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how do you write a business ethics essay

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What Are Business Ethics & Why Are They Important?

Business professional pressing a graphic that reads "Business Ethics" and is surrounded by icons

  • 27 Jul 2023

From artificial intelligence to facial recognition technology, organizations face an increasing number of ethical dilemmas. While innovation can aid business growth, it can also create opportunities for potential abuse.

“The long-term impacts of a new technology—both positive and negative—may not become apparent until years after it’s introduced,” says Harvard Business School Professor Nien-hê Hsieh in the online course Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “For example, the impact of social media on children and teenagers didn’t become evident until we watched it play out over time.”

If you’re a current or prospective leader concerned about navigating difficult situations, here's an overview of business ethics, why they're important, and how to ensure ethical behavior in your organization.

Access your free e-book today.

What Are Business Ethics?

Business ethics are principles that guide decision-making . As a leader, you’ll face many challenges in the workplace because of different interpretations of what's ethical. Situations often require navigating the “gray area,” where it’s unclear what’s right and wrong.

When making decisions, your experiences, opinions, and perspectives can influence what you believe to be ethical, making it vital to:

  • Be transparent.
  • Invite feedback.
  • Consider impacts on employees, stakeholders, and society.
  • Reflect on past experiences to learn what you could have done better.

“The way to think about ethics, in my view, is: What are the externalities that your business creates, both positive and negative?” says Harvard Business School Professor Vikram Gandhi in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “And, therefore, how do you actually increase the positive element of externalities? And how do you decrease the negative?”

Related: Why Managers Should Involve Their Team in the Decision-Making Process

Ethical Responsibilities to Society

Promoting ethical conduct can benefit both your company and society long term.

“I'm a strong believer that a long-term focus is what creates long-term value,” Gandhi says in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “So you should get shareholders in your company that have that same perspective.”

Prioritizing the triple bottom line is an effective way for your business to fulfill its environmental responsibilities and create long-term value. It focuses on three factors:

  • Profit: The financial return your company generates for shareholders
  • People: How your company affects customers, employees, and stakeholders
  • Planet: Your company’s impact on the planet and environment

Check out the video below to learn more about the triple bottom line, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more explainer content!

Ethical and corporate social responsibility (CSR) considerations can go a long way toward creating value, especially since an increasing number of customers, employees, and investors expect organizations to prioritize CSR. According to the Conscious Consumer Spending Index , 67 percent of customers prefer buying from socially responsible companies.

To prevent costly employee turnover and satisfy customers, strive to fulfill your ethical responsibilities to society.

Ethical Responsibilities to Customers

As a leader, you must ensure you don’t mislead your customers. Doing so can backfire, negatively impacting your organization’s credibility and profits.

Actions to avoid include:

  • Greenwashing : Taking advantage of customers’ CSR preferences by claiming your business practices are sustainable when they aren't.
  • False advertising : Making unverified or untrue claims in advertisements or promotional material.
  • Making false promises : Lying to make a sale.

These unethical practices can result in multi-million dollar lawsuits, as well as highly dissatisfied customers.

Ethical Responsibilities to Employees

You also have ethical responsibilities to your employees—from the beginning to the end of their employment.

One area of business ethics that receives a lot of attention is employee termination. According to Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability , letting an employee go requires an individualized approach that ensures fairness.

Not only can wrongful termination cost your company upwards of $100,000 in legal expenses , it can also negatively impact other employees’ morale and how they perceive your leadership.

Ethical business practices have additional benefits, such as attracting and retaining talented employees willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. Approximately 40 percent of millennials say they would switch jobs to work for a company that emphasizes sustainability.

Ultimately, it's critical to do your best to treat employees fairly.

“Fairness is not only an ethical response to power asymmetries in the work environment,” Hsieh says in the course. “Fairness—and having a successful organizational culture–can benefit the organization economically and legally.”

Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability | Develop a toolkit for making tough leadership decisions| Learn More

Why Are Business Ethics Important?

Failure to understand and apply business ethics can result in moral disengagement .

“Moral disengagement refers to ways in which we convince ourselves that what we’re doing is not wrong,” Hsieh says in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability . “It can upset the balance of judgment—causing us to prioritize our personal commitments over shared beliefs, rules, and principles—or it can skew our logic to make unethical behaviors appear less harmful or not wrong.”

Moral disengagement can also lead to questionable decisions, such as insider trading .

“In the U.S., insider trading is defined in common, federal, and state laws regulating the opportunity for insiders to benefit from material, non-public information, or MNPI,” Hsieh explains.

This type of unethical behavior can carry severe legal consequences and negatively impact your company's bottom line.

“If you create a certain amount of harm to a society, your customers, or employees over a period of time, that’s going to have a negative impact on your economic value,” Gandhi says in the course.

This is reflected in over half of the top 10 largest bankruptcies between 1980 and 2013 that resulted from unethical behavior. As a business leader, strive to make ethical decisions and fulfill your responsibilities to stakeholders.

How to Implement Business Ethics

To become a more ethical leader, it's crucial to have a balanced, long-term focus.

“It's very important to balance the fact that, even if you're focused on the long term, you have to perform in the short term as well and have a very clear, articulated strategy around that,” Gandhi says in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability .

Making ethical decisions requires reflective leadership.

“Reflecting on complex, gray-area decisions is a key part of what it means to be human, as well as an effective leader,” Hsieh says. “You have agency. You must choose how to act. And with that agency comes responsibility.”

Related: Why Are Ethics Important in Engineering?

Hsieh advises asking the following questions:

  • Are you using the “greater good” to justify unethical behavior?
  • Are you downplaying your actions to feel better?

“Asking these and similar questions at regular intervals can help you notice when you or others may be approaching the line between making a tough but ethical call and justifying problematic actions,” Hsieh says.

How to Become a More Effective Leader | Access Your Free E-Book | Download Now

Become a More Ethical Leader

Learning from past successes and mistakes can enable you to improve your ethical decision-making.

“As a leader, when trying to determine what to do, it can be helpful to start by simply asking in any given situation, ‘What can we do?’ and ‘What would be wrong to do?’” Hsieh says.

Many times, the answers come from experience.

Gain insights from others’ ethical decisions, too. One way to do so is by taking an online course, such as Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability , which includes case studies that immerse you in real-world business situations, as well as a reflective leadership model to inform your decision-making.

Ready to become a better leader? Enroll in Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability —one of our online leadership and management courses —and download our free e-book on how to be a more effective leader.

how do you write a business ethics essay

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How to Write an Ethics Paper

Last Updated: May 16, 2023 Approved

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 251,751 times.

Writing an ethics paper can present some unique challenges. For the most part, the paper will be written like any other essay or research paper, but there are some key differences. An ethics paper will generally require you to argue for a specific position rather than simply present an overview of an issue. Arguing this position will also involve presenting counterarguments and then refuting them. Finally, ensuring that your reasoning is valid and sound and citing the appropriate sources will allow you to write an ethics paper that will satisfy any critic.

Getting Started

Step 1 Make sure that you understand the assignment.

  • What is the main objective of the assignment?
  • What specific things do you need to do in order to get a good grade?
  • How much time will you need to complete the assignment?

Step 2 Choose a topic for your ethics paper.

  • For example, you might begin with a topic of "ethical problems of euthanasia." This is very broad, and so forms a good starting point.

Step 3 Narrow down your topic.

  • Remember, you may refine your topic even further after you have begun writing your paper. This is perfectly acceptable, and is part of the advantage of writing a paper in multiple drafts.

Step 4 Outline the relevant issues to your topic.

  • For example, you might include issues such as: "describing specifically what is meant by 'extreme, constant pain.' "Other issues might include, "the rights and responsibilities of physicians regarding euthanasia," and "voluntary versus involuntary euthanasia."
  • After making this list, group or order them in some way. For example, you might imagine yourself taking the position that euthanasia is acceptable in this circumstance, and you could order the issues based on how you would draw supporting evidence and build your claim.

Developing Your Thesis Statement

Step 1 Draft your thesis statement.

  • In your thesis, you should take a specific stand on the ethical issue. For example, you might write your thesis as follows: "Euthanasia is an immoral option even when patients are in constant, extreme pain."

Step 2 Remove ambiguous language to clarify your exact position.

  • For example, this thesis statement is ambiguous: "Patients should not undergo euthanasia even when suffering constant, extreme pain." With how it's worded, it's unclear whether you mean that euthanasia should be outlawed or that it is morally wrong.
  • Clarify your position to create a strong thesis: "Euthanasia is an immoral option even when patients are in constant, extreme pain."

Step 3 Make sure the focus of your thesis aligns with your intended focus for the paper.

  • For example, in the thesis, "It is immoral for patients to choose euthanasia even when suffering constant, extreme pain," the moral burden is on the patient's actions. The author of this thesis would need to make sure to focus on the patient in the essay and not to focus on the moral implications of the doctor's actions.
  • If the thesis you have written does not reflect what you want to argue in your paper, start over and draft a new thesis statement.

Conducting Research

Step 1 Select sources to research before writing your ethics paper.

  • Ask a librarian for help finding sources if you are not sure how to access your library’s databases.
  • A simple way to strengthen your argument through citations is by incorporating some relevant statistics. Simple statistics can have a major impact if presented after you've made a bold assertion. For instance, you may claim that the patient's family members would be unduly traumatized if the patient chose euthanasia, and then cite a university study that catalogued a majority of families reporting trauma or stress in this situation.
  • Another helpful citation is one in which the broad issue itself is discussed. For instance, you might cite a prominent ethicist's position on your issue to strengthen your position.

Step 2 Evaluate your sources.

  • The author and his or her credentials. Does the source provide the author’s first and last name and credentials (M.D., Ph.D, etc.)? Steer clear of sources without an author attached to them or that lack credentials when credentials seem crucial, such as in an article about a medical subject. [3] X Research source
  • Type of publication. Is the publication a book, journal, magazine, or website? Is the publisher an academic or educational institution? Does the publisher have a motive other than education? Who is the intended audience? Ask yourself these questions to determine if this source is reliable. For example, a university or government website might be reliable, but a site that sells items may be biased toward what they're selling.
  • Citations. How well has the author researched his or her topic? Check the author’s bibliography or works cited page. If the author has not provided any sources, then you may want to look for a different source. [4] X Research source
  • Bias. Has the author presented an objective, well-reasoned account of the topic? If the sources seems skewed towards one side of the argument, then it may not be a good choice. [5] X Research source
  • Publication date. Does this source present the most up to date information on the subject? If the sources is outdated, then try to find something more recent. [6] X Research source

Step 3 Read your research.

  • To check for comprehension after reading a source, try to summarize the source in your own words and generate a response to the author’s main argument. If you cannot do one or both of these things, then you may need to read the source again.
  • Creating notecards for your sources may also help you to organize your ideas. Write the citation for the source on the top of the notecard, then write a brief summary and response to the article in the lined area of the notecard. [7] X Research source

Step 4 Annotate...

  • Remember to indicate when you have quoted a source in your notes by putting it into quotation marks and including information about the source such as the author’s name, article or book title, and page number. [8] X Research source

Writing and Revising Your Ethics Paper

Step 1 Work from your outline.

  • To expand on your outline, write a couple of sentences describing and/or explaining each of the items in your outline. Include a relevant source for each item as well.

Step 2 Make sure that you include all of the key parts of an ethics paper.

  • Check your outline to see if you have covered each of these items in this order. If not, you will need to add a section and use your sources to help inform that section.

Step 3 Plan to write your ethics paper using several drafts.

  • In your first draft, focus on the quality of the argument, rather than the quality of the prose. If the argument is structured well and each conclusion is supported by your reasoning and by cited evidence, you will be able to focus on the writing itself on the second draft.
  • Unless major revisions are needed to your argument (for example, if you have decided to change your thesis statement), use the second draft to strengthen your writing. Focus on sentence lengths and structures, vocabulary, and other aspects of the prose itself.

Step 4 Give yourself a break before revising.

  • Try to allow yourself a few days or even a week to revise your paper before it is due. If you do not allow yourself enough time to revise, then you will be more prone to making simple mistakes and your grade may suffer as a result. [10] X Research source

Step 5 Consider your paper from multiple angles as your revise.

  • Does my paper fulfill the requirements of the assignment? How might it score according to the rubric provided by my instructor?
  • What is your main point? How might you clarify your main point?
  • Who is your audience? Have you considered their needs and expectations?
  • What is your purpose? Have you accomplished your purpose with this paper?
  • How effective is your evidence? How might your strengthen your evidence?
  • Does every part of your paper relate back to your thesis? How might you improve these connections?
  • Is anything confusing about your language or organization? How might your clarify your language or organization?
  • Have you made any errors with grammar, punctuation, or spelling? How can you correct these errors?
  • What might someone who disagrees with you say about your paper? How can you address these opposing arguments in your paper? [11] X Research source

Step 6 Read printed version of your final draft out loud.

  • As you read your paper out loud, highlight or circle any errors and revise as necessary before printing your final copy.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • If at all possible, have someone else read through your paper before submitting it. They can provide valuable feedback on style as well as catching grammatical errors. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 1

how do you write a business ethics essay

Things You'll Need

  • Word-processing software
  • Access to your library’s databases
  • Pencil and highlighter

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  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/688/1/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/03/
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  • ↑ http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/reading-and-researching/notes-from-research
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/658/05/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/561/05/

About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

To write an ethics paper, start by researching the issue you want to write about and evaluating your sources for potential bias and trustworthiness. Next, develop a thesis statement that takes a specific stand on the issue and create an outline that includes the key arguments. As you write, avoid using words like “could” or “might,” which will seem ambiguous to the reader. Once you’ve finished your paper, take a break for a few days so your mind is clear, then go back and revise what you wrote, focusing on the quality of your argument. For tips from our Education reviewer on how to annotate source material as you research, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Free Business Ethics Essay Examples & Topics

What is business ethics? An essay about it can be a task in your class. For that, you need to understand the term and what it implies.

Running a successful business, negotiating a contract, or simply dealing with clients is impossible without understanding and applying business ethics and its practices. It is a study of appropriate policies that companies and employees can use. They are vital in controversial situations that involve corporate governance, fiduciary responsibility, corporate social responsibility, etc.

That’s where the importance of business ethics comes from. For a company to be successful in the modern world, it should implement techniques and practices of business ethics. Customers and clients expect firms to behave appropriately. Operating this way is more than not breaking laws.

Our team came up with some tips that can help you write your business ethics essay. Additionally, you will find topics for different academic papers, and you can check our free samples.

How to Start a Business Ethics Essay

Let’s start with learning the basics of a business ethics essay. Here we will explain how to approach such a type of academic paper.

First of all, you need to see how this essay will differ from other assignments. That’s why we’ve prepared a step-by-step plan for you:

  • Pick an idea.

As you can imagine, you need to have a solid idea. It does not have to be defined at the very beginning. However, you need to know what direction you want to take. You need to come up with an assumption that you will later develop in your essay.

  • Research your topic.

The next step in starting your business ethics essay is to research the case carefully. The Internet, non-fiction books, interviews, business journals can become great sources for your paper.

  • Take notes.

While doing your research, you should always write down key information. It will ensure that you will not miss any vital data and keep track of good thoughts.

  • Craft a thesis statement.

After you’ve conducted your research, the next step is to explain your message and position. A thesis statement usually appears at the end of your introductory paragraph.

  • Think of your introduction .

After step number four, when your thesis statement is ready, you can develop your introduction. It has to catch readers’ attention and adequately introduce the topic of your essay. Additionally, think about the way it can be connected with your conclusion .

  • Outline your essay.

One more step before writing is organizing your text. Like any other academic paper, an ethics essay follows a structure. It consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. The opening and the closing take about twenty percent of the entire article, and the rest eighty percent is left for the body.

17 Business Ethics Essay Topics

Now that you know how to start your business ethics paper, we’ve prepared a list of seventeen topics for your assignment. They can help you compose a fantastic essay about business ethics or use them to inspire your homework.

The topics are 100% original , so you can freely use them as your own:

  • Raising the minimum wage for minorities.
  • Issues with child labor.
  • Analyzing Uber’s business behaviors .
  • Is capitalism good or bad today?
  • How does social responsibility connect with business ethics?
  • Can moral principles guide business decisions?
  • Ethical issues in business law.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of Confucian business ethics.
  • The role of ethics in purchasing decisions.
  • Ways to eradicate unfair treatment due to race or religion at a workplace.
  • Walmart business ethics and ethical standards.
  • Social media in business ethics.
  • Ways to reduce business’s environmental impact.
  • Concept of corporate social responsibility.
  • CSR trends in 2021.
  • A balance between profit and CSR.
  • Ethical dilemmas people face every day at the workplace.

5 Business Ethics Research Paper Topics

We also came up with five high-quality business ethics topics for the research paper. Good luck with your essay and with learning more about business ethics!

  • List major ethical issues that business faces today.
  • Kantian approach to business ethics and morality.
  • How utilitarianism ethics can be used in companies.
  • The role of ethics in international business.
  • Applying Aristotle’s virtue ethics to business.

Thank you for reading the article till the end. Do not hesitate to share it with your peers who may need our tips or topics. Now, you can also look at our business ethics essay examples below.

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Chapters 2-3 of “The Corporation” by J. Bakan


What is Ethical Business Essay And How to Compose it?


Are you wondering what you should add to the ethical business essay? If yes then you’re at the right place, in this blog we brought you everything that you can include in the ethical business essay. The behaviors in a commercial transaction are referred to as business ethics. Ethics is concerned with what is right and wrong. It is a principle that may be used in any commercial application. Customers, government regulators, competitors, interest groups. And others can all influence the acceptability of corporate ethics. This paper focuses on the topic of business ethics in particular.

About Business Ethics

Table of Contents

The standard for how your firm is run is set by business ethics. Ethical principles serve as the foundation for a wide range of modern concepts. These concepts are for work, business, and organizations, broadening individual. And corporate priorities far beyond traditional profit and shareholder enrichment goals. Institutions and public sector organizations, whose traditional emphasis on service quality. Cost management must now take account of the same ethical considerations influencing the commercial. And corporate sectors, are likewise influenced by ethical factors. You can also start your ethical business essay by telling a little bit about the importance of it.

The Value of Business Ethics

With the increasing pressure of business practices, it is more essential than ever for businesses to do their jobs correctly. Ethics programs are an excellent strategy for developing moral behavior. Organizations also require employees who are committed to making ethical decisions. Below are the things that you can add to your ethical business essay.

Business Ethics is a Necessary Skills

Almost every firm now has a code of ethics. Part of this is due to the fact that technology and digital communication have made it simpler to spot and broadcast ethical gaffes. Companies are dedicating greater resources to corporate ethics to avoid unwanted consequences. Companies are creating ethical workplaces by hiring the right people. In addition to establishing formal programs.

Employee behavior is influenced by business ethics

Employees are more likely to use ethical reasoning when their company clearly demonstrates why business ethics is important. According to the Global Business Ethics survey. Ninety-nine percent of employees in the United States. Who work in an environment with a strong ethics culture said they are prepared to deal with ethical issues.

The bottom line benefits from business ethics

Another reason for the importance of business ethics is that it can increase profitability. Over three years, honorees on this year’s list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies outperformed the Large Cap Index by 10.5 percent. A well-executed ethics program can also help to reduce losses. You can add all these points to your ethical business essay.

  • Different types of business essay format
  • Best ever business essay example for beginners

What You Should Consider Including

Apart from the importance, there are other things to add to the ethical business essay. This paper examines how ethical business practices affect corporate stakeholders. The overall influence of ethical behaviors on these interconnected factors has a favorable influence on the company organization.

