual or group capacity, always do that which will create the greatest benefit or good to the greatest number of people, or society is larger scope. Companies are known to produce for consumption. In the cycle of everything is the consumer. When a company exploits natural resources to produce for its target market, there are possibilities that it will create some form of disturbances into the natural system where they get their resources. However, business ethics ensures that these companies work within the requirement of the overall utilitarian ethics.

On many occasions, companies adopt a win-win ethical approach to their activities. For example, a mining company would negotiate with the host country on what they would do in return for being allowed to carry out their extraction or mining process. Such ethical activities would be like; building infrastructures such as health centers, roads, and schools; care for the environment, and even redo landscaping after their mining activities. In this case, the company is acting in the utilitarian aspect by infusing corporate social responsibility as well as accomplishing ethical requirements. However, utilitarian benefits have received a lot of criticism because of the difficulty in estimating the ‘good’ that is likely to define different actions (Ayn 120).

Universal Rules

The universal rule demands that one should not attempt to act or involve himself or herself in an action that they would not want to see others do if they are experiencing a similar or same type of situation (Brennan 221). For taking such actions means that an individual or group has approved such action, hence anyone willing to do the same is free to, irrespective of the consequences. In other words, one should always act in a manner that will be universally accepted to foster respect for others, irrespective of their geographical locations. If two countries are sharing a natural resource, say a sea, the principle of universal rules demands that the two countries respect the principle of natural resource conservation (Brennan 223). If one partner to the sea resource fails to observe the natural rule of conserving the resource, it is going against the principle of universal rules as ethics of corporation.

The same applies to the release of greenhouse gas into the air by industrialized nations. In this case, the universal rule opposes the act as it goes against the fact that air is a shared resource among the global nations, hence one country’s actions will affect the whole globe. Similarly, a company that exploits resources without considering the plight of other companies, just because it has a bigger capacity is not observant of universal rule as an ethical principle. It is therefore important for individual nations or companies to observe the principle of universal rule irrespective of lack of regulatory mechanism or difficulty in setting one.

Individual Rights

The principle of individual rights holds the opinion that anybody should not act in a manner that will infringe on the rights of other people. This is because these rights are agreed on and are subject to the group of majority consultations; hence going against the principle means failure to observe the ethics of agreement. Some on the other hand have described the individual right as the “sanction of independent action”, where a person is entitled to particular levels of protection as regards his or her right to participate or act in the society, as long as the action does not infringe on others rights (Bruton& Keels 43).

On many occasions, individual rights are said to be the only right that exists and can be recognized while group rights can only be recognized when looked at from the legal perspective (Bruton& Keels 46). This is because natural rights theory always observe that individual right is what constitutes group right. It is also worth noting that while civil as well as political rights are associated with individual rights, group rights are within the construct of socio-economic and cultural aspects of the society. For example, individual rights will demand a certain level of codifications for people or a person to get adequate security. Others have linked this kind of right to liberalism. On the management front, an employee is entitled to certain levels of individual rights in an organization, hence protecting him or her from some changes that may occur at the workplace (Bruton& Keels 46). For example, an employee has a right to have his or her personal information she submitted to the employer be protected at all costs, and any infringement is against the principle of individual right.

Economic Efficiency

The principle of economic efficiency demands that an individual or group or an organization carry out specific actions with continuous intention to maximize profit, albeit within the limits of legal and market conditions (Erola 90). This is because maximum profits will be the main sign of operational efficiency. It thus follows that if the projected maximum profit is not achieved, the theory of economic efficiency is certainly not yet achieved. In principle, several related concepts have been used to explain the concept of economic efficiency as a principle. In one explanation, it is usually said that one particular organization is economically efficient if it can produce more than other similar organizations, using the same amount of resources (Erola 90).

