Ethical Theory: Authority, Relativism, Moralism, and Consequentialism

Unit 1


Top of Form

Bottom of Form

  • Ethical Theory: Authority, Relativism, Moralism, and Consequentialism


In this unit, you will begin to navigate the interrelated realms of thinking about global environments, ethical theories, and leadership. As you do so, think about the influences within your own area of specialization and the implications for your field of study. How will your research and practice be shaped by global influences and new ethical challenges inherent in a connected but diverse world?


This unit introduces consequentialism. Consequentialists believe that actions are right as long as they promote the greatest good to the greatest number. Consequentialism is concerned with whether or not an action is morally right, holding that the judgment about whether an act is morally right is based only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind (Sinnott-Armstrong, n.d.).

There are several schools of thought that fall under the umbrella of consequentialism. The first branch is utilitarianism, with Stuart Mill as a major theorist. The second branch, with the notable philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Ayn Rand, is referred to as the constructualism/egoistic approach. The third branch is contractualism. Contractualism advocates that to live the best life possible, people must live together peacefully and cooperatively.

As you explore consequentialist and utilitarian ideas, think about which school of thought fits your personal philosophy of ethics.


Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (n.d.). Consequentialism. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Stanford, CA: The Metaphysics Research Lab.


Collapse All

[u01s1] Unit 01 Study 1



Use your The Elements of Moral Philosophy text to read the following:

    • Chapter 1, “What Is Morality?,” pages 1–14.
    • Chapter 5, “The Egoism Approach,” pages 64–81.
    • Chapter 6, “The Social Contract Approach,” pages 82–98.
    • Chapter 7, “The Utilitarian Approach,” pages 99–110.

Optional – Readings

You may choose to read the following:

    • Gustafson, A. (2013). In defense of a utilitarian business ethic. Business and Society Review, 118(3), 325–360.
    • Renouard, C. (2011). Corporate social responsibility, utilitarianism, and the capabilities approach. Journal of Business Ethics, 98(1), 85–97.
    • Santa Clara University. (n.d.). Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved from
      • The Markkula Center provides research on ethical issues covering business, health care, biotechnology, character education, government, global leadership, and technology.
    • The University of British Columbia. (n.d.). The W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics. Retrieved from
      • The W. Maurice Young Centre provides research materials, research projects, and other various sources of information about organizational ethics.

Learner Success Resources

As a learner at Capella, you have many resources available to help you be successful in your PhD program. Take some time to become acquainted with the following resources in particular:

A Strategic View of Your PhD Program

The Capella PhD Business Management program is designed to help you develop the skills and knowledge to meet the needs and future challenges of your current or desired profession. Capella’s approach aligns specific activities within each course and across your program, allowing you to specifically track where and how you will gain competency in the program. For more information about how your current course contributes to your academic and professional development, visit your Competency Map on Campus.

Learning Components

This activity will help you achieve the following learning components:

    • Explore the major categories of ethical theory.
    • Examine the role of virtue and personal moral integrity in ethical leadership.


[u01d1] Unit 01 Discussion 1



Read the Discussion Participation Scoring Guide to learn how the instructor will evaluate your discussion participation throughout this course.

In this unit, you examined several schools of thought that fall under the umbrella of moral consequentialism:

    • Utilitarian approach.
    • Constructualism/egoism approach.
    • Social contract approach.

Of these three, decide which one you believe is most relevant in our current global environment and explain why you believe the way you do. To complete you post, a.) use appropriate citations to support your choice and, b.) once you complete your explanation, consider your own personal thoughts on ethics and ethical leadership by addressing how the unit readings affected the way you think about ethical decision making.

Support your position with references to the unit readings and your own research. Be sure you follow current APA guidelines for citations and references.

Response Guidelines

Respond to the posts of at least two of your peers. Try to choose someone whose perspective differed from yours. Do you agree or disagree with his or her position? Are there flaws in the reasoning?

Learning Components

This activity will help you achieve the following learning components:

    • Explain the strengths and weaknesses of ethical theories.
    • Analyze the connection between ethical decision making and effective leadership.