Potential Investors’ Attraction

Few investors want to invest in organizations that lack integrity. And accountability because they don’t want to be associated with them. They know that performance will eventually drop for all of the other reasons listed below. And who wants to invest in a lost cause?

Retention of Customers

Consumers are increasingly favoring providers and suppliers who exhibit accountability and ethical behavior. Failure to do so results in a loss of market share and dwindling popularity. It reduces revenues, profits, or whatever other outcomes the organization needs. The study discovered three major areas of employee concern. That businesses must address to foster a culture of stronger, more loyal relationships. They are workplace fairness, employee care and concern, and employee trust. A values-oriented code of conduct is a critical first step toward better consideration of ethical problems. During the decision-making process in order to achieve these aims.

Staff Productivity

Employees who work in a high-integrity, socially responsible. And globally conscious organization are far less likely to experience stress, attrition, and dissatisfaction. As a result, they are more content and productive. People who are happy and productive are a common feature of highly successful organizations. Employees who are stressed and dissatisfied are less productive, take more time off, require more management. And have no interest in resolving the organization’s flaws when the whole thing implodes. People are less likely to waste valuable energy in internal turf battles in an ethical workplace, both and departmentally. The ethical business essay should always have a detailed part in it explaining employees and their work.

Organizational Reputation

It takes years, if not decades, to build an organization’s reputation – but only one scandal can demolish it. Scandals and disasters are far less likely in ethically responsible organizations. And if one does occur, an ethically responsible organization will know how to deal with it quickly, openly, and honestly. People are more likely to forgive organizations that are genuinely attempting to do the right thing. Organizations that fail and then fail again by not addressing the problem. And the root cause are not forgiven and are actually considered insulting.

Final Thought

An ethical business essay is all about ethics that are to be followed in the organization. Individuals, teams, and organizations have more power and influence when all of these connected. And somewhat overlapping components work together synergistically. Most people are also aware that ethical behavior can help them in their daily lives. All of these events are advantageous to the business in the long run. If you still have some doubts then clear them with our business ethics assignment help and business ethics homework help .

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

How do you compose a paper about business ethics.

A good critical essay should, in general, include the following: Be humble. Be reasonable. Be well-organized. Limit yourself to two or three primary points. Be as specific as possible.

What is the format of an ethical business essay?

There is no specific format to write an ethical business essay. However, you can follow the INTRODUCTION-MAIN BODY- CONCLUSION approach.

What are the fundamental concepts of business ethics?

Business ethics refers to the implementation of appropriate business policies and practices in relation to potentially contentious issues. Corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, social responsibility, and fiduciary responsibilities are some of the issues that come up in an ethical discussion.

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Business Ethics

Exchange is fundamental to business. ‘Business’ can mean an activity of exchange. One entity (e.g., a person, a firm) “does business” with another when it exchanges a good or service for valuable consideration, i.e., a benefit such as money. ‘Business’ can also mean an entity that offers goods and services for exchange, i.e., that sells things. Target is a business. Business ethics can thus be understood as the study of the ethical dimensions of the exchange of goods and services, and of the entities that offer goods and services for exchange. This includes related activities such as the production, distribution, marketing, sale, and consumption of goods and services (cf. Donaldson & Walsh 2015; Marcoux 2006b).

Questions in business ethics are important and relevant to everyone. Almost all of us “do business”, or engage in a commercial transaction, almost every day. Many of us spend a major portion of our lives engaged in, or preparing to engage in, exchange activities, on our own or as part of organizations. Business activity shapes the world we live in, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.

Business ethics in its current incarnation is a relatively new field, growing out of research by moral philosophers in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But scholars have been thinking about the ethical dimensions of commerce at least since the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BC).

This entry summarizes research on central questions in business ethics, including: What sorts of things can be sold? How can they be sold? In whose interests should firms be managed? Who should manage them? What do firms owe their workers, and what do workers owe their firms? Should firms try to solve social problems? Is it permissible for them to try to influence political outcomes? Given the vastness of the field, of necessity certain questions are not addressed.

1. Varieties of business ethics

2. corporate moral agency, 3.1 ends: shareholder primacy or stakeholder balance, 3.2 means: control by shareholders or others too, 4. important frameworks for business ethics, 5.1 the limits of markets, 5.2 product safety and liability, 5.3 advertising, 5.5 pricing, 6.1 hiring and firing, 6.2 compensation, 6.3 meaningful work, 6.4 whistleblowing, 7.1 corporate social responsibility, 7.2 corporate political activity, 7.3 international business, 8. the status of business ethics, other internet resources, related entries.

Many people engaged in business activity, including accountants and lawyers, are professionals. As such, they are bound by codes of conduct promulgated by professional societies. Many firms also have detailed codes of conduct, developed and enforced by teams of ethics and compliance personnel. Business ethics can thus be understood as the study of professional practices, i.e., as the study of the content, development, enforcement, and effectiveness of the codes of conduct designed to guide the actions of people engaged in business activity. This entry will not consider this form of business ethics. Instead, it considers business ethics as an academic discipline.

The academic field of business ethics is shared by social scientists and normative theorists. But they address different questions. Social scientists try to answer descriptive questions like: Does corporate social performance improve corporate financial performance, i.e., does ethics pay (Vogel 2005; Zhao & Murrell 2021)? Why do people engage in unethical behavior (Bazerman & Tenbrunsel 2011; Werhane et al. 2013). How can we make them stop (Warren, Gaspar, & Laufer 2014)? I will not consider such questions here. This entry focuses on questions in normative business ethics, most of which are variants on the question: What is ethical and unethical in business?

Normative business ethicists (hereafter the qualifier ‘normative’ will be assumed) tend to accept the basic elements of capitalism. That is, they assume that the means of production can be privately owned and that markets—featuring voluntary exchanges between buyers and sellers at mutually agreeable prices—should play an important role in the allocation of resources. Those who reject capitalism will see some debates in business ethics (e.g., about firm ownership and control) as misguided.

Some entities “do business” with the goal of making a profit, and some do not. Pfizer and Target are examples of the former; Rutgers University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are examples of the latter. An organization identified as a ‘business’ is typically understood to be one that seeks profit, and for-profit organizations are the ones that business ethicists focus on. But many of the ethical issues described below arise also for non-profit organizations and individual economic agents.

One way to think about business ethics is in terms of the moral obligations of agents engaged in business activity. Who can be a moral agent? Individual persons, obviously. What about firms? This is treated as the issue of “corporate moral agency” or “corporate moral responsibility”. Here ‘corporate’ does not refer to the corporation as a legal entity, but to a collective or group of individuals. To be precise, the question is whether firms are moral agents and morally responsible considered as ( qua ) firms, not considered as aggregates of individual members of firms.

We often think and speak as if corporations are morally responsible. We say things like “Costco treats its employees well” or “BP harmed the environment in the Gulf of Mexico”, and in doing so we appear to assign agency and responsibility to firms themselves (Dempsey 2003). We may wish to praise Costco and blame BP for their behavior. But this may be just a metaphorical way of speaking, or a shorthand way of referring to certain individuals who work in these firms (Velasquez 1983, 2003). Corporations are different in many ways from paradigm moral agents, viz., people. They don’t have minds, for one thing, or bodies, for another. The question is whether corporations are similar enough to people to warrant ascriptions of moral agency and responsibility.

In the business ethics literature, French is a seminal thinker on this topic. In early work (1979, 1984), he argued that firms are morally responsible for what they do, and indeed should be seen as “full-fledged” moral persons. He bases this conclusion on his claim that firms have internal decision-making structures, through which they cause events to happen, and act intentionally. Some early responses to French’s work accepted the claim that firms are moral agents, but denied that they are moral persons. Donaldson (1982) claims that firms cannot be persons because they lack important human capacities, such as the ability to pursue their own happiness (see also Werhane 1985). Other responses went further and denied that firms are moral agents. Velasquez (1983, 2003) argues that, while corporations can act, they cannot be held responsible for their actions, because those actions are brought about by the actions of their members. In later work, French (1995) recanted his claim that firms are moral persons, though not his claim that they are moral agents.

Debate about corporate moral agency and moral responsibility rages on in important new work (Orts & Smith 2017; Sepinwall 2016). One issue that has received sustained attention is choice. Appealing to discursive dilemmas, List & Pettit (2011) argue that the decisions of corporations can be independent of the decisions of their members (see also Copp 2006). This makes the corporation an autonomous agent, and since it can choose in the light of values, a morally responsible one. Another issue is intention. A minimal condition of moral agency is the ability to form intentions. Some deny that corporations can form them (S. Miller 2006; Rönnegard 2015). If we regard an intention as a mental state, akin to a belief or desire, or a belief/desire complex, they may be right. But not if we regard an intention in functionalist terms (Copp 2006; Hess 2014), as a plan (Bratman 1993), or in terms of reasons-responsiveness (Silver forthcoming). A third issue is emotion. Sepinwall (2017) argues that being capable of emotion is a necessary condition of moral responsibility, and since corporations aren’t capable of emotion, they aren’t morally responsible. Again, much depends on what it means to be capable of emotion. If this capability can be given a functionalist reading, as Björnsson & Hess (2017) claim, perhaps corporations are capable of emotion (see also Gilbert 2000). Pursuit of these issues lands one in the robust and sophisticated literature on collective responsibility and intentionality, where firms feature as a type of collective. (See the entries on collective responsibility , collective intentionality , and shared agency .)

Another question asked about corporate moral agency is: Does it matter? Perhaps BP itself was morally responsible for polluting the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps certain individuals at BP were. What hangs on this? Some say: a lot. In some cases there may be no individual who is morally responsible for the firm’s behavior (List & Pettit 2011; Phillips 1995), and we need someone to blame, and perhaps punish. Blame may be the fitting response, and blame (and punishment) incentivizes the firm to change its behavior. Hasnas (2012) says very little hangs on this question. Even if firms are not morally responsible for the harms they cause, we can still require them to pay restitution, condemn their culture, and subject them to regulation. Moreover, Hasnas says, we should not blame and punish firms, for our blame and punishment inevitably lands on the innocent.

3. The ends and means of corporate governance

There is significant debate about the ends and means of corporate governance, i.e., about who firms should be managed for, and who should (ultimately) manage them. Much of this debate is carried on with the large publicly-traded corporation in view.

There are two main views about the proper ends of corporate governance. According to one view, firms should be managed in the best interests of shareholders. It is typically assumed that managing firms in shareholders’ best interests requires maximizing their wealth (cf. Hart & Zingales 2017; Robson 2019). This view is called “shareholder primacy” (Stout 2012) or—in order to contrast it more directly with its main rival (to be discussed below) “shareholder theory”. Shareholder primacy is the dominant view about the ends of corporate governance in business schools and in the business world.

A few writers argue for shareholder primacy on deontological grounds, i.e., by appealing to rights and duties. On this argument, shareholders own the firm, and hire managers to run it for them on the condition that the firm is managed in their interests. Shareholder primacy is thus based on a promise that managers make to shareholders (Friedman 1970; Hasnas 1998). In response, some argue that shareholders do not own the firm. They own stock, a type of corporate security (Bainbridge 2008; Stout 2012); the firm itself may be unowned (Strudler 2017). Others argue that managers do not make, explicitly or implicitly, any promises to shareholders to manage the firm in a certain way (Boatright 1994). More writers argue for shareholder primacy on consequentialist grounds. On this argument, managing firms in the interests of shareholders is more efficient than managing them in any other way (Hansmann & Kraakman 2001; Jensen 2002). In support of this, some argue that, if managers are not given a single objective that is clear and measurable—viz., maximizing shareholder value—then they will have greater opportunity for self-dealing (Stout 2012). The consequentialist argument for shareholder primacy run into problems that afflict many versions of consequentialism: in requiring all firms to aim at a certain objective, it does not allow sufficient scope for personal choice (Hussain 2012). Most think that people should be able to pursue projects, including economic projects, that matter to them, even if those projects do not maximize shareholder value.

The second main view about the proper ends of corporate governance is given by stakeholder theory. This theory was first put forward by Freeman in the 1980s (Freeman 1984; Freeman & Reed 1983), and has been refined by Freeman and collaborators over the years (see, e.g., Freeman 1994; Freeman et al. 2010; Freeman, Harrison, & Zyglidopoulos 2018; Jones, Wicks, & Freeman 2002; Phillips, Freeman, & Wicks 2003). According to stakeholder theory—or at least, early formulations of it—instead of managing the firm in the best interests of shareholders only, managers should seek to “balance” the interests of all stakeholders, where a stakeholder is anyone who has a “stake”, or interest (including a financial interest), in the firm. Blair and Stout’s (1999) “team production” theory of corporate governance offers similar guidance.

To be clear, in a firm in which shareholders’ interests are prioritized, other stakeholders will benefit too. Employees will receive wages, customers will receive goods and services, and so on. The debate between shareholder and stakeholder theorists is about what to do with the residual revenues, i.e., what’s left over after firms meet their contractual obligations to employees, customers, and others. Shareholder theorists think they should be used to maximize shareholder wealth. Stakeholder theorists think they should be used to benefit all stakeholders.

To its critics, stakeholder theory has seemed both incompletely articulated and weakly defended. With respect to articulation, one question that has been pressed is: Who are the stakeholders (Orts & Strudler 2002, 2009)? The groups most commonly identified are shareholders, employees, the community, suppliers, and customers. But other groups have stakes in the firm, including creditors, the government, and competitors. It makes a great deal of difference where the line is drawn, but stakeholder theorists have not provided a clear rationale for drawing it in one place rather than another. Another question is: What does it mean to “balance” the interests of all stakeholders, other than not always giving precedence to shareholders’ interests (Orts & Strudler 2009)? With respect to defense, critics have wondered what the rationale is for managing firms in the interests of all stakeholders. In one place, Freeman (1984) offers an instrumental argument, claiming that balancing stakeholders’ interests is better for the firm strategically than maximizing shareholder wealth (see also Blair & Stout 1999; Freeman, Harrison, & Zyglidopoulos 2018). (Defenders of shareholder primacy say the same thing about their view.) In another, he gives an argument that appeals to Rawls’s justice as fairness (Evan & Freeman 1988; cf. Child & Marcoux 1999).

In recent years, questions have been raised about whether stakeholder theory is appropriately seen as a genuine competitor to shareholder primacy, or is even appropriately called a “theory”. In one article, Freeman and collaborators say that stakeholder theory is simply “the body of research … in which the idea of ‘stakeholders’ plays a crucial role” (Jones et al. 2002). In another, Freeman describes stakeholder theory as “a genre of stories about how we could live” (1994: 413). It may be, as Norman (2013) says, that stakeholder is now best regarded as “mindset”, i.e., a way of looking at the firm that emphasizes its embeddedness in a network of relationships. In this case, there may be no dispute between shareholder and stakeholder theorists.

Resolving the debate between shareholder and stakeholder theorists (assuming they are competitors) will not resolve all or even most of the ethical questions in business. This is because it is a debate about the ends of corporate governance. It cannot answer questions about the moral constraints that must be observed in pursuit of those ends (Goodpaster 1991; Norman 2013), including duties of beneficence (Mejia 2020). Neither shareholder theory nor stakeholder theory is plausibly interpreted as the view that corporate managers should do whatever is possible to maximize shareholder wealth and balance all stakeholders’ interests, respectively. Rather, these views should be interpreted as views that managers should do whatever is consistent with the requirements of morality to achieve these ends. A large part of business ethics is trying to determine what these requirements are.

Answers to questions about the means of corporate governance often mirror answers to question about the ends of corporate governance. Often the best way to ensure that a firm is managed in the interests of a certain party P is to give P control. Conversely, justifications for why the firm should be managed in the interests of P sometimes appeal P’s rights to control it.

Friedman (1970), for example, thinks that shareholders’ ownership of the firm gives them a right to control the firm (which they can use to ensure that the firm is run in their interests). We might see control rights for shareholders as following analytically from the concept of ownership. To own a thing is to have a bundle of rights with respect to that thing. One of the standard “incidents” of ownership is control. (See the entry on property and ownership .)

As noted, in recent years the idea that the firm is something that can be owned has been challenged (Bainbridge 2008; Stout 2012; Strudler 2017). If this is right, then the ownership argument collapses. But similar contractarian arguments for shareholder control of firms have been constructed which do not rely on the assumption of firm ownership. All that is assumed in these arguments is that some people own capital, and others own labor. Capital can “hire” labor (and other inputs of production) or labor can “hire” capital. It just so happens that, in most cases, capital hires labor. We know this because in most cases capital-providers are the ultimate decision-makers in the firm. In a publicly-traded corporation, they elect the board. These points are emphasized especially by those who regard the firm as a “nexus of contracts” among various parties (Easterbrook & Fischel 1996; Jensen & Meckling 1976).

Many writers find this result troubling. Even if the governance structure in most firms is in some sense agreed to, they say that it is unjust in other ways. Anderson (2017) characterizes standard corporate governance regimes as oppressive and unaccountable private dictatorships. To address this injustice, these writers call for various forms of worker participation in managerial decision-making, including the ability by workers to reject arbitrary directives by managers (Hsieh 2005), worker co-determination of firms’ policies and practices (Ferreras 2017; McMahon 1994), and exclusive control of productive enterprises by workers (Dahl 1985).

Arguments for these governance structures take various forms. One appeals to the value of protecting workers’ interests (González-Ricoy 2014; Hsieh 2005). Another appeals to the value of autonomy, or a right to freely determine one’s actions, including one’s actions at work (Malleson 2014; McCall 2001). A third argument for worker control is the “parallel case” argument. According to it, if states should be governed democratically, then so should firms, because firms are like states in the relevant respects (Dahl 1985; Landemore & Ferreras 2016; cf. Mayer 2000). A fourth argument sees worker participation in firm decision-making as valuable training for citizens in a democratic society (Pateman 1970).

Space considerations prevent detailed examinations of these arguments (for critical reviews see Frega, Herzog, & Neuhäuser 2019; Hsieh 2008). But criticisms generally fall into two categories. The first insists on the normative priority of agreements, of the sort described above. There are few legal restrictions on the types of governance structures that firms can have. And some firms are in fact controlled by workers (Dow 2003; Hansmann 1996). To insist that other firms should be governed this way is to say, according to this argument, that people should not be allowed to arrange their economic lives as they see fit. Another criticism of worker participation appeals to efficiency. Allowing workers to participate in managerial decision-making may decrease the pace of decision-making, since it requires giving many workers a chance to make their voices heard (Hansmann 1996). It may also raise the cost of capital for firms, as investors may demand more favorable terms if they are not given control of the enterprise in return (McMahon 1994). Both sources of inefficiency may put the firm at a significant disadvantage in a competitive market. It may not just be a matter of competitive disadvantage. If it were, the problem could be solved by making all firms worker-controlled. The problem may be one of diminished productivity more generally.

Business ethicists seek to understand the ethical contours of business activity. One way of advancing this project is by choosing a normative framework and teasing out its implications for business issues. In principle, it is possible to do this for any normative framework. Below are four that have received significant attention.

One influential approach to business ethics draws on virtue ethics. Moore (2017) develops and applies MacIntyre’s (1984) virtue ethics to business. For MacIntyre, there are goods internal to practices, and certain virtues are necessary to achieve those goods. Building on MacIntyre, Moore develops the idea that business is a practice (or contains practices), and thus has certain goods internal to it (or them), the attainment of which requires the cultivation of business virtues. Aristotelian approaches to virtue in business are found in Alzola (2012) and de Bruin (2015). Scholars have also been inspired by the Aristotelian idea that the good life is achieved in a community (Sison & Fontrodona 2012), and have considered how business communities must be structured to help their members flourish (Hartman 2015; Solomon 1993).

