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Assessing the application of cognitive moral development theory to business ethics

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Cognitive moral development (CMD) theory has been accepted as a construct to help explain business ethics, social responsibility and other organizational phenomena. This article critically assesses CMD as a construct in business ethics by presenting the history and criticisms of CMD. The value of CMD is evaluated and problems with using CMD as one predictor of ethical decisions are addressed. Researchers are made aware of the major criticisms of CMD theory including disguised value judgments, invariance of stages, and gender bias in the initial scale development. Implications for business ethics research are discussed and opportunities for future research delineated.

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John Fraedrich is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale. His areas of interest include ethical decision making and international marketing. He has published inJournal of Macromarketing, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Marketing Management, International Journal of Value Based Management, andJournal of International Consumer Marketing. Dr. Fraedrich is co-author of a textbookBusiness Ethics: Ethical Decision Making and Cases, Second Edition.

Debbie M. Thorne is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Tampa. Her areas of interest include business ethics, social network analysis, and cultural issues in organizations. She received a Ph.D. in 1993 and has published in theJournal of Teaching in International Business and numerous conference proceedings.

O. C. Ferrell is Interim Dean and Distinguished Professor of Marketing and Business Ethics in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics at Memphis State University. Dr. Ferrell was chairman of the American Marketing Association Ethics Committee that developed the current AMA Code of Ethics. He has published articles on business ethics in theJournal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Macromarketing, Human Relations, Journal of Business Ethics, as well as others. He has co-authored ten textbooks includingBusiness Ethics: Ethical Decision Making and Cases, Second Edition, and a tradebook,In Pursuit of Ethics.

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Fraedrich, J., Thorne, D.M. & Ferrell, O.C. Assessing the application of cognitive moral development theory to business ethics. J Bus Ethics 13, 829–838 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00876263

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  • Economic Growth
  • Ethic Research
  • Business Ethic
  • Social Responsibility
  • Development Theory