Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Business Ethics

Publication Date



In business ethics literature, debate over a special ethics generally has framed examination of the rules governing business. By constructing a dilemma faced by proponents of a special ethics, I argue that this framing is misguided. Proponents must adopt either an insular or a derivative conception. The former, the view that business is insulated from moral rules, is problematic because arguments used to support it force proponents to accept the idea that each aspect of life is insulated from moral rules. This idea, however, renders philosophically insignificant the claim that business has a special ethics. Proponents no longer make a claim about business, but, rather, a relativistic claim about ethics in general. The derivative conception is the view that business is a set of circumstances that bear on the application of moral rules. This, however, is true of each aspect of life, and is simply an application of the principle ‘ought implies can’. The result is that there is nothing special about this sense of a special ethics. Despite lacking specialness, however, the derivative conception provides proper framing for examination of the rules governing business. It subjects business to moral rules, but, also, accounts for the challenging circumstances businesspersons face.


Published as:

Spurgin, Earl W. "What's so special about a special ethics for business?" Journal of Business Ethics 24 (2000): 273-281.

The final publication is available at

DOI: 10.1023/A:1006024316092