Another important approach to the study of business ethics comes from deontology, especially Kant’s version (Arnold & Bowie 2003; Bowie 2017; Scharding 2015; Hughes 2020). Kant’s claim that humanity should be treated always as an end, and never as a means only, has proved especially fruitful for analyzing the human interactions at the core of commercial transactions. In competitive markets, people may be tempted to deceive, cheat, use, exploit, or manipulate others to gain an edge. Kantian moral theory singles out these actions out as violations of human dignity (Hughes 2019; Smith & Dubbink 2011).

Ethical theory, including virtue theory and deontology, is useful for thinking about how individuals should relate to each other. But business ethics also comprehends the laws and regulations that structure markets and firms. Here political theory seems more relevant. A number of business ethicists have sought to identify the implications of Rawls’s (1971) justice as fairness for business. This is not an easy task, since while Rawls makes some suggestive remarks about markets and firms, he does not articulate specific conclusions or develop detailed arguments for them. But scholars have argued that justice as fairness: (1) is incompatible with significant inequalities of power and authority within firms (S. Arnold 2012); (2) requires people to have an opportunity to perform meaningful work (Moriarty 2009; cf. Hasan 2015); and requires alternative forms of (3) corporate governance (Berkey 2021; Blanc & Al-Amoudi 2013; Norman 2015; cf. Singer 2015) and (4) corporate ownership (M. O’Neill & Williamson 2012).

A fourth approach to business ethics is called the “market failures approach” (MFA). It originates with McMahon (1981), but it has been developed in most detail by Heath (2014) (for discussion see Moriarty 2020 and Singer 2018). According to Heath, the justification of the market is that it produces efficient—in the sense of Pareto-optimal— outcomes. But this only happens when the conditions of perfect competition obtain, such as perfect information, no market power, and no barriers to entry or exit. (When they don’t, markets fail—hence the market failures approach.) On the MFA, these conditions are the source of ethical rules for market actors. The MFA says that market actors, including sellers and buyers, should not create or take advantage of market imperfections. So, for example, firms should not deceive consumers (creating information asymmetries) or lobby governments to levy tariffs on foreign competitors (erecting barriers to entry).

Selecting a normative framework and applying it to a range of issues is an important way of doing business ethics. But it is not the only way. Indeed, the more common approach is to identify a business activity and then analyze it using “mid-level” principles or ideals common to many moral and political theories. Below I consider ethical issues that arise at the nexus of firms’ engagement with three important groups: consumers, employees, and society.

5. Firms and consumers

The main way that firms interact with consumers is by selling, or attempting to sell, products and services to them. Many ethical issues attend this interaction.

Many have argued that some things should not be for sale (Anderson 1993; MacDonald & Gavura 2016; Sandel 2012; Satz 2010). Among the things commonly said to be inappropriate for sale are sexual services, surrogacy services, and human organs. Some writers object to markets in these items for consequentialist reasons. They argue that markets in commodities like sex and kidneys will lead to the exploitation of vulnerable people (Satz 2010). Others object to the attitudes or values expressed in such markets. They claim that markets in surrogacy services express the attitude that women are mere vessels for the incubation of children (Anderson 1993); markets in kidneys suggest that human life can be bought and sold (Sandel 2012); and so on. (For a discussion of what it might mean for a market to “express” a value, see Jonker [2019].)

Other writers criticize these arguments, and in general, the attempt to “wall-off” certain goods and services from markets. Brennan and Jaworksi (2016) object to expressive or “semiotic” arguments against markets in contested commodities (cf. Brown & Maguire 2019). Whether selling a particular thing for money expresses disrespect, they note, is culturally contingent. They and others (e.g., Taylor 2005) also argue that the bad effects of markets in contested commodities can be eliminated or at least ameliorated through appropriate regulation, and that anyway, the good effects of such markets (e.g., a decrease in the number of people who die because they are waiting for a kidney) outweigh the bad.

Some things that firms may wish to sell, and that people may wish to buy, pose a significant risk of harm, to the user and others. When is a product too unsafe to be sold? This question is often answered by government agencies. In the U.S., a number of government agencies, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are responsible for assessing the safety of products for the consumer market. In some cases these standards are mandatory (e.g., medicines and medical devices); in other cases they are voluntary (e.g., trampolines and tents). The state identifies minimum standards and individual businesses can choose to adopt more stringent ones.

Questions about product safety are a matter of significant debate among economists, legal scholars, and public policy experts. Business ethicists have paid scant attention to these questions (but see Brenkert 1981). Existing treatments often combine discussions of safety with discussions of liability—the question of who should pay for harms that products cause—and tend to be found in business ethics textbooks. One of the most careful treatments is Velasquez’s (2012). He distinguishes three (compatible) views: (1) the “contract view”, according to which the manufacturer’s duty is only to accurately disclose all risks associated with the product; (2) the “due care view”, according to which the manufacturer should exercise due care to prevent buyers from being injured by the product; and (3) the “social costs view”, according to which the manufacturer should pay for any injuries the product causes, even if the manufacturer has accurately disclosed all risks associated with the product and has exercised due care to prevent injury (see also Boatright & Smith 2017). In the U.S. and elsewhere, the law has moved in the direction of the social costs view, where it is known as “strict liability”.

There is much room for philosophical exploration of these issues. One area that merits attention is the definitions of key terms, such as “safety” and “risk”. Drop side cribs pose risks to consumers; so do trampolines. On what basis should the former be prohibited but the latter not be (Hasnas 2010)? The answer must take into account the value of these products, how obvious the risks they pose are, and the availability of substitutes. With respect to liability, we may wonder whether it is fair to hold manufacturers responsible for harms their products cause, when the manufacturers are not morally at fault for those harms. On the other hand, it may be unfair to force consumers to bear the full costs of their injuries, when they too are not morally at fault. The question may be one for society as a whole: what is the most efficient or just way to distribute these costs?

Most advertising contains both an informational component and a persuasive component. Advertisements tell us something about a product, and try to persuade us to buy it. Both of these components can be subject to ethical evaluation.

Emphasizing its informational component, some writers stress the positive value of advertising. Markets function efficiently only when certain conditions are met. One of these conditions is perfect information. Minimally, consumers have to understand the features of the products for sale. While this condition will never be fully met, advertising can help to ensure that it is met to a greater degree (Heath 2014). Another value that can be promoted through advertising is autonomy. People have certain needs and desires—e.g., to eat healthy food, to drive a safe car—which their choices as consumers help them to satisfy. Their choices are more likely to satisfy their needs and desires if they have information about what is for sale, which advertising can provide (Goldman 1984).

These good effects depend, of course, on advertisements producing true beliefs, or at least not producing false beliefs, in consumers. Writers treat this as the issue of deception in advertising. The issue is not whether deceptive advertising is wrong (most would agree it is), but what counts as deceptive advertising, and what makes it wrong.

In the 1980s, Beech-Nut advertised as “100% apple juice” a drink that contained no juice of any kind. Beech-Nut was fined $2 million and two of its executives went to prison. As of this writing (in 2021), Red Bull is marketing its energy drinks with the slogan “Red Bull Gives You Wings,” but in fact Red Bull doesn’t give you wings. There is no problem with Red Bull’s marketing. What’s the difference? We might say that Red Bull’s slogan is not warranted as true (Carson 2010). It is an example of “puffery,” or over-the-top, exaggerated praise which no reasonable person takes seriously (Attas 1999). By contrast, Beech-Nut’s statement appeared to be a claim meant to be taken at face value, but in fact is false. As these examples illustrate, advertisements are deceptive not because of the truth-value of their claims, but what these claims cause reasonable consumers to believe. Questions can be raised, of course, about what it means to be reasonable (Scalet 2003); the answer may depend on who the consumers are.

Intention is usually taken to be irrelevant to deception in advertising. That is, an advertisement may be deemed deceptive even if the advertiser doesn’t intend to deceive anyone. Some philosophers would say that these advertisements are better described as misleading . (For discussion, see the entry on the definition of lying and deception .) Regulators of advertising blur this distinction, or perhaps they don’t care about it. Their goal is to protect consumers from acting on materially false beliefs, which may be caused either by deception or by blamelessly being misled.

Many reasons have been offered for why deceptive advertising is wrong. One is the Kantian claim that deceiving others is disrespectful to them, a use of them as a mere means. Deceptive advertising may also lead to harm, to consumers (who purchase suboptimal products, given their desires) and competitors (who lose out on sales). A final criticism of deceptive advertising is that it erodes trust in society (Attas 1999). When people do not trust each other, they will either not engage in economic transactions, or engage in them only with costly legal protections.

The persuasive component of advertising is also a fruitful subject of ethical inquiry. Galbraith (1958), an early critic, thinks that advertising, in general, does not inform people how to acquire what they want, but instead gives them new wants. He calls this the “dependence effect”: our desires depend on what is produced, not vice versa . Moreover, since we are inundated with advertising for consumer goods, we want too many of those goods and not enough public goods. Hayek (1961) rejects this claim, arguing that few if any of our desires are independent of our environment, and that anyway, desires produced in us through advertising are no less significant than desires produced in us in other ways.

Galbraith is concerned about the persuasive effects of advertisements. In contrast, recent writers focus on the techniques that advertisers use to persuade. Some of these are alleged to cross the line into manipulation (Aylsworth, 2020; Brenkert 2008; Sher 2011). It is difficult to define manipulation precisely, though attempts have been made (for extensive discussion, see the entry on the ethics of manipulation ). For our purposes, manipulative advertising can be understood as advertising that attempts to persuade consumers, often (but not necessarily) using non-rational means, to make irrational or suboptimal choices, given their own needs and desires.

Associative advertising is often identified as a type of manipulative advertising. In associative advertising, the advertiser tries to associate a product with a positive belief, feeling, attitude, ideal, or activity which usually has little to do with the product itself. Thus many television commercials for trucks in the U.S. associate trucks with manliness. Commercials for body fragrances associate those products with sex between beautiful people. The suggestion is that if you are a certain sort of person (e.g., a manly one), then you will have a certain sort of product (e.g., a truck). In an important article, Crisp (1987) argues that this sort of advertising attempts to create desires in people by circumventing their faculties of conscious choice, and in so doing subverts their autonomy (cf. Arrington 1982; Phillips 1994). Lippke (1989) argues that it makes people desire the wrong things, encouraging us to try to satisfy our non-market desires (e.g., to be more manly) through market means (e.g., buying a truck) (cf. Aylsworth 2020). How seriously we should take these criticisms may depend on how effective associative and other forms of persuasive advertising are. To the extent that advertisers are unsuccessful at “going around” our faculty of conscious choice, we may be less worried and more amused by their attempts to do so (Bishop 2000; Goldman 1984).

Our judgments on this issue should be context-sensitive. While most people may be able to see through advertisers’ attempts to persuade them, some may not be (at least some of the time). Paine (Paine et al. 1984) argues that advertising is justified because it helps consumers make wise decisions in the marketplace. But children, she argues, lack the capacity for making wise consumer choices (see also E.S. Moore 2004). Thus advertising directed at children constitutes a form of objectionable exploitation. Other populations who may be similarly vulnerable are the senile, the ignorant, and the bereaved. Ethics may require not a total ban on marketing to them but special care in how they are marketed to (Brenkert 2008; cf. Palmer & Hedberg 2013).

Sales are central to business. Perhaps surprisingly, business ethicists have said relatively little about sales.

An emerging set of issues concerns refusals to sell. Normally businesses want to sell their goods and services to everyone. But not always. In 2012, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because he opposed same-sex marriage on religious grounds. In response, the couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Should Phillips have sold the wedding cake to the couple? We might say that a commercial transaction is a kind of association, and people—including business owners like Phillips—should be free to associate, or not, with whomever they choose. Or we might say, as Phillips did, that his actions were protected by freedom of religion, since they were an expression of his identity, which includes his religious commitments. Alternatively, we might claim that Phillips was discriminating against the couple, and his actions were wrong for the same reasons discrimination typically is, viz., it denies people opportunities and undermines their dignity (Corvino, Anderson, & Girgis 2017).

Questions can also be raised about the techniques advertisers use to sell. These questions are similar to the ones asked about advertising. Salespeople are, in a sense, the final advertisers of products to consumers. An early contribution to the ethics of sales is found in Holley (1986), who develops a set of obligations for salespeople derived from the point of market activity, which he says is to efficiently meet people’s needs and wants (cf. Heath 2014). In what is probably the most sophisticated treatment of the subject, Carson (2010) says salespeople have at least the following four pro tanto duties: (1) provide customers with safety warnings and precautions; (2) refrain from lying and deception; (3) fully answer customers’ questions about items; and (4) refrain from steering customers toward purchases that are unsuitable for them, given their stated needs and desires. Carson justifies (1)—(4) by appealing to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. He identifies two other duties that salespeople might have (he is agnostic): (5) do not sell customers products that you (the salesperson) think are unsuitable for them, given their needs and desires, without telling customers why you think this; and (6) do not sell customers poor quality or defective products, without telling them why you think this. For the most part, (1)—(4) ask the salesperson not to harm the customer; (5) and (6) ask the salesperson to help the customer, in particular, help her not to make foolish mistakes. The broader issue is one of disclosure (Holley 1998). How much information we think salespeople are required to share with customers may depend on what kind of relationship we think they should have, e.g., to what extent it is adversarial.

For many products bought and sold in markets, sellers offer an item at a certain price, and buyers take or leave that price. But in some cases there is negotiation over price (and other aspects of the transaction). We see this in the sale of “big ticket” items such as cars and houses, and in salaries for jobs. While there are many ethical issues that arise in negotiation, one issue that has received special attention is “bluffing”, or deliberately misstating one’s bargaining position. The locus classicus for this discussion is Carr (1968). According to him, bluffing in negotiations is permissible because business has its own distinctive set of moral rules and bluffing is permissible according to those rules. Carson (2010) agrees that bluffing is permissible in business, though in a more limited range of cases. Carson’s argument appeals to self-defense. If you have good reason to believe that your adversary in a negotiation is misstating her bargaining position, then you are permitted to misstate yours. A requirement to tell the truth in these circumstances would put you at a significant disadvantage relative to your adversary, which you are not required to suffer. An implication of Carson’s view is that you are not permitted to misstate your bargaining position if you do not have good reason to believe that your adversary is misstating hers.

In simplified models of the market, individual buyers and sellers are “price-takers”, not “price-makers”. That is, the prices of goods and services are set by the aggregate forces of supply and demand; no individual buys or sells a good for anything other than the market price. In reality, things are different. Sellers of goods have some flexibility about how to price goods.

Most business ethicists would accept that, in most cases, the prices at which products should be sold is a matter for private individuals to decide. This view has been defended on grounds of property rights. Some claim that if I have a right to a thing, then I am free to transfer that thing to you on whatever terms that I propose and you accept (Boatright 2010). It has also been defended on grounds of welfare. Prices set by voluntary exchanges reveal valuable information about the relative demand for and supply of goods, allowing resources to flow to their most productive uses (Hayek 1945). Despite this, most business ethicists also recognize some limits on prices.

One issue that has received increasing attention is price discrimination. This is discrimination based on willingness to pay, or the practice of charging more to people who are willing to pay more. This might at first seem unfair or even exploitative, but in fact it is commonplace and usually unremarkable (Elegido 2011; Marcoux 2006a). Examples of price discrimination include senior and student discounts, bulk discounts, versioning, and the sort of bargaining one finds in car dealerships and flea markets. We might see price discrimination as an implication of freedom in pricing, and according to a familiar result in economics, price discrimination increases social welfare, provided that it enables producers to increase output (Varian 1985). But some instances of price discrimination have come in for criticism. Online retailers collect and purchase enormous amounts of information about consumers, and there is evidence that they are using this to personalize prices, or tailor prices to what they think are consumers’ reservation prices, i.e., the highest amounts they are willing to pay. Some believe that this practice is unfair (Steinberg 2020), though they problem may simply be that consumers don’t know what retailers are up to.

Another issue of pricing ethics is price gouging. Price gouging can be understood as a sharp increase in the price of a necessary good in the wake of an emergency which renders that good scarce (Hughes 2020; Zwolinski 2008). As the novel coronavirus spread around the world in early 2020, retailers began to charge extremely high prices for cleaning products and medical supplies. Many jurisdictions have laws against price gouging, and it is widely regarded as unethical (Snyder 2009). The reason is that it is a paradigm case of exploitation: A extracts an excessive benefit out of B in circumstances in which B cannot reasonably refuse A ’s offer (Valdman 2009). But some theorists defend price gouging. While granting that sales of items in circumstances like these are exploitative, they note that they are mutually beneficial. Both the seller and buyer prefer to engage in the transaction rather than not engage in it. Moreover, when items are sold at inflated prices, this both limits hoarding and attracts more sellers into the market. Permitting price gouging may thus be the fastest way of eliminating it (Zwolinski 2008). (For further discussion, see the entry on exploitation .)

Most contemporary scholars believe that sellers have wide, though not unlimited, discretion in how much they charge for goods and services. But there is an older tradition in business ethics, found in Aquinas and other medieval scholars, according to which there is one price that sellers should charge: the “just price”. There is debate about what exactly medieval scholars meant by “just price”. According to a historically common interpretation, the just price is determined by the seller’s cost of production, i.e., the price that compensates the seller for the value of her labor and expenses. More recent interpretations understand the medieval just price at something closer to the market price, which may be more or less than the cost of production (Koehn & Wilbratte 2012).

6. Firms and workers

Business ethicists have written much about the relationship between employers and employees. Below we consider four issues at the employer/employee interface: (1) hiring and firing, (2) pay, (3) meaningful work, and (4) whistleblowing. Another important topic at this interface is privacy. For space reasons it will not be discussed, but see the entries on privacy and privacy and information technology .

Ethical issues in hiring and firing tend to focus on the question: What criteria should employers use, or not use, in employment decisions? The question of what criteria employers should not use is addressed in discussions of discrimination.

While there is some debate about whether discrimination in employment should be legally prohibited (see Epstein 1992), almost everyone agrees that it is morally wrong (Hellman 2008; Lippert-Rasmussen 2014). Discussion has focused on two questions. First, when does the use of a certain criterion in an employment decision count as discriminatory? It would seem wrong if Walmart were to exclude white applicants for a job in their marketing department, but not wrong if the Hovey Players (a theater troupe) were to exclude white applicants for the role of Walter Younger in A Raisin in the Sun . We might say that whether a hiring practice is discriminatory depends on whether the criterion used is job-relevant. But the concept of job-relevance is contested, as the case of “reaction qualifications” reveals. Suppose that white diners prefer to be served by white waiters rather than black waiters. In this case race seems job-relevant, but it seems wrong for employers to take race into account (Mason 2017). Another question that has received considerable attention is: What makes discrimination wrong? Some argue that discrimination is wrong because of its effects on those who are discriminated against (Lippert-Rasmussen 2014); others think that it is wrong because of what it expresses to them (Hellman 2008). (For extensive discussion, see the entry on discrimination .)