However, others have described economic efficiency theory about some absolute criteria such as every firm that has more output must have injected more input; the firm’s production goes ahead when the lowest amount of production is got per unit cost; and finally, that every firm that produces more must have spent more, leaving others with a deficit (Wiletzky 179). The definitions highlighted above suggest that no firm can increase its production without injecting more, with some efficiency taking precedence. For example, some economists believe that removing certain market distortions such as government regulations can increase the economic efficiency of a firm. This is likely to give the firms a free hand to operate as they deem fit and hence maximize profit. However, some schools of thought are against this, as they support the institutionalization of every government regulation to increase monitoring and reduce market distortion, hence economic efficiency.

Distributive Justice

Distributive justice as a principle is of the view that a person or persons should never be engaged in any form of action that will harm the least among us: the poor, the uneducated, the unemployed, etc.” (Bruton & Keels 69). In a society, it is acknowledged that there is a section of the society that is inherently disadvantaged either economically, socially, or politically. The theory of distributive justice advocates that these individuals get their share of the available resources justly and equitably, i.e. without bias. It is thus possible to classify a society or an organization that does not have incidental inequality to be guided by the ethical principle of distributive justice, while those which have a big gapped level of inequality are not adhering to this principle.

This ethical principle, therefore, calls for a clear pattern of resource distribution taking into consideration the amount available for distribution, the process to be used in giving out the resource, and most importantly, the pattern necessary for the successful distributor. This is because resources are never enough to satisfy all insatiable human needs. Since this normally causes a dilemma, the common ground that is advocated by the distributive justice principle is that everyone or every group receives a fair share of the said resources. Konow (23) however notes that equitable distribution of the resources can never be achieved if there is not just a process in the administrative law.

Contributive Liberty

The ethical principle of contributive liberty states that never should one act in a manner that will negatively affect other people’s rights, to get self-gratification through “self-development and self-improvement” (Erola 93).

If one acts in a manner suggesting that he or she is interested only in self-enrichment, then the person may be classified as against the principle of contributive liberty. A typical example is what normally happens when management buyout occurs in an organization or corporation. Management buyout usually happens when the sitting present managers of a corporation buy out all the stocks of a firm and chuck it off the public trading list of companies at the stock market. These managers normally work in association with third-party investors.

In this case, the fact that the investors did not give out their shares willingly is tantamount to the ethical dilemma of distributive liberty. It, therefore, follows that such managers did not adhere to this ethical principle. However, some have argued that many of these buyouts normally return to the stock market later (Bruton & Keels 212). This is because the managers tend to succumb to the public pressure to return the corporation to the public owners. Another reason is that these managers may be overburdened by the proceedings of the company, financially, since they normally invest all their wealth in such buyouts, thus the desire to relinquish the ownership. But the ethical concern is that the period from the time of buyout and the time of return to the stock market may be long enough to negatively impact other stakeholders.

Works Cited

Ayn, Rand. Collectivized Rights: The Virtue of Selfishness. Chicago. Chicago University Press, 1999.

Block, Peter. Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self Interest. San Francisco. Berrett Koehler, 1993.

Brennan, Michael. Incentives, Rationality, and Society. Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, 1994. vol. 49, no. 3. pp.221-229. Print.

Bruton, Garry & Keels, Kay. Ethics of the Complete Management Buyout Cycle: A Multi Perspective Analysis. Copenhagen. Springer Netherlands, 2004. Print.

Erola, Judy. Ethics and Lobbying: A business Perspective- Canada Public Administration. Canada. Spring Printers, 1997. pp.90-92. Print.

Konow, James. Which is the fairest one of all? A positive analysis of justice theories. Journal of Economic Literature, 2003.vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 1188–1239.Print.

Leventhal, Gerald & Karuza, Jurgis. Beyond Fairness: A Theory of Allocation Preferences. New York City, NY. Plenum Publishers, 2001. pp. 167–218.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.P. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Sullivan, Arthur & Sheffrin, Steven. Economics: Principles in Action. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2003. pp.15.

Wiletzky, Les. Ethics and Social Responsibility of Business. New York. Prentice-Hall, 2004.

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