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Ethical Theories and Nepotism Relationships Report


The ethical theory of ethics of duties related to nepotism/business corruption

The 19th President of the United States of America Rutherford B. Hayes said “No person connected with me by blood or marriage will be appointed to the office” (in Tolson 2003, p. 54) and this idea is correct due to a number of reasons. Referencing to Rutherford B. Hayes, he was sure that nepotism is one of the first steps for corruption in different institutions of power, either politics or business. It is impossible to disagree with the fact that nepotism is considered to be one of the means of corruption (Malan & Smit 2001, p. 17).

The ethical theory of ethics of duty identified by Immanuel Kant states that human actions should be based on goodwill, neither of the other motivations is considered to be ethical. The notion “goodwill” means that a person should be motivated only by the sense of duty no matter whether he/she likes the process or decision or not (Graafland 2007, p. 176). On the basis of this theory, it is possible to conclude that motivation on the basis of nepotism is not goodwill.

Nepotism in business may be called business corruption for a number of reasons (especially if to relate the problem to ethics of duty). First, as Confucianism considers, ethics of duty is not a morality (Redner 2001, p. 93). The main idea of this claim is that according to moral rules, doing a business, a person should employ his/her friends if they have enough knowledge in the field, refusing to other candidates even though they are more appropriate, with higher background knowledge or have more experience. Still, if to consider this idea from the ethics of duty, it is incorrect, as a person should employ a worker who is considered to be more appropriate to the position, thus nepotism from this point of view is incorrect.

Second, Schlick (2008) is sure that “the ethics of duty arises from the desire to place the foundation of morals upon absolutely firm ground, or perhaps even to make a foundation superfluous by positing morality itself as absolutely certain” (p. 206). In the relation to nepotism, this idea states that there is a specific set of requirements for the person that should be employed. If a relative does not correspond to any of the requirements or “absolutely firm ground” (Schlick 2008, p. 206), he/she should not be employed.

Otherwise, it is a business corruption and it cannot be applied to the ethical theory of the ethics of duty. This is the problem, on the basis of the ethics of duty, a person should act according to the rules established in the company, and neither emotions nor other feelings should influence it. Even if people place duty lower than the feeling of friendship and love and act in accordance with their moral understanding of ethics (employing relatives), this is nepotism which should be eliminated on all levels of power, either it is business or politics.

The ethical theory of ethics of justice related to nepotism

Relating to the ethical theory of ethics of justice to nepotism, it should be mentioned that justice is considered to be fair on the basis of various human considerations. Coming out of the said, it may be concluded that “the principles of justice for the basic structure of society are the object of the original agreement” (Rawls 2007, p. 631). The notion “ethics of justice” first has been used by Carol Gilligan in her book In a different voice: psychological theory and women’s development (1993).

The author states that the ethics of justice is inherent in the relationships between parents and their children. Furthermore, according to the author, this theory of ethics, ethics of justice, presupposes that “self and others will be treated as of equal worth, that despite differences in power, things will be fair; the vision that everyone will be responded to and included, that no one will be left alone or hurt” (Gilligan 1993, p. 63).

Thus, all people should be treated similarly and the treatment of relatives or friends differently from other people is unacceptable from the point of view of this theory. Nepotism is refused by the very idea of this theory as justice should be put in the center of the decision making, not other signs. Using the power of influence, a person should be guided by justice and fairness, without relying on other feelings and emotions, refusing from preferable people, if one wants to be guided by the theory of justice in a choice. In other words, all should be treated absolutely equally. No one should be accepted on the terms of nepotism.

Low (2002) is sure that justice should be considered as a set of rights and rules. Using the example of a Business Company, one should employ people who suit the company on the basis of the specific set of requirements, no other reasons are acceptable. Friendship or parental feelings, nepotism, should be absolutely eliminated as it will be possible to treat the decisions as unethical from the point of view of this theory.

Nepotism may never fit the requirements of the ethics of justice as this theory presupposes that “no one is advantaged or disadvantaged” (Geirsson & Holmgren 2000, p. 171) which is impossible if the inner feelings are involved. It is obvious that those who are guided by the feelings of friendship, love, or other preferable items may be considered as those who violate the ethical theory of ethics of justice.

It is impossible to treat absolutely equally relatives and other people, or self and others. Self and relatives are always put in dominant positions. According to Plato who tried to relate the ethics of justice to nepotism, it turns out that justice does not mean “merely doing good to friends and harm to enemies, but doing good to friends who are good, and harm to enemies who are wicked” (Plato 2008, p. 26). Still, this opinion does not go with nepotism, as in this case the decision will be still based on human feelings and emotions.

The ethical theory of rights-based theory related to nepotism

To understand the relation of nepotism to right-based ethical theory, it is useful to consider different points of view related to the problem. Julie Stone (2002) agrees that this theory is closely related to the ethics theory of ethics of duty. The author states that “if someone has a right to something, it implies that someone else has a corresponding duty” (Stone 2002, p. 50). Besides, some authors state that having a right gives people more advantages over those who have duties.

