Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Impact of Moral Intensity Dimensions on Ethical Decision Making: Assessing the Relevance of Orientation (*)

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Impact of Moral Intensity Dimensions on Ethical Decision Making: Assessing the Relevance of Orientation (*)

Article excerpt

During the last decade, calls for increasing the emphasis of ethics in individual and corporate decision making have come from many diverse sources including public interest groups, political and religious leaders, and the general public. An acute awareness of potential and actual business abuses has generated increased attention focused on identifying the causes of unethical business behaviors (Akaah, 1997; Dubinsky and Loken, 1989; Fritzsche, 1995; Wyld and Jones, 1997). With such a wide range of support, ethical decision making is an area which has experienced increased levels of interest and research (see Low et al., 2000, for an excellent review of empirical studies on ethical decision making). The existing literature on ethical decision making often narrowly focuses on the moral decisions involved in a specific business such as the ethics of marketing decisions (Dubinsky and Loken, 1989; Hunt and Vitell, 1986; Robin et al., 1996; Singhapakdi et al., 1996). As illustrated in Low et aL 's (2000) review, t he need for research in the arena of ethical decision making is still very strong.

In a significant step toward understanding the many components involved in ethical decision making, Jones (1991) integrated existing theoretical models of individual decision making, many of which, when considered alone, appeared incomplete. Noting that explicit consideration of the characteristics of the issue itself was missing from all the models, Jones offered an issue-contingent model of ethical decision making. Jones identified six characteristics of an issue, which he collectively labeled moral intensity, that must be considered in an ethical decision. Finally, Jones argued that moral intensity influences every step of the ethical decision-making process.

Some empirical research to date has explored the concept of moral intensity in ethical decision making (e.g., Davis et al., 1998; Marshall and Dewe, 1997; Singer and Singer, 1997; Weber, 1996). However, additional research is needed to better understand the elements which play a role in this complicated process (Ford and Richardson, 1994). The purpose of this study is to determine whether the moral intensity of an issue, which Jones (1991) argued can and does vary from issue to issue, does, in fact, impact the perceived ethicality of an issue. First, the impact of three of the dimensions of moral intensity on an ethical decision--concentration of effect, probability of effect, and proximity--is considered. Second, the strength of the effect of moral intensity on an ethical decision across three unique orientations (self, other, organization) is examined. This work is important for both research and practice. There has been no research conducted on the influence of orientation to the ethical decision-making p rocess, and this information may help explain the process. In addition, information regarding this effect would benefit managers in their attempt to improve the ethical behavior of those who are making decisions for their company.

In order to set the stage for this study, a background of ethical decision making will be presented, followed by specific detail and research on Jones' (1991) model. This will be followed by a detailed explanation of the current study, including a discussion of the three dimensions of moral intensity included in the study and the importance of orientation in ethical decision-making research. Next, the methods section includes details of the current study, followed by a presentation of the results. The final section includes a discussion of the findings of the current study, including the impact on future research.

Ethical Decision Making

Before an in-depth discussion of Jones' (1991) model is presented, some general groundwork must be laid. Specifically, ethics and ethical decision making must be defined. Ethics refers to "the rules or principles that define right and wrong conduct" (Davis and Frederick, 1984: 76). …

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