Ethics: Where Do We Learn What Constitutes Right or Wrong?

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Ethics: where do we learn what constitutes right or wrong?

Under the three schools of ethical thought, Utilitarianism, Deontological and Virtue Ethics, you will find that there are varied and different views of how we come by our value systems and how we determine right and wrong. However, in all three of these schools of thought there is one underlying commonality: ethical relativism deems that a person’s values and judgments are based upon their cultural and societal influences and their personal feelings. (DesJardins, 2011)

Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism simply stated, is that our upbringing and the culture we are raised in influences how we make a judgment with regards to what we deem to label with the titles right and wrong. Due to the fact that each person is entitled to their own opinion, we cannot state with absolute certainty that something is right or wrong and as such this places involved parties in a dilemma in many situations. No place is this truer than in the business world where on a daily basis people from countries all over the world are completing transactions with one another and must be wary of the cultural differences they have. However, this is not always the case and many miscommunications occur due to ethical and cultural differences.

Society and Cultural Influences on Our Value Systems

In an article by Professors Lin and Ho of Chang Jung Christian University, Taiwan, the authors describe the Multidimensional Ethic Scale (MES) which denotes that ethical decisions are made based on four categories: ethical awareness, ethical judgment, ethical intention, and ethical behavior. (Social Behavior and Personality, 2008) In each of these categories, an individual must call upon what their cultural u...

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...rking is morally wrong, they are children and should be playing and having fun not slaving away. The individual who follows Virtue ethics teachings is going to allow the child to base their decision upon what characteristic they envision in the person they wish to be and/or become not on a specific absolute of what should be and/or not be. (DesJardins, 2011)


DesJardins, J. (2011). An Introduction to Business Ethics - 4th Ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Lin, C. & Ho, Y. (2008). An Examination of Cultural Differences in Ethical Decision Making Using the Multidimensional Ethics Scale. Social Behavior and Personality, 36(9), 1213-1222.

Velaszquez, M., Andre, C., Shanks, T., J, S., & Meyer, M. J. (2010). What is Ethics? Issues in Ethics, 1(1).

LaFollette, H. (1991). The Truth in Ethical Relativism. Journal of Social Philosophy, 22(1) 146-154.

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