Ethics with a smile
Ethics is a critical reflection on moral values, norms, and behavior. Cartoons can be a powerful tool for this reflection: they can be used to describe and chal enge morality in a visual and humoristic way. In this manner, cartoons function as ethics with a smile.
This book contains 150 cartoons. Each cartoon refers to a distinctive and fundamental view about ethics in the workplace. I call these ethicisms because they are al nouns that end with the suffix –ism.
Words that end in -ism describe how we think and how we perceive things. Ethicisms relate to the moral theories, doctrines, and ideologies that we follow.
The importance of ethicisms
The ethicisms that we follow are important for what ethics means to us, how we apply ethics, and how we expect others to behave. We cannot understand or change morality without understanding ethicisms.
A catalogue of ethicisms
This book is a catalogue of ethicisms, presented alphabetically. I present a short definition and a typical risk of each ethicism. The risk is reflected in the cartoon. I would like to thank John Körver for, based on my sketches, drawing the cartoons.
Share with others
The purpose of this book is to help one discover, hopefully with a smile, one’s own ethicisms and the risks they bring. You may also share the cartoons with others to address ethical issues in a disarming manner.
Enjoy and happy reflections!
1. Moral absolutism
The view that particular actions
are always either right or wrong.
A risk is that ethical norms are
taken to the point of absurdity
such that other norms are
2. Moral abstractionism
(also called idealism)
The view that ethics is about
highly ideal prescriptions that
cannot be actually realized or
operationalized. A risk is that
ethics cannot give practical
3. Moral absurdism
The view that we live in an
irrational universe where there is
no absolute morality so that
people are free to construct their
own morality. A risk is that this is
used as a reason to behave
irrationally and unethically.
4. Moral accidentalism
The view that some events just
simply do not have any cause.
A risk is the denial of moral
5. Moral aestheticism
The view that to be perceived as
beautiful is the highest moral
value. A risk is that unethical
behavior is permissible as long as
others do not witness or observe
6. Moral agathism
The view that the good will
ultimately triumph even though
morally evil things happen.
A risk is that every evil is tolerated
7. Moral altruism
The view that the regard for the
interests of others is the sole
moral value and that concern for
one’s own interests does not
count. A risk is that one’s own
rights are violated.
The view that ethical norms do
not have a separate objective
reality or basis. A risk is that every
ethical norm can be negotiated
and destroyed (or undermined).
9. Moral anarchism
The view that employees should
determine the ethics of their
organization and not
management, who have no moral
authority. A risk is that employees
will set (or choose or pick out)
norms that are only in their own
10. Moral arithmeticism
The view that what is morally
good and bad can be calculated.
A risk is that what cannot be
calculated is ignored.
11. Moral asceticism
The view that people and
organizations should live as a
hermit or a monk: pursuing a life
characterized by self-discipline
and self-denial through solitude,
toil, fasting, and frugality. A risk is
that pettiness, narrow-
mindedness, and fastidiousness
12. Moral ascriptivism
The view that human beings are
to be held morally responsible for
their behavior even if it is the
result of having been influenced
by someone or something. A risk
is that people are blamed for
things that are beyond their
13. Moral authoritarianism
The view that those who have
authority possess moral
supremacy and the right to
command subordinates without
the latter’s consent. A risk is that
subordinates are ordered to
14. Moral autism
The view that one should seclude
oneself from the moral
expectations of others because
these are distracting and
demotivating. A risk is that
important (new) ethical issues and
norms are missed.
15. Moral autocracism
The view that one person has the
absolute power (i.e., without any
constraints or control) to define
what is ethical. A risk is that the
opinions of others are not taken
16. Moral autocueism
The view that (as reading from an
autocue) one should do and say
exactly what others have
determined, planned, or laid out
in advance. A risk is a lack of
17. Moral autonomism
The view that one should strive
for autonomy to determine what
is right and wrong. A risk is the
neglect of context and society.
18. Moral bacteriophobiaism
The view that to keep intact one’s
own integrity one should not take
any risks that may compromise it.
A risk is passivity.
19. Moral bonism (also optimism) The view that the world and
human beings are generally or
fundamentally good but not
perfect. A risk is that evil is
20. Moral bureaucratism
The view that ethical behavior is
produced by an administrative
system of rules and procedures
devised by some remote person
behind a desk. A risk is the
undermining of self-regulation.
