Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Accounting - Faculty of Commerce


Is it relevant to associate business with ethics or are the two so polemic that their coalition becomes farcical? Ethics has long been considered as an expression for all things good whilst business represents a forum for the exchange of goods and services with a view to making profits. Note that whilst both incorporate the same word 'good' as part of their persona the meaning of the word carries quite different connotations. This pluralistic nature of the term highlights a pivotal point in this thesis. The meaning of a word and or expression is governed by its linkages and or associations with other words and hence acknowledging the relevance of a particular word cannot occur without first evaluating its hermeneutical origins and then contextualizing it within the desired domain. This thesis is divided into three sectors with the first addressing the issue of the meaning of ethics from a western cultural perspective. Whilst any cultural position would be valid this perspective was chosen due to the strong influence western cultures have on business dealings. Ethics is researched philosophically from the initial orations of Socrates through to the Postmodern discourse of Rorty and that of Kohlberg and Habermas. Each stage of its historical development adds definition to its meaning in current day language. The second section of the thesis addresses the multiplicity of meanings of words and the general use of language as a tool of communication. The written word plays a dominant part in the daily management of an organisation's operations and as such the concept of clarity of expression becomes a crucial element in the development of company policies or manuals to ensure a successful transition to actions. The language of the written word plays multiple roles in its deliverance of meaning and direction. For example it has to be sufficiently descriptive so as to guide intended meaning yet at the same time it has to restrict interpretation to reduce the opportunity for misunderstanding and or inappropriate actions. The cues adopted must be suitably strong enough to compensate for the lack of visual interaction between the writer and the recipients. The language of ethics is even more complex in that it has no absolute definition but rather a set of principles that draw meaning from the time and context within which they are being adopted. Hence it can be considered relevant to business if appropriately situated and defined. The final section of the thesis identifies the multi-layers of business practices and the plethora of cultures that impact upon their operations and how these factors skew the interpretation of ethics in business. Whilst most businesses acknowledge the need for ethics to form a part of their operations they fail to take the time to fully implant its intent. A survey of a number of top Australian companies identified that companies tend to adopt an applied version of ethics which serves more as a protection against social censure, or worse litigation, rather than addressing the basic tenets of ethics. There is no identification of its principles or even an attempt to define the term in context with the company profile. The same is also found when evaluating the professional occupations which profess to practice such virtues in exchange for autonomy and social service. In summation, the oxymoron that is often touted against the expression business ethics only holds because business has yet to define ethics in context with their practices. An exemplar of a code of ethics is offered as a basis for businesses to develop their own model, one that embraces personal, social national and international sentiments.

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