Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 137, Issue 4, pp 639–647 | Cite as

Beyond the Particular and Universal: Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence of Context, Justice, and Ethics

  • Marion FortinEmail author
  • Thierry Nadisic
  • Chris M. Bell
  • Jonathan R. Crawshaw
  • Russell Cropanzano


This article reflects on context effects in the study of behavioral ethics and organizational justice. After a general overview, we review three key challenges confronting research in these two domains. First, we consider social scientific versus normative approaches to inquiry. The former aims for a scientific description, while the latter aims to provide prescriptive advice for moral conduct. We argue that the social scientific view can be enriched by considering normative paradigms. The next challenge we consider, involves the duality of morally upright versus morally inappropriate behavior. We observe that there is a long tradition of categorizing behavior dichotomously (e.g., good vs. bad) rather than continuously. We conclude by observing that more research is needed to compare the dichotomous versus continuous perspectives. Third, we examine the role of “cold” cognitions and “hot” affect in making judgments of ethicality. Historically speaking, research has empathized cognition, though recent work has begun to add greater balance to affective reactions. We argue that both cognition and affect are important, but more research is needed to determine how they work together. After considering these three challenges, we then turn to our special issue, providing short reviews of each contribution and how they help in better addressing the three challenges we have identified.


Organizational justice Behavioral ethics Workplace fairness 

A perpetual challenge faced by working people is to make judgments of fairness and ethics, both to understand the behavior of others but also to decide how to act themselves (Treviño 1986). Neither these judgments nor the resulting behaviors occur in a contextual vacuum (O’Fallon and Butterfield 2005). Rather, decisions and actions are impacted by the setting and circumstances in which they occur (e.g., Barnett and Vaicys 2000; Douglas et al. 2001; Kelly and Elm 2003; Nicklin et al. 2011). These context effects have long fascinated researchers in the fields of justice and ethics. For example, Deutsch (1975) argued that distributive fairness judgments may be grounded in shared societal or group values, and as these values differ so will the resulting judgments. If a collective favored equity, then the fairest distribution would reward people proportional to their work contributions. If a collective favored equality, then the fairest rewards would be those that treated all group members similarly. Finally, if need was favored, then rewards should be allowed based upon the basic requirements of members. Likewise, in a later study, Haidt et al. (1993) explored when an action was likely to be “moralized” or understood in ethical terms. Haidt and his colleagues found that the moralization of behavior may be influenced by socio-economic status, cultural norms, and culturally shaped expectations.

Even as some scholars have searched for universal ethical standards (e.g., Gauthier et al. 2010; Schwartz 2005; Strentz 2002), context effects remain important for they may influence our own—and our judgment of others’—behaviors and actions. As Bazerman and Gino (2012) neatly summarize, “most of the unethical behavior we observe in organizations and society more broadly is the result of the actions of several individuals who, although they value morality and want to be seen as ethical people, regularly fail to resist the temptation to act dishonestly or even fail to recognize that there is a moral issue at stake in the decision they are making” (p. 91). In short, context interferes with people’s self-predicted behaviors.

While researchers have begun to explore the general mechanisms linking notions of behavioral ethics to organizational justice (cf. Cropanzano and Stein 2009; De Cremer and Tenbrunsel 2011) and to criterion variables such as engagement or satisfaction at work (Crawshaw et al. 2013), to date this work has been rather context-neutral (cf. Fortin 2008). This special issue seeks to add to the emerging field of enquiry that lies at the intersection of organizational justice and behavioral ethics. Beyond this, the nine papers presented herein examine important contextual influences on just and ethical behavior—and perceptions of justice and ethics—at work. These articles also speak to recent developments and persistent challenges in both organizational justice and behavioral ethics, which we feel makes integration between these fields more rewarding. Before discussing the individual papers in more depth, we briefly review three of these contemporary trends and current challenges.

Social Scientific Versus Normative Approaches to Behavioral Ethics and Organizational Justice

The first challenge faced by organizational justice and behavioral ethics research concerns their respective interfaces with normative-philosophical fields of study. Both organizational justice and behavioral ethics are social scientific disciplines (Fortin 2008). As such, they focus on describing and predicting the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of people (Fortin and Fellenz 2008; Goldman and Cropanzano 2015). Yet both fields are also closely related to neighboring normative-philosophical fields, specifically the prescriptive fields of normative justice and normative ethics (Cugueró-Escofet and Rosanas 2013). Organizational justice and ethics have both gone through recent struggles in attempting to delineate the intersection to these normative fields (cf. Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe 2008; Cugueró-Escofet and Fortin 2014).