Some writers believe that employers’ obligations are not satisfied simply by avoiding using certain criteria in hiring decisions. According to them, employers have a duty to hire the most qualified applicant. Some justify this duty by appealing to considerations of desert (D. Miller 1999; Mulligan 2018); others justify it by appealing to equal opportunity (Mason 2006). We might object to this view by appealing to property rights. A job offer typically implies a promise to pay the job-taker a sum of your money for performing certain tasks. While we might think that excluding some ways you can dispose of your property (e.g., rules against discrimination in hiring) can be justified, we might think that excluding all ways but one (viz., a requirement to hire the most qualified applicant) is unjustified. In support of this, we might think that a small business owner does nothing wrong when she hires her daughter for a part-time job as opposed to a more qualified stranger.

The question of when employees may be fired is a staple of business ethics texts and was the subject of considerable debate in the business ethics literature in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There are two main views: those who think that employment should be “at will”, so that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason (Epstein 1984; Maitland 1989), and those who think that employers should be able to terminate employees only for “just cause” (e.g., poor performance or excessive absenteeism) (McCall & Werhane 2010). In fact, few writers hold the “pure” version of the “at will” view. Most would say, and the law agrees, that it is wrong for an employer to terminate an employee for certain reasons, e.g., a discovery that he is Muslim or his refusal to commit a crime for the employer. Thus the debate is between those who think that employers should be able to terminate employees for any reason with some exceptions , and those who think that employers should be able to terminate employees only for certain reasons. In the U.S., most employees are at will, while in Europe, most employees are covered, after a probationary period, by something analogous to just cause. Arguments for just cause appeal to the effects that termination has on individual employees, especially those who have worked for an employer for many years (McCall & Werhane 2010). Arguments for at will employment appeal to freedom or macroeconomic effects. It is claimed, in the former case, that just cause is an unwarranted restriction on employers’ and employees’ freedom of contract (Epstein 1984), and in the latter case, that it raises the unemployment rate (Maitland 1989). The more difficult it is for an employer to fire an employee, the more reluctant she will be to hire one in the first place.

Businesses generate revenue, and some of this revenue is distributed to employees in the form of compensation, or pay. Since the demand for pay typically exceeds the supply, the question of how pay should be distributed is naturally analyzed as a problem of justice.

Two theories of justice in pay have attracted attention. One may be called the “agreement view”. According to it, a just wage is whatever wage the employer and the employee agree to without force or fraud (Boatright 2010). This view is sometimes justified in terms of property rights. Employees own their labor, and employers own their capital, and they are free, within broad limits, to dispose of it as they please. In addition, we might think that wages should be should determined by voluntary agreement for the same reason prices generally should be, viz., it allocates resources to their most productive uses, as determined by people’s wants (Heath 2018; Hayek 1945). A “wage”, after all, is just a special name for the price of labor.

A second view of wages may be called the “contribution view”. According to it, the just wage for a worker is the wage that reflects her contribution to the firm. This view comes in two versions. On the absolute version, workers should receive an amount of pay that equals the value of their contributions to the firm (D. Miller 1999). On the comparative version, workers should receive an amount of pay that reflects the relative value of their contributions to the firm, given what others in the firm contribute and are paid (Sternberg 2000). The contribution view strikes some as normatively basic, a view for which no further argument can be given (D. Miller 1999). An analogy may be drawn with punishment. Just as it seems intuitively right for the severity of a criminal’s punishment to reflect the seriousness of her crime, so it may seem intuitively right for the value of a persons’s pay to reflect the value of her work (Moriarty 2016). In this way, pay might be understood as a reward for work.

Some argue that compensation should be evaluated not only as a problem of justice but as an incentive. The question here is what pay encourages employees to do, and how it encourages them to do it. Poorly structured compensation packages for traders in the financial services industry are thought to have contributed to the financial crisis of 2007-2009 (Kolb 2012). Traders were incentivized to take excessively risky bets, and when those bets went bad, their firms could not cover the losses, putting the firms and ultimately the whole financial system in peril. Bad incentives may also help to explain the recent account fraud scandal at Wells Fargo.

The pay of any employee can be evaluated from a moral point of view. But business ethicists have paid particular attention to the pay of certain employees, viz., CEOs and workers in factories in developing countries, often called “sweatshops.”

There has been significant debate about whether CEOs are paid too much (Boatright, 2010; Moriarty 2005), with scholars falling into two camps. Those in the “managerial power” camp believe that CEOs wield power over boards of directors, and use this power to extract above-market rents from their firms (Bebchuk & Fried 2004). Those in the “efficient contracting” camp believe that pay negotiations between CEOs and boards are usually carried out at arm’s-length, and that CEOs’ large compensation packages reflect their rare and valuable skills. (For a recent survey of relevant empirical issues, see Edmans, Gabaix, & Jenter 2017).

There has also been a robust debate about whether workers in sweatshops are paid too little. Some say ‘no’ (Powell & Zwolinski 2012; Zwolinski 2007). They say that sweatshops wages, while low by standards in developed countries, are not low by the standards of the countries in which the sweatshops are located. This explains why people choose to work in a sweatshop; it is the best offer they have. Efforts to increase artificially the wages of sweatshop workers, according to these writers, is misguided on two counts. First, it is an interference with the autonomous choices of employers and workers. Second, it is likely to make workers worse off, since employers will respond by either moving operations to a new location or employing fewer workers in that location (cf. Kates 2015). These writers sometimes appeal to a principle of “nonworseness,” according to which a consensual, mutually beneficial interaction (of the sort sweatshop owners and workers engage in) cannot be worse than its absence. Other writers challenge these claims. While granting that workers choose to work in sweatshops, they deny that their choices are truly voluntary (Arnold & Bowie 2003; Kates 2015). Given their low wages, this suggests that sweatshop workers are wrongfully exploited (Faraci 2019). Moreover, some argue, firms can and should do more for sweatshop workers, on grounds on fairness or beneficence (Snyder 2010). These writers invoke a principle of “interaction,” according to which people involved in a certain relationship (of the sort sweatshop owners and workers are engaged in) must live up to certain standards of conduct (which exploitation is alleged to fall below). In response to the claim that firms put themselves at a competitive disadvantage if they do, writers have pointed to actual cases where firms have been able to secure better treatment for sweatshop workers without suffering serious financial penalties (Hartman, Arnold, & Wokutch 2003). (For further discussion, see the entry on exploitation .)

Smith (1776 [1976]) famously observed that a detailed division of labor greatly increases the productivity of manufacturing processes. To use his example: if one worker performs all of the tasks required to make a pin himself—18, we are told—he can make just a few pins per day. However, if the worker specializes in one or two of these tasks, and combines his efforts with other workers who specialize in one or two of the other tasks, then together they can make thousands of pins per day. But according to Smith, there is human cost to the detailed division of labor. Performing one or two simple tasks all day makes a worker “as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become” (Smith 1776 [1976]: V.1.178).

To avoid this result, some call for work to be made more “meaningful”. In this sense, a call for meaningful work is not a call for work to be more “important”, i.e., to contribute to the production of a good or service that is objectively valuable, or that workers believe is valuable (cf. Michaelson 2021; Veltman 2016). Instead, it is a call for labor processes to be arranged so that work is interesting, requires skill, and gives workers substantial decision-making power (Arneson 1987; Roessler 2012; Schwartz 1982).

Smith’s insight that labor processes are more efficient when they are divided into meaningless segments leads some writers to believe that, in a competitive economy, firms will not provide as much meaningful work as workers want (Werhane 1985). In response, it has been argued that there is a market for labor, and if workers want meaningful work, then employers have an incentive to provide it (Maitland 1989; Nozick 1974). According to this argument, insofar as we see “too little” meaningful work on offer, this is because workers prefer not to have it—or more precisely, because workers are willing to trade meaningfulness for other benefits, such as higher wages.

The above argument treats meaningful work as a matter of preference, as a job amenity that employers can decline to offer or that workers can trade away (cf. Yeoman 2014). Others resist this understanding. According to Schwartz (1982), employers are required to offer employees meaningful work, and employees are required to perform it, out of respect for autonomy (see also Bowie 2017). The idea is that the autonomous person makes choices for herself; she does not mindlessly follow others’ directions. A difficulty for this argument is that respect for autonomy does not seem to require that we make all choices for ourselves. A person might, it seems, autonomously choose to allow important decisions to be made for her in certain spheres of her life, e.g., by a coach, a family member, a medical professional, or a military commander.

A potential problem for this response brings us back to Smith, and to “formative” arguments for meaningful work. The problem, according to some writers, is that if most of a person’s day is given over to meaningless tasks, then her capacity for autonomous choice, and perhaps her other intellectual faculties, may deteriorate. A call for meaningful work may be understood as a call for workplaces to be arranged so that this deterioration does not occur (Arneson 2009; Arnold 2012; Yeoman 2014). In addition to Smith, Marx (1844 [2000]) was concerned about the effects of work on human flourishing.

Formative arguments face at least two difficulties, one empirical and one normative. The empirical difficulty is establishing the connection between meaningless work and autonomous choice (or another intellectual faculty). More evidence is needed. The normative difficulty is that formative arguments make certain assumptions about the nature of the good and the state’s role in promoting it. They assume that it is better for people to have fully developed faculties of autonomous choice (etc.) and that the state should help to develop them. These assumptions might be challenged, e.g., by liberal neutralists (Roessler 2012; Veltman 2016). Yeoman (2014) seeks to surmount this challenge—and make meaningful work safe for liberal political theory—by conceptualizing meaningful work as a fundamental human need, not a mere preference.

Suppose you discover, as Tyler Shultz did at Theranos in 2015, that your firm is deceiving regulators and investors about the efficacy of its products. To stop this, one thing you might do is “blow the whistle” by disclosing this information to a third party. While scholars give different definitions of whistleblowing (see, e.g., Brenkert 2010; Davis 2003; DeGeorge 2009; Delmas 2015), the following elements are usually present: (1) insider status, (2) non-public information, (3) illegal or immoral activity, (4) avoidance of the usual chain of command in the firm, (5) intention to solve the problem. In the above example, Shultz was a whistleblower because he was (1) a Theranos employee (2) who disclosed non-public information (3) about illegal activity in the firm (4) to a state regulator (5) in an effort to stop that activity.

Debate about whistleblowing tends to focus on the question of when whistleblowing is justified—in the sense of when it is permissible, or when it is required. This debate assumes that whistleblowing requires justification, or is wrong, other things equal. Many business ethicists make this assumption on the grounds that employees have a pro tanto duty of loyalty to their firms (Elegido 2013). Against this, some argue that the relationship between the firm and the employee is purely transactional—an exchange of money for labor (Duska 2000)—and so is not normatively robust enough to ground a duty of loyalty. (For a discussion of this issue, see the entry on loyalty .)

One prominent justification of whistleblowing is due to DeGeorge (2009). According to him, it is permissible for an employee to blow the whistle when his doing so will prevent harm to society. (In a similar account, Brenkert [2010] says that the duty to blow the whistle derives from a duty to prevent wrongdoing.) The duty to prevent harm can have more weight, if the harm is great enough, than the duty of loyalty. To determine whether whistleblowing is not simply permissible but required, DeGeorge says, we must take into account the likely success of the whistleblowing and its effects on the whistleblower himself. Humans are tribal creatures, and whistleblowers are often treated badly by their colleagues. (Shultz and his family were hounded by Theranos’s powerful and well-connected lawyers, at a cost to them of hundreds of thousands of dollars.) So if whistleblowing is unlikely to succeed, then it need not be attempted. The lack of a moral requirement to blow the whistle in these cases can be seen as a specific instance of the rule that individuals need not make huge personal sacrifices to promote others’ interests, even when those interests are important.

Another account of whistleblowing is given by Davis (2003). Like Brenkert (and unlike DeGeorge), Davis focuses on the wrongdoing that the firm engages in (not the harm it causes). According to Davis, however, the point of whistleblowing is not so much to prevent the wrongdoing but to avoid one’s own complicity in it. He says that an employee is required to blow the whistle on her firm when she believes that it is engaged in seriously wrongful behavior, and her work for the firm “will contribute … to the wrong if … [she] [does] not publicly reveal what [she knows]” (2003: 550). Davis’s account limits whistleblowers to people who are currently firm insiders. Many find this counterintuitive, since it implies that people often described as whistleblowers, like Jeffrey Wigand (Brown & Williamson) and Edward Snowden (NSA), are not actually whistleblowers.

7. The firm in society

Business activity and business entities have an enormous impact on society. One way that businesses impact society, of course, is by producing goods and services and by providing jobs. But businesses can also impact society by trying to solve social problems and by using their resources to influence governments’ laws and regulations.

“Corporate social responsibility”, or CSR, is typically understood as actions by businesses that are (i) not legally required, and (ii) intended to benefit parties other than the corporation (where benefits to the corporation are understood in terms of return on equity, return on assets, or some other measure of financial performance). The parties who benefit may be more or less closely associated with the firm itself; they may be the firm’s own employees or people in distant lands.

A famous example of CSR involves the pharmaceutical company Merck. In the late 1970s, Merck was developing a drug to treat parasites in livestock, and it was discovered that a version of the drug might be used treat Onchocerciasis, or river blindness, a disease that causes debilitating itching, pain, and eventually blindness in people. The problem was that the drug would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, and would generate little or no revenue for Merck, since the people usually afflicted with river blindness were too poor to afford it. Ultimately Merck decided to develop the drug. As expected, it was effective in treating river blindness, but Merck made no money from it. As of this writing in 2021, Merck, now in concert with several nongovernmental organizations, continues to manufacture and distribute the drug throughout the developing world for free.

The scholarly literature on CSR is dominated by social scientists. Their question is typically whether, when, and how socially responsible actions benefit firms financially. The conventional wisdom is that there is a slight positive correlation between corporate social performance and corporate financial performance, but it is unclear which way the causality goes (Vogel 2005; Zhao & Murrell 2021). That is, it is not clear whether prosocial behavior by firms causes them to be rewarded financially (e.g., by consumers who value their behavior), or whether financial success allows firms to engage in more prosocial behaviors (e.g., by freeing up resources that would otherwise be spent on core business functions).

Many writers connect the debate about CSR with the debate about the ends of corporate governance. Thus Friedman (1970) objects to CSR, saying that managers should be maximizing shareholder wealth instead. (Friedman also thinks that CSR is a usurpation of the democratic process and often wasteful, since managers aren’t experts in solving social problems.) Stakeholder theory (Freeman et al. 2010) is thought to be more accommodating of prosocial activity by firms, since it permits firms to do things other than increase shareholder wealth.

We do not need, however, to see the debate about CSR a debate about the proper ends of corporate governance. We can see it as a debate about the nature and scope of firms’ moral duties, i.e., what obligations (e.g., of rescue or beneficence) they must discharge, whatever their goals are (Hsieh 2004; Mejia 2020).

Many writers give broadly consequentialist reasons for CSR. The arguments tend to go as follows: (1) there are serious problems in the world, such as poverty, conflict, environmental degradation, and so on; (2) any agent with the resources and knowledge necessary to ameliorate these problems has a moral responsibility to do so, assuming the costs they incur on themselves are not excessively high; (3) firms have the resources and knowledge necessary to ameliorate these problems without incurring excessively high costs; therefore, (4) firms should ameliorate these problems (Dunfee 2006a).

The view that someone should do something about the world’s problems seems true to many people. Not only is there an opportunity to increase social welfare by alleviating suffering, suffering people may also have a right to assistance. The controversial issue is who should do something to help, and how much they should do. Thus defenders of the above argument focus most of their attention on establishing that firms have these duties, against those who say that these duties are properly assigned to states or individuals. O. O’Neill (2001) and Wettstein (2009) argue that firms are “agents of justice”, much like states and individuals, and have duties to aid the needy (see also Young 2011). Strudler (2017) legitimates altruistic behavior by firms by undermining the claim that shareholders own them, and so are owed their surplus wealth. Hsieh (2004) says that, even if we concede that firms do not have social obligations, individuals have them, and the best way for many individuals to discharge them is through the activities of firms (see also McMahon 2013; Mejia 2020).

Debates about CSR are not just debates about whether specific social ills should be addressed by specific corporations. They are also debates about what sort of society we want to live in. While acknowledging that firms benefit society through CSR, Brenkert (1992) thinks it is a mistake for people to encourage firms to engage in CSR as a practice. When we do so, he says, we cede a portion of the public sphere to private actors. Instead of deciding together how we want to ameliorate social ills affecting our fellow community members, we leave it up to private organizations to decide what to do. Instead of sharpening our skills of democracy through deliberation and collective decision-making, and reaffirming social bonds through mutual aid, we allow our skills and bonds to atrophy through disuse.

Many businesses are active participants in the political arena. They support candidates for election, defend positions in public debate, lobby government officials, and more. What should be said about these activities?

Social scientists have produced a substantial literature on corporate political activity (CPA) (for a review, see Lawton, McGuire, & Rajwani 2013). This research focuses on such questions as: What forms does CPA take? What are the antecedents of CPA? What are its consequences? CPA raises many normative questions as well.

We might begin by asking why corporations should be allowed to engage in political activity at all. In a democratic society, freedom of expression is both a right and a value (Stark 2010). People have a right to participate in the political process by supporting candidates for public office, defending positions in public debate, and so on. It is generally a good thing when they exercise this right, since they can introduce new facts and arguments into public discourse. People can engage in political activity individually, but in a large society, they may find it useful to do so in groups. The firm might be seen as one of these groups. Indeed, we might think it is especially important that firms engage in (at least some forms of) political activity. Society has an interest in knowing how proposed economic policies will affect firms; firms themselves are a good source of information.

But political activity by corporations has come in for criticism. One concern focuses on what corporations’ goals are. Some worry that firms engage in CPA in order to advance their own interests at the expense of their competitors’ or the public’s. This activity is sometimes described, and condemned, as “rent-seeking” (Jaworski 2014; Tullock 1989). Questions have been raised about the nature and value of rent-seeking. According to a common definition, rent-seeking is socially wasteful economic activity intended to secure benefits from the state rather than the market. But there is disagreement about what counts as waste. Lobbying for subsidies, or tariffs on foreign competitors, are classic cases of rent-seeking. But subsidies for (e.g.) corn might help to secure a nation’s food supply, and tariffs on (e.g.) foreign steel manufacturers might help a nation to protect itself in a time of war (Boatright 2009; Hindmoor 1999). One person’s private rent-seeking is another’s public benefit.

A second concern about CPA is that it can undermine the ideal of equality at the heart of democracy (Christiano 2010). Some corporations have a lot of money, and this can be translated into a lot of power. In 2010, the state of Indiana passed a law—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—that appeared to give employers the freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds. In response, Salesforce and Angie’s List cancelled plans to expand in the state, and threatened to leave it altogether. Indiana quickly convened a special session of its legislature and announced that the new law did not in fact give employers this freedom. By contrast, if the average Indianan told the legislature that they might leave the state because of the RFRA, the legislature would not have cared. This objection to CPA is also an objection to political activity by powerful groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and individuals like Charles Koch or Tom Steyer.

A third objection to CPA is more narrowly targeted. According to it, corporations are not the right type of entities to engage in political activity (Hussain & Moriarty 2018). The key issue is representation. Organizations like the NRA and ACLU are legitimate participants in the political arena because they represent their members in political debate, and people join or leave them based on political considerations. By contrast, business organizations have no recognized role to play in the political system, and people join or leave them for economic reasons, not political ones. On this criticism, corporate political activity should be conceptualized not as a collective effort by all of the corporation’s members to speak their minds about a shared concern, but as an effort by a small group of powerful owners or executives to use the corporation’s resources to advance their own personal ends.

