Business ethics studies allow individuals to review different ethics theories and how they apply to a business environment. Many colleges and universities make an ethics course a requirement for business degrees, with some options available for a degree in ethics. When studying business ethics, students usually encounter a short history on the various ethical views and their uses in different business case studies. Current events may also be a part of business ethics studies, presenting both good and bad examples. As ethics is mostly personal, it is difficult to determine which method or values are best in overall terms.
Many different ethical views are present in history, with different thinkers and philosophers presenting opposing views. A few of the most common include moral relativism, utilitarianism, or intuitionism. These theories often fall under broad umbrellas where many different philosophers are present under each group. The most common groups in business ethics studies are deontological, normative, descriptive, and applied, though others may be present. Legal ethics may also be studied, though this type may have its own definition and groups as determined by case or common law.
Once groundwork is established through these different ethical views, business ethics studies move toward the application of ethics and morals to a business environment. In many cases, it is difficult to say that a business is moral or ethical in and of itself. A company — particularly one that is incorporated and considered a separate legal entity — has no duty to be moral or ethical. Therefore, a company most likely receives its moral guidance from those who own and operate the business. A review on the different major companies and how ethics or morals effuse from these entities based on those working in them is part of business ethics studies.
Case studies are among the most common and popular methods individuals learn about companies and how they operate. In business ethics studies, case studies most likely include companies that have violated the common thought a society holds toward morals and ethics. For example, Enron, Arthur Anderson, Worldcom, and Tyco are a few U.S. companies that are common case studies in terms of business ethics. Bernie Madoff — the U.S. investor indicted for a major Ponzi scheme — is a view into personal ethics that is not necessarily business related. These cases and others allow individuals to learn about business ethics and the lack of integrity that may occur in the real world.