Application of Ethical Theories

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The role of ethical theories in ethical reasoning and behavior within organizations - Research proposal
Sigalit Pasternak, Phd student
The Faculty of Management
Tel Aviv University
Supervisor: Dr. Ishak Saporta

Business ethics is a specialized branch of ethics focusing on how moral standards apply to business organizations and behavior (Velasques, 1998). As such, it cannot be understood separately from the general ideas of ethics, and the general ethical theories apply to business ethics as well (Hunt & Vitell, 1986; Fritzsche & Becker, 1984; Schumann, 2001; Lahdesnati, 2005). Normative ethical theory offers different moral theories, each prescribing a set of moral rules that individuals can apply in the process of deciding whether an action is morally right or wrong in various situations (Ferrell & Gresham, 1985; Weber, 1990; Alder, Schminke, Noel, & Kuenzi, 2008). Research on the role of ethical theories in business usually focuses on the application of ethical guidelines in human resources practices (Shultz & Brender-Ilan, 2004; Schumann, 2001), corporate social responsibility policies (Frederiksen, 2010), and the assessment of managers’ ethical evaluations (Reidenbach & Robin, 1990). Most studies aim to identify basic ethical rules that individuals can follow in business or to prescribe frameworks of moral principles to apply in decision making. These moral principles are derived from various traditional ethical theories.

The role of ethical theories is less dominant in the field of ethical decision making. Only a few ethical decision-making models rely directly on ethical theories. One example is Hunt and Vitell's (1986) ethical decision making model according to which the evaluation phase of a decision-making process is carried out through a combination of utilitarian and deontological assessments. Some ethical decisionmaking models keep ethical theories in the background, implying that the theories are reflected in the process (e.g., Trevino, 1986). Others ignore the theories completely or rely on other theoretical foundations, such as cognitive moral development (e.g., McDevitt, Giapponi, & Tromely, 2007) or ethical values (e.g., Fritzsche & Oz, 2007). Studies that have explored the link between ethical theories and ethical decision

making usually focus on the ethical reasoning or justification that individuals use to explain their decisions and actions in morally challenging situations. These reasons are assumed to be derived from various ethical theories that differ in the basic criteria used for moral reasoning (Victor & Cullen, 1988). These studies demonstrate that individuals usually rationalize their decisions using terminology that expresses different ethical theories such as utilitarianism (Fritzsche & Becker, 1984; Premeaux & Mondy, 1993; Premeaux, 2004), egoism (Granitz & Loewy, 2007), deontology, and virtue ethics (Lahdesmati, 2005). Note that most of these studies focus on utilitarian and deontology theories, or limit their research to three ethical theories, disregarding other theories and moral rules that people may resort to in making decisions within organizations (Reidenbach & Robin, 1988; Shultz & Brender-Ilan, 2004). Indeed, studies that have included more than three ethical theories (for example, Granitz & Loewy, 2007; Shultz & Bender-Ilan, 2004) revealed more diversity in ethical reasoning than did studies that focused on fewer theories. Exploring the application of six different ethical theories and moral principles in the ethical reasoning individuals assign to their decisions in ethically challenging situation is the main objective of the proposed research. Moreover, examining the link between the specific content of different ethical issues typically encountered by individuals within organization and the specific ethical reasoning individuals assign to the resolutions of these issues is another major objective of the proposed research. The research on the content of...
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