Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 101-121

First online:

The Effect of Organizational Culture and Ethical Orientation on Accountants' Ethical Judgments

  • Patricia Casey DouglasAffiliated withLoyola Marymount University
  • , Ronald A. DavidsonAffiliated withArizona State University West
  • , Bill N. SchwartzAffiliated withVirginia Commonwealth University

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This paper examines the relationship between organizational ethical culture in two large international CPA firms, auditors' personal values and the ethical orientation that those values dictate, and judgments in ethical dilemmas typical of those that accountants face. Using an experimental task consisting of multiple judgments designed to vary in "moral intensity" (Jones, 1991), and unique as well as tried-and-true approaches to variable measurements, this study examined the judgments of more than three hundred participants in our study. ANCOVA and path analysis results indicate that: (1) Ethical judgments in situations of high moral intensity are affected by personal values and by environmental variables, such as the professional code of conduct (direct and indirect effects) and previous ethics instruction (direct effect only). (2) Corporate ethical culture, and a relatively strong firm rules-orientation, affect auditors' idealism but not relativism, and therefore indirectly affect ethical judgments. Jones' (1991) moral intensity argument is supported: differences in the characteristics of specific judgment tasks apparently result in different decision processes.

ethics ethical judgment ethical orientation moral intensity organizational ethical culture personal values