Normative Considerations Within Behavioral Ethics

Behavioral ethics scholars have tended to pay more heed to the interface between social science research and normative-philosophical considerations than have their counterparts in organizational justice. Indeed, some behavioral ethics scholars have maintained that the interface problem lies at the very core of the definition of the field. Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe (2008), for example, argue that it is crucial to define what is ethical or moral, “for without a universal understanding of the core dependent variable, research will remain inconsistent, incoherent, and atheoretical” (p. 548). Similarly, Kluver et al. (2014) contend that “we must establish some sort of normative framework, so that we can say when or why a particular manipulation or intervention will make people behave in a more ethical way.” The problem is that even though behavioral ethics is a social science discipline with a descriptive focus, it needs to define its core criterion variable—ethical behavior. But defining “what is ethical” is a prescriptive and not an empirical task (cf. Fortin and Fellenz 2008).

Several behavioral ethics researchers have attempted definitions. However, in so doing, they usually neglect normative definitions of ethicality, relying instead on consensus. Consensus, of course, is subject to change over time and often context dependent (e.g. Monin et al. 2013). For example, Treviño et al. (2006) define behavioral ethics as “individual behavior that is subject to or judged according to generally accepted moral norms of behavior. Thus, research on behavioral ethics is primarily concerned with explaining individual behavior that occurs in the context of larger social prescriptions” (p. 952).

Kluver et al. (2014) add a second standard, moral capital, defined as “the resources that sustain a moral community” (Haidt 2012, p. 292). This includes social capital but also an alignment among the community members’ moral psychology and the community’s norms and culture. According to the second standard, “moral actions are those that promote the moral capital of a firm” (Kluver et al. 2014, p. 154). To make sure that the second standard does not define behaviors as ethical at a community or group level that run counter to societal norms, Kluver and his colleagues argue that the two standards should be put together. Bazerman and Gino (2012) refer to two different standards in their definition of behavioral ethics. These are moral intuition and the broader benefits to society. Taken together, these examples illustrate that the field of behavioral ethics is still struggling with what is ethical, and which normative standards of ethical behavior should be applied. Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe (2008) therefore argue for a bridge between descriptive and normative business ethics and for openly acknowledging that values are part of a field that deals with moral activity.

Normative Considerations Within Organizational Justice

In organizational justice, the difference between normative frameworks of justice (“What is just?”) and perceptions of fairness has long been obscured by the interchangeable terminology for justice rules on the one hand and fairness perceptions on the other hand. In response to this problem, Goldman and Cropanzano (2015) argue that “Justice should be defined as adherence to rules of conduct, whereas fairness should be defined as individuals’ moral evaluations of this conduct” (p. 1). Thus, justice refers to conduct prescribed by a normative framework, whereas fairness is a perception of the moral worthiness of the rules and compliance with them. This definition builds on earlier work by Cugueró-Escofet and Rosanas (2013), who make a similar distinction in the context of the justice and fairness of management control systems. Evidence regarding the measurement of perceived adherence to justice rules (so-called indirect measures of justice) versus the measurement of fairness perceptions (so-called direct measures of justice) also suggests that both have different psychometric properties (Colquitt and Rodell 2015). In order to build fairer workplaces, it is important to consider not only subjective or perceived fairness but also the underlying justice standards (Cugueró-Escofet and Fortin 2014; Fortin and Fellenz 2008). The recent efforts in the organizational justice literature to disentangle these issues in terms of both measurement and definition promise to clarify the field’s intersections with both normative or prescriptive justice and ethics or morality.

Concluding Thoughts

We note here that in our discussion of behavioral ethics, a distinction was made between the social science research on behavior that conformed to given ethical standards or norms and the philosophical discussion of prescriptive norms and rules. The justice literature has been struggling with a similar issue, as discussed above, with justice associated with prescriptive rules and norms of conduct and fairness being an ethical judgment of that conduct. In this analysis, justice and behavioral ethics take as a given the foundational values or principles that underlie prescriptive norms and standards of behavior.

Good Versus Bad: The Moral Duality of Behavior Within Behavioral Ethics and Organizational Justice

In both the domains of ethics and justice, behaviors may be categorized into opposing types (good vs. bad), rather than placed along a bipolar continuum (e.g., whereby lower “badness” is equivalent to greater “goodness,” and vice versa). The classification of behaviors as dichotomously ethical or unethical is an ancient concern reflected even in the earliest recorded religious philosophies. For instance, good-evil dualism existed in Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. Christianity emphasized more challenging notions to the consideration of ethical duty through such parables as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. For modern researchers, these categorical questions are reflected in contemporary research paradigms.

Ethical Versus Unethical Conduct Within Behavioral Ethics

In this regard, Treviño et al. (2006) differentiate between three foci in the contemporary study of behavioral ethics.
  • First, some researchers tend to focus on unethical behaviors (e.g., lying or stealing). We can view this as the presence or absence of bad, though not good, conduct.

