What is right, and what is wrong? Which actions are permissible and which are impermissible? These are questions of ethics. In philosophy there are two fundamentally different approaches to ethics, deontological and teleological.
- A deontological or duty-based theory of ethics prioritizes rightness to goodness. Why should you do the right thing? Not because you'll go to heaven and avoid hell. Not because the world will be a better place if you do. No, the reason to do the right thing is just because it is the right thing to do.
- A teleological or ends-based theory of ethics defines rightness in terms of goodness. The reason why you should do the right thing is because by doing so you will generate something good, a better state of affairs, the result of your action.
The easiest way to illustrate the distinction between deontological and teleological theories of ethics may be by considering the case of lying. If it is wrong to lie, then presumably you should not lie. But maybe it isn't really wrong to lie. Can anyone speak "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"? Does ought imply can? Even if it is impossible to tell "the whole truth", perhaps it is still wrong intentionally to lie because when you do so you people the world with liars, who undermine the conventions of trust upon which civilization rests.
What if telling a lie will save someone's life? A strict deontologist might still insist that it would be wrong to lie. A teleologist, in contrast, would be more apt to deny that lying is wrong in that case.
In perfumery, do questions of ethics arise? Yes, of course. Why? Because perfumery is a human enterprise. Businesses themselves may be amoral (although strangely corporations in the modern world have been granted legal rights akin to those enjoyed by persons), but all businesses are run by people. If an action is wrong, then doing it for money does not make it right. Does it?
Here are a few of the many ethical questions which apply in perfumery:
- Is animal testing wrong? PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has produced a list of companies which test on animals, and a list of cruelty-free companies, which do not test on animals, as a matter of principle.
- Is it wrong to wear perfumes which cause other people distress?
- Is it wrong for companies to lie about reformulation--whether (and if so why) it has been undertaken?
- Is it wrong for companies to seduce people through marketing to believe that they need what they do not need? Or is that just fair business practice? Is seduction the essence of marketing?
- Is it wrong for companies to produce knock-offs of famous perfumes? There are bona fide knock-off companies, which print on the box that they are offering a less-expensive fragrance which is evocative of a famous perfume. This is clearly legal.
- What about the perfumic equivalent of plagiarism? I doubt that this happens as often as some have alleged, but on occasion there may be a chemist who studies the chromatogram of a successful perfume and attempts to re-create something along the same lines. Is there anything wrong with that?
Some of these issues involve a type of duplicity, which raises all of the questions about lying—whether it is wrong (and if so why), whether it can under some circumstances be right. Others of these issues involve questions about how to treat our fellow sentient creatures. But they are all about ethics.