21. Moral caveat emptorism
The view that buyers (= emptor)
and other stakeholders should be
aware of the information
asymmetry between them and the
organization and that they should
bear their responsibility.
A risk is that the organization
uses this as a justification for its
own unethical behavior.
22. Moral circumstancism
The view that circumstances
should be perfect for one to be
able to take responsibility for
one’s behavior. A risk is there will
always be an excuse for why one
cannot be responsible.
23. Moral classicism
The view that ethical norms were
better in the bygone days.
A risk is the ignorance of
changing circumstances that
require new norms.
24. Moral collectivism
The view that an individual's
moral beliefs and actions should
benefit the collective (such as the
company, profession, or
community). A risk is that the
individual’s interests and integrity
25. Moral communalism
The view that each unit of an
organization should autonomously
and independently decide what is
moral for them. A risk is that the
morality of the organization
26. Moral compartimentalism
The view that a person or
organization may have different
and unrelated sets of morality for
different roles and functions.
A risk is becoming disintegrated
and limited, with no
27. Moral concretism (also
reificationism, and reism)
The view that morality should be
represented through concrete
things. A risk is that norms that
are not made concrete are
28. Moral conformism
The view that one should adopt
the morality of the group to which
one belongs. A risk is one’s
morality is sacrificed.
29. Moral consequentialism
The view that only the
consequences and results of an
action count in determining its
rightness or wrongness.
A risk is that bad intentions and
bad behavior are not taken into
30. Moral conservatism (also
The view in maintaining traditions
that seek to preserve established
moral practices or that resist
change in morality.
A risk is that unethical behavior
31. Moral constructivism
The view that morality is
constructed rather than received
and has an objective value. A risk
is that morality is destructed.
32. Moral contextualism
The view that ethical norms are
not absolute but are dependent
on the specific context. A risk is
that the context fully determines
what is ethical.
33. Moral contractualism
The view that what is right and
wrong is based on an explicit or
implicit agreement between
people. A risk is that everything
that has not been agreed in
advance is supposed to be
34. Moral controlism
The view that people will only do
the right thing when they are
being controlled through
monitoring, checks, and
inspections. A risk is that people
feel that they are not trusted.
35. Moral conventionalism (also
The view that people should
behave in accordance with
accepted moral norms that have
been either arbitrarily or artificially
determined. A risk is that people
follow norms that are not ethical.
36. Moral corporatism
The view that the interests of a
corporation are most important
and should always be served.
A risk is that other legitimate
interests are violated.
37. Moral creativitism
The view that it is acceptable to
interpret the situation and norms
to one’s own advantage while still
complying with the norms.
A risk is that the spirit of the norm
38. Moral cynicism
The view that one has to
approach conventional morality in
a critical way. A risk is that there
is disdain for good moral norms.
39. Moral darwinism
The view that only the best ethics
will survive. A risk is that ethics is
seen as a competition of who has
the better ethics.
40. Moral deconstructionism
The view that concentrates on
finding ruptures or inconsistencies
among moral norms in order to
break it down (= deconstruct).
A risk is that dilemmas, as the
conflict of norms, are seen as the
failure of ethics and thus a reason
for not behaving ethically.
41. Moral democratism
The view that the majority defines
what is ethical and unethical.
A risk is that the moral opinions
and interests of the minority are
The view that emphasizes
universal imperatives such as
moral laws, duties, obligations,
and prohibitions. A risk is that no
exemptions are possible even if
the situation calls for it.
43. Moral descriptivism
The view that ethics merely
represents or describes how
people and organizations act in
real life and that ethics cannot
prescribe normative behavior.
A risk is that ethics does not guide
44. Moral determinism (also
The view that all human actions
are fixed or pre-ordained by
external forces before they
happen, thereby denying the
existence of free will and human
choice. A risk is that people deny
responsibility for their actions
because they are just a product of
external forces .
45. Moral discussabilism (also
communicationism and talkism) The view that the basis of ethics
is to discuss things and that as
long as things can be discussed
openly, then they are ethical.