  • Second, some scholars are interested in acts that are simply not unethical (e.g. being honest, obeying the law). We can view this as the presence or absence of good, though not bad, conduct.

  • Third, there is a research that explores social behaviors that exceed minimum standards, obligations, or expectations (charitable giving and whistle-blowing). These investigations also focus on good behavior, though they implicitly recognize that some actions are more praise worthy than others.

Most studies in the field of behavioral ethics focus on exclusively one of these families of behaviors.

Just Versus Unjust Conduct Within Organizational Justice

In the justice literature, the categorical differentiation between justice and injustice has recently come to the foreground (e.g., Kiersch et al. 2011). Colquitt, Long,  Rodell and Halvorsen-Ganepola (2015, p. 278) provide a definition of “justice” as “the degree to which the rules identified in the literature are adhered to.” This stands in contrast to “injustice,” which is defined as “the degree to which the rules identified in the literature are violated.” These authors found that justice and injustice were independent concepts. They also observed that, although researchers sometimes imply that injustice has stronger effects, most existing measures capture only justice. Furthermore, Colquitt and colleagues (2015) found qualitative and quantitative evidence for differential effects of justice versus injustice. Each explained incremental variance for several types of outcomes. For example, justice rule violation (i.e., injustice) was especially relevant to contingent reactions of hostility and counterproductive work behavior. On the other hand, outcomes such as trust, self-esteem, task performance, and citizenship behaviors were strongly predicted by the adherence to justice rules. Colquitt and colleagues propose that these may be reactions typical for employees in promotion focus, when one is aspiring to achieve ideals and goals, which is possible under conditions of justice.

Consistent with the work of Colquitt et al. (2015), Dulebohn et al. (2009) found that different parts of the brain were active for justice versus injustice judgments. There also seem to be differential memory effects. Cojuharenco and Patient (2013) found that recall of fair events produced a greater emphasis on distributive justice, whereas recall of unfair events produced greater emphasis on interactional justice.

Concluding Thoughts

The tendency to place behaviors in categories—morally good versus morally bad—has a long presence in human history. This dualistic approach has been carried forward, at least to some extent, in modern investigations of behavioral ethics and organizational justice. Interestingly, the duality often exists implicitly in the way that topics are selected for study (cf. Treviño et al. 2006). For all of that, people seem to be capable of distinguishing the morally extreme from the morally insignificant. Thus, there is a tendency to place things into dichotomous categories but to rank them within each set. If this is the case, and we concede that the possibility is somewhat speculative, then future research is needed about both continuous within-category judgments, as well as the relative weighting of good and bad behaviors (for example, see Birnbaum 1972, 1973; Birnbaum and Riskey 1974). Beyond this, Kluver et al. (2014) argue that it is particularly interesting to consider how people shift back and forth between ethical and unethical acts. To investigate these complex patterns of behavior, studies are needed that can capture both the negative (unjust or unethical), as well as the positive (just, ethical) end of the spectrum. Concepts in the behavioral ethics literature allow researchers to go beyond the mere compliance with norms and minimum standards (which tends to be the focus of “justice”) and to include particularly positive behaviors in investigations.

Hot Versus Cold Views on Human Decisions and Behaviors

A third parallel challenge and development in both the ethical decision making and the organizational justice literature, is the growing recognition of the importance of affect in moral judgment (e.g., Cropanzano et al. 2011). While both literatures have traditionally respected the role of so-called “cold” cognition (Treviño et al. 2006), researchers have paid increasing attention to the importance of “hot” moods and emotions (Fortin et al. 2015; Gaudine and Thorne 2001; Pfaff 2007).

Affect and Behavioral Ethics

Haidt et al. (1993) have studied social conventions and more universally accepted unethical acts. Haidt and his colleagues found that affective reactions to these types of situations are often antecedent to moral judgment. Indeed, moral judgments may be more of an “after the fact” justification of a spontaneous, intuitive, and affect-driven reaction to a situation or event (for a review, see Haidt 2001).

Research on self-conscious emotions is consistent with this view (Tangney and Dearing 2002). Briefly, there are at least three self-conscious emotions: embarrassment, guilt, and shame (Folger and Cropanzano 2010; Keltner and Buswell 1996). Embarrassment has the least moral content, though it can help people behave well. It is an ill-feeling that results from violating a convention (e.g., dressing overly formally for an informal gathering). Guilt and shame have stronger moral implications, though they are somewhat different. Guilt occurs when one hurts another person and does not perform an accepted duty. Shame occurs when one violates his or her personal standards (Tangney et al. 1996). Each of these self-conscious emotions helps to prevent unethical social behavior—embarrassment moves us to conform to social expectations (Keltner 2009, especially Chapter 5), guilt to make amends for our transgressions (Koneči 1972), and shame to withdraw when the individual's moral self concept is threatened (Tangney 1995). When judging the morality of behaviors, disgust is another emotion that plays an important role (Haidt 2006, especially Chapter 9). When people are made to feel disgusted, they tend to make harsher moral judgments (Schnall et al. 2008b). Conversely, when cleanliness is salient then people become less judgmental (Schnall et al. 2008a). Emotions, such as disgust, are important for moral thinking (Nichols 2002).

