Business Ethics

Case Analysis Instrument

Who has moral responsibility for deciding what to do?
Who are the decision-makers (Ds) in this case? Consider each of them separately.

What are the likely causal consequences of D’s alternative decisions?

Can D freely decide what to do? Is D an autonomous moral agent?

Are there any conditions present that excuse D from morally accountability?

Is anyone coercing D?

Is anyone deceiving or manipulating D?

Does D have all the information that we can reasonably expect D to obtain?

What do the various ethical theories say about whether to hold D accountable for D’s decision?

Does anyone share moral responsibility with D?

Is the organization, of which D is a member, solely or partially moral responsible for the situation?

Whose interests must we consider?
Whose interests will D’s decision affect?

Should D consider the owners of the business? (shareholder view)

Should D consider employees, suppliers, customers, and the local community? Who? (stakeholder view)

Should D consider the global community, posterity, or the environment? Which? (comprehensive view)

What are the relevant ethical considerations?
Ethical theory: Considerations:
Virtue ethics:

– individual virtues?


– community?

– corporate character?

What character traits should D try to exhibit in the decision?

Should D exhibit certain virtues, such as honesty, courage, etc.?

Should D avoid vices, such as sleaziness, timidity, etc.?

How can D contribute to making D’s community/organization flourish?

Does the character of D’s organization help cooperation in a market society?

Does D’s organization have traits that prevent any parties from flourishing?

Does D’s organization need to change its structure? E.g. an ethics policy?

Ethics of care:


– relationships?

– responsibilities?

For which individuals should D show special care?

Should D pay particular attention to anyone’s emotional needs?

Which relationships should D help to flourish?

Does enhancing these relationships give D special responsibilities?




prima facie duties?

– Kantian duties?

What are D’s motives?

Are D’s motives in accordance with justified ethical principles?

What duties should D fulfil?

Does D have any obvious duties that further reflection may override?

Can D claim that everyone can consistently fulfil these duties?

Is D treating anyone as a means rather than an end?

General rights:



– autonomy?

– deception?

– crucial interests?


– harm principle?

Does D have any correlative duties arising from the general rights of others?

Does D have any general rights that others must respect?

Are these rights positive or negative?

Is anyone’s ability to make informed decisions at stake?

Is there any lying or deception going on?

Will D’s decision affect anyone’s crucial interests?

Are these interests really crucial, or are they merely preferences?

Does D’s obligation not to harm others limit D’s liberty of action?

Specific rights:

– contracts?



– promises?


– expectations?

Does D have any correlative duties arising from the specific rights of others?

Are there any legal contracts involved?

Did the parties agree on the contract, or are the terms specified by law?

Are these legal contracts ethically free and fair?

Are there any explicit promises involved?

Do any promises arise from contracts involving offers and acceptances?

Are there any implicit promises involved?

Do any promises arise from customary expectations and practices?



– retributive?


– compensatory?

– distributive?

Will D’s decision treat everyone with equal moral respect and consideration?

Is D deciding to treat people differently for morally arbitrary reasons?

Does anyone deserve praise or blame in the case?

Should anyone receive reward or punishment?

Does anyone deserve compensation for a harm, rights violation, or injustice?

Will D’s decision distribute benefits and burdens fairly?

Does D’s decision promote equality of opportunity?

Is sexual or racial harassment involved?

Are there institutional barriers to women or parents of small children, etc.?

Is affirmative action permitted or obligatory?

Does D’s decision respect property rights and contracts?

Does D’s decision help the least advantaged?

Ethical egoism

– self-interest?

– wide self-interest?

– cooperation dilemma?


Should D decide based only on self-interest?

Which decision is in D’s self-interest?

Should D also consider family, friends, community, or more?

Should D consider others as psychological egoists?

Will D’s strategic decision involve a prisoner’s dilemma situation?



– pain/pleasure?


Should D consider everyone’s feelings such as suffering and enjoyment?

Whose feelings will D’s decision affect?

Can D measure the strength of these feelings and sensations?

Can D add up the quantities involved?

Can D widen the scope of this utilitarian reasoning to include everyone?

Can D see how to maximize net positive feelings?



– wants?

– desires?

– choices?

– preferences?

Should D consider everyone’s wants, desires, and choices?

Whose preferences will D’s decision affect?

Can D measure the strength of these preferences?

Can D see how to add up the quantities involved?

Can D widen the scope of this utilitarian reasoning to include everyone?

Can D see how to maximize preference-satisfaction?

Economic utilitarianism


– willingness to pay?

– cost-benefit analysis?

Should D consider people’s ability to pay for what they want?

Whose financial position will D’s decision affect?

Is willingness to pay a good measure of the strength of people’s preferences?

Should D perform a cost-benefit analysis of the alternative decisions?

How wide is the scope of D’s cost-benefit analysis?

Can D widen the scope of this cost-benefit analysis to include everyone?

Will D’s decision contribute to the efficiency of the economic market?

Will D’s decision create external costs for nearby, distant, or future people?

Indirect utilitarianism

– policies?


– rules?

Has D’s utilitarian, case-by-case decision procedure given a useful answer?

If not, is there a policy that D could follow that will maximize well-being?

Is there a universal rule that will maximize aggregate well-being?

Should D follow a rights-based or virtue-based policy?

Should D’s organization write a good policy to cover this decision?

Absent such a policy, should D decide as if such a policy did exist?

That is, should D apply utilitarian reasoning indirectly?




Are all people involved forming their preferences with full information?

If people had full information, would they have different preferences?

If D aggregated only informed preferences, would this change D’s decision?

Are any of these ethical considerations especially strong or weak?
What are the theoretical weaknesses of each of the above approaches?

Would D’s decision to promote virtue lead to rights violations or utility reductions?

Would D’s decision to care for special relationships lead to partiality and unfairness?

Would D’s decision to respect general rights lead to unjust distributions or to utility reductions?

Would D’s decision to respect special rights lead to unfairness?

Would D’s decision to promote distributive justice lead to entitlement loss or to overall utility loss?

Would D’s decision to maximize self-interest lead to vice, injustice, utility loss or rights violations?

Would D’s decision to maximize self-interest lead to problems with cooperation?

Would D be able to measure and aggregate utility in this case?

Would D’s decision to maximize aggregate utility lead to rights violations or unjust distributions?

Would D’s decision to maximize people’s aggregate financial position actually maximize their utility?

Would D’s decision to follow a utility-maximizing rule be overly harsh and authoritarian?

Do we need to know more about any relevant facts?
Which facts are most relevant from an ethical point of view?

Does our analysis of D’s ethical situation lead us to require more information about the case?

What are the alternatives?
After our analysis of D’s ethical situation, can we see alternative decisions that D should consider?

Which of the alternative decisions is the best from a business point of view?

What is the best decision?
On the balance of ethical reasons, are any of D’s alternative decisions ruled out?

Does D face an ethical dilemma where no decision is ethically permissible?

Does D have several possible decisions that are roughly equal, but better than the other alternatives?

Does D have just one decision that, on the balance of reasons, is best from an ethical point of view?