A risk is that the wrong things are
46. Moral distancism
The view that ethics should not
become too close but kept at
arm’s length because on the one
hand, ethics is useful, but on the
other hand, it is dangerous, risky,
and a threat. A risk is that ethics
has marginal impact.
47. Moral dogmatism
The view that emphasizes the
rigid adherence to doctrine over
rational and enlightened inquiry.
A risk is the lack of flexibility and
openness toward other opinions.
48. Moral dualism
The view that the universe is
controlled by two opposing forces.
A risk is that everything is seen as
49. Moral eclecticism
The view that does not respect
the boundaries of existing moral
beliefs but instead selects ideas
from each. A risk is arbitrariness
in beliefs and ethical norms.
50. Moral egalitarianism
The view that equality for all
humans is the most important
ethical value. A risk is that effort
and output are not stimulated.
51. Moral egoism (also
egocentrism and egotism)
The view that right and wrong is
determined by the maximization
of self-interest. A risk is the
violation of the interests of others.
52. Moral elitism
The view that individuals who
form an elite are above morality
and have the right to privileges.
A risk is that elites misuse their
position (and become too big for
53. Moral emotionalism
The view that determining right
and wrong is based on feeling.
A risk is that reason is ignored.
54. Moral emotivism
The view that moral statements
are inherently biased and nothing
more than expressions of
emotions. A risk is that moral
judgements are dismissed as
55. Moral empiricism
The view that the experience of
the senses is the most reliable or
even the only source of
knowledge for moral concerns.
A risk is that people ignore
potential moral issues.
56. Moral ethnocentrism
The view that judging the morality
of another culture should solely
be done on the basis of the
morality of one's own culture.
A risk is the ignorance of the
specific nature of other cultures.
57. Moral eudaimonism
The view that puts personal
happiness at the center of ethical
concerns. A risk is the ignorance
about any other concerns.
58. Moral exceptionalism (also
antinomianism and grandeurism) The view that moral norms do not
apply to those who are special
and extraordinary. A risk is that
such people think they are
permitted every unethical
59. Moral exemplarism
The view that right and wrong is
determined by the values and
behavior of role models.
A risk is the selection of the
wrong role model.
60. Moral exhibitionism (also
The view that people should make
their ethical behavior publicly
known because otherwise it
cannot exist and be
A risk is that even normal
behavior is exaggerated or blown
out of proportion.
61. Moral existentialism
The view that each person, as a
result of living, must create his or
her own values. A risk is that one
denies common universal values.
62. Moral experientialism
The view that moral knowledge
comes from experience.
A risk is that a lack of experience
could be used to rationalize
63. Moral extremism
The view that it is desirable to
carry out to the extreme a
particular morality using extreme
means. A risk is that evil means
64. Moral fallibilism
The view that moral norms may
exist objectively but that humans
cannot reliably or conclusively
establish this because empirical
knowledge can always be revised
with further observation. A risk is
that moral norms are not taken
seriously because they may be
reformulated at any time.
65. Moral fanaticism
The view that an unrestricted
critical zealousness is necessary
for ethics to advance. A risk is
that people become obsessive.
66. Moral fatalism
The view that the fortunes of
human beings are predetermined,
thereby stressing the negative or
tragic nature of human life and the
inability to modify one’s fate.
A risk is that people become
negative about ethics in practice.
67. Moral fixism
The view that when ethics is
damaged, it should and could be
repaired as quickly as possible.
A risk is that the complexity of
improving ethics is denied.
68. Moral formalism (also codism, legalism, and nomism)
The view that emphasizes the
strict adherence to formal rules
and regulations. A risk is the
failure to think through what one
69. Moral functionalism (also
The view that ethics should
merely be a useful instrument for
other purposes. A risk is that
ethics is not seen as a value in
and of itself.
70. Moral hedonism (with
epicureanism as the
The view that pleasure is the
highest good and that the
fundamental standard of ethical
judgment should be pleasure.
A risk is the violation of other
interests and principles.
71. Moral hybridism
The view that the psyche of a
person consists of multiple parts:
the id (the basic, instinctual
drives, like needs, wants, and
desires), the super-ego (plays the
critical and moralizing role, like
the conscience), and the ego (the
organized, realistic part that
mediates between the id and
super-ego). A risk is that people
use their own id as an excuse for
their unethical behavior.
