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What’s the Good of Ethical Theory?

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It is argued that presently prevailing ethical theories can be largely dispensed with. Such theories are of limited use in solving ethical problems. They fail because they are ‘reductionist’. They take an aspect of morality to be the whole of morality. Moreover, the very process of constructing, testing, and modifying them reveals that we already have that understanding of the nature of the ethical which they purport to provide us with. (This is labelled the ‘paradox of ethical theory’.) That prior understanding is the identification of morality with the common good. This, it is claimed, is all the understanding we need to approach problems within business ethics or any other branch of ‘applied ethics’.

UNDERSHAFT. ...Well, come! Is there anything you know or care for?

STEPHEN. I know the difference between right and wrong.

UNDERSHAFT. ...Why man you’re a genius, a master of masters, a god! At twentyfour too!

STEPHEN. ... I pretend to nothing more than any honourable English gentleman claims as his birthright.

SHAW, Major Barbara, Act III
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Senior Lecturer in Law and Business in the University of Plymouth Business School

Publication date: 1999-10-01

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