chapter  9
Business ethics, public relations and corporate social responsibility
ByIan Somerville
Pages 14

W hat is ethics? Anyone looking for a simple definition of ‘ethics’ will searchlong and hard to find it in a text on moral philosophy or business ethics. Theterm is derived from the classical Greek word ethos meaning ‘customs’1 and thus it may sometimes be taken to refer to the conventions or standards which a particular group or community acts upon. But this descriptive definition of ethics, while it may be useful to historians and anthropologists, does not equate with the kind of normative thinking which we usually consider to be at the heart of ethical questions (the ‘what ought I to do in such and such circumstances’ kinds of questions). This kind of thinking is summarised by Holmes (1984): ‘Ethics is about the good (that is, what values and virtues we should cultivate) and about the right (that is, what our moral duties may be)’.2 One way to try to answer this question of what ethical behaviour is and what ethical action should consist of is to outline a number of different approaches to ethics in the manner set out in the next section of this chapter. Dienhart (2000) links this kind of approach to the practical question of how to apply ethics in the sphere of business. He notes, ‘Business ethics focuses on how we use and should use traditional ethical views to evaluate how institutions orchestrate human behaviour’ (p. xvi).