Traditionally CPA goes “through” the formal political process, e.g., contributing to political campaigns or lobbying government officials. But increasingly firms are engaging in what appears to be political activity that goes “around” or “outside” of this process, especially in circumstances in which the state is weak, corrupt, or incompetent. They do this through the provision of public goods and infrastructure (Ruggie 2004) and the creation of systems of private regulation or “soft law” (Vogel 2010). For example, when the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013, killing more than 1100 garment industry workers, new building codes and systems of enforcement were put into place. But they were put into place by the multinational corporations that are supplied by factories in Bangladesh, not by the government of Bangladesh. This kind of activity is sometimes called “political CSR,” since it is a kind of CSR that produces a political outcome (Scherer & Palazzo 2011). We might call it CPA “on steroids”. Instead of influencing political outcomes, corporations bring them about almost single-handedly. This is a threat to democratic self-rule. Some writers have explored whether it can be ameliorated through multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), or governance systems that bring together firms, non-governmental organizations, and members of local communities to deliberate and decide on policy matters. Prominent examples include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) (Scherer & Palazzo 2011). Critics have charged that MSIs, while effective in producing dialog among stakeholders, are ineffective at holding firms to account (Hussain & Moriarty 2018; Moog, Spicer, & Böhm 2015).

There is another kind of corporate political activity. This is political activity whose target is corporations, known as “ethical consumerism” (for a review see Schwartz 2017). Consumers typically make choices based on quality and price. Ethical consumers (also) appeal to moral considerations. They may purchase, or choose not to purchase, goods from retailers who make their products in certain countries or who support certain political causes. These can be described as political activities because consumers are using their economic power to achieve political ends. It is difficult for consumer actions against, or in support of, firms to succeed, since they require coordinating the actions of many individuals. But consuming ethically may be important for personal integrity. You might say that you cannot in good conscience shop at a retailer who is working, in another arena, against your deeply-held values. One concern about ethical consumerism is that it may be a form of vigilantism (Hussain 2012; cf. Barry & MacDonald 2018), or mob justice. Another is that it is yet another way that people can self-segregate by moral and political orientation as opposed to finding common ground.

Many businesses operate across national boundaries. These are typically called “multinational” or “transnational” firms (MNCs or TNCs). Operating internationally heightens the salience of a number of the ethical issues discussed above, such as CSR, but it also raises new issues, such as relativism and divestment. Two issues often discussed in connection with international business are not treated in this section. One is wages and working conditions in sweatshops. This literature is briefly discussed in section 6.2 . The second issue is corruption, which is not discussed in this entry, for space reasons. But see the entry on corruption .

A number of business ethicists have developed ethical codes for MNCs, including DeGeorge (1993) and Donaldson (1989). International agencies have also created codes of ethics for business. Perhaps the most famous of these is the United Nations Global Compact, membership in which requires organizations to adhere to a variety of rules in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. In his important work for that body, Ruggie (2004, 2013) developed a “protect, respect, and remedy” framework for MNCs and human rights, which assigns the state the primary duty to protect human rights and remedy abuses of them, and firms the duty to respect human rights (cf. Wettstein 2009). A striking fact about much of this research is that, while it is focused on international business, and sometimes promulgated by international agencies, the conclusions reached do not apply specifically to firms doing business across national boundaries. The duty to, e.g., respect human rights applies to firms doing business within national boundaries too. It is simply that the international context is the one in which this duty seems most important to discharge, and in which firms are some of the few agents who can do so.

There are issues, however, that arise specifically for firms doing business internationally. Every introductory ethics student learns that different cultures have different moral codes. This is typically an invitation to think about whether or not morality is relative to culture. For the businessperson, it presents a more immediate challenge: How should cultural differences in moral codes be managed? In particular, when operating in a “host” country, should the businessperson adopt host country standards, or should she apply her “home” country standards?

Donaldson is a leading voice on this question, in work done independently (1989, 1996) and with Dunfee (1999). Donaldson and Dunfee argue that there are certain “moral minima” that must be met in all contexts. These are given to us by “hypernorms”, or universal moral values and rules, which are themselves justified by a “convergence of religious, philosophical, and cultural” belief systems (1999: 57). Within the boundaries set by hypernorms, Donaldson and Dunfee say, firms have “free space” to select moral standards. They do not have the liberty to select any standards they want; rather, their choices must be guided by the host country’s traditions and its current level of economic development. Donaldson and Dunfee call their approach “integrative social contracts theory” (ISCT), since they seek to merge norms derived from hypothetical contracts with norms that people have actually agreed to in particular societies.

ISCT has attracted a great deal of attention and many critics. Much of this criticism has focused on hypernorms, the criteria for which are alleged to be ad hoc (Scherer 2015), ambiguous (Brenkert 2009), and incomplete (Mayer & Cava 1995). Dunfee (2006b) collects and analyzes a decade worth of critical commentary on ISCT. For a more recent elaboration and defense of the approach, see Scholz, de los Reyes, and Smith (2019).

A complication for the debate about whether to apply home country standards in host countries is that multinational corporations engage in business across national boundaries in different ways. Some MNCs directly employ workers in multiple countries, while others contract with suppliers. Nike, for example, does not directly employ workers to make shoes. Rather, Nike designs shoes, and hires firms in other countries to make them. Our views about whether an MNC should apply home country standards in a host country may depend on whether the MNC is applying them to its own workers or to those of other firms.

The same goes for responsibility. MNCs, especially in consumer-facing industries, are often held responsible for poor working conditions in their suppliers’ factories. Nike was subject to sharp criticism for the labor practices of its suppliers in the 1990s (Hartman et al. 2003). Initially Nike pushed back, saying that those weren’t their factories, and so wasn’t their problem. Under mounting pressure, it changed course and promulgated a set of labor standards that it required all of its suppliers to meet, and now spends significant resources ensuring that they meet them (Hsieh, Toffel, & Hull 2019; Wokutch 2001). This is increasingly the approach Western multinationals take. Here again the response to the Rana Plaza tragedy is illustrative. What lengths companies should go to ensure the safety of workers in their supply chains is a question meriting further study (see Young 2011).

A businessperson may find that a host country’s standards are not just different than her home country’s standards, but morally intolerable. She may decide that the right course of action is not to do business in the country at all, and if she is invested in the country, to divest from it. The issue of divestment received substantial attention in the 1980s as MNCs were deciding whether or not to divest from South Africa under its Apartheid regime. It may attract renewed attention in the coming years as firms and other organizations contemplate divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Common reasons to divest from a morally problematic society or industry are to avoid complicity in immoral practices, and to put pressure on the society or industry to change its practices. Critics of divestment worry about the effects of divestment on innocent third parties (Donaldson 1989) and about the efficacy of divestment in forcing social change (Hudson 2005). Some believe that it is better for firms to stay engaged with the society or industry and try to bring about change from within—a policy of “constructive engagement”.

It is not hard to see why philosophers might be interested in business. Business activity raises a host of interesting philosophical issues: of agency, responsibility, truth, manipulation, exploitation, justice, beneficence, and more. After a surge of activity 40 years ago, however, philosophers seem to be gradually retreating from the field.

One explanation appeals to demand. Many of the philosophers who developed the field were hired into business schools, but after they retired, they were not replaced with other philosophers. Business schools have hired psychologists to understand why people engage in unethical behavior and strategists to explore whether ethics pays. These scholars fit better into the business school environment, which is dominated by social scientists. What social scientists do to advance our understanding of descriptive ethics is important, to be sure, but it is no substitute for normative reflection on what is ethical or unethical in business.

Another explanation for the retreat of philosophers from business ethics appeals to supply. There are hardly any philosophy Ph.D. programs that have faculty specializing in business ethics and, as a result, few new Ph.D.’s are produced in this area. Those who work in the area are typically “converts” from mainstream ethical theory and political philosophy. Some good news on this front is the recent increase in the number of normative theorists working on issues at the intersection of philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE). Many of the topics these scholars address—the value and limits of markets, the nature of the employment relationship, and the role of government in regulating commerce—are issues business ethicists care about. But PPE-style philosophers hardly cover the whole field of business ethics. There remain many urgent issues to address.

I hope this entry helps to inform philosophers and others about the richness and value of business ethics, and in doing so, generate greater interest in the field.

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How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • Marcoux, Alexei, “Business Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2016/entries/ethics-business/ >. [This was the previous entry on business ethics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy — see the version history .]
  • A History of Business Ethics , by Richard T. De George (University of Kansas), an important early contributor to the field.
  • Society for Business Ethics , the main professional society for business ethicists, especially of the normative variety.

agency: shared | corruption | discrimination | economics [normative] and economic justice | ethics: virtue | exploitation | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on class and work | information technology: and privacy | intentionality: collective | justice: distributive | justice: global | Kant, Immanuel: moral philosophy | loyalty | lying and deception: definition of | manipulation, ethics of | markets | moral relativism | perfectionism, in moral and political philosophy | privacy | property and ownership | Rawls, John | responsibility: collective | rights | rights: human


For helpful suggestions on this entry (and the previous version), I thank Dorothea Baur, George Brenkert, Jason Brennan, Matt Caulfield, David Dick, Anca Gheaus, Keith Hankins, Edwin Hartman, Laura Hartman, Lisa Herzog, David Jacobs, Woon Hyuk Jay Jang, Peter Jaworski, Xavier Landes, Chris MacDonald, Emilio Marti, Dominic Martin, Pierre-Yves Néron, Eric Orts, Katinka Quintelier, Sareh Pouryousefi, Amy Sepinwall, Kenneth Silver, Abraham Singer, Alejo José G. Sison, Cindy Stark, Chris Surprenant, Kevin Vallier, and Hasko von Kriegstein.

Copyright © 2021 by Jeffrey Moriarty < jmoriarty @ bentley . edu >

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Ethics in Leadership

Employee ethics, ethics by industry, benefits of business ethics.

  • Business Ethics FAQs

The Bottom Line

The importance of business ethics.

how do you write a business ethics essay

Pete Rathburn is a copy editor and fact-checker with expertise in economics and personal finance and over twenty years of experience in the classroom.

how do you write a business ethics essay

The system of moral and ethical beliefs that guides the values, behaviors, and decisions of a business organization and the individuals within that organization is known as  business ethics .

Some ethical requirements for businesses are codified into law. Environmental regulations, the minimum wage, and restrictions against insider trading and  collusion  are all examples of the government setting forth minimum standards for business ethics.

What qualifies as business ethics in history has changed over time and the different areas of ethics are important to every business.

Key Takeaways

  • Business ethics involve a guiding standard for values, behaviors, and decision-making.
  • Ethics for business have changed over time but they're important for every company.
  • Running a business with ethics at its core from the top down is essential for company-wide integrity.
  • Behaving in a consistently ethical manner can lock in a solid reputation and long-term financial rewards for companies.
  • Employees tend to remain loyal to, and perform more effectively for, a company with a high standard of ethics.

A management team sets the tone for how an entire company runs on a day-to-day basis. When the prevailing management philosophy is based on ethical practices and behavior, leaders within an organization can direct employees by example. They can guide them in making decisions that are beneficial to them as individuals and to the organization as a whole.

Building on a foundation of ethical behavior helps create long-lasting positive effects for a company. One such effect is the ability to attract and retain highly talented individuals. Another is a positive reputation within the community.

Running a business in an ethical manner from the top down establishes stronger bonds between individuals on the management team. This, then, creates greater stability within the company.

When management leads an organization in an ethical manner, employees follow in those footsteps . Employees make better decisions in less time when business ethics are a guiding principle. This increases productivity and overall employee morale.

When employees work in a way that is based on honesty and integrity, the whole organization benefits. Employees who work for a corporation that demands a high standard of business ethics in all facets of operations are more likely to perform their job duties at a higher level. They're also more inclined to stay loyal to that organization.

Impact of Bad Behavior

Enron Corporation, an American energy and commodity services company, collapsed after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigated its improper accounting practices and revealed that the company hid massive losses and liabilities while paying its executives millions. Thousands of employees suddenly were left jobless. Several executives were convicted of federal crimes. The company's unethical behavior also led to the downfall of one of the oldest and biggest accounting firms, Arthur Andersen.

Business ethics differ from industry to industry, and nation to nation . The nature of a business' operations has a major influence on the ethical issues with which it must contend.

Ethics Concerning Clients

For example, an ethical quandary can arise for an investment brokerage when the best decision for a client and their money runs counter to what pays the brokerage the highest commission. A media company that produces TV content aimed at children may feel an ethical obligation to promote good values and eschew off-color material in its programming.

Ethics Concerning the Environment

A striking example of industry-specific business ethics is in the energy field. Companies that produce energy, particularly  nonrenewable energy , face unrelenting scrutiny on how they treat the environment.

One misstep, whether it's a minor coal ash spill at a power plant or a major disaster such as the 2010 BP ( BP ) oil spill, can force a company to answer for its actions. Numerous regulatory bodies and society at large may pursue whether the company skirted its duty to protect the environment in an aggressive pursuit of higher profits.

A stringent, clearly defined system of environmental ethics is paramount for an energy company if it wants to thrive in a climate of increased regulations and public awareness on environmental issues.

Companies such as Amazon ( AMZN ) and Google ( GOOGL ), which conduct most of their operations online, are not scrutinized for their environmental impact the way energy companies such as BP and Exxon ( XOM ) are. When it comes to protecting their customers' privacy and security, however, their ethics are examined very closely.

Ethics Concerning Privacy

A particular area in which technology companies must make tough ethical decisions is marketing. Advancements in  data mining  technology enable businesses to track their customers' movements online and sell that data to marketing companies or use it to match customers with advertising promotions.

Many people view this type of activity as a major invasion of privacy. However, such customer data is invaluable to businesses, as they can use it to increase profits substantially. Thus, an ethical dilemma is born. To what extent is it appropriate to spy on customers' online lives to gain a marketing advantage?

The importance of business ethics reaches far beyond employee loyalty and morale or the strength of a management team bond. As with all business initiatives, the ethical operation of a company is directly related to profitability in both the short and long term.

The reputation of a business in the surrounding community, among other businesses, and for individual investors is paramount in determining whether a company is a worthwhile investment . If a company is perceived to operate unethically, investors are less inclined to buy stock or otherwise support its operations.

Companies have more and more of an incentive to be ethical as the area of socially responsible and ethical investing keeps growing. The increasing number of investors seeking out ethically operating companies to invest in is driving more firms to take this issue more seriously.

What Is Meant by Business Ethics?

Business ethics represents a standard of behavior, admired values, trustworthy methods of operation, and respect for customers that a company incorporates, and insists that all employees adhere to, as it functions from day to day.

How Do Business Ethics Benefit Companies?

By behaving according to a high ethical standard, companies can strengthen the drive to succeed internally among executives, management teams, and staff. Furthermore, companies can attract and keep investors who themselves are attracted to companies that align with their own standards of ethical behavior. In other words, business ethics can help companies build long-lasting, solid reputations and financial success.

Why Do Some Companies Have Bad Business Ethics?

That's a good question, especially when the financial advantages arising from a high degree of ethical behavior can be so great. A couple of reasons may be that some CEOs, management teams, or employees may feel it's just easier to work outside of an ethical standard. They may reach certain financial goals faster and not care about the long-term repercussions. It may seem to be less expensive to work without moral and ethical boundaries. Where money is concerned, good ethics can be forgotten.

With consistent ethical behavior comes an increasingly positive public image. There are few other considerations as important to potential investors and current shareholders . To retain a positive image, businesses must be committed to operating on an ethical foundation as it relates to the treatment of employees, respecting the surrounding environment , and fair market practices in terms of price and consumer treatment.

Forbes. " 5 Most Publicized Ethics Violations by CEOs ."

British Petroleum. " BP Initiates Response to Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill ."

Google. " Google Privacy Policy ."

Amazon Web Services. " Privacy Notice ."

how do you write a business ethics essay

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How to Use Ethical Principles in Business Writing

A businessperson sits at a desk writing in a notebook.

The honesty and integrity of big business are increasingly under the microscope. Can a business be profitable and still be ethical? Ethics and business do not have to be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, successful businesses can thrive and still be honest and virtuous, and contribute to the greater good.

Staying accountable for decisions, showing mutual respect to others, and communicating honestly with colleagues and clients are ways to apply an ethical lens to doing business. Those who aspire to uphold high moral standards in business settings can benefit from learning practical techniques for applying ethical principles to business communication.

What Are Ethical Principles?

Adopting ethical principles is considered foundational for living a productive life in a healthy society. Understanding what ethical principles are and how to apply them to business contexts can encourage business practices rooted in ethics.

Some of the ethical principles that apply to business practices include:

  • Accountability : Leaders and workers with a strong sense of ethics take responsibility for their own work, actions, and conduct, even when the consequences are high.
  • Compassion : Displaying an authentic concern for other individuals and groups both inside and outside of the organization should be a personal and organizational standard.
  • Fairness : Offering equal support, training, opportunities, and compensation for everyone provides a level playing field on which all stakeholders feel appreciated and welcome.
  • Honesty : Telling half-truths or omitting information is not tolerated. Overstating or overpromising is unacceptable, as is reporting inaccurately, even if the news is not good.
  • Integrity : Integrity is a combination of trustworthiness and reliability. When people display integrity, they can be taken at their word and always reach for higher standards.
  • Loyalty : Each party must show consistent support for and commitment to the other, even when betraying the other would be an easier choice.
  • Respect : Respecting others means treating everyone equally and with dignity.
  • Transparency : Transparency is an important component of accountability. However, business relationships extend beyond workers, leaders, and customers.

How Do Ethical Principles Apply to Business Writing?

Business professionals can adopt ethical principles when writing any piece of business communication, whether it’s a company policy manual, a memo to colleagues, an advertisement, or an organizational report. Every member of an organization should approach business writing and all other forms of communication with the same ethical principles of business framework that they apply to business meetings, sales pitches, and client phone calls.

Accountability in Business Writing

Business writers display the principle of accountability when they take responsibility for mistakes and misunderstandings even when the consequences are difficult or costly.

Example: The vice president of manufacturing sends progress reports to internal stakeholders. The reports include explanations of problems and suggested solutions but also make statements of accountability and take responsibility for mistakes or miscalculations.

Compassion in Business Writing

Many businesses understand the importance of compassion in the workplace, and authentic concern is evident in their policies about work-life balance, flexible leave for emergencies, and healthy working conditions. In business writing, compassion is often evident in the message’s tone.

Example: A manager is under pressure to get a collaborative project completed by a Friday deadline. Unfortunately, one of the remote team members just learned of a death in their family. Rather than pressing the team member on deadlines, the manager asks about the employee’s family and if there is anything they can do to support their colleague.

Fairness in Business Writing

The ethical principle of fairness focuses on creating a level playing field for all team members. Fair and ethical business writing provides the reader with equal access to the message.

Example: A business selects a new location for a manufacturing facility in an area where the primary languages of many residents are Portuguese and Mandarin. Once construction is underway, the employment notices are printed in each of those languages, as well as in English, indicating that interpreters will be available during the entire interview process.

Honesty in Business Writing

Honesty in business writing means more than making true statements. Any truly honest writing includes complete accounts of business dealings as well as details that may be embarrassing to the company or even distressing to readers.

Example: A manufacturer publishes a recall announcement for a faulty car seat as soon as the problem is discovered. It clearly states everything that is wrong with the product and what could happen if it is not replaced at the manufacturer’s expense.

Integrity in Business Writing

As an ethical principle in business writing, integrity is shown when the writer is both trustworthy and reliable. The truth is always told and follow-up is routine.

Example: After a change in payroll services, many employees have experienced errors in compensation and benefit deductions. The HR manager distributes a questionnaire requesting specific information about problems, ensures corrections, and offers short-term and confidential financial support to those in need.

