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Defining ‘business ethics’: Like nailing jello to a wall


Business ethics is a topic receiving much attention in the literature. However, the term ‘business ethics’ is not adequately defined. Typical definitions refer to the rightness or wrongness of behavior, but not everyone agrees on what is morally right or wrong, good or bad, ethical or unethical. To complicate the problem, nearly all available definitions exist at highly abstract levels. This article focuses on contemporary definitions of business ethics by business writers and professionals and on possible areas of agreement among the available definitions. Then a definition is synthesized that is broad enough to cover the field of management in a sense as full as most managers might conceive of it.

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Phillip V. Lewis is Professor of Management and Chairman of the Department of Management Sciences at Abilene Christian University. His most important publications includeOrganizational Communication: The Essence of Effective Management, Grid (1975, 1980), andManaging Human Relations, Kent (1983).

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Lewis, P.V. Defining ‘business ethics’: Like nailing jello to a wall. J Bus Ethics 4, 377–383 (1985).

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  • Economic Growth
  • Business Ethic
  • Abstract Level
  • Typical Definition
  • Contemporary Definition