Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 113, Issue 4, pp 649–661

Virtue and Vice Attributions in the Business Context: An Experimental Investigation


    • Grand Valley State University
  • Paul Stey
    • University of Notre Dame
  • Mark Alfano
    • Princeton University Center for Human Values

DOI: 10.1007/s10551-013-1676-4

Cite this article as:
Robinson, B., Stey, P. & Alfano, M. J Bus Ethics (2013) 113: 649. doi:10.1007/s10551-013-1676-4


Recent findings in experimental philosophy have revealed that people attribute intentionality, belief, desire, knowledge, and blame asymmetrically to side-effects depending on whether the agent who produces the side-effect violates or adheres to a norm. Although the original (and still common) test for this effect involved a chairman helping or harming the environment, hardly any of these findings have been applied to business ethics. We review what little exploration of the implications for business ethics has been done. Then, we present new experimental results that expand the attribution asymmetry to virtue and vice. We also examine whether it matters to people that an effect was produced as a primary or side-effect, as well as how consumer habits might be affected by this phenomenon. These results lead to the conclusion that it appears to be in a businessperson’s self-interest to be virtuous.


AttributionsKnobe effectSide-effectSide-effect effectViceVirtue

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013