This paper looks at the question of whether people can act ethically from the perspective of determinism, chaos theory, and unintended consequences. These concepts negate the idea that ethical acts are always followed by ethical results. Sometimes the opposite might happen, an ethical act could be followed by an unethical result. The paper begins by presenting the various definitions of “ethics”, including Taylor’s deﬁnition of ethics as “an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral judgments, standards, and rules of conduct relating to marketing decisions and marketing situations”. Consequently, the predominant philosophical normative ethical theories are divided into three groups: (1) consequential theories – those that deal exclusively with the consequences of an action (egoism, and utilitarianism); (2) single-rule nonconsequential – those that deal with a single rule (golden rule, and Kant’s categorical imperative); and (3) multiple-rule nonconsequential – those that deal with multiple rules (Ross’s prima facie duties, Rawl’s maximin principle of justice, and Garrett’s Principle of Proportionality). Finally, Protagoras’ conception of ethical relativism is presented. The Greek philosopher Protagoras, seems to have believed two things: ﬁrst, that moral principles cannot be shown to be valid for everybody; and second, that people ought to follow the conventions of their own group. The above ethical theories are seen through the eyes of Newton’s perception of Determinism of the world as a clockwork, where a cause is always followed by a predictable effect. It assumes that causation is absolute and all events are completely determined by previously existing causes. This deterministic point of view is juxtaposed with the concept of unintended consequences and the ideas of chaos theory including Sensitivity to Initial Conditions, Dimensionality, and areas of Determinism being followed by areas of Chaos. The conclusion is that reality is too chaotic and dynamic to predict the causal effects of ethical actions.
Keywords: ethics, determinism, chaos theory, unintended consequences.
JEL Classification: B55.
Cite as: Tsalikis, J. (2018). Can We Act Ethically? Implications of Determinism, Chaos Theory and Unintended Consequences. Business Ethics and Leadership, 2(2), 6-13. DOI: 10.21272/bel.2(2).6-13.2018