72. Moral hypocriticism
The view that it is permissible for
one to act contrary to the moral
principles and values one claims
to hold. A risk is that one
becomes corrupt as the
73. Moral ignorantism
The view that ignorance is good
when it prevents one from taking
on too much moral responsibility.
A risk is that people intentionally
keep themselves ignorant about
issues for which they bear moral
74. Moral illusionism
The view that ethics is merely an
illusion and deception is
beneficial. A risk is that reality is
The view that rejects conventional
morality, any systematic approach
to ethics, and even ethics itself.
A risk is that any moral norm is
76. Moral imperialism
The view that one ought to
promote and impose one’s
morality on others to gain control
over their morality. A risk is that
the morality of others is
77. Moral incidentalism
The view that one should only pay
attention to ethics after incidents.
A risk is that ethics does not get
78. Moral incompatibilism
The view that different moral
views conflict with each other and
that they cannot be reconciled.
A risk is that conflicting norms that
can and should be reconciled are
79. Moral indifferentism
The view that ethical norms,
concepts, and theories are all
equal and on a par with each
other. A risk is that every norm
80. Moral individualism (also
personalism and claimism)
The view that individual interests
and rights are paramount and that
the individual person is of
supreme value. A risk is that
people ignore their duties toward
81. Moral integrativism
The view that given its universal
relevance, ethics should be
everywhere. A risk is that ethics
gets integrated into everything
and thus becomes invisible and
82. Moral intentionalism
The view that motives and
intentions are the objects of moral
evaluation. A risk is that unethical
behavior is neutralized by claims
of having good intentions.
83. Moral interpretivism
The view that every ethical norm
is a matter of interpretation. A risk
is wrong interpretations.
84. Moral intuitionism
The view that our intuitive
awareness of what is right or
good forms the foundation of our
ethical knowledge. A risk is that
people misuse their intuition.
85. Moral isolationism
The view that one can understand
only the morality of one's own
culture and not that of other
cultures. A risk is that criticism
from people of other cultures is
86. Moral laxism
The view that in cases of doubt
regarding moral matters the more
liberal course should always be
followed. A risk is that freedom is
expanded at the expense of moral
87. Moral liberalism (also
The view that individuals should
be left free to determine their own
ethical choices because they are
individually or collectively capable
of doing so. A risk is that
management shifts the ethical
responsibility to the employees.
88. Moral licencism
The view that people have the
right to behave badly when they
are treated badly (as redress) or
when they have done good things
(as compensation). A risk is that
unethical behavior is bought with
a good deed.
89. Moral loyalism (familiarism and nepotism)
The view that we bear the
greatest responsibility toward
those who are closest to us. A risk
is the ignorance of interests that
are further from us in terms of
awareness, distance, and time.
90. Moral malism
The view that the world is evil.
A risk is that all evil is tolerated or
even committed by oneself.
91. Moral managerialism
The view that ethics can and
should be managed. A risk is
exaggerated and too rigorous
92. Moral marginalism
The view that morality is relevant
but not very important. A risk is
that ethics is only applied to minor
but not to major issues.
93. Moral marketism
The view that the market, through
the principle of supply and
demand, determines what is
ethical and unethical. A risk is that
without a market for ethics there
is no ethics.
94. Moral materialism
The view that because products
possess intrinsic goodness,
companies have the duty to
produce the products (and the
consumers have the duty to buy
them). A risk is that other moral
assumptions of the economic
system are blindly accepted.
95. Moral measurism
The view that morality should be
measurable because only then
does it exist. A risk is that the
focus is on measurement and on
what is being measured and not
on what it means.
96. Moral meliorism
The view that the world tends to
become morally better. A risk is
the denial of threats that make the
world morally worse.
97. Moral messianism
The view that one has to rescue
the ethics of others by saving
them from evil. A risk is that one
98. Moral minimalism
The view that ethics should get
some attention but only in a
limited way. A risk is that ethics
gets too little attention.
99. Moral modestyism
The view that the ethics of others
is superior to one’s own. A risk is
the devaluation of one’s own
100. Moral monarchism
The view that management
should have broad moral
autonomy. A risk is that
supervising functions regarding
management (such as
compliance, risk and audit)
have a very marginal role.
101. Moral monism
The view that there is unity with
one superseding value, goal, or
principle. A risk is the neglect of
The view that the function of
ethics is to prescribe what people
should (not) do. A risk is that
ethics is being prescribed too
103. Moral naivism
The view that one should
approach issues and other
persons in a simple and innocent
way in order not to become
suspicious and anxious. A risk is
that there is too much faith on the
goodness of others.
104. Moral narcism
The view that the pursuit of
vainglorious and egoistic
gratification is to some extent
morally desirable. A risk is of
105. Moral naturalism
The view that only natural laws
and forces (as opposed to
supernatural or spiritual ones)
govern the world so that moral
claims are ultimately about
features and facts of human
beings, human nature, and
human societies. A risk is that
‘ought’ (what should) is derived
from ‘is’ (what is given in nature).
106. Moral negativism
The view that ethics is a negative
concept, understood in terms of
pain, costs, limitations, and
restrictions. A risk is the focus on
not behaving unethically instead
of also performing ethical actions.
107. Moral nihilism
The view that completely rejects
ethics because any talk of an
objective morality is incoherent
and baseless. A risk is the
attempt to behave as unethically
108. Moral nominalism
The view that the naming of
things defines reality. A risk is that by using euphemisms wrong
practices are made less wrong,
neutral, or even good.
109. Moral objectivism (constituted by moral universalism, moral realism, and moral absolutism)
The view that moral norms are
based on the reality of human
nature and are mind-independent.
A risk is that subjective opinions
110. Moral obscurantism
The view that it is acceptable to
intentionally keep others in
ignorance. A risk is that others are
prevented from making good
decisions by and for themselves.
111. Moral obstructionism
The view that it is acceptable or
even a duty to oppose norms that
are proposed by others. A risk is
that even good norms are
112. Moral opportunism
The view that it is acceptable to
take advantage of any
circumstances, with little regard
for principles. A risk is that ethics
is sacrificed when it is
113. Moral oppressivism
The view that humans only
behave ethically when they are
compelled and coerced to do so.
A risk is harsh enforcement.
114. Moral outsourcism
The view that it is acceptable to
entrust ethical responsibility to
others, such as experts and
specialists. A risk is that one
avoids one’s own responsibilities.
115. Moral pacifism
The view that the highest value is
peace. A risk is that people will
ignore ethical issues that might
disturb the peace.
116. Moral partnerism (also
The view that one should not take
important ethical decisions and
actions alone. A risk is that one
involves others in unethical
117. Moral particularism
The view that there are no
overriding moral principles that
are applicable in every case but
that moral judgements are made
on a case-to-case basis. A risk is
that each particular case has its
own selective morality.
118. Moral perfectionism (also
punctualism and utopianism) The view that moral perfection is
the highest value. A risk is that
people suggest that they are
flawless and completely
119. Moral perspectivism (also
The view that moral judgements
depend on an individual's context
or point of view and that there are
many equally valid moral opinions
about any given topic. A risk is
that people may have a positive
opinion about unethical behavior.
120. Moral pessimism (with
pejorism as severe pessimism)
The view that reality and the
universe are essentially
malevolent and evil and that true
ethics is unattainable. A risk is
that this is used as a justification
for doing bad things.
121. Moral pluralism
The view that there are several
equally correct and yet
incompatible fundamental values
that in many cases cannot be
objectively ordered in terms of
importance. A risk is that
impossible when one is pulled
from all sides.
122. Moral populism
The view that norms should be
made understandable for and in
the interest of the “little man”,
such as the simple employee.
A risk is that morality is made
123. Moral pragmatism
The view that emphasizes the
practical value and application of
ethics. A risk is that the lack of
attention to reflection.
124. Moral primitivism
The view that a simple and
natural morality is best. A risk is
that morality is not adequate for
current or complex issues.
125. Moral privatism
The view that ethics is personal
and private. A risk is that people
are not supposed to use their
conscience at work.
126. Moral proceduralism
The view that one behaves
ethically as long as one sticks to
procedural norms. A risk is the
denial of substantial norms.
127. Moral profitism
The view that making profit is the
highest moral value because it is
the means for serving the
interests of others. A risk is that
other values are violated.
128. Moral programism
The view that ethics can be
programmed. A risk is that there
is no room for the unexpected.
