A Structural Approach to Ethical Reasoning: The Integration of Moral Philosophy

By Khalid, Khalizani; Eldakak, Sam E. et al. | Academy of Strategic Management Journal, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

A Structural Approach to Ethical Reasoning: The Integration of Moral Philosophy


Khalid, Khalizani, Eldakak, Sam E., Loke, Siew-Phaik, Academy of Strategic Management Journal


INTRODUCTION

Ethical reasoning ability is considered vitally important in the shared concepts and principles that guide common ethical issues (Paul & Elder, 2005). Ethical reasoning in business depends largely on one's manner of thinking, i.e., what should be done in making ethical choices to reach a final decision (Treviño et al., 2006). According to Knobe (2005), studies on ethical reasoning have heretofore focused on moral rules and the welfare of others, and neglected the moral character that transmits a moral and altruistic attachment to others (Arjoon, 2000). Moral philosophy has been used interchangeably with ethical theory (Ahmad et al., 2005; d'Anjou, 2011) and remains a crucial component of reasoning in an ethical decision making process. Treviño et al. (2006) proposed that moral awareness (the existence of an ethical dilemma), judgment (deciding what is right), and intent (the meaning of an act), as well as ethical motivation (inspiration to do the right thing) constitute the underlying process of ethical reasoning in a business organization.

Moral philosophy offers a rationale that provides the impetus for elaborating on an ethical reasoning structure. Akrivou et al. (2011) explained that an understanding and knowledge of moral philosophy enables business persons to achieve decisions based on an inclusive moral comprehension that is reasoned through opinion and intuition. Moreover, this comprehension also serves as an ethical thrust, which in turn develops as a structure for ethical decision making. Deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics are said to be the most important moral philosophies for many ethical reasoning studies, from marketing to nursing and from military to information technology (IT). Altman (2007) suggested that moral philosophies proffer a foundation for the practical application of ethical reasoning. This practical application enables an assessment of damage-reduction, self-discipline and virtuous characters in an integrative manner that in succession offers a framework for evaluating business persons' principles for ethical reasoning. Such assessment is crucial because each business professional possesses a certain degree of moral principles to guide ethical/unethical decisions (Abdolmohammadi et al., 2009). In reality, the practicality of business-as-usual cannot be generalized as the degree to which business professionals are extensively influenced by altered moral principles in decision making. Arjoon (2000, 2007), Forsyth (1980), Hunt and Vitell, (1986), and Shanahan and Hyman (2003) all asserted that moral philosophy should be treated as a decision making tool. This principle affirms the individual as a conscientious moral agent (Treviño et al., 2006) for making ethical decisions. Furthermore, a functioning moral philosophy is essential for illustrating the manner in which a person weighs alternatives as a moral agent (DeConinck & Lewis, 1997).

In fact, previous models proposed by Ferrell and Gresham (1985), and Hunt and Vitell (2006) have classified moral philosophy into only deontology and utilitarianism but neglected the dimension of virtue (Arjoon, 2007) in moral reasoning. This notion is supported by Arjoon (2000, 2007), Whetstone (2001), and Shanahan and Hyman (2003) who have all argued that the virtue of human character should be included to complement compliance with rules and social conscience in ethical reasoning. Ashkanasy et al. (2006) maintained that moral philosophy applies theories of knowledge to practical reasoning. Nonetheless, business persons pay little attention to knowledge and its nature. Interestingly, Christie et al. (2003) highlighted that business people often fail to acknowledge and understand the influence of an underlying moral philosophy. A recent study by Aggarwal-Gupta et al. (2010) claimed that moral philosophy is always regarded independently, and any effort to extend its comprehension as the basis of ethical business decision practices is neglected and leaves ethical reasoning incompetently justified. …

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