Accounting Ethics. Imagine That

By Metzger, Lawrence M. | The Journal of Government Financial Management, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Accounting Ethics. Imagine That


Metzger, Lawrence M., The Journal of Government Financial Management


The accounting profession has come under intense attack and scrutiny with respect to its involvement with multiple financial reporting scandals. It seems to be widely accepted today that managers, far from presenting a true and fair view of their corporate operations and financial positions, ignore proper accounting procedures to maximize their own self-interest. And in some cases both internal and public accountants have been all too willing to give management or their clients what they want.

Primarily, the spotlight has focused on private sector corporations and the public accounting profession, specifically through the passing and enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But governments and government accounting professionals are hardly immune to unethical behavior. Many of the same pressures that drove corporate officers and accountants to commit fraud also exist in the government sector. Government officials, especially elected officials, do not want to be embarrassed by unfavorable financial results and what would appear to be a lack of efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars.

Although a formal code of ethics exists for government accountants, codes by themselves do not usually have the depth and detail needed to solve all but the most straightforward situations. Most ethical decisions have extended and uncertain consequences, 'multiple alternatives and personal implications. Ethical thinking requires significant intellectual capacities and specific skills. This article introduces government accounting professionals to the ethical concept of moral imagination. It shows how the active use of imagination and creative thinking can help lead to the right ethical decision.

Moral Imagination

The concept of moral imagination goes as far back as Adam Smith. In his book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he links imagination and sympathy. He states: "Moral imagination is the ability to empathize, to understand another point of view, and be creative in ethical decision-making." Other definitions exist. Archie Carroll frames moral imagination within a business perspective when he says that moral imagination is: "The ability to perceive that a web of competing economic relationships is at the same time a web of moral or ethical relationships." In her book Moral Imagination and Management Decision-Making Patricia Werhane states "Developing moral imagination involves heightened awareness of contextual moral dilemmas and their mental models that create new possibilities, and the capability to reframe the dilemma and create new solutions in ways that are novel, economically viable and morally justifiable."

Decision-Making Theory: Action Selection

We often speak as though a decision-maker has some set of potential plans of action (options) and that decision-making consists of choosing the best among them. However, consider your own decision-making-you frequently have no idea what might be a reasonable action plan. Often, you start off in one direction only to change your mind when things go awry. In fact, decisions seldom are made at a single point. More likely the process seems to feel its way along, changing in the light of feedback and often leading in directions never imagined when it all began.

The "feeling along" nature of decision-making, especially ethical decision-making, is very difficult to describe in a practical, straightforward theory. Rather, accounting professionals must be able to think creatively and imaginatively to resolve ethical dilemmas. This type of high-level thinking requires the accounting professional to retrieve knowledge from various aspects of his/her life to address the issues in question.

Creative thinking is not usually associated with the day-to-day activity of accountants, but we all have the ability to think creatively. The following structure will be used as an example (just one many possibilities) of calling on all we know to think through a problem. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Accounting Ethics. Imagine That
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.