chapter  1
32 Pages

Ethical preliminaries

The concepts ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ are often used interchangeably in ethics (and in business ethics). This holds for propositions in everyday language as well as for those in professional jargon. Nevertheless, within the German speaking community, it is still common practice to reserve the concept ‘ethics’ for the philosophical discipline or to denominate a certain ethical school1 and by ‘morals’ to mean their subject (or content).2 Following this tradition, several mistakes and misunderstandings can be avoided. Therefore, and unless severe reasons for deviance are given, this tradition is kept up throughout the book. Linguistically induced misinterpretations in ethics and business ethics have other reasons as well. Occasionally in literature, authors talk of immoral behavior (action),3 while it is not revealed to the reader what meaning the author intends to give to his amphiboly.4 A demeanor can be called immoral if it has no moral dimension at all. Since the distinction between a moral behavior (action) and a behavior (action) that is not moral at all is of utmost importance for this study, we name a demeanor or action ‘immoral’ mainly when we intend to say that the behavior or acting in question has no moral dimension. We do so despite the fact that in ordinary language as well as in professional jargon ‘immoral’ or ‘unethical’ is

used to denounce a behavior or action that – vis-à-vis the reference system of morals in question – is treated as vicious or evil. Occasionally, a behavior or an action that an author rates as evil is labeled either ‘amoral’ or ‘unmoral’ or even uses these labels interchangeably. This in turn gives rise to much confusion, among other reasons, because the two concepts are often understood as being different. The concept of ‘amorality’ is often used to express either the thesis that the distinction between good and evil actions is not possible at all, or that morality is nothing but a chimera. Be this as it may, to escape misunderstandings, which derive from the ambiguities of the concepts ‘immoral’ and ‘unmoral’, we will prefer the phrase ‘not moral’ to denounce an action or behavior that has no moral dimension at all. In general, as a guideline it might help to bear in mind the categorical relationships between ethics and morals, morals and moral judgments and, finally, moral judgments and virtues, respectively vices. Ethics comprise statements about morals, while morals represent the category that includes moral judgments. Ultimately, moral judgments can be split into those which call moral actions either morally good or evil, while these two categories comprise all possible judgments concerning virtues and vices. To put it differently, the rules of grammar supposed here are developed along the categorical relations of ethics, morals, and moral judgment. Consequently, concepts like ‘ethical’ and ‘unethical’ are not utilized to replace adjectives in one of their subsequent subcategories. Hence they are neither used to replace ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’, nor to substitute ‘morally good’ or ‘morally bad’ – and vice versa. Non-synonymity holds also for the pairs of concepts ‘moral’/’immoral’ and ‘morally good’/’morally evil’.