Unanswered Questions of Business Ethics

1. Is the sociological imagination still relevant today?

It has been roughly fifty years since C. Wright Mills wrote The Sociological Imagination, which begs the question, is the sociological imagination still relevant today? In my mind, the answer to this question is clearly yes. The sociological imagination shows how big social issues are connected to personal issues of both biography and history. Mills makes the argument that in order for people to think on a critical level, they have to connect what is happening to them to larger universal forces. In other words, they must combine the individual with the surrounding society. Mills defines the sociological imagination as “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society.” In order for you to have a sociological imagination, you must be able to separate yourself from the current situation and think from a different point of view. This can be applied to any behavior. For example, take the common activity of attending a concert with friends. If we try to think like Mills, he would probably argue that attending the concert is not just about listening to a musical performance, but rather, has symbolic value as a social ritual. It is an important occasion for social interaction among peers and friends. Although Mills’ perspective is much more complex than the example I just described, I think it is a situation to which we can all relate.

2. Did poor ethical behavior give way to the financial disaster of 2008?

When reading the first chapter of Treviño and Nelson’s, Managing Business Ethics, I wondered, did poor ethical behavior give way to the financial disaster of 2008? I had thought about this before in passing, but never in great detail. After reading this chapter it became clear to me that although many of the activities that took place were not against the law, they were completely unethical. It was some of these activities that laid the foundation for the financial crisis. Out of all of the things mentioned, the one that impacted me the most can be seen under the subheading “Those Who Were Supposed to Protect Us Didn’t”. Rating agencies, the actions of AIG, bank CEOs/executives, and regulatory agencies and legislators are all partially to blame. One of the major mistakes made during this time was that banks made the unethical decision to loosen credit restrictions. In result, borrowers that had no proof of employment or income were given loans. This is a prime example of the crucial role that ethics play in the world of business.

3. Are business leaders motivated to act ethically for selfish reasons? 

The motives behind human behaviors are complex. There are two ideas that I have deduced to be the main reasons business leaders act ethically. The first being that they do what is right because they want to better society, and the second is that they do what is right because they expect it to benefit themselves in the long run. It is my conjecture that most business leaders are motivated by a combination of the two. For instance, let’s think about the various reasons more and more companies are deciding to jump on the environmental bandwagon and “go green”. Yes, “going green” is great for the environment. But is that the ONLY reason that companies are turning over a new lead toward greener technologies? My answer to this question would be a definite no. When a company invests in these new technologies and devotes new efforts in becoming environmentally friendly, they are given grants, loans, tax incentives, and hope to gain thousands of new customers. For these reasons I think that some business leaders act ethically in order to put themselves and their companies in better financial positions.


6 thoughts on “Unanswered Questions of Business Ethics

  1. So, “begs the question” is a very often misused expression. It does not mean “raises the question.” It means a statement is made on faulty assumptions which beg to be questioned. Example:

    Gordon says that since millionaires give away much of their wealth, all millionaires are generous people. This begs the question: do all millionaires give away much of their wealth?

    You can get the full story from Grammar Girl.

  2. That is a good example of an SI type question in #1. He might also ask what about that society leads to a) paying for music as a commodity or b) what it is about friendship and family relationships that leads people to go with a group of friends.

  3. As to going green, if you know a firm is “only” embracing green practices to do better financially, does that make you believe more or less in their commitment?

    What difference is there in any dimension between a businessperson who believes in going green versus one who is “only” doing it for financial gain?

    • It definitely makes me believe less in their commitment, not only to the environment, but also to their customers. If companies are only embracing these new technologies to do better financially (as I still believe many of them are), then they are more likely to act unethically. Perhaps they are cutting corners in other departments just to increase their profits by a mere few cents– I guess we will never know for certain.

      When a businessperson truly believes in “going green”, they will be more committed, and show that commitment in other ways. Maybe it is by donating to charities, or perhaps by giving walk through tours of their factories and headquarters. Showing the world that you have nothing to hide can say a lot about your commitment.


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