The importance of affectively driven moral judgments is hard to reconcile with earlier research on rational moral decision making. Nevertheless, there are some promising attempts. It could be that context effects impact the extent to which the judgment relies on affect versus careful and systematic thinking. In this regard, Monin et al. (2007) argue that people may follow a different decision process depending on how the moral situation is structured. If it is structured as a “moral dilemma,” where the trade-off between two moral rules becomes apparent, then conscious deliberation is likely. When, on the other hand, the situation does not imply a choice between two rules—yet instead is somehow shocking or outraging—then people tend to react in a more intuitive and affective fashion.

Affect and Organizational Justice

The organizational justice literature has historically followed the cognitive appraisal model of emotions (Ellsworth and Smith 1988; Smith and Ellsworth 1985), whereby justice cognitions are treated as antecedents of affect. There is certainly extensive evidence that people who experience injustice often experience considerable emotion (for reviews, see Cropanzano et al. 2011, especially Chapter 2; Fortin et al. 2015). More relevant to our present analyses, and paralleling the behavioral ethics research discussed above, moods and emotions also cause justice perceptions (Cropanzano et al. 2011, Chapter 5), as well as reactions to injustice (Folger and Cropanzano 2010). For example, Barsky and Kaplan (2007) found that positive affect was associated with greater perceived fairness, while negative affect was associated with less. Affect, it seems, plays a role in how we process fairness information (Sinclair and Mark 1991, 1992).

Concluding Thoughts

Researchers have continued to debate the relative roles of affect and cognition (Greene and Haidt 2002). This is a healthy dialog, as both are certainly central (Greene 2013). That said, it is important to reflect on the incompleteness of our current understanding. While we need to recognize the close connection between thinking and feeling, it remains for future research to fully articulate the role played by each.

This Special Issue

The nine articles that comprise this special issue investigate context effects among different actors: the organization, the group of employees, the individual employee, and the manager. For each of these entities, these papers test behavioral science theories that describe the processes by which context impacts ethical judgments and behaviors. In so doing, these studies describe the complex and interactive dynamics of judgments and behaviors about fairness and ethics, as well as how they promote successful work organizations. To illustrate these ideas, we review each of the articles below. We then reflect on how these studies can help in dealing with the three challenges we have outlined.

Hansen et al.’s objective is to explore how employees form their perceptions of ethical climate in an organization. Based on Rupp (2011), the authors argue that because the social context at work is complicated, employees form ethical climate perceptions on the basis of cues that they receive from a variety of sources and experiences. This theory helps them to propose a “multi-experience model” of ethical climate development bridging concepts from the corporate social responsibility (CSR), ethics, and justice literatures. They find good support for their model: a company’s externally focused CSR activities (how the company treats the communities outside of the organization) represent the contextual cue from which employees infer the ethicality of their leaders and, in turn, their co-workers (see also Ambrose et al. 2013; Mayer et al. 2009). Hansen and colleagues also show that these effects are stronger for employees who have a higher propensity to trust.

Melkonian, Soenen, and Ambrose also deal with antecedent variables stemming from the organization. Using Trope and Liberman’s (2010) elegant construal theory, they explore how employees use their anticipatory justice judgments to make decisions on whether they will cooperate in a context of organizational change. Operationalizing psychological distance as information or knowledge about a planned merger, Melkonian and colleagues test and find good support for a model whereby the positive relationship between employees’ anticipations of overall justice and their intentions to cooperate with the organization’s strategy is stronger when informational distance is higher rather than lower. In contrast, the association between employees’ use of more specific facet justice judgments to decide about their engagement is stronger when informational distance is low and they feel more knowledgeable about the change.

In contrast to the first two papers, Thornton and Rupp take a new perspective adapted to the prevalence of group-based structures in organizations. They propose a model grounded in social exchange, deonance, and fairness heuristic theories (Cropanzano and Mitchell 2005; Folger 2001; Lind 2001) that predicts group prosocial and deviant behavior on the basis of an interaction between the group level moral identity of employees (Aquino and Reed 2002) and perceptions of organizational CSR and justice climate. In an experimental setting, they find that group prosocial behaviors were higher when overall justice climate and CSR were perceived to be high and deviant behaviors higher when overall justice climate and CSR were low. Notably, the effect of justice on either prosocