The former is considered to be a prescriptive approach, and the latter an explanatory, descriptive, or predictive approach. Normative business ethics is the domain of philosophers and theologians, while empirical business ethics is considered to be the domain of management consultants and business school professors. Scholars who represent these different domains are said to be guided by different theories, assumptions, and norms which often result in misunderstanding or lack of appreciation for each others endeavors.
The normative approach, rooted in philosophy and the liberal arts, focuses its attention on questions of what ought to be, and how an individual or business ought to behave in order to be ethical. The empirical approach, rooted in management and the social sciences, is generally concerned with questions of what is, assuming that the organizational world is basically objective and “out there” awaiting impartial exploration and discovery. Empiricist answer questions of what is by attempting to describe, explain, or predict phenomena in the natural world using the agreed-upon methodologies of their social scientific training.
The social scientist may devalue the philosophers moral judgments because these judgments cannot be understood in empirical terms and cannot be verified by empirical testing or be used to predict or explain behavior. The social scientists statements about morality, on the other hand, are seen to be of little value to the philosopher because such statements do not address the essential questions of right and wrong. Normative ethical theories develop standards by which the propriety of certain practices in the business world can be evaluated. In contrast, the empirical approach focuses on identifying definable and measurable factors within the individual psyches and social contexts that influence individual and organizational ethical behavior.