Advocates of virtue ethics suggest that one problem with contemporary organisations is that when they do look at situations with ethical implications, they are preoccupied with what the public thinks.
Put another way, today’s corporations may be entirely too reactive, wondering at times whether their actions will be perceived as “opportunistic, “as “exploitative” or in “bad taste” by the general public.
This may be a misdirected effort that can be rectified through virtue ethics. Thus, organisations should instead focus on questions such as “What kind of organisation should we be?” and “What constitutes the ideally ethical organisation?”
Companies that know what they stand for and then embody these beliefs in a company code or credo or values statement are following this approach to ethics.
In short, the virtue ethics perspective seems to imply that the question of understanding virtue precedes the discussion and development of rules of conduct. Once management understands the nature of a virtuous organisation, ethical decision rules are much easier to develop.
Believers in this approach find much value in the writings of Aristotle.
What virtues should an organisation emulate, and how should those virtues be operationalised in company policy?
The contemporary philosopher Maclntyre and other recent proponents of virtue ethics seem to deal with this situation in the following way:
First, they recognise that a great diversity of virtues exists in society. However, in many cases, particular organisations are self-contained.
It is within the context of individual companies that the notion of appropriate virtues should be explored.
Second, consistent with Aristotle, they assume that these virtues will be “other directed” (ie undertaken for the good of the community rather than in a self-serving manner).
Third, this theory assumes that people aspire to a higher level of ethics. Unfortunately, we know that this is not always the case.
Hence, virtue ethics is sometimes criticised as being too idealistic.
It is important to note that the corporation is amongst the more controlled communities in modern society and as such perhaps more capable of acting collectively in a manner guided by the ethos of its senior management and their stated values.
Each corporation has its own corporate character. It is within the context of corporate culture that a particular firm can seek virtues appropriate for that organisation.
All of this, of course, underscores the importance of developing an ethical corporate culture that facilitates appropriate managerial behaviour.