Volume 21, Issue 2, April 2011
Jeffery Smith, Wim Dubbink
Understanding the Role of Moral Principles in Business Ethics
A Kantian Perspective
Does effective moral judgment in business ethics rely upon the identification of a suitable set of moral principles? We address this question by examining a number of criticisms of the role that principles can play in moral judgment. Critics claim that reliance on principles requires moral agents to abstract themselves from actual circumstances, relationships and personal commitments in answering moral questions. This is said to enforce an artificial uniformity in moral judgment. We challenge these critics by developing an account of principle-based moral judgment that has been widely discussed by contemporary Kantian scholars. In so doing we respond to some basic problems raised by so-called “moral particularists” who voice theoretical objections to the role of principles as well as to contemporary business ethicists who have criticized principle-based moral judgment along similar lines. We conclude with some future areas of research.