Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Ethics and Morality: What Should Be Taught in Business Law?

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Ethics and Morality: What Should Be Taught in Business Law?

Article excerpt


Ethics has been a hot topic in the business world for many years as examples of ethics gone wrong continue to put the topic in the lime light, both in the media and in business schools. The AACSB has found ethics to be important enough to the education of business students that it requires ethics be a part of business education and the government has found that ethics is essential (Garner, 1994) to a successful business environment and has legislated ethical behavior in businesses. In addition, we as stake holders, now more than ever, are demanding that the businesses we deal with act ethically. That being said, ethics is an obvious topic in a Business Law course, but often morality is comingled or, worse yet, confused for ethics. These two topics are quite different and have very different implications in the classroom. Educators must clearly understand the differences and determine how to address these topics appropriately in courses.

As a professor, it is apparent that students are often confused between morality and ethics and while they usually have a strong sense of their morals, or at least those of their parents, they often don't understand ethics, how it is different from morality, and why it matters. It has also become clear that we as educators are often confused too. To teach ethics effectively we must understand both ethics and morality and how they are different. This paper will look at the difference between ethics and morality, how the two are addressed in business, how the two are addressed in law and how we should address the topics in courses.


Even if separate ethics courses are available, ethics and morality inevitably work their way into business law courses simply by the nature of the topics addressed, particularly in a survey course. The Oxford English Dictionary identifies ethics as "the science of morals," and "the department of study concerned with principles of human duty," (Garner, 1994, p. 17). "Ethics" comes from the Greek ethos, meaning character (Thiroux, 1986, p. 2). Ethics is "a code of behavior in society or among a specific group in society" (The Difference between Ethics and Morality, 2013). Ethics is a broader concept than morality; it is a code, or a set of rules, that an entire group or society adheres to. The idea of ethics is much less personal and focuses more on the philosophies of a society's beliefs. When talking about ethics we are discussing the ideals of a society, group, or organization not those of an individual. Ethics should be used only in a context bounded by work and the term morality in the activity of living one's life (Jones, 1996, p. 9). Ethics demands that the principles that apply to conduct be identifiable, objective. Principles relate to action, to how we should behave, and to the basis on which we choose a course of action" (Machan, 1997, p. 12) Ethics is a defined code of behavior that a group of individuals is expected to comply with regardless of personal beliefs or morals (Machan, 1997, p. 31).

Morality, on the other hand, is defined as "a doctrine or system of moral conduct" (Merriam-Webster Dictionar y) or a "conformity to ideals of right human conduct" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). "Morality" comes from the Latin moralis, meaning customs or manners (Thiroux, 1986, p. 2). Morality "refers to how you apply that philosophy in your own life" (The Difference Between Ethics and Morality, 2013). Morality is oriented to the individual; it is based on a set of values. One may learn morality from family, friends, church or community, but morality focuses on how the individual applies those theories. However, morality is learned from a life time of experiences. "An individual's moral code is, thus, a set of moral principles that guides his or her actions; we all have such a code even though some of us might have difficulty articulating it." (Wines, 2008, p. 487) Morality focuses more on the ideas or beliefs of an individual. …

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