Philosophical approaches in ethical decisions

The first course I took in my MBA was Business Ethics. One of the biggest lessons that I took from the course is that there are essentially three philosophies in ethical decisions

  1. Focus on Consequences (Consequentialist Theories): With this approach, decision makers focus more on the possible consequences. In other words, the ends matter more than the means
  2. Focus on Principles, Duties (Deontological Theories): with this approach, principles and abstract values matter the most in decision making. The question of “what is the right thing to do here?” is a major consideration
  3. Focus on Integrity (Virtue ethics): this approach focuses on the person trying to be a good person more than the act

Recently, there have been an increasing number of disputes between China and American businesses. American companies have to cave to pressure from the Chinese government when it comes to sensitive issues related to their sovereignty and politics. For instance, Apple hides the Taiwanese flag when users are in Hong Kong or Macau, and pulls the app that supports the protest in Hong Kong from App Store, even though it originally approved the app.

China is a huge market for Apple and houses the majority of its supply chain. In the beginning, they tried to do the right thing. Eventually, Tim Cook and the management team prioritized the consequences of his decision, thinking about the impact on the company’s financials, shareholders and to some extent his own bonus, I think.

I don’t think it’s clear cut to say an approach is right or wrong. It varies from one person to another, from one system of values to another. Personally, I would prefer seeing Apple keep the app on the App Store, but I understand the decision as well as I understand the decisions taken by other companies under China’s pressure.

Disclaimer: I own Apple’s stocks in my portfolio

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