Levelling the Score: The Role of Individual Perceptions of Justice in the Creation of Unethical Outcomes in Business

Author: A.C. Ping, QUT, Australia

Email: a.ping@qut.edu.au
Published: October 14, 2017

Citation: Ping, A.C. (2017). Levelling the Score: The Role of Individual Perceptions of Justice in the Creation of Unethical Outcomes in Business. IAFOR Journal of Ethics, Religion & Philosophy, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijerp.3.2.05


Rationalist models of ethical decision making assume that higher order conscious reasoning dominates the ethical decision making process. However research shows that psychopaths have a similar capacity for ethical decision making to the rest of the population. In contrast, research from the fields of social psychology, criminology and neurocognitive science shows that personal and contextual factors play a much larger role in the creation of unethical outcomes and that subconscious pattern matching processes are more prevalent than higher order conscious reasoning.

This paper presents a Causal Factor Model synthesized from inter-disciplinary research that illustrates the dynamic interplay between personal and contextual factors, perceptual blindness and moral neutralisations. The model has been tested using a multiple case study method involving interviews with people who have either been convicted of corporate crimes at a senior executive or board member level, or who have been involved as whistle-blowers. Initial findings indicate that individual perceptions of justice regarding the subjective assessment of unfolding reality have a cumulative effect on the behaviour of individuals involved in creating unethical outcomes in business. When subjects perceived reality to be unfair or unjust they were more inclined to use moral neutralisations to justify acts that would objectively be considered to be in violation of their aspirational moral values. This perception and the invoked justifications then blinded them to the moral aspect of the issue at hand and allowed them to create unethical outcomes that they perceived to be just.


ethics, moral intention, perceptual bias, rationalisations, existentialism