CSC491, University of Toronto

What is Ethics?

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct

What is Ethics?

I'm sure it's much more than that, but let's focus on a core concept we've been taught since we were little children:

Right vs Wrong

What is Right?


What is Wrong?


Who's ethics will you choose?

Will you choose Canadian ethics? 🇨🇦

Will that work if you plan to market in another country? continent? culture?

I just wanna be apolitical

Good luck. This is not really possible. When you have 2 people in a room, there are politics involved.

I just wanna be apolitical

Actually, there are probably politics involved with just 1 person too.

I just wanna be apolitical

You can't really avoid this, you're gonna have to get involved in some sort of politics. You need to make a decision... is something right or wrong?


These are similar to a vision. They are guidelines and defining factors for your company.

They help you determine if something aligns with your values and helps determine if it's "right" or "wrong".

They are ever changing, maturing, and evolving with time.


Google has infamously said their core value is "Don't be evil".

Is this a good value? Why or why not?


Some areas to consider

  1. Environmental impact
  2. Social impact
  3. Health
  4. Treatment of animals
  5. Fair trade
  6. Privacy

How do we determine ethics anyways?

There are a few factors that will affect your values and ethics:

1. Law

The law will force your hand and give you a standard to start from. This may included provisions around privacy, environmental impacts, and more.

Remember, slavery was legal though... the law isn't where we end.

How do we determine ethics anyways?

2. Your own ethics / Company-decided ethics

Once you have the base legal ethics in place, you'll define your own values. This might be to do good to the environment, positively impact people and society in certain ways, or to avoid doing something "bad".

How do we determine ethics anyways?

3. Your customers

At points in times you can get feedback that certain practices are not accepted by your customers. A good example is the recent pressure on Wal-Mart to stop carrying guns.

This will change your company's values and ethics in turn.

Once you start compromising your values for short-term gains, there is no turning back.

  1. Create a culture of openness, welcome criticism
  2. Lead by example
  3. Learn from peers, role models, and those around you
  4. Recognize your own fallibility as a leader, know your limits
  5. Remember that institutional character is fragile, easily lost, and hard - if not impossible - to fix once broken