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Moral rules and moral ideals: A useful distinction in business and professional practice

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Abstract

The distinction between moral rules and moral ideals is presented and explained in various ways. The authors propose that people in business are required to obey the moral rules and have a choice with respect to ideals. Thus, they are not in a different position from that of anyone else in society.

Four case studies are presented and discussed. The analytical approaches used by the authors' students are summarized and evaluated. The moral rules/ideals paradigm is described as helping discussants of the cases to establish congruence between business ethics and their personal set of values. Other values of the classroom discussion of ethics cases are considered.

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John W. Hennessey, Jr., is Jones Professor of Management at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College. Previously he was Dean of this school and President of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business.

Bernard Gert is Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy at the Dartmouth College. From 1971 until 1974 and from 1979 until 1981 he was Chairman of the Philosophy Department and he was awarded the NEH-NSF Sustained Development Award 1980–1984. His most important publications are: The Moral Rules: A New Rational Foundation for Morality, Harper and Row, 1970, Harper Torchbook 1973, 2nd edition 1975, and Philosophy in Medicine: Conceptual and Ethical Issues in Medicine and Psychiatry, Oxford University Press, 1982 (co-authored with Charles M. Culver).

Prof. Gert acknowledges support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Grant RII-8018088 A03.

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Hennessey, J.W., Gert, B. Moral rules and moral ideals: A useful distinction in business and professional practice. J Bus Ethics 4, 105–115 (1985). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00383563

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Keywords

  • Economic Growth
  • Business Ethic
  • Analytical Approach
  • Professional Practice
  • Moral Ideal