Different “Schools” of Ethics

Sections of this topic

    In an earlier life, I taught business ethics. (Most of my undergraduate college credits are in philosophy.) So here’s a very concise overview of the major “school”s of ethics that are often taught in business ethics programs.

    Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative (1700s)

    Kant asserted that a belief is an ethical principle if, and only if, it applies with everyone all the time everywhere, that is, if the principle should be a universal law. Thus, the Golden Rule might qualify as an ethical principle.

    John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism (1800s)

    Mill asserted that a belief is an ethical principle if it results in the greatest good for the most people. Thus, some people might belief that an economic strategy to “spread the wealth” is also a highly ethical strategy.

    Joseph Fletcher’s Situational Ethics (1900s)

    Fletcher also asserted that a moral law depends on the current situation. However, he also asserted a principle should be a moral law only if it contributed to love. Thus, Fletcher’s assertion might have contributed to – or justified – the “free love” movement in the 1960s.

    Of course, these descriptions are overly simplistic for the purpose of contrasting the different major “schools” of ethics.

    What do you think?

    Are there other “schools”?

    What beliefs or strategies fall into which school?


    See the topic Business Ethics in the Free Management Library.


    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250
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