This chapter presents an overview of the literature on the concept of ethics. First, we present the different definitions of ethics in the existing literature. An overview of the ethics’ current theoretical developments is then presented.
Section 1: Concept of ethics
Contrary to what one might think, ethics is not a new pheromone (Génard, 1992). It was originally identified by Greek and Roman philosophers. Inspired by the works of his predecessors Socrates and Plato, Aristotle is considered as the father of the ethics concept (Lavorata, 2004) which had been widely discussed over several decades by many philosophers who proposed several definitions to this concept.
I. Ethics’ definitions
The word “Ethics” is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘Ethikos’, which mean character (Reese, 1990). According to the Universal Philosophical Encyclopedia, ethics is the science of moral and human conduct. Nonetheless, many definitions of this concept had been suggested in the literature. For example, Taylor (1975, p.1) defined ethics as an: “inquiry into the nature and grounds of morality, where morality means moral judgments, standards, and rules of conduct”. Gove (1976, p.210) defines ethics as “the study of what constitutes good and bad human conduct, including related actions and values.”
For Beauchamp and Bowie (1983, p.3), ethics is the “inquiry into theories of what is good and evil and into what is right and wrong, and thus is inquiry into what we ought and ought not to do.”
As it could be noticed, in all the above definitions the term ethics refers to the study of moral conduct (Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989). However, the boundaries between morality and ethics are sometimes blurred and they should be differentiated in order to clarify the concept of ethics (Shaw and Barry, 2001).
1. Ethics and morality
The terms ethics and morality are derived from the same root which often causes confusion.
Some authors consider that the distinction between the two concepts is unnecessary (Ricoeur, 1990; Even-Granboulan, 1998). However, others academicians make a distinction between them (Iannone, 1989; Boatright, 2000; Ferrell et al.; 2000; and Petrick and Quinn, 2001). For example, Grace and Cohen (1998, p.4) claim that “there is no reason to make a distinction in meaning between ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’. There is no difference in meaning which could be attributed to their etymological roots”, while, Beauchamp and Bowie (2001) argued that morality is the principles of moral as defined by society, while ethics refers to individual rules.
In fact, ethics concept had been also closely related to deontology. In the following, this relation is presented in more details.
2. Ethics and deontology
Ricoeur (1990) identifies three components of ethics: a subjective component (life “good for itself” according to Aristotle), an interpersonal one (or the concern for others in reference to Kant) and a societal component (or the concern for the institution). The societal component refers to the concept of deontology. Thus, the definition of deontology is literally a set of codes of conduct specific to a profession.
The following diagram summarizes the different concepts and relationships between ethics, morality and deontology.
Figure 1: Definitions and relationships between Ethics, morality and deontology, (Lavorata, 2004, p.20)
II. Ethics’ school of thoughts
There are three approaches in the study of ethics: normative ethics, descriptive ethics, and meta-ethics (De George, 1982).
Normative ethics is the study of how we should behave (Pascal, 1670; Spinoza, 1677; Kant, 1781). It attempts to justify the principles or the values of a moral system (Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989). The normative ethical theories are classified into three groups: 1-Consequential or teleological theories; 2- Single rule non-consequential or deontological theories; and 3-Multiple rule non-consequential theories.
Consequential or teleological theories
These theories argue that the evaluation of the rightness of an action is determined by considering its consequences (Ferrell and Gresham, 1985). Researchers have demonstrated that teleological theories involve several constructs such as: (1) the individual’s behavior and its effect on various stakeholder groups particularly customers and employers; (2) the estimate probability that the consequences will occur to the stakeholders; (3) the evaluation of desirability or undesirability of each consequence; (4) the analysis of the importance of the stakeholder groups (Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989). Moreover, according to these authors, when using teleological evaluation, the individual acts in a manner that “produces at least as great a ratio of good to evil as any other course” (Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989, p.697).
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The two major consequential theories are egoism and utilitarianism. Egoism holds that individuals act in a way that creates the greatest gain for their self-interest (Hunt and Vitell, 1986). Contrary to ethical egoism, utilitarianism holds that the individual behaves in a manner that produces the greatest good for everyone (DeConinck and Lewis, 1997; Loo, 2004). These theories only look at the consequences of actions, not at its foundations (“the end justifies the means”) (Bougerra et al., 2011).
Single rule non-consequential or deontological theories
Some researchers contend that to determine the morality of an action, many other factors should be taken into account other than its consequences. These theories appeal to a single rule. The two main single rules non-consequential theories are: the golden rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them unto you.” In other words, we have to treat individuals the way we want to be treated (Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989). The other single-rule non-consequential theory is Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”).
Multiple rule non-consequential theories
These theories claim that the moral rightness or wrongness is determined by moral rules that can’t be reduced to a single moral rule. These theories are a mixture of teleological and deontological theories.
