Moral motivation across ethical theories: What can we learn for designing corporate ethics programs?

Simone De Colle, Patricia H. Werhane

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In this article we discuss what are the implications for improving the design of corporate ethics programs, if we focus on the moral motivation accounts offered by main ethical theories. Virtue ethics, deontological ethics and utilitarianism offer different criteria of judgment to face moral dilemmas: Aristotle's virtues of character, Kant's categorical imperative, and Mill's greatest happiness principle are, respectively, their criteria to answer the question "What is the right thing to do?" We look at ethical theories from a different perspective: the question we ask is "Why should I do the right thing?" In other words, we deal with the problem of moral motivation, and we examine the different rationale the main ethical theories provide. We then point out the relation between moral motivation and the concept of rationality in the different approaches - is acting morally seen as an expression of rational behavior? Our analysis of moral motivation provides a useful framework to improve the understanding of the relationships between formal and informal elements of corporate ethics programs, emphasizing the importance of the latter, often overlooked in compliance-focused programs. We conclude by suggesting that the concept of moral imagination can provide a unifying approach to enhance the effectiveness of corporate ethics programs, by providing an intangible asset that supports the implementation of their formal components into management decision making.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)751-764
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Business Ethics
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Sep 2008


    • Aristotle
    • Corporate ethics programs
    • Kant
    • Mill
    • Moral imagination
    • Moral motivation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Business and International Management
    • General Business, Management and Accounting
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Economics and Econometrics
    • Law


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