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Business Ethics – Deontologically Revisited

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Article  in  Journal of Business Ethics · March 2007

DOI: 10.1007/s10551-006-9152-z · Source: RePEc




2 authors, including:

C. Troy

Andrews University



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Business Ethics – Deontologically

Revisited Edwin R. Micewski

Carmelita Troy

ABSTRACT. In this paper we look at business ethics

from a deontological perspective. We address the theory

of ethical decision-making and deontological ethics for

business executives and explore the concept of ‘‘moral

duty’’ as transcending mere gain and profit maximization.

Two real-world cases that focus on accounting fraud as

the ethical conception. Through these cases, we show

that while accounting fraud – from a consequentialist

perspective – may appear to provide a quick solution to a

pressing problem, longer term effects of fraud and mis-

conduct make ethical implications more apparent. Widely

used compensation schemes also may have the tendency

to fuel unethical behavior. We argue that an ethical

reinvigoration of the business world can only be

accomplished by encouraging the business realm to im-

pose upon itself some measure of self-regulating along the

lines of deontological ethics. Principles of deontology

should guide executive decision-making particularly

when executives are tempted to operate outside of cod-

ified legislation or are bound to act under judicial-free


KEY WORDS: Deontological ethics, Business ethics,

Consequentialism, Utilitarianism, Accounting fraud


This paper addresses capitalism, at least in its more

drastic neo-liberalist form and discusses the tenets and

guiding principles as well as the violations of ethical

codes that can occur when capitalists’ conduct is,

beyond legal boundaries and the monitoring by reg-

ulating authorities, unchecked by self-guiding moral

principles. The desire for a revision of capitalism on

the macro-level of economics derives mostly from

issues of globalization, regarding for instance the just

or equitable distribution of goods or the combating of

poverty. On the micro-level a need to review capi-

talism may spring from a culture of conspicuous

consumption and spending in the extreme. Capitalist

societies may have reached a postmodern condition

where, as Jean Baudrillard (1998) argues, reality is

filtered through the logic of exchange value and

advertisement, giving identity no longer through

ethnicity, gender, class, or social status, but by con-

sumption. Using two examples of corporate

accounting fraud, out of the increasing number of

cases of business fraud, larceny, and other forms of

illegitimate individual and corporate enrichment, we

provide evidence of the results of capitalism when it is

unconstrained by moral and ethical codes. This article

does not at all intend to question or reject the basic

tenets of capitalism – a largely intervention-free

market that regulates the investment of capital, the

production, distribution and prices of goods and

services by private incentive – however, the potential

subordination of human value and moral dignity to

blind market forces shall be put in question. We

concur with Milton Friedman (1988) that profit-

driven business has to meet its social responsibility by

Carmelita Troy is an Assistant Professor of Accounting in the

Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval

Postgraduate School, Monterey, California.

Micewski, Edwin R., Dr., Brigadier General, is social philos-

opher and Director of the Institute for Human and Social

Science of the Austrian National Defence Academy, Vienna.

Member of the Science Commission of the Austrian Ministry

of Defence and Visiting Professor at the Department of

National Security Affairs of the Naval Postgraduate School in

Monterey, California. Research and teaching areas: Social

and cultural philosophy, military ethics, (military) profes-

sionalism and leadership, postmodernism and war. Recent

publication: (Ethics and international Politics (2001);

Civil- Military Aspects of Military Ethics (2003/2005);

Terror and Terrorism- History of Ideas and Philo-

sophical-Ethical Reflections (2005); Asymmetry and

Western Society – Culture-critical Reflections(2006).

Journal of Business Ethics (2007) 72:17–25 � Springer 2006 DOI 10.1007/s10551-006-9152-z



accepting the constraints imposed ‘‘by the basic rules

of society, both those embodied in law and those

embodied in ethical custom.’’

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