Having the right means that while using this right a person wants to do what he/she is doing. But, it is impossible to say so about those who have only duties (Mackie 1998, p.132). This ethical theory is considered to be milder to nepotism rather than the theory of duty or the theory of justice. A person is given an opportunity to do what he/she likes, he/she has a right to choose people using their influence.

Relating the business case to the theory of right-based ethics and to nepotism, it is possible to state that a person who has to make a decision is not put in strict frames. A person is given an opportunity to use the right and to choose a person for employment he/she likes. But, in this case, the restriction to a human decision should be his/her personal moral value. It is also important to remember that the notion of rights comes from the legal sphere, so the right-based ethical theory should be related to the theory of justice and to the inner moral considerations (LaFollette 2000, p. 303).

Dwelling upon the fact that right-related ethical theory is closely connected with law, it is impossible to ignore the relation of this theory to the theory of justice implemented by Rawls (2007). But, if to relate right-based theory to the theory of justice, it should be considered that in this case nepotism is refused by the very idea of justice which tries to promote equality. Thus, the right-based theory may be considered in two different ways.

On the one hand, the right-based theory supports the idea of nepotism as a person is given an opportunity to use his/her right to influence and power. This is not considered corruption in the business world. A family business is a great example of this kind of right-related theory. On the other hand, if to consider the right-based theory from the legal point of view and on the basis of the theory of justice by Rawls (2007), nepotism is rejected as people should be treated equally before the law. And in this case, nepotism is a kind of corruption in business that should be eliminated.

The ethical theory of ethics of care related to nepotism

Considering the relation between ethical theory and nepotism it should be mentioned the cases where both those notions are interrelated are numerous. Considering the examples when parents employ their child to the company where he/she is brilliantly trained may “benefit all employees” by the opinion of Gordon Bing (2002, p. 84). At the same time, Bing (2002) states that there can be absolutely different consequences of applying nepotism and ethics of care to business relations and each case should be considered absolutely differently.

Discussing different ideas related to the ethics of care, it may be seen that the participants treat each other with great care. Moreover, Michael A. Slote (2007) expresses the idea that all the actions provided on the basis of this theory are completed because of the desire to keep good relationships. This is a basic idea of nepotism. Caring of the relatives and people one loves, he/she tries to remain on good terms with them.

Furthermore, dwelling upon the problem of ethics of care in business, Slote (2007) states that the feeling of care is usually supported with the feeling of empathy. This theory is confirmed by nepotism. The close the empathy is, the higher the feeling of care remains. Thus, it is possible to conclude that the theory of care in ethics is an ideal variant for nepotism implementation in business and considering it as a moral action. The theory presupposes the care of people one loves. The employment of relatives and friends is the expression of love and care, in this situation. If this theory is applied, it is impossible to dwell upon corruption.

On the other hand, the applying of this theory to nepotism may have a negative meaning in cases when a relative (children are more frequently affected by such decisions) is made to work in a family corporation. The influence parents have in the company may cover the child’s lack of desire and knowledge to work there. In this case, the theory has a negative connotation. Moreover, the work efficiency is reduced. In this case, the actions provided by influential parents are unmoral and nepotism is treated in the wrong way.

Lisa Tessman (2009) related the ethics of care to justice. If these notions are connected, there is no place for negative effects of care. Offering the example of poor care (neglect and formality) and exploitative nature of caregiver, the author states that in case if the ethics of care was provided on the basis of justice, the negative influence could have been avoided. Thus, if the ethics of care is related to the theory of justice, nepotism may be an affair with positive consequences.


Bing, G., 2002. Selecting Your Employer: A Guide to an Informed Pursuit of the Best Career for You. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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Gilligan, C., 1993. In a different voice: psychological theory and women’s development. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Graafland, J. J., 2007. Economics, ethics, and the market: introduction and applications. New York: Taylor & Francis.

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Mackie J. l., 1998. In: J. Rachels, ed. 1998. Ethical theory: Theories about how we should live. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 7.

Malan, F. & Smit, B. 2001. Ethics and leadership in business and politics. Landsdowne: Juta and Company Ltd.

Plato, 2008. The Republic of Plato. In: A. I. Melden, ed. 2008. Ethical Theories. New York: READ BOOKS. Ch. 1.

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Redner, H., 2001. Ethical life: the past and present of ethical cultures. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Schlick, M., 2008. Problems of Ethics. New York: READ BOOKS.

Slote, M. A., 2007. The ethics of care and empathy. London: Routledge.

Stone, J., 2002. An ethical framework for complementary and alternative therapists. London: Routledge.

Tessman, L., 2009. Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Theorizing the Non-Ideal. Tokyo: Springer Japan KK.

Tolson, J., 2003. Nepotism defended. U.S. News & World Report, 135 (2), p. 54.

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