Civilization runs on ethics the way cars run on gasoline. We may not behave ethically all the time, but if everybody consistently behaved unethically, we would no longer trust one another, and the bonds holding us together would break. The life of man would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in the famous words of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

The field of ethics, or moral philosophy, investigates theories and ways of thinking that can systematically describe what makes acts right or wrong. This report explores how to view business behavior through the lens of moral philosophy. This is an important subject because, as we shall see, most business decisions have profound moral implications. They affect the products and services we consume, the work we perform and the world we live in. That is why understanding moral philosophy is a critical part of doing business ethically.

This report is the second in a series of four special reports on business ethics, in collaboration with the AKO Foundation. The first was on corporate governance. In this second report, we consider five themes as they pertain to business: virtue and vice; power and pay; global citizenship; climate change; automation and robotics.

Knowledge at Wharton thanks AKO Foundation for its support in publishing this series. Founded by Nicolai Tangen in 2013, the AKO Foundation is funded in part by the profit from AKO Capital, one of the leading European investment funds. Since its inception, the AKO Foundation has been funded with more than $50 million to support projects that improve education or promote the arts.