Idealism and Relativism in Ethics: The Results of Empirical Research in Seven CEE Countries & One North European Country *

By Poór, József; Alas, Ruth et al. | Journal of East European Management Studies, October 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Idealism and Relativism in Ethics: The Results of Empirical Research in Seven CEE Countries & One North European Country *


Poór, József, Alas, Ruth, Vanhala, Sinikka, Kollár, Péter, Slavic, Agnes, Berber, Nemanja, Slocinska, Anna, Kerekes, Kinga, Zaharie, Monica, Ferencikova, Sonja, Barasic, Anton, Journal of East European Management Studies


1. Introduction

Ethics is the study of morals, of systems of morality and principles of conduct. The study of ethics is concerned with the 'rights' and 'wrongs', the 'shoulds' and 'should-nots' of human decisions and actions (Lane et al. 1997). Pojman (2002) concludes that ethics is necessary for: (1) keeping society from falling apart, (2) ameliorating human suffering, (3) promoting human flourishing, (4) resolving conflicts of interest in just and orderly ways and (5) assigning praise and blame, reward and punishment and guilt.

Business ethics is a form of applied ethics which examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems arising in a business environment. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and of entire organisations. (Show 2005)

Belak/Rozman (2012) cite Morris et al. (2002) who developed a framework of ethical structures deriving from core values. Informal ethical structures are crucial for the emergence and actualisation of formal ethical structures. Typical forms of informal ethical structures are found in a variety of stories, legends and myths about the ethical behaviour of individuals, communicated within a business. Formal ethical structures which lay down the norms of ethical behaviour include a company's mission statement, a code of conduct, policy manuals on ethical issues, anonymous hotlines, ethical standards, managers responsible for ethical issues, training programmes on ethics and sanctions in the case of transgression.

According to Ferrell/Fraedrich's (1997), ethical issues are problems, situations or opportunities which require a person or organisation to choose among several actions which must be evaluated as being either right or wrong. An ethical perspective requires one to extend consideration beyond one's own self-interest to consider the interest of a wider community of people, including employees, customers, suppliers and the general public - or even foreign governments (Lane et al. 1997). This ethical view is required even more in international management processes. Jackson (2011) cites Hofstede (1980) who warned against the unquestioning transfer of management knowledge from Western culture to other cul- tures. Crane and Metten (2010: 24) believe that business ethics is an "American invention" and "became visible in Europe from the beginning of the 1980s".

Gini (2004) considers that ethics is about the assessment and evaluation of values, since all of life is value-laden. Personal moral philosophies are based on the traditional ethical theories of deontology, teleology and ethical scepticism. In this context, moral philosophies can be defined in terms of whether individuals approve of high or low idealism and relativism.

"Idealism focuses on the specific needs of individuals, as idealists believe that the inherent goodness or badness of an action must allow one to determine its ethical course. Relativism concentrates on the consequences of the deeds of individuals since relativists judge an act as right only if it produces a greater balance of positive results for all people than do other available alternatives" (Rawwas et al. 2013: 527). These two ethical ideologies have been analyzed many times throughout history in relation to consumer ethics (Culiberg/Bajde 2013; Wächter et al. 2012), to organisational practices and behaviour (Forsyth/ O'Boyle 2011; Hastings/Finegan 2011; Rawwas et al. 2013), to cultural differences (Forsyth/O'Boyle/McDaniel 2008; Lane et al. 2009), to generation Y's work-place implication (VanMeteret al. 2013), to decision-making and managers' behaviour (Vitell/Patwardhan 2008; Ramasamy/Yeung 2012) and to journalistic ethics (Plaisance et al. 2012), etc.

Idealism and relativism, as ethical ideologies, were found as more or less significant predictors of peoples' behaviour. This is particularly important since the purpose of this current exploratory study was to determine the ethical position of interviewees in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Poland, Estonia, Finland and Croatia, and to explore the relationship between these positions and certain demographic variables (gender, years of work experience, nationality and citizenship). …

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