Mixed motives and ethical decisions in business

Journal of Business Ethics 25 (1):1-13 (2000)
Abstract
Discerning the motives that lead businesspeople to make ethical decisions in economic contexts is important, for it aids the moral evaluation of such decisions. But conventional economic theory has for too long assumed an egoist model of motivation, to which many contrast an altruist view of ethical choices. The result is to see business decision making as implying dilemmas. On the other hand, we argue, if one assumes multiple motives, economic and ethical, in ordinary business decisions, a more fruitful model of ethical motivation in such decisions emerges. In this paper multiple motives are assumed to be the norm in a world of large organizations, complex decisions and stakeholder management. An example of a technology acquisition decision, with environmental overtones is presented in illustration of this approach. A method for discerning motives, primarily in terms of behavioural efficacy is presented. On this basis a two step approach to morally evaluating mixed motives in business decisions is proposed. First, the fit of motives with substantive ethical values should be ascertained, and then the efficacy of moral motives in yielding ethical behaviour and outcomes should be determined. This approach, we conclude, offers a much more concrete model of the actual role of moral motives in business decision making. It also signals the importance of moral learning in organizations.
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