Loyalty in Business Writing

Two hallmarks of loyalty to a person, group, or business are support and commitment. In business writing, loyalty can be displayed by including everyone involved in the conversation, or conversely, limiting the number of people involved when the information is confidential or sensitive.

Example: The final draft of an important ad campaign is distributed to the entire department for review. A team leader finds an inaccurate statement made by one of the committee chairs. Instead of hitting “Reply All,” they send a respectful direct message to the chair detailing the error and leaving the decision in the chair’s hands.

Respect in Business Writing

Respectful business writing addresses readers with dignity. A written message can reflect respect in many different ways, like considering the reader’s background, culture, age, or experience.

Example: A large and established bakery has three locations in three different metropolitan locations. Their holiday advertisements honor the various religious and cultural celebrations in every neighborhood. They offer special-order services with attention to detail and a wide selection of ideas for themed cakes and desserts.

Transparency in Business Writing

To be transparent, however, a business must be willing to provide a complete picture of the state of the company, including financial information, to those most invested in the company.

Example: A shareholder report on company finances and investments makes clear statements about the company’s financial standing. It explains any production delays or extenuating circumstances, as well as any future projections.

Consequences of Unethical Writing and Communication

When ethical principles in business writing are not employed, the results can seriously impact the livelihoods and investments of company managers, employees, and stockholders, as well as the public’s view of the company. What may be considered written missteps, mistakes, or misunderstandings in some settings could have more serious consequences if they appear in professional writing. Here are some examples of unethical writing practices:

Unethical Sourcing

Failing to give credit for ideas or information when credit is due may lead to a failing grade in college, but the consequences for plagiarism or copyright infringement can be much higher when writing for business.

  • Plagiarism . Failing to properly document sources can lead to termination as well as difficulty finding future employment.
  • Copyright infringement . Infringing on the right of ownership results in more severe penalties than plagiarism. An unethical writer may be subject to legal consequences, may have to pay damages, and, in some cases, may be liable to criminal charges.

Ethical Violations/Infractions

Whether the news or announcements are good or bad, business writing must avoid the temptation to put a more positive spin on a situation and, instead, stick to the ethical principles of writing. These are some of the ways business writing can turn unethical:

  • Defamation : Communicating in writing (libel) or speech (slander) with malicious statements that are false and can damage a person’s reputation
  • Fraud : Not being truthful in a way that results in professional gain for the writer or business Invasion of privacy: Making statements or revealing private facts or records about an employee or other stakeholder
  • Sin of commission : Manipulating information to misrepresent the truth
  • Sin of omission : Failing to include information that would harm the company or an individual

Become a Leader in Ethical Principles

If you are interested in honing your writing skills while upholding ethical principles in business, learn more about earning an online Certificate in Ethical Principles, Critical Thinking, and Writing for Today’s Business from the Center for Continuing & Professional Education at Suffolk University. Learn to think critically and write effectively, and prepare to become a leader in your industry.

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Writing Ethical Papers: Top Tips to Ace Your Assignment

17 August, 2021

13 minutes read

Author:  Kate Smith

Writing a complex essay paper can be a tough task for any student, especially for those who do not have their skills developed well or do not have enough time for lengthy assignments. At the same time, the majority of college students need to keep their grades high to maintain their right to receive merit-based scholarships and continue their studies the next year. To help you with your ethical papers writing, we created this guide. Below, you will find out what an ethical paper is, how to structure it and write it efficiently. 

Ethical Papers

What is an Ethical Paper?

An ethics paper is a type of an argumentative assignment that deals with a certain ethical problem that a student has to describe and solve. Also, it can be an essay where a certain controversial event or concept is elaborated through an ethical lens (e.g. moral rules and principles), or a certain ethical dilemma is explained. Since ethics is connected to moral concepts and choices, a student needs to have a fair knowledge of philosophy and get ready to answer questions related to relationships, justice, professional and social duties, the origin of good and evil, etc., to write a quality paper. Also, writing an ethics paper implies that a student should process a great amount of information regarding their topic and analyze it according to paper terms.

General Aspects of Writing an Ethics Paper

Understanding the ethical papers’ features.

Every essay has differences and features that make it unique. Writing ethical papers implies that a student will use their knowledge of morality and philosophy to resolve a certain ethical dilemma or solve a situation. It can also be a paper in which a student needs to provide their reasoning on ethical or legal circumstances that follow a social issue. Finally, it can be an assignment in which an ethical concept and its application are described. On the contrary, a history essay deals with events that took place somewhen earlier, while a narrative essay is a paper where students demonstrate their storytelling skills, etc.

Defining What Type of Essay Should Be Written

Most of the time, ethical paper topics imply that a student will write an argumentative essay; however, ethics essays can also be descriptive and expository. Each of these essay types has different guidelines for writing, so be sure you know them before you start writing your papers on ethics. In case you missed this step in your ethical paper preparation stage, you would end up writing a paper that misses many important points.

Studying the Ethical Paper Guidelines

Once you get your ethical paper assignment, look through the guidelines that your instructor provided to you. If you receive them during the class, don’t hesitate to pose any questions immediately to remove any misunderstanding before writing an ethics paper outline, or ask for references that you need to use. When you are about to write your first draft, don’t rush: read the paper instructions once again to make sure you understand what is needed from you.

Paying Attention to the Paper Topic

The next thing you need to pay attention to is the ethical paper topic: once you are given one, make sure it falls into the scope of your educational course. After that, consider what additional knowledge may be needed to elaborate on your topic and think about what courses of your program could be helpful for it. Once you are done, read through your topic again to recheck whether you understand your assignment right.

Understanding the Notions of Ethical Arguments, Ethical and Legal Implications, and Ethical Dilemma

Last but not least, another important factor is that a student has to understand the basic terms of the assignment to write a high-quality paper. Ethical arguments are a set of moral rules that are used to defend your position on an ethical issue stated in your essay topic. We refer to ethical versus legal implications when we think about the compensation for certain ethical dilemma outcomes and whether it should be a moral punishment or legal judgment. An ethical dilemma itself refers to a problem or situation which makes an individual doubt what position to take: e.g, abortion, bribery, corruption, etc.

Writing Outline and Structure of an Ethics Paper

Every essay has a structure that makes it a solid piece of writing with straight reasoning and argumentation, and an ethics paper is not an exclusion. This paper has an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Below, we will describe how each part of ethical papers should be organized and what information they should contain.

First comes the introduction. It is the opening part of your paper which helps a reader to get familiar with your topic and understand what your paper will be about. Therefore, it should contain some information on your ethics paper topics and a thesis statement, which is a central statement of your paper.

The essay body is the most substantive part of your essay where all the reasoning and arguments should be presented. Each paragraph should contain an argument that supports or contradicts your thesis statement and pieces of evidence to support your position. Pick at least three arguments to make your position clear in your essay, and then your paper will be considered well-structured.

The third part of an ethics paper outline is a conclusion, which is a finishing essay part. Its goal is to wrap up the whole essay and make the author’s position clear for the last time. The thoughtful formulation in this essay part should be especially clear and concise to demonstrate the writer’s ability to make conclusions and persuade readers.

Also, don’t forget to include the works cited page after your writing. It should mention all the reference materials that you used in your paper in the order of appearance or in the alphabetical one. This page should be formatted according to the assigned formatting style. Most often, the most frequently used format for ethical papers is APA.

20 Examples of Ethical Paper Topics

  • Are there any issues in the 21st century that we can consider immoral and why?
  • What is corporate ethics?
  • Why is being selfish no longer an issue in 2023?
  • Euthanasia: pros and cons
  • Marijuana legalization: should it be allowed all over the world?
  • Is abortion an ethical issue nowadays?
  • Can we invent a universal religion appropriate for all?
  • Is the church necessary to pray to God?
  • Can we forgive infidelity and should we do it?
  • How to react if you are witnessing high school bullying?
  • What are the ways to respond to a family abusing individual?
  • How to demand your privacy protection in a digital world?
  • The history of the American ethical thought
  • Can war be ethical and what should the conflicting sides do to make it possible?
  • Ethical issues of keeping a zoo in 2023
  • Who is in charge of controlling the world’s population?
  • How to achieve equality in the world’s rich and poor gap?
  • Is science ethical?
  • How ethical is genetic engineering?
  • Why many countries refuse to go back to carrying out the death penalty?

Ethical Papers Examples

If you still have no idea about how to write an ethics paper, looking through other students’ successful examples is always a good idea. Below, you can find a relevant ethics paper example that you can skim through and see how to build your reasoning and argumentation in your own paper.



Ethical Papers Writing Tips

Choose a topic that falls into the ethics course program.

In case you were not given the ethics paper topic, consider choosing it yourself. To do that, brainstorm the ethical issues that fascinate you enough to do research. List all these issues on a paper sheet and then cross out those that are too broad or require expertise that you don’t have. The next step you need to take is to choose three or four ethical topics for papers from the list and try to do a quick search online to find out whether these topics are elaborated enough to find sources and reference materials on them. Last, choose one topic that you like the most and find the most relevant one in terms of available data for reference.

Do your research

Once the topic is chosen and organized, dive deeper into it to find the most credible, reliable, and trusted service. Use your university library, online scientific journals, documentaries, and other sources to get the information from. Remember to take notes while working with every new piece of reference material to not forget the ideas that you will base your argumentation on.

Follow the guidelines for a paper outline

During the preparation for your ethical paper and the process of writing it, remember to follow your professor’s instructions (e.g. font, size, spacing, citation style, etc.). If you neglect them, your grade for the paper will decrease significantly.

Write the essay body first

Do not rush to start writing your ethics papers from the very beginning; to write a good essay, you need to have your outline and thesis statement first. Then, go to writing body paragraphs to demonstrate your expertise on the issue you are writing about. Remember that one supporting idea should be covered in one paragraph and should be followed by the piece of evidence that confirms it.

Make sure your introduction and conclusion translate the same message

After your essay body is done, write a conclusion and an introduction for your paper. The main tip regarding these ethics paper parts is that you should make them interrelated: your conclusion has to restate your introduction but not repeat it. Also, a conclusion should wrap up your writing and make it credible for the audience.

Add citations

Every top-quality paper has the works cited page and citations to demonstrate that the research on the topic has been carried out. Therefore, do not omit this point when formatting your paper: add all the sources to the works cited page and pay attention to citing throughout the text. The latter should be done according to the formatting style indicated in your instructions.

Edit your paper

Last but not least is the editing and proofreading stage that you need to carry out before you submit your paper to your instructor. Consider keeping your first draft away from sight for a day or two to have a rest, and then go back to check it for errors and redundant phrases. Don’t rush to change anything immediately after finishing your writing since you are already tired and less focused, so some mistakes may be missed.

Writing Help by Handmadewriting

If you feel that you need help with writing an ethics paper in view of its chellnging nature, you can contact us and send an order through a respective button. You can add your paper details by following all steps of the order placing process that you will find on the website. Once your order is placed, we will get back to you as soon as possible. You will be able to contact your essay writer and let them know all your wishes regarding your ethical paper.

Our writers have expertise in writing ethical papers including, so you don’t need to worry about the quality of the essay that you will receive. Your assignment will be delivered on time and at a reasonable price. Note that urgent papers will cost slightly more than assignments with a postponed deadline, so do not wait too long to make your order. We will be glad to assist you with your writing and guarantee 24/7 support until you receive your paper.

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Ethical Research in Business Ethics

  • Editorial Essay
  • Published: 29 November 2022
  • Volume 182 , pages 1–5, ( 2023 )

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  • Gazi Islam 1 &
  • Michelle Greenwood 2  

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In this editorial essay, we argue that business ethics research should be aware of the ethical implications of its own methodological choices, and that these implications include, but go beyond, mere compliance with standardized ethical norms. Methodological choices should be made specifically with reference to their effects on the world, both within and outside the academy. Awareness of these effects takes researchers beyond assuring ethics in their methods to more fully consider the ethics of their methods as knowledge practices that have broader institutional consequences. Drawing from examples in published research, we examine five ways in which authors can formulate their methodological approaches with purpose, care and reflexivity.

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

Business ethicists are accustomed to confronting the “hard cases” of ethical choices in organizational life. We believe that business ethics scholarship must be equally sensitive to ethical nuances in the design and implementation of research methods in our own activities. In the complexities of research practice, ethical considerations around method and design exceed the standardized templates of methods textbooks. Where research designs begin and end and whom they implicate as protagonists, who receives voice, protection and authority, and what is rendered visible and invisible within the field of study. These are thorny questions that are not amenable to check-list style compliance guidelines, even where such guidelines also have an important role (cf., Greenwood, 2016 ).

In our exchanges with authors and within the editorial team, we have confronted a plethora of hard cases that highlight the challenges of research ethics beyond rule compliance. To what extent should the mode of data collection (such as crowdsourced data or social media platforms) answer to ethical quandaries around digital labour and online surveillance? When should organizations or individuals engaging in ethically problematic practices be named, and when must they be anonymized? To what extent should the relationships between researchers and participants be problematized within methods sections, including financial and power relationships between funders, researchers and participants? What are the respective roles of institutional ethics boards and journal editorial teams (along with other actors in the research ecosystem) in validating the ethical permissibility of a design? When should hard ethical questions lead a study to be rejected at the review stage, rather than passed along to the research community to make its own judgment? Such questions (and many, many more) have filled our days with deep reflection, and the current editorial aims to share some of these reflections with the Journal of Business Ethics community, albeit in necessarily schematic form. Specifically, we aim to both expand thinking about research ethics to include elements that are often considered outside of methods, and situate conventional methodological ethics in relation to this broader vision. The result will be a plea for a research ethics based on purpose, care and reflexivity.

Between Prescriptive and Evaluative Research Ethics

In a previous editorial essay (Islam & Greenwood, 2021 ), we borrowed a distinction by Williams ( 1985 ) between prescriptive and evaluative ethics; the former refers to what one should do, while the latter to what the world should look like. Mapped onto methods, this analytical distinction differentiates between specific methodological practices (e.g., one should design measures that fit the core constructs, one should gather informed consent) and the broader social and practical implications of research (e.g., the goals of science to innovate, educate or emancipate). We emphasize that this is an “analytical” distinction because, in practice, these aspects of ethics are deeply intertwined, and we distinguish them primarily to show how they spill into each other. Actions should be prescribed, at least in part, for the worlds they contribute to making, although in the fog of situated practice, we are often unaware of, or unable to, clearly link our actions to those future worlds.

From this distinction, it is easy to differentiate heuristically between ethics in research methods, that is, the ethical norms and practices internal to research design and execution, and the ethics of research methods, that is, whether those methods should be used in the broader evaluative sense. In many cases, these ethical levels align, with ethical practices working toward an evaluatively desirable world. Gathering informed consent is important because it is desirable to promote a world of autonomous choice (e.g., Hansson, 2006 ). Hypothesizing after the results are known is problematic because promoting false positive statistical results reduces replicability and thus scientific certainty about the world (Kerr, 1998 ). To take the previous example, however, some have argued that “HARK”ing is less ethically problematic when research is transparently exploratory (Hollenbeck & Wright, 2017 ); in this case, what is ethically problematic is not the practice per se, but the lack of transparency between a given practice and its exploratory (rather than confirmatory) intent. As for informed consent, in cases where a signed form substitutes for, rather than expresses, true participant autonomy (cf., Dubois et al, 2012 ), it can obscure rather than clarify the ethics of a research project. To begin with, the presentation of a priori formulated protocols for consent presumes that the identified participant is the only stakeholder in the research who is affected by the research in a manner that would require their consent. Moreover, this protocol may preclude collaborative models in which participants actively construct research protocols with researchers (Hansson, 2006 ). In both of these examples, a practice is justified on the basis of a deeper evaluative motive, but the mapping between the two is imperfect and situation-dependent.

Tensions may appear between prescriptive and evaluative dimensions of research methods, giving rise to ethical polemics or dilemmas. To give one example, we have had recent debates around the ethics of online data crowdsourcing from platforms such as Amazon MTurk (e.g., Newman et al., 2021 ). Much discussion has been given to best practice in terms of construct validity and similar “internal” considerations of research design as well as issues such as “bots” or fraudulent respondent activity that affect validity. However, broader considerations in terms of labour exploitation on online platforms (e.g., Shank, 2016 ) bridge internal and external research ethics, given internal norms for participant autonomy and external considerations of the public good. Less discussed are the systematic effects of widespread use of online data collection for disembodying researchers from participant communities, entrenching economies of digital labour and surveillance, and reifying a context-free individual as the object of social scientific study. These, we would argue, are methodological outcomes that may contribute to undesirable worlds, and thus are materially relevant for ethical consideration.

Other examples illustrate the opposite tension between prescriptive and evaluative research ethics. In a provocative article, Roulet et al. ( 2017 ) describe the potentials of “covert” research, where normally unacceptable practices of researcher concealment are weighed against laudable goals such as revealing workplace abuse or unethical organizational practices. In such cases, practices that are prescriptively problematic (e.g., collecting data without consent, concealing researcher identity) are defended on the grounds that the ethical goods, in terms of creating a better world, legitimate such practices. While the example of online platforms seems more defensible at the level of practice but questionable at the level of broad systemic implications, that of covert research seems more problematic at the level of practices while (possibly) defensible in terms of its ethical purposes.

More than simply a conflict between means and ends, however, such tensions reveal discrepancies between ends that are “localized” as specific practices (e.g., the goal of conducting a valid study according to current norms) and the more broad-based ends of research (e.g., creating a better world through socially reflexive knowledge production). Our challenge at the Journal of Business Ethics as editors, and our counsel to authors, reviewers and editors is to reflexively seek equilibrium between the practical ethics of research design and execution and the broader promotion of the public good that is the ultimate end of science.

Guiding Ethical Research in Business Ethics

Situating research ethics within the relationship between concrete ethical practices and evaluative goals of social improvement adds complexity to ethical decisions, forcing researchers, reviewers and editors to confront real ethical dilemmas that cannot be dissolved in mere compliance practices. We think the recognition of this complexity is salutary. It emphasizes that the review process is one moment in the broader network of evaluative practices that includes—but is not limited to—institutional ethics approval processes prior to submission, ethical and legal considerations of publishing houses and scholarly societies that administer academic production, and reception of research after publication. Each of these moments bring into light different ethical stakes, and we see our editorial role as an important but not exhaustive evaluative moment. From our perspective, our role is not to present a hurdle over which only the most flawless research can pass, but to curate a conversation with the greatest potential for scholarly generativity and progress. This makes our goal a collective one, and we judge research for its ability to promote the field, by being rigorous, by being interesting, by being reflexive, or by some combination of these epistemic virtues. From the research ethics we have outlined we derive certain guiding principles for evaluation.

Showing Links Between Methodological Design and the Broader Purpose of the Study

Business ethics scholarship should clarify its purpose through clearly articulated research questions and hypotheses, while explaining in its methods why specific research practices are important for a broader purpose, and why that purpose is itself ethically relevant. Specifically, the methods discussion should reflect how the ethics-related purpose of the study is consistent with the methodological approach adopted, both in terms of the broad design and specific practices. In short, integration of methods with the wider purpose of the study, and alignment between the two, is a mark of ethically sensitive research.

