Ethical Distancing: Rationalizing Violations of Organizational Norms

Date
2005-10-01
Authors
Kaufmann, Jeffrey
West, Tim
Ravenscroft, Sue
Shrader, Charles
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Accounting
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Abstract

Recent work on moral reasoning has focused on the psychological relationship between the actor, the action and the outcome. The argument is that a tighter connection between these categories leads to more moral behavior. Using data from students who cheated on an exam, we extend this literature by delineating how people can rationalize non-moral behavior by loosening the above relationships. In particular, we found that students tried to distance themselves from the wrongfulness of cheating using four types of rationalization: separating themselves from the action, blaming a third-party for influencing the decision, re-defining the action as something good, and defining alternate outcomes from the behavior. Supporting these rationales are nine basic arguments based on confusion, character, professor clarity, attractive nuisance, culture, intent, acceptance, comparisons and outcome. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for our understanding of moral reasoning and provide some practical approaches for minimizing this behavior.

Description

This is a manuscript of an article from Business & Professional Ethics Journal 24 (2005): 101. Posted with permission.

Keywords
Ethical Distancing, Moral Reasoning, Cheating, Accounting
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