Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 445–464 | Cite as

Business ethics: Restrictive or empowering?

  • Bjørn Kjonstad
  • Hugh Willmott


There is a tendency in the business ethics literature to think of ethics in restrictive terms: what one should not do, and how to control this. Drawing on Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development, the paper focuses on, and draws attention to, another more positive aspect of ethics: the capacity of ethics to inspire and empower individuals, as well as groups. To understand and facilitate such empowerment, it is argued that it is necessary to move beyond Kohlberg's justice reasoning so as to appreciate the value and importance of feeling and care. Accordingly, we draw upon case study material to review the meaning of Kohlberg's higher stages — 5, 6 and 7 — to question the meaning of ethical ‘reasoning’. With such deeper understanding of particular ethical codes or practices, it is thought that members of organisations may come closer to thespirit, as opposed to the letter, of ethical conduct in organisations. This, we argue, is consistent with the degree of trust and integrity demanded by leaner, post-bureaucratic ways of organizing and conducting business as well as being personally beneficial to the people involved.


Economic Growth Business Ethic Deep Understanding Ethical Conduct Positive Aspect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bjørn Kjonstad
    • 1
  • Hugh Willmott
    • 1
  1. 1.Manchester School of Management — UMISTManchesterUnited Kingdom

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