129. Moral radicalism
The view that severe changes in
morality are needed. A risk is very
frequent and big changes.
130. Moral rationalism
The view that moral truths and
standards are knowable a priori
just through clear reasoning and
independent thinking. A risk is the
moral feeling is deactivated.
131. Moral realism (also normalism and normism; part of cognitivism)
The view that moral propositions
refer to objective facts,
independent of the human mind
and opinion. A risk is that ethics
becomes impersonal and remote.
132. Moral regrettism
The view that unethical behavior
is not problematic as long as
people regret it. A risk is that
unethical behavior is easily
perpetrated given the idea one
will regret it afterwards.
133. Moral relativism
The view that conceptions of
morality are relative to the person
or group holding them. A risk is
that universal moral norms are
134. Moral sensationalism (or
The view that morality is
constructed from or consists of
our sensations. A risk is that
objective morality is denied.
135. Business ethics separatism (of secessionism and segregatism) The view that due to some
specific characteristics of the
business context, business ethics
prescribes different norms than
general ethics. A risk is that
business ethics loses its ethics.
136. Moral short-termism
The view that focuses excessively
on doing good deeds in the short
term. A risk is that this kind of
attention to ethics cannot be
137. Moral situationalism
The view that the particular
circumstances deserve to be
given more weight in ethical
decision-making than general or
universal moral norms. A risk is
that ethics becomes too flexible.
138. Moral skepticism (with
pyrrhonism as total or radical
The view that all claims to moral
knowledge should be doubted or
actively rejected. A risk is that one
disagrees offhand with any moral
139. Moral subism (also
The view that people should try to
evade responsibilities as much as
possible (by diving like a
submarine). A risk is that no one
takes responsibility for unethical
140. Moral subjectivism (part of
cognitivism; and consists of
irrationalism, nihilism, and emotionalism)
The view that right and wrong is
determined by what someone
happens to think or feel is right or
wrong (thereby denouncing
objectivity). A risk is that unethical
behavior is not objectionable as
long as the perpetrators act in
accordance with what they think
or feel is right.
141. Moral supremacism (with sexism as an element; also known as moral
chauvinism and sectarianism) The view that there are certain
traits (such as age, race or social
class) the possession of which
makes one superior than those
who do not have them, and hence
makes it acceptable for the former
to dominate, control and
subjugate the latter. A risk is
142. Moral symbolism
The view that morality is or should
be presented in symbols that
stand for morality. A risk is
exclusive focus on symbols and
ignoring actual behavior that is
contrary to morality.
143. Moral syncretism
The view that attempts to unify
seemingly inharmonious moral
principles, standards, and
opinions. A risk is that real
dilemmas are ignored.
144. Moral taskism
The view that one’s primary moral
responsibility is to execute one’s
task or function. A risk is that
other norms are ignored.
145. Moral totalitarianism
(close to authoritarianism)
The view that morality should
govern everything a person does.
A risk is that individual
preferences are undermined.
146. Moral triumphalism
The view that a particular moral
belief is superior to and should
triumph over all other beliefs.
A risk is that other beliefs are
147. Moral universalism (opposed to moral nihilism and relativism)
The view that some ethical norms
apply to all individuals in the
same situation. A risk is that there
is no room for individual ethics.
148. Moral utilitarianism (version of consequentialism)
The view that a behavior is ethical
if it produces the most benefits
(utility) for all persons involved
(“the greatest good for the
greatest number”). A risk is
injustice in the distribution of
149. Moral virtueism (also
Aristotelianism and Neo-
The view that character is the
ground for evaluating and
developing ethics. A risk is the
ignorance of ethical norms and
150. Moral voluntarism
The view that the individual will is
the fundamental power in the
universe for realizing ethical
behavior. A risk is that the context
that facilitates moral behavior is
ETHICISMS AND THEIR RISKS:
150 new cartoons about ethics at work
Cartoons are a powerful tool for reflection on ethics in the workplace. This book contains 150 new cartoons. Each cartoon refers to a view about ethics (an ethicism) and its risk. The cartoons can be used to address ethical issues at work in a visual and humoristic way.
Muel Kaptein is a professor of business ethics and integrity at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. He is also partner at KPMG where he helps organizations in developing and auditing their ethics. See for more information: www.muelkaptein.com