In their recent study of child labour in Indian cottonseed oil farms, D’Cruz et al. ( 2022 ) demonstrate an exemplary integration of methods and purpose to explore a topic that is notoriously difficult to study methodologically. Drawing on analyses of children’s drawings, together with detailed conversational extracts, the authors paint a powerful picture of the experience of violence in a population of working children. Rather than staying only at the level of lived experiences, however, the authors use those experiences to understand how processes of embedding and disembedding labour within society are manifested at the micro level. Thus, their visual and discursive methods become powerful tools to link everyday suffering with macro processes of economy and society.

Acknowledging the Web of Relationships Within Which Research Methods are Embedded

Each aspect of the research process, from protocol design to data collection to peer review, involves multiple actors who collectively construct the meaning of scholarship (Greenwood, 2016 ). While it may not be possible to make this network entirely visible, the ability to do so increases the transparency and value of a scholarly inquiry.

In his study of external funding on research freedom, Goduscheit ( 2022 ) uses qualitative interviews, program materials and observations to understand how funding bodies shape research outcomes. He shows how expectations from funding bodies can shape the types of topics studied, the ways in which research questions are answered and the forms of research output that are produced. Rather than simply deeming such influences to be unethical, he analyses the positive and negative features of the evolving relationships between researchers and funding bodies and their implications for developing scholarship.

Similarly acknowledging relationships but on a very different topic, Allen et al. ( 2019 ) describe the role of reflexivity in sustainability research, where ecological responsibility can result from acknowledging the multiple relationships between humans and the environment. Promoting an “ecocentric radical-reflexivity”, they point to how methods such as participatory action research and arts-based methods can help identify organizational actors as embedded in ecological relationships. In this example, as in the previous one, research is recognized as more than simply the execution of accepted standards. Rather, ethical research depends on developing sensibilities towards the complex economic and ecological relationships in which scholarship is situated.

Complementing Compliance with Purpose

Ethics should be explicitly discussed as an aspect of methodology, but this is best done when a focus on compliance with standards is complemented by a consideration of core ethical issues and a transparent discussion of how decisions were made in response to those issues. Doing so reveals those decisions as tailor-made for the case at hand and not imposed upon the case without regard for its specificities (Greenwood, 2016 ). In other words, compliance is not a sufficient criterion for ethical research methods, and a methodological approach focused exclusively on ethical compliance criteria may miss the “bigger picture” of the role of the methods in the broader scientific and social goals of the study.

Nielsen’s ( 2016 ) paper on ethical praxis and action research elaborates on how research involves ethical decision making and situated, pragmatic choices that go beyond simply ticking the correct ethical boxes. Describing these from an Aristotelian perspective, he elaborates how researcher-participant interactions give rise to emergent research concerns that are both knowledge-related problems and problems for practice. The ethics of action research in this context is about facing unique problems that cut across the researcher-practitioner divide and can draw upon but are not limited to pre-existing ethics templates.

Adopting an Explanatory Versus a Justificatory Orientation

Methodological descriptions of ethics often have the tone of justification claims legitimizing authorial choices in terms of sample, data collection or analysis. Such justifications are warranted, and are good practice, but we believe that value is added when authors are more forthright about their ethical difficulties and dilemmas. Specifically, we value their attempts to work out those dilemmas transparently for a scholarly audience, that is thereby given access into the workings of scientific decision-making process and not simply presented with a black box labeled “method”. There is more value in showing the path taken to an ethical judgement than simply defending that the end decision was a good one. This also implies that wrong turns, changes of track, and similar ethical revisions should be described and contribute to the value of a paper.

Litz’s and Turner’s ( 2013 ) study of unethical practices in inherited family firms provides an interesting case of how researchers can productively describe the dilemmas they face methodologically. Given the difficulty of gathering data about the unethical practices of family members, they candidly ask “how does one approach a question so laced with shame and stigma?”(p.303). Rather than presenting their method in terms of templates used to justify their choices, they recruit the readers directly into their dilemma and walk them through their choices, which involved confronting participants with dramatic scenarios that allowed them to disclose intimately held views more safely. Ultimately building this technique into a validation exercise and a quantitative analysis, the latter are given credibility by their grounding in the initial researcher dilemma that led to the methodological approach.

Transparency and Reflexivity in Writing and Link Between Methods and Results Sections

Because transparent and reflexive description of methods integrates theoretical considerations within the methods itself, such description allows the method to operate more organically within the broader argument of the paper. Doing so allows authors to establish links between the methods and discussion sections, to describe what went right or wrong, what the limitations and possibilities of the method were, and how future research could remedy possible shortcomings or harms of the given method.

For example, Bontempi et al. ( 2021 ) study of CSR reporting inspired by the case of the Ethiopian Gibe III dam is exemplary of how methods can be used to reflexively and transparently link methods and results. Engaging in a “counter reporting”, the study draws upon conceptual literature, archival and theoretical research, and activist on-the-ground engagement to build an alternative view of reported social engagement around hydroelectric dams. Alternating between inductive and deductive approaches, these authors were particularly reflexive and deeply transparent in their methodological description, including detailed and publicly available information from their codebook in the article’s supplementary materials. The result went beyond the standard critique of CSR discourses to actively create a counter-discourse that was both scholarly and activist in orientation. The resulting discursive struggle continued onto the blogosphere, with methodological debate between the authors and the company itself over methods. Footnote 1 We see such interaction and engagement as key to the social relevance of research.

Purpose, Care and Reflexivity

Research ethics have conventionally been concerned with the procedural aspects of scholarship, in particular the methods. Gold standard in this regard has been to not merely treat ethical standards as hurdles but as aspirations. In this sense an ethical researcher is one who does not only comply but who also cares. We suggest that care requires researcher to actively reflect on and take responsibility for their ethical practices and their research goals, and to situate their practices reflexively within a broader collective process of scholarly inquiry. Thus, we extend the notion of care to embrace the reflexivity of the researcher with regard to their own positionality (and privilege) and with regard to the purpose of research, treating ethics as central to the entire research endeavor. Complementing ethical theorizing that draws data from orthodox empirical methods, we encourage scholars to take up new forms of ethical empirical research in which connections between the conduct of the research and the motivation of the research are deeply and actively formed. The guiding principles we outline in this editorial are aimed at integrating organic, particularized and reflective narratives about the ethical conduct and goals of research in the methods section and throughout the manuscript. Editors, reviewers and authors can all contribute to treating research ethics more centrally in business ethics research.


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Islam, G., Greenwood, M. Ethical Research in Business Ethics. J Bus Ethics 182 , 1–5 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-022-05301-z

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How to Write an Ethics Paper or Essay With Tips and Examples

22 December 2023

last updated

An ethics essay is one type of essays that students write to present their ideas about what is good or bad, right or wrong, white or black, and approved or prohibited in terms of various theories, approaches, techniques, practices, actions, behaviors, responsibilities, morals, results, obligations, virtues, and others, developing essential writing skills. When writing an ethics paper, students should understand that such an essay differs from other assignments in that it focuses on elaborating on issues with ethical or moral implications in philosophy. Basically, this elaboration entails writers arguing for a stand on an ethical or moral issue. Moreover, when writing an ethics essay, students should follow a basic essay structure: introduction-body-conclusion. In each of these sections, learners should capture critical elements, such as a thesis statement in the introduction part, topic sentences in body paragraphs, and a thesis restatement in the conclusion part. Hence, students need to learn how to write a good ethics paper or essay to demonstrate their knowledge of philosophy by using ethical and moral sides of an issue.

General Aspects of Writing an Ethics Paper or Essay

Academic writing is a broad discipline that exposes students to critical skills, including interpretation, explanation, reflection, and analysis of many essay topics . Basically, essay writing is one of the academic exercises that enable students to build these skills. In particular, one of the essay types that students write is a research paper on ethics. When writing ethics essays in philosophy, students address issues related to morality, such as aspects of right and wrong or good and bad. Then, such concepts of ethics and morals underlie the importance of the right behaviors. In various settings, such as workplaces, humans establish codes of ethics and conduct to guide behavior. Therefore, when writing an ethics paper, a student’s focus is on how humans embrace or disregard good morals in society.

How to write an ethics paper or essay

1. Defining Features or Characteristics of an Ethics Paper or Essay

Like all other types of essays , an ethics paper has features that define it as an academic text. To some extent, these features influence an essay structure of a paper. For example, the first feature is proof of the importance of a topic. In this case, students show this importance by constructing essay topics as challenging issues facing society, hence talking about it. Then, the second characteristic is a thesis statement that learners in philosophy formulate to shed light on a topic. Further on, the third feature is arguments that support a thesis, and the fourth characteristic is possible counterarguments. Moreover, the fifth feature is a rebuttal, where writers insist on the strengths of their arguments while acknowledging the counterarguments. In turn, the sixth characteristic is a sum-up of an ethics paper. Here, authors emphasize a thesis statement by justifying the arguments in its favor that they provide in a written document.

2. How Does an Ethics Paper Differ From Other Essays

There are many types of essays that students write under a discipline of philosophy. Basically, each essay type has unique characteristics that distinguish it from other papers. For an ethics essay, these characteristics include addressing an ethical issue, using an ethical lens to make arguments regarding a controversial matter, or explaining an ethical dilemma. Ideally, this type of paper focuses on elaborating on ethics and morality. In contrast, a narrative essay focuses on telling the writer’s story, while an informative essay focuses on educating the audience concerning a topic. Moreover, while some papers, like narrative or college application essays, utilize the first-person language, an ethics essay takes a formal approach to a third-person language.

3. How to Know if Students Need to Write an Ethics Paper or Essay

Generally, before students write some types of papers , they first consider the department or tutor’s requirements. Basically, these requirements can provide direct instructions, including a research topic, an essay outline , or a grading rubric. In this case, the latter helps students to understand the basic expectations of educational departments or tutors. Therefore, when students do not get direct instructions about their ethics topics, they can always know what type of essay they need to write by reading grading essay rubric requirements. For ethics papers, such prompts require students to take a stand on an issue of profound ethical or moral implications, such as fraud. In turn, key elements that tell students that they need to write an ethics paper or essay include providing an ethical argument, elaborating on an ethical dilemma, or expounding on ethical and legal implications.

4. How Do Students Know if They Need to Write an Ethics Paper by Looking at an Essay Topic

Students consider the instructions given by departments or tutors when writing essays. Basically, these instructions provide directions on essay topics that students should address when writing their papers. When writing an ethics paper, students can know that they need to write this type of essay by looking at the department or tutor’s topic. Moreover, this ethics topic may require learners to provide ethical arguments concerning a matter, elaborate on an ethical dilemma, or state whether an issue is ethical or legal. Hence, a central message of a topic should require students to address an issue via an ethical or moral lens.

5. The Meaning of an Ethical Argument, Ethical Dilemma, and Ethical v. Legal Implications

Key elements that define an ethics paper include ethical arguments, ethical dilemmas, and ethical and legal implications. For example, the term “ethical arguments” refers to a concept of taking a stand on an issue with ethical and moral implications and defending it. In this case, writers make ethical arguments to support their perspectives on an issue raising ethical or moral questions, such as fraud. Then, the term “ethical dilemma” refers to a situation that individuals find themselves whenever they face an issue raising ethical or moral questions, such as bribery. Also, authors are torn between two options, with one option having severe ethical or moral implications. In turn, the term “ethical versus legal implications” refers to a situation where a writer has to decide whether an issue, such as bribery, needs ethical or legal redress.

20 Examples of Ethics Topics for Writing Essays and Research Papers

  • Soaps and Deodorants as Potential Causes of Breast Cancer.
  • The Ethics and Legality of Child Adoption.
  • The Pros and Cons of Taking Vitamin Supplements.
  • Plastic Surgery and the Pursuit of Beauty.
  • Human Cloning: Is it Ethical?
  • Death Penalty: Key Pros and Cons.
  • Abortion as an Intervention Against Teen Pregnancy.
  • Is Voting a Moral or Legal Duty.
  • Does Driving an Electric Car Indicate Responsible Citizenship?
  • Social Media Use and Privacy.
  • Should Schools Enact Anti-Bullying Policies?
  • Does Social Media Use Enhance or Undermine Socialization?
  • Combating Music Piracy: Should Governments Get Involved?
  • Organic Foods versus Processed Foods: Which is Healthier?
  • Global Warming and the Extinction of Animal and Plant Species
  • Should Politics and Church Separate?
  • Is It Justified to Bribe to Avoid a Legal Penalty?
  • Should Nurses Be Allowed to Assist Terminally Ill Patients to End Their Lives?
  • Corporate Fraud: Who Should Take Responsibility?
  • Is Corporate Social Responsibility a Humanitarian or Commercial Concept?

Writing Outline and Structure of an Ethics Paper or Essay

Like any other essay, an ethics paper follows a structure that underscores its outline. Basically, this structure comprises three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. When writing these sections, students must ensure they address all the essential defining features stated previously in their ethics essays or papers. When doing so, writers should confirm that the introduction and conclusion sections take 10 percent of the total word count of an ethics paper or essay, while the body, which is the main text, should be 80 percent. Hence, an essay outline of an ethics paper should look as below:

I. Introduction

A. Hook sentence. B. Background information on an ethical dilemma. C. Writer’s claim – a thesis statement.

II. Body Paragraphs

A. Argument

  • state a position of an argument;
  • support this position with evidence;
  • explain how this evidence is right toward this argument and evidence;
  • conclude why this argument is valid.

B. Counterargument

  • provide a counterargument to a position in the first body paragraph;
  • include evidence that supports this counterargument, being opposite to an argument in the previous section;
  • explain how this counterargument and evidence in this paragraph are correct by using an opposite perspective;
  • finish why this counterargument is valid for this case.

C. Rebuttal

  • define the weaknesses of a counterargument;
  • cover credible evidence that supports such weaknesses;
  • write how these weaknesses make a counterargument irrelevant;
  • end with a statement that explains why a counterargument is not valid compared to an argument.

III. Conclusion

A. Restate a thesis. B. Sum up on the argument, counterargument, and rebuttal. C. State a final claim.

Explaining Each Section for Writing an Ethics Paper or Essay

When writing the introduction section, authors of an ethics paper should be brief and concise. Here, students should inform the audience about the purpose of writing by accurately expounding on an ethical issue that they intend to address. In essence, this aspect means highlighting their stand concerning an issue. Moreover, formulating a thesis statement helps to accomplish this goal. In this case, writers frame their minds and structure their ethics papers via the use of arguments that defend their stand on an issue of profound ethical or moral implications. Notably, when writing the introduction part, which signals the start of an ethical paper or essay, learners should begin with a hook to grab the readers’ attention. In turn, this sentence can be a popular misconception or a question that writers intend to answer when writing an ethics paper or essay.

II. Body Section

When writing the body of an ethics paper or essay, students should use a thesis statement as a reference point. In other words, they should use a thesis statement to come up with several ideas or arguments in defense of their stand on the ethical or moral issue identified in the introduction part. Basically, rules of academic writing dictate that students should begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence, whose purpose is to introduce a claim or idea that they intend to elaborate on in the section. Then, it is advisable that, when writing the body section, learners should use different paragraphs to separate arguments logically. Also, students should follow a sandwich rule when writing every body paragraph of an ethics paper or essay. In turn, such a paragraph structure means providing a claim, supporting it with evidence, explaining its relevance to the paper’s thesis, and ending with a transition sentence to be connected with the next paragraph logically.

The conclusion part is the last section of an ethics paper. In particular, an ethics essay should capture several themes in this section. Firstly, writers should restate a thesis statement. Secondly, they should summarize the main points made in body paragraphs. Also, this aspect means summarizing the writer’s arguments for their stands towards an issue with ethical or moral implications. In turn, authors should reiterate the paper’s topic and state why it was essential to address an ethical or moral issue. Besides, students need to avoid providing new information in this section.

Example of an Ethics Paper

Topic – Euthanasia: Is It Ethical?

I. Introduction Sample of an Ethics Paper

Terminal illness is a condition of profound pain and suffering for those affected, including the patients and their families. Today, some scientists support euthanasia, the aspect of assisting terminally ill patients in ending their lives. While health professionals should do everything to help their patients to avoid suffering, assisting them in ending their lives is unethical and immoral.

II. Examples of Body Paragraphs in an Ethics Paper

Life is a sacred thing, and no human being has any justification for ending it, regardless of whose it is. For example, the premise of a debate about euthanasia, which refers to assisted suicide, is the prevalence of terminal illnesses that subject individuals to a life of pain, suffering, and dependence. Without any hope of recovery, some individuals have opted to end their lives with the help of their loved ones or health professionals. While there is every reason to empathize with these individuals’ fate, there is no basis for supporting their desire to end their lives. In turn, the sanctity of life does not allow human beings to end life, no matter the circumstances.

If there seems to be no hope of recovery, ending life is counterproductive in an age of significant scientific and technological advancements. Basically, scientists are working round the clock to find cures for incurable diseases that have proven to be a threat to humanity. For example, today, smallpox is no longer a threat because a cure is found (Persson, 2010). Therefore, the fact that there may be no cure for a disease today does not mean that there will not be a cure tomorrow. Naturally, human beings rely on hope to overcome moments of darkness, such as a terminal illness diagnosis. Nonetheless, it is the effort of the scientific community that has always brought hope to humanity. In this light, there is no ethical or moral justification for euthanasia.

Euthanasia is not only a solution to terminal illness but also a sign of hopelessness and despair. When patients take the root of assisted suicide, it means that they give up on looking for alternatives in dealing with a problem. In this case, the fact that a terminal illness does not have a cure does not imply that it cannot be managed. Moreover, individuals who love a terminally ill person, such as family members and friends, hope to spend more time with them before an inevitable time happens. As such, terminally ill patients should use their families and health professionals to live longer. In essence, this aspect reflects true humanity – standing firm and determining amid of insurmountable odds. On that truth alone, euthanasia is an idea that deserves no thought or attention.

III. Conclusion Sample of an Ethics Paper

There is nothing more devastating than a terminal illness diagnosis. Basically, such news punctures the hope of many individuals, families, and communities. Nonetheless, patients should not lose hope and despair to the point of wanting to end their lives because of being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Because life is sacred and there is always a higher probability of medical breakthroughs in an age of scientific and technological advancement, euthanasia is an unethical and immoral solution to a terminal illness.

Persson, S. (2010). Smallpox, syphilis, and salvation: Medical breakthroughs that changed the world . East Gosford, New South Wales: Exisle Publishing.

Summing Up How to Write a Good Ethics Paper or Essay

Essay writing is an essential academic exercise that enables students to develop writing skills. When writing an ethics paper or essay, students focus on taking a stand on an issue with ethical or moral implications. In this case, writers create a thesis statement that expresses their perspective on a moral issue, which can be an ethical dilemma. In the main text, authors provide arguments that defend their thesis statements. Hence, when writing an ethics paper or essay, students should master the following tips:

  • develop the introduction-body-conclusion outline;
  • introduce a topic briefly and concisely in the introduction section;
  • develop a thesis statement;
  • Use separate body paragraphs to introduce and defend arguments;
  • Ensure to provide a counterargument and a rebuttal;
  • Restate a thesis statement in the conclusion section, including a summary of the main points (arguments that defend the paper’s thesis).

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How to Write an Ethics Paper: Guide & Ethical Essay Examples


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An ethics essay is a type of academic writing that explores ethical issues and dilemmas. Students should evaluates them in terms of moral principles and values. The purpose of an ethics essay is to examine the moral implications of a particular issue, and provide a reasoned argument in support of an ethical perspective.

