Impact of Culture on the Ethical Reasoning Behaviour of an Individual

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Impact of Culture on the Ethical reasoning of an Individual


The purpose of this paper is to identify, relate and assess the impact of culture on the ethical reasoning of an individual. This report reviews current literature on this topic and identifies the various factors involved in the same. Established theories on ethics and moral development are reviewed and a culture-based model of ethical decision making is derived. Prepositions concerning the influence of various cultural dimensions on ethical reasoning using Hofstede’s typology are developed. Sequential steps involved in ethical reasoning of an individual are cross examined on the basis of cultural dimensions. Further, difference in ethical perceptions is analyzed using various cultural dimensions.

Table of Contents

Ethical Attitudes3
The Kohlberg stages of moral development4
Rest’s model of moral action5
Culture and the identification of an ethical dilemma6
Culture and prescriptive judgment7
Culture and ethical intention8
Culture and Ethical action8

Ethical Attitudes

Ethical attitudes involve people's affective, cognitive and behavioural inclinations to respond to issues and events involving social standards for what are morally correct and virtuous. Models of ethical decision-making (e.g., Ferrell et al., 1989; Hunt and Vitell, 2006; Srnka, 2004) suggest that moral judgments depend on two characteristics; namely Deontological (inherent righteousness) and Teleological (consequential) aspect of the issue, and in part on the evaluator’s individual and situational characteristics. Deontological theories focus on the specific actions or behaviours of an individual whereas teleological theories focus on the consequences of those actions or behaviours. Behaviour is influenced by varied factors ranging from an individual’s culture, religious stand among other elements. These same factors also influence judgement and intention of an individual. Past research has examined many aspects of ethical attitudes such as the individual’s sensitivity to the existence of ethical issues (e.g., Sparks and Hunt, 1998), stages of moral development in reasoning about ethical issues (e.g., Goolsby and Hunt, 1992), and moral judgments on the appropriateness of specific behaviours (e.g., Volkema, 2004). O'Fallon and Butterfield's (2005) review of the recent ethics literature reveals that moral judgement is the most common dependent variable, being used slightly more often than intentions and behaviors combined. Another suggested approach to studying ethical attitudes is to measure and interpret them on an issue-by-issue basis (e.g., Singhapakdi et al., 2001; Volkema, 2004).


The term culture has various defenitions. Hofstede's (2001, p. 9) widely-quoted definition is that culture is “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another”. He further explains (p. 10), “culture in this sense includes values; systems of values are a core element of culture”. Fukuyama (1995, pp. 34–35) is especially explicit: “Culture is inherited ethical habit. The most important habits that make up cultures have little to do with how one eats one's food or combs one's hair but with the ethical codes by which societies regulate behavior”. Cultures may be identified at multiple levels, from narrow micro-cultures (family, organization) to broad supra-cultures (nations with similar economic systems, ethnicities, religions, and so on) (Srnka, 2004). For comparisons across countries, national culture may be “broadly defined as values, beliefs, norms, and behavioral patterns of a national group” (Leung et al., 2005, p. 357). Hofstede classified 50 countries and 3 multinational regions in terms of their relative positions on the cultural dimensions of Individualism/collectivism, Uncertainty avoidance, Power distance, and...
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