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BUSINESS ETHICS - AN OXYMORON??
For years the English language has provided ample room for educated people to
provoke laughter by pointing out oxymorons — a combination of contradictory
words. For instance; jumbo shrimp, a guest host, filthy clean, awful good, purely
sinful, aging youth and so on. Recent events suggest a new oxymoron: Business
Ethics. Given scandals on Wall Street, in government, and in television ministry,
we have learned that no profession is immune. Current headlines in the paper
provide many examples of legal actions which may be unethical and of illegal
actions that may be ethical.
Business ethics will continue to be the issue of the 90s. The point is this: "ethics"
are those norms of conduct, frequently undefined but almost always well-
understood, that the public expects and demands of men and women occupying
positions of trust. Ethics, by definition, are standards imposed on persons
presumed from the outset to be honest. Therefore, the primary purpose of "codes"
of ethics is to establish a public and professional consensus against which the
practice and conduct of the members of a profession may be judged. These codes
protect the professional, lest too much be expected of them, as well as the public,
lest too little be delivered. No doctor can save every patient; no lawyer can win
every case. No layman possibly can expect to know all the details governing the
ethical conduct of lawyers, surgeons, priests, or stock brokers. Yet, public policy
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