2. Descriptive ethics
The second approach is descriptive ethics and it deals with the human behavior. This approach aims to study and describe what is moral and immoral, as well as the factors affecting the evolution of moral principles and values (Rich, 1994).
According to Pera and Van Tonder (2005, p.7), descriptive ethics “does not pass moral judgments on conduct or beliefs; it merely describes what certain people believe to be right or wrong without judging these beliefs”.
Desjardins and McCall (2000, p.5) noted that the distinction between descriptive and normative ethics is related to “the difference between what is and what ought to be”. In the same vein, Beauchamp and Bowie (2001, p.6-7) claimed that “normative moral philosophy aims at determining what ought to be done, which needs to be distinguished from what is, in fact, practiced”.
The third approach was defined as the study of moral reasoning (Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989). It analyzes ethical concepts, which explains why it is also called analytical ethics (Rich, 1994).
Meta-ethics analyses questions about the meaning of right and wrong or good and bad (Pera and Van Tonder, 2005). According to Creasia and Parker (1991), meta-ethics is the linking between ethical beliefs and the real world.
Section 2: Business ethics
As we stated before, research on business ethics, and most importantly on marketing ethics has begun to expand since the publication of Bogart’s article (1962) “The Researcher’s Dilemma” (Jones and Kavanagh, 1996; Rao and Singhapakdi, 1997; Tsalikis and Fritzsche, 1989). It has gained growing interest among marketing scholars in the 1980s (Hunt and Vitell, 1983; Chonko and Burnett, 1983; Gresham, 1985). Studies in this domain had taken two main orientations: normative one or positive one. Normative studies aimed to develop guidelines and rules for marketers. Positive studies, in particular, in the last three decades focus on the description and the development of models and theories (Chonko and Hunt, 2000). But, what are the reasons behind this interest to study ethics in marketing?
I. Reasons of the growing interest in business ethics
According to Lavorata (2004), this growing interest in business ethics can be explained by several reasons: 1- external reasons and 2- internal reasons.
1. External reasons
The integration of ethics by organizations can be explained by external reasons such as consumers pressure (Mercier, 1999). According to a survey conducted by the Foundation of France in 1997, 63% of consumers claimed to be sensitive to firms supporting a humanitarian cause. Thus, Ethics becomes a way to retain consumers. In fact, competitive pressure incited firms to look for new positioning and for means of differentiation from their competitors. Implementing strategies based on social responsibility and ethical practices is considered as a means to achieve this objective. Indeed; this may boost one firm’s public image and contribute in building long-term relationships with clients (Schwepker and Hartline 2005; Thomas et al., 2004). Moreover, the awareness about ethics importance and consequences seems to be boosted by top managers as a result of many scandals that had shaken the business world:
WorldCom, a huge accounting scandal estimated at $11 billion.
Enron, fraud and conspiracy in January 2006.
Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, pharmaceutical companies, have had to retire drugs that have been considered unsafe for public use.
Each new disgrace seemed to create a buzz for organizational change (Barnes, 2006). As a matter of fact, in 1920, Henry Ford wrote: “A company must make profits otherwise it will die. But if we want the company to only run for profit, it will also die since it will have no reason for being.” In 2001, the CEO of Lafarge B. Colomb has echoed these ethical concerns: “Far from being expensive, ethics is a critical success factor”.
2. Internal reasons
The internationalization of organizations has led to a weakening of the corporate culture and in particular a loss of collective benchmarks (Lavorata, 2004).
Moreover, individual ethics is the subject of an ongoing dilemma (Seidel, 1995). In fact, the organization must ensure its profitability and profit: its objective is then to reduce costs while boosting employee productivity (Mercier, 1999).
Despite its historical origins, ethics remains a subject matter of a special concern for contemporary academicians. In fact, it has been shown that ethics domain has undergone major changes in its foundations.
This current widespread preoccupation among researchers about ethics led to an increased awareness about business ethics. The marketing is seemingly even more concerned. Indeed, the activities in this domain are often considered to be unethical (Baumhart, 1961; Brenner and Molander, 1977; Murphy and Lazcniak, 1981).
According to Chonko et al. (1996), ethical abuse may take place as marketing professionals and particularly salespersons often face bothersome ethical problems in business. In fact, sales representatives are under great pressure and they are constant targets of ethical criticism (Mantel, 2005; Abratt and Penman, 2002). In this context, according to a survey of 1,324 workers including salespersons, managers, and executives conducted by USA Today, “48% of workers admit to do unethical or illegal acts” (Jones 1997, p.1). In the same line, Jolson (1997) argued that for a long time, the sales representative was a person who put pressure on his customer by questionable techniques and whose only philosophy was increasing sales regardless the means used.
The following chapter deals more in details with the (un)ethical behavior of sales representatives in marketing literature.
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