Writing an essay about ethics is a tough task for most students. The process involves creating an outline to guide your arguments about a topic and planning your ideas to convince the reader of your feelings about a difficult issue. If you still need assistance putting together your thoughts in composing a good paper, you have come to the right place. We have provided a series of steps and tips to show how you can achieve success in writing. This guide will tell you how to write an ethics paper using ethical essay examples to understand every step it takes to be proficient. In case you don’t have time for writing, get in touch with our professional essay writers for hire . Our experts work hard to supply students with excellent essays.

What Is an Ethics Essay?

An ethics essay uses moral theories to build arguments on an issue. You describe a controversial problem and examine it to determine how it affects individuals or society. Ethics papers analyze arguments on both sides of a possible dilemma, focusing on right and wrong. The analysis gained can be used to solve real-life cases. Before embarking on writing an ethical essay, keep in mind that most individuals follow moral principles. From a social context perspective, these rules define how a human behaves or acts towards another. Therefore, your theme essay on ethics needs to demonstrate how a person feels about these moral principles. More specifically, your task is to show how significant that issue is and discuss if you value or discredit it.

Purpose of an Essay on Ethics

The primary purpose of an ethics essay is to initiate an argument on a moral issue using reasoning and critical evidence. Instead of providing general information about a problem, you present solid arguments about how you view the moral concern and how it affects you or society. When writing an ethical paper, you demonstrate philosophical competence, using appropriate moral perspectives and principles.

Things to Write an Essay About Ethics On

Before you start to write ethics essays, consider a topic you can easily address. In most cases, an ethical issues essay analyzes right and wrong. This includes discussing ethics and morals and how they contribute to the right behaviors. You can also talk about work ethic, code of conduct, and how employees promote or disregard the need for change. However, you can explore other areas by asking yourself what ethics mean to you. Think about how a recent game you watched with friends started a controversial argument. Or maybe a newspaper that highlighted a story you felt was misunderstood or blown out of proportion. This way, you can come up with an excellent topic that resonates with your personal ethics and beliefs.

Ethics Paper Outline

Sometimes, you will be asked to submit an outline before writing an ethics paper. Creating an outline for an ethics paper is an essential step in creating a good essay. You can use it to arrange your points and supporting evidence before writing. It also helps organize your thoughts, enabling you to fill any gaps in your ideas. The outline for an essay should contain short and numbered sentences to cover the format and outline. Each section is structured to enable you to plan your work and include all sources in writing an ethics paper. An ethics essay outline is as follows:

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement
  • Restate thesis statement
  • Summarize key points
  • Final thoughts on the topic

Using this outline will improve clarity and focus throughout your writing process.

Ethical Essay Structure

Ethics essays are similar to other essays based on their format, outline, and structure. An ethical essay should have a well-defined introduction, body, and conclusion section as its structure. When planning your ideas, make sure that the introduction and conclusion are around 20 percent of the paper, leaving the rest to the body. We will take a detailed look at what each part entails and give examples that are going to help you understand them better.  Refer to our essay structure examples to find a fitting way of organizing your writing.

Ethics Paper Introduction

An ethics essay introduction gives a synopsis of your main argument. One step on how to write an introduction for an ethics paper is telling about the topic and describing its background information. This paragraph should be brief and straight to the point. It informs readers what your position is on that issue. Start with an essay hook to generate interest from your audience. It can be a question you will address or a misunderstanding that leads up to your main argument. You can also add more perspectives to be discussed; this will inform readers on what to expect in the paper.

Ethics Essay Introduction Example

You can find many ethics essay introduction examples on the internet. In this guide, we have written an excellent extract to demonstrate how it should be structured. As you read, examine how it begins with a hook and then provides background information on an issue. 

Imagine living in a world where people only lie, and honesty is becoming a scarce commodity. Indeed, modern society is facing this reality as truth and deception can no longer be separated. Technology has facilitated a quick transmission of voluminous information, whereas it's hard separating facts from opinions.

In this example, the first sentence of the introduction makes a claim or uses a question to hook the reader.

Ethics Essay Thesis Statement

An ethics paper must contain a thesis statement in the first paragraph. Learning how to write a thesis statement for an ethics paper is necessary as readers often look at it to gauge whether the essay is worth their time.

When you deviate away from the thesis, your whole paper loses meaning. In ethics essays, your thesis statement is a roadmap in writing, stressing your position on the problem and giving reasons for taking that stance. It should focus on a specific element of the issue being discussed. When writing a thesis statement, ensure that you can easily make arguments for or against its stance.

Ethical Paper Thesis Example

Look at this example of an ethics paper thesis statement and examine how well it has been written to state a position and provide reasons for doing so:

The moral implications of dishonesty are far-reaching as they undermine trust, integrity, and other foundations of society, damaging personal and professional relationships. 

The above thesis statement example is clear and concise, indicating that this paper will highlight the effects of dishonesty in society. Moreover, it focuses on aspects of personal and professional relationships.

Ethics Essay Body

The body section is the heart of an ethics paper as it presents the author's main points. In an ethical essay, each body paragraph has several elements that should explain your main idea. These include:

  • A topic sentence that is precise and reiterates your stance on the issue.
  • Evidence supporting it.
  • Examples that illustrate your argument.
  • A thorough analysis showing how the evidence and examples relate to that issue.
  • A transition sentence that connects one paragraph to another with the help of essay transitions .

When you write an ethics essay, adding relevant examples strengthens your main point and makes it easy for others to understand and comprehend your argument. 

Body Paragraph for Ethics Paper Example

A good body paragraph must have a well-defined topic sentence that makes a claim and includes evidence and examples to support it. Look at part of an example of ethics essay body paragraph below and see how its idea has been developed:

Honesty is an essential component of professional integrity. In many fields, trust and credibility are crucial for professionals to build relationships and success. For example, a doctor who is dishonest about a potential side effect of a medication is not only acting unethically but also putting the health and well-being of their patients at risk. Similarly, a dishonest businessman could achieve short-term benefits but will lose their client’s trust.

Ethics Essay Conclusion

A concluding paragraph shares the summary and overview of the author's main arguments. Many students need clarification on what should be included in the essay conclusion and how best to get a reader's attention. When writing an ethics paper conclusion, consider the following:

  • Restate the thesis statement to emphasize your position.
  • Summarize its main points and evidence.
  • Final thoughts on the issue and any other considerations.

You can also reflect on the topic or acknowledge any possible challenges or questions that have not been answered. A closing statement should present a call to action on the problem based on your position.

Sample Ethics Paper Conclusion

The conclusion paragraph restates the thesis statement and summarizes the arguments presented in that paper. The sample conclusion for an ethical essay example below demonstrates how you should write a concluding statement.  

In conclusion, the implications of dishonesty and the importance of honesty in our lives cannot be overstated. Honesty builds solid relationships, effective communication, and better decision-making. This essay has explored how dishonesty impacts people and that we should value honesty. We hope this essay will help readers assess their behavior and work towards being more honest in their lives.

In the above extract, the writer gives final thoughts on the topic, urging readers to adopt honest behavior.

How to Write an Ethics Paper?

As you learn how to write an ethics essay, it is not advised to immediately choose a topic and begin writing. When you follow this method, you will get stuck or fail to present concrete ideas. A good writer understands the importance of planning. As a fact, you should organize your work and ensure it captures key elements that shed more light on your arguments. Hence, following the essay structure and creating an outline to guide your writing process is the best approach. In the following segment, we have highlighted step-by-step techniques on how to write a good ethics paper.

1. Pick a Topic

Before writing ethical papers, brainstorm to find ideal topics that can be easily debated. For starters, make a list, then select a title that presents a moral issue that may be explained and addressed from opposing sides. Make sure you choose one that interests you. Here are a few ideas to help you search for topics:

  • Review current trends affecting people.
  • Think about your personal experiences.
  • Study different moral theories and principles.
  • Examine classical moral dilemmas.

Once you find a suitable topic and are ready, start to write your ethics essay, conduct preliminary research, and ascertain that there are enough sources to support it.

2. Conduct In-Depth Research

Once you choose a topic for your essay, the next step is gathering sufficient information about it. Conducting in-depth research entails looking through scholarly journals to find credible material. Ensure you note down all sources you found helpful to assist you on how to write your ethics paper. Use the following steps to help you conduct your research:

  • Clearly state and define a problem you want to discuss.
  • This will guide your research process.
  • Develop keywords that match the topic.
  • Begin searching from a wide perspective. This will allow you to collect more information, then narrow it down by using the identified words above.

3. Develop an Ethics Essay Outline

An outline will ease up your writing process when developing an ethic essay. As you develop a paper on ethics, jot down factual ideas that will build your paragraphs for each section. Include the following steps in your process:

  • Review the topic and information gathered to write a thesis statement.
  • Identify the main arguments you want to discuss and include their evidence.
  • Group them into sections, each presenting a new idea that supports the thesis.
  • Write an outline.
  • Review and refine it.

Examples can also be included to support your main arguments. The structure should be sequential, coherent, and with a good flow from beginning to end. When you follow all steps, you can create an engaging and organized outline that will help you write a good essay.

4. Write an Ethics Essay

Once you have selected a topic, conducted research, and outlined your main points, you can begin writing an essay . Ensure you adhere to the ethics paper format you have chosen. Start an ethics paper with an overview of your topic to capture the readers' attention. Build upon your paper by avoiding ambiguous arguments and using the outline to help you write your essay on ethics. Finish the introduction paragraph with a thesis statement that explains your main position.  Expand on your thesis statement in all essay paragraphs. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence and provide evidence plus an example to solidify your argument, strengthen the main point, and let readers see the reasoning behind your stance. Finally, conclude the essay by restating your thesis statement and summarizing all key ideas. Your conclusion should engage the reader, posing questions or urging them to reflect on the issue and how it will impact them.

5. Proofread Your Ethics Essay

Proofreading your essay is the last step as you countercheck any grammatical or structural errors in your essay. When writing your ethic paper, typical mistakes you could encounter include the following:

  • Spelling errors: e.g., there, they’re, their.
  • Homophone words: such as new vs. knew.
  • Inconsistencies: like mixing British and American words, e.g., color vs. color.
  • Formatting issues: e.g., double spacing, different font types.

While proofreading your ethical issue essay, read it aloud to detect lexical errors or ambiguous phrases that distort its meaning. Verify your information and ensure it is relevant and up-to-date. You can ask your fellow student to read the essay and give feedback on its structure and quality.

Ethics Essay Examples

Writing an essay is challenging without the right steps. There are so many ethics paper examples on the internet, however, we have provided a list of free ethics essay examples below that are well-structured and have a solid argument to help you write your paper. Click on them and see how each writing step has been integrated. Ethics essay example 1


Ethics essay example 2

Ethics essay example 3

Ethics essay example 4

College ethics essay example 5

Ethics Essay Writing Tips

When writing papers on ethics, here are several tips to help you complete an excellent essay:

  • Choose a narrow topic and avoid broad subjects, as it is easy to cover the topic in detail.
  • Ensure you have background information. A good understanding of a topic can make it easy to apply all necessary moral theories and principles in writing your paper.
  • State your position clearly. It is important to be sure about your stance as it will allow you to draft your arguments accordingly.
  • When writing ethics essays, be mindful of your audience. Provide arguments that they can understand.
  • Integrate solid examples into your essay. Morality can be hard to understand; therefore, using them will help a reader grasp these concepts.

Bottom Line on Writing an Ethics Paper

Creating this essay is a common exercise in academics that allows students to build critical skills. When you begin writing, state your stance on an issue and provide arguments to support your position. This guide gives information on how to write an ethics essay as well as examples of ethics papers. Remember to follow these points in your writing:

  • Create an outline highlighting your main points.
  • Write an effective introduction and provide background information on an issue.
  • Include a thesis statement.
  • Develop concrete arguments and their counterarguments, and use examples.
  • Sum up all your key points in your conclusion and restate your thesis statement.


Contact our academic writing platform and have your challenge solved. Here, you can order essays and papers on any topic and enjoy top quality. 


Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.

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Your Complete Guide to Writing Perfect Ethical Papers

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Your Complete Guide to Writing Perfect Ethical Papers

Every day, people make ethical decisions, and that is why your college journey will expose you to ethics papers . But how do you write a paper on ethics that garners good grades? If you want to improve your skills in this area of assignment, you landed on the right page.

This post shares insights on how to write an ethics paper to the highest levels. We will show you the essential elements of this paper and how to structure this assignment to give your essay a logical flow. Keep reading to master the art of writing an ethics paper that fetches you excellent grades. 

What is an Ethics Essay? 

Let’s define an ethics essay before proceeding to its deeper details. As its name suggests, an ethics paper is a piece of writing that debates two sides of a moral issue or dilemma. This paper focuses on matters of philosophical concern, like the principles of wrong and right. In this paper, you will elaborate on the standards that regulate human behavior.

Morality includes several practices and rules that people conventionally accept and follow. Your paper considers the moral behavior and principles of being a human in a social setting. For instance, many establishments have codes of conduct that regulate how people should behave. 

So, when composing this paper, you must explain the attitudes people hold towards such moral standards. Your work highlights the importance of a particular moral issue and explains whether society accepts or rejects it. 

As a rule, this paper should focus on debating a matter instead of simply overviewing it. Therefore, an ethics assignment shares many features with an argumentative essay because of its debating nature. 

How to Write an Ethics Essay Step by Step

So far, you have seen what this type of assignment comprises. But how do you write great papers on ethics ? This section sheds insights on how to start an ethics paper . Keep reading to sharpen your writing skills.

Choose a Relevant Topic 

First, you should spot a relevant topic that you can debate. This title should resonate well with your audience. When choosing a title, remember that this essay doesn’t essentially describe your viewpoint on a moral issue. Instead, it’s more about discussing arguments and counterarguments. So, your selected topic should have enough supporting details to make it more debatable. 

Outline Your Essay

After choosing your topic, you need to outline your paper to give it a logically flowing structure. This framework allows you to write everything in its right place. It also makes it easy for your readers to follow and understand your ideas. Generally, your structure will take this shape:

  • Prove why your topic is challenging and necessary for consideration.
  • Formulate a good thesis you will defend.
  • Formulate arguments to support your thesis statement.
  • Draft possible counterarguments.
  • Address all the counterarguments by elaborating your thesis statement.
  • Summarize your elaborated thesis statement and define its importance.

Please note that the above is only a guide. So, you might skip some sections if you deem it necessary. You may also choose not to write in chronological order and start from any section you want. 

Draft a Clear Introduction

You need to write a punchy and brief introduction. First, you should tell the reader what your topic seeks to address and the general opinion you’ll cover. Second, describe your paper’s structure because your readers should know the general points you will debate from the onset. Third, remember to include your main arguments but briefly. 

Write Body Paragraphs

So far, you have presented your intro, and your readers know where you are taking them. Now, you should approach your body paragraphs systematically. If you will give several arguments to support your thesis, don’t mix them in one paragraph. This way, your readers will be better placed to consider your arguments clearly. 

Compose a Conclusion

You will need to rephrase your thesis statement to underscore its importance. Also, rehash your main arguments without introducing new information. Your conclusion should point out why the ethical issue you’re discussing is important. Finish your paper by restating your viewpoint and why you think your position is accurate. 

Polish Your Paper

Lastly, go over your first draft to polish it. Your first stage will check it for grammar and styling correctness. You will also edit it to ensure your ideas are flowing logically for easy reader understanding. Lastly, proofread it to remove all spelling mistakes from the original draft and those you might have made during editing. 

Choosing an Ethics-Related Topic

Your essay will be as good or as bad as the quality of ethics paper ideas that you choose. If you manage to find captivating ethics paper titles , you will likely grab readers’ attention and interest from the onset. While they say that people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the truth is that everyone does that all the time. Thus, getting it right from the start makes it easy to impress and attract readers even before reading your opening sentence. 

This section contains ideas on how to select relevant and punchy topics for an ethics paper . You will also benefit from sample topics we selected to jumpstart you. 

  • Your selected topic must be relevant to your target audience to attract them. Otherwise, people won’t waste their time reading irrelevant material.
  • Since you are handling moral issues that have interpersonal and generational effects, your topic must have a problem-solving approach to the dilemma at hand.
  • Your selected topic should be helpful and add value to readers’ lives.
  • The topic must be intriguing from the onset to captivate readers’ attention and interest. 
  • Your topic must be informative.
  • The topic should be easy to debate on both sides of the divide (arguments and counterarguments). 
  • Your selected topic must be easy enough to debate and have sufficient materials to support your debate.
  • Lastly, choose a topic that intrigues you so that you don’t write on a boring topic that kills your passion. 

Sample Topics

Here are sample topics to jumpstart your next ethics assignment.

  • Must desperate moments call for desperate measures?
  • Can people overcome envy?
  • Can humans master their ego?
  • Addressing ethical dilemmas in healthcare.
  • The benefits of workplace ethics.
  • How does one’s family background shape their ethical principles?
  • Should we have universal moral codes?
  • Is morality necessary in education?
  • Why is lying wrong?
  • Why must abortion remain criminalized?

Ethics Paper Structure

Your paper on ethics needs a structure to give it a logical flow. Its structure ensures that readers can transition logically between your arguments and counterarguments. An ethics essay will have a simple structure that revolves around the following:

  • Topic’s significance : Discuss a moral issue that challenges society and explain why its better understanding is vital. 
  • A thesis statement : It covers your writing’s main focus and guides your readers throughout the entire assignment. Your thesis is your primary argument around which all the successive ideas will revolve. 
  • Evidence : You’ll need sufficient evidence to support the arguments for a moral dilemma. 
  • Counterarguments : Your counterarguments justify the reasoning behind the thesis statement. 
  • Rebuttal examples : These examples prove your position on an ethical issue. 

Ethics Paper Outline

Outlining your ethics papers is necessary to help you work with a firm framework. An outline for ethics paper allows you to know where to place which idea. It also ensures you don’t forget to include any materials your readers need to understand your paper. An outline also helps you to remain organized, boost clarity of thought, and remain focused throughout the writing process. 

Your outline must contain short and numbered sentences to cover the format. An average outline for this type of paper will take the following shape:


  • Background information
  • Thesis statement

Point three


  • Rephrase your thesis statement
  • Summarize your main ideas 
  • Final thoughts on the topic

Ethics Essay Examples

Nothing boosts your understanding better than a well-done example of an ethics paper . We’ve selected examples from various sections to help you write a better ethics essay .


Can you imagine living in a world where everyone lies, and integrity is fast becoming a foreign luxury that only a small minority can afford? Our generation is definitely in this moral dilemma, where the separating line between lies and truth is erased. This matter is compounded because information technology bombards our minds with excess information, making it hard for people to sift lies from truth.

Body Paragraph 

 Integrity and truth are essential pillars of a good society. In many fields of life, trust and honesty are essential for people to foster meaningful relationships and success. For instance, some doctors who are dishonest about the potential side effects of medications are not only acting unethically but also risking the health and well-being of their patients. Also, dishonest business people could achieve short-term profits by exploiting their customers but eventually lose trust, the very basis that made customers give them business.

 The moral ramifications of dishonesty are far-reaching because they undermine trust and integrity. This erodes societal foundations, damages personal and professional relationships, and produces a cannibal society.  

 The consequences of dishonesty and the benefits of integrity in our daily lives are obvious and undebatable. Integrity fosters solid relationships, candid communication, and improved decision-making. This paper explored how dishonesty negatively affects people and why everyone must value integrity. I hope this paper assists you in assessing your behavior and working towards being a more honest person.

Bottom Line

Writing ethics paper projects allows you to debate the two sides of pressing moral issues affecting society. We’ve tried to shed light on this type of assignment and illustrate our ideas with sample topics and content to inspire you. Use these prompts to make your ethics papers better every time.

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