business career entrepreneur success

Approaches that Foster Ethics in the Workplace

People have been thinking about and studying ethics for thousands of years, since the time of Socrates and Aristotle. And even if they’re not aware of it, people’s actions are shaped by their own belief systems and way of approaching life. In this topic, you’ll find out more about how different ethical approaches can foster or work against ethical conduct in the workplace.

The concepts that underpin modern ethical approaches come from a branch of study called moral philosophy. Virtue, utilitarianism, deontology, egoism, relativism, and subjectivism are six ethical approaches.


Virtue ethics comes from the work of Aristotle and Plato, and has roots in Judeo-Christian teachings as well. It says that doing the right thing is the best way for an individual to be happy. Good behavior and virtuous acts are the keys to self-fulfillment.


Utilitarianism says that what matters is not actions themselves, or the intentions behind them, but their consequences. The right thing to do in any given situation is what will produce the best result for the greatest number of people — the greater good. Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher and legal and social reformer, is a noted contributor to the theories of utilitarianism.


Deontology says that people should do the right thing out of a sense of duty. Each action should be taken not based on individual desires or potential consequences but on a commitment to what is right. Deontologists believe that the principles of ethics don’t change based on the situation or the consequences. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote about ethics from a deontological perspective.

Egoism is the fourth ethical approach, and it focuses on self-interest. Egoists look at the potential consequences of their actions and choose the course of action that is most likely to benefit them. The right thing to do is that which is best for you. Adam Smith, a Scottish philosopher who touted this concept, said that people acting in their own rational self-interest would benefit society as a whole.

Relativism is the fifth approach. It says that there are no absolute, fixed ethical principles. The standards of right and wrong are different in different cultures and time periods. What’s right depends on your background, and no particular values are more ethical than others.

The final ethical approach, subjectivism, also says there is no such thing as fixed ethical principles. Subjectivists think that when people describe things as right or wrong, they just mean that they approve or disapprove of them.

They believe morality is about feelings, not fact, and right and wrong are simply ways of describing your own opinions about things.