Business Ethics and Kantian Deontology


The aspect of business ethics is one of the areas that require players in the business world to observe particular moral principles to facilitate the execution of actions that bear desirable outcomes. The notable ethical theories that businesses in the contemporary world observe include virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontology. In the first section, I will present Kantian deontology theory as the best and strongest of these three. In this section, I think the deontological ethical theory is the most appropriate when applied to deal with moral problems in business because it emphasizes the need for observing rules when taking actions as a way of fostering morality. However, in the second section, I acknowledge the fact that utilizing this theory may not be resourceful if various rules are not observed to foster its application. Deontology focuses on the motive of action in determining its morality. Therefore, in the second section, I appreciate that business organizations may choose to adopt any of the three ethical theories in their operations with the view of realizing the best from engaging in morally upright actions. However, I think the Kantian deontology school of thought should be their first choice, especially if they wish to address critical moral problems that have the potential of ruining their public image, performance, and, consequently, productivity.

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The Strongest Ethical Theory

Various moral actions applicable in the business society seek to bring about the best solutions to ethical problems that may arise. According to Holmes (2006), Kantian deontology is one of the strongest ethical theories because it focuses on the emotive aspect of actions. This theory pays attention to the transparency and quality of original thoughts before they are transformed into actions. It is crucial to mention that other theories may not address any underlying motives that inform the people’s decisions to engage in unethical deeds. In particular, according to Solomon (1992), virtue ethics only considers people’s characters as the only key determinants of the morality of their actions.

Holmes (2006) argues that to become virtuous, individuals need to demonstrate the willingness to act in ways that bring about decency instead of discord or ugliness. The deontology school of thought criticizes the logic upheld by proponents of virtue ethics theory concerning the way they deal with people’s characters. Deontologists believe that such traits are already deeply rooted to the extent of informing people’s day-to-day modes of actions and, hence, the reason why virtue ethics or utilitarian theories may not be the best when applied to this context. Instead, deontology regards the moral duty of a person as a central factor that forces them to act in a particular way. As a result, in line with Holmes’ (2006) perspectives, this theory stands out as stronger in comparison to the virtue ethics underpinned by Aristotle since people’s will to act appropriately forms the basis of their morality.

Utilitarianism as an ethical theory underscores the need for acting in a way that brings about positive results to the greatest number of people in a given environment. In this respect, utilitarianism is founded on the principles of consequentialism, which focuses on the outcomes of particular actions. According to Harwood (2003), the utilitarian theory is weaker compared to deontology because it only concentrates on the results of a given action, as opposed to the motive influencing the execution of this specific deed. According to the utilitarian theory, one may undertake an activity that benefits some individuals in society at the expense of other people. This person may still be considered morally upright. Nonetheless, the individual undertaking this action may be ill-motivated to harm a particular group in the population. This situation denotes the limitation of the utilitarian theory. As Holmes (2006) reveals, a counter-argument may be made in favor of deontology because it regards any deeds as morally right if the underlying intention seeks to benefit all classes of people. In this respect, the willingness to do good things should guide people’s actions in society. For this reason, the realization of a morally upright society requires individuals to uphold benevolence in their day-to-day actions.

Deontology and Moral Problems in Business

The application of deontology in the management of moral problems in organizational settings has the potential of bearing desirable outcomes in comparison with other theories. Holmes (2006) believes that although employees may possess virtuous characters, they may lack the willingness to execute their duties ethically, thus leading to the development of moral problems that may affect the performance of business organizations. By encouraging human resources in a given company to observe and execute their moral duties, I think that the prevalence of unethical operations may decrease considerably, thanks to the application of the deontological theory in business.

Deontology stands out as the better choice in relation to utilitarianism when applied to solve moral issues in the business world. A company may be operating profitably by offering quality products that meet the needs and expectations of the largest number of individuals in the environment where it operates. Harwood’s (2003) utilitarian perspectives depict such an organization as ethically upright. However, Holmes’ (2003) deontology theory introduces another aspect that makes one think otherwise. The above company may have its manufacturing plant contributing to environmental pollution, thus negatively affecting the surrounding community.

In this concern, proponents of deontology observe the extent to which utilitarianism disregards the damage caused by this organization’s operations to the environment (Harwood, 2003). Those who embrace utilitarianism will counter-argue that this particular company benefits the highest number of customers through its products. These divergent views indicate the existence of moral problems related to this business. The application of deontology theory can facilitate the effective resolution of this ethical predicament by underlining the need for the organization to uphold the motive of protecting the environment from degradation in the course of conducting its operations. This school of thought calls businesses to demonstrate their willingness to facilitate environmental sustainability while providing products that meet consumers’ anticipations.

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In my view, deontology is one of the best ethical theories that may facilitate the identification of effective solutions to moral issues in the business world. Its tenets make it possible to judge businesses based on their motives and not results. In this respect, an organization can deploy the deontological moral theory to solve its ethical issues by assessing the intention behind each course of action it takes. However, companies can be in a better position to effectively address moral problems by establishing rules that underline the need for stakeholders to observe their ethical duties.

Principles that can Enhance the Application of Deontology Theory to Business Ethics

Holmes (2006) presents deontology as a rule-based school of thought that binds individuals to their duties. As such, the creation of relevant rules within the organizational environment has the potential of streamlining the effective application of the deontological theory in the process of managing ethical problems. In this respect, organizations may incorporate policies in their codes of ethics to facilitate the effective application of deontology theory in business ethics. Business codes of ethics need to adopt rules that streamline the effectiveness of decision-making processes. For instance, establishing frameworks that underline the essence of employees’ observing their moral duties when making ethical decisions is an effective way of enhancing the application of the deontology theory in business settings (Solomon, 1992).

Furthermore, such codes of ethics guide the behavior of individuals within a given organization. Such decision-making mechanisms influence not only the quality of the motive but also the integrity of actions. As Solomon (1992) reveals, codes of conduct include a set of strategies that guide employees and employers on the best way of managing difficult ethical situations affecting organizations. In this regard, establishing a code of conduct that emphasizes the need for business stakeholders to uphold goodwill in their actions can go a long way in fostering the effective application of the deontology theory in the business environment.


The effective management of business ethics requires the application of proper ethical theories to address specific moral problems. Deontology is the strongest ethical premise as far as the management of ethical tribulations is concerned because it takes into account the motive behind various actions. This school of thought has been presented as suitable for solving ethical dilemmas since it assesses the transparency of the original thought, which prompts a particular action instead of focusing on people’s characters or the consequences of their actions. In this regard, the deontological theory is the paramount choice for addressing ethical problems in the business world compared to virtue ethics and utilitarianism. In this respect, the implementation of rules that underscore the importance of individuals to uphold their moral duties is one of the best ways of enhancing the application of deontology in business ethics.


Harwood, S. (2003). Eleven objections to utilitarianism. In L. P. Pojman & P. Trammel (Eds.), Moral philosophy: A reader (3rd ed.) (pp. 186-199). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

Holmes, R. L. (2006). Basic moral philosophy (4th ed.). Toronto, Canada: Nelson Education.

Solomon, R. C. (1992). Corporate roles, personal virtues: An Aristotelean approach to business ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 2(3), 317-339.

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