What are the Myths About Ethics ?

Five myths about ethics prevail in literature on the subject. Some advocate its relevance in business education whereas other argue that” business ethics” is an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms. The five myths are presented in figure:


Myths 1: Ethics is personal and confined to self : An individual has a right to decide what is right and what is wrong- ethical or unethical acts are laid down by the culture of the society in which he or she is a part. The constitution of India too recognizes and confers right in Indian citizens to make choices and behave.

But the individual’s choice of right and wrong is not absolute. The right is constrained by public interest abuse. An individual cannot murder another merely because he or she believes it is the right act. A woman similarly, cannot practice prostitution simply because she is of the belief that the act is not immoral. Public interest limits the individual’s decision.

Extending to public life, freedom of the individuals to decide on ethically opposite of it is constrained by the demands of the organization. Individuals are integral parts of organizational cultures, which have norms, values, rules of conduct, and standards to govern what is acceptable and unacceptable. To say that individuals have absolute rights independent of the organization is to deny the impact of the latter on the attitudes and absolute of the employees.

Organizational ethics are the summation of the moral beliefs of individual employees. In other words commissions and omissions of employees become the onus of the organization. Organizations do not commit crimes, individuals do.

Myths 2: Business and Ethics Do not Jell :Honesty is the best policy- but not in business’ is the accepted notion now a days. Businesses operate in a free and competitive market striving hard to earn profit. Management of a business firm is based on scientific and not on religious or ethical principles.

The above argument, though relevant decades back is not acceptable now. Business cannot operate in vacuum. It is an integral part of society and society’s principles, norms and values openly apply to business also. If business people act amorally result would be chaos. Employees would openly steal from employers employer would recklessly fire employees at will; contractors breach agreements, and the like.

Myths 3: Ethics in Business relative : the third and the most popular myth about business ethics is that it is relative. Right or wrong is in the eyes if the beholder. In other words, what is right or what is wrong is determined by what a culture or society says is right or wrong. What is right in one place may be wrong is determined by what a culture or society says is right from wrong. And so the only ethical standard for judging an action- is the moral system of the society in which the act occurs, or the situation in which it has taken place.

Myths 4: Good Business Means Good ethics : The argument here is that executives and firms that maintain a good corporate image, have equitable dealings with customers and employees, and earn profits by the legitimate legal means are defector ethical. Such firms need not be concerned explicitly with ethics in the workplace.

The assertion that good business is good ethics may not be correct. Corporations are like machines which pursue profit-making goals single mindedly, of course strictly following manuals, policies, systems, and codes of conduct. An organization pursuing profit making cannot be expected to display such moral characteristics as honestly, considerateness, and sympathy. No correlation exits between “goodness” and material success.

Myths 5: Information And Computing are Amoral : This myth holds the view that information and computing are only amoral. They are neither moral or immoral- they are in a questionable area of ethics. On the positive side, information and computing have productive and positive dimensions, such as empowerment and enlightenment through the ubiquitous exposure to information, increased efficiency and quick access to online global committees. In the flip side, information and computing lend themselves as a form of control, power and manipulation. In addition, open access to information results in such evils as questionable use of data bases, violation of privacy, children exposed to pornography and stalking, consumers targeted for fraudulent advertising and selling practices, and pirating of intellectual property. These gray areas have ethical implications. Information and computing are no doubt a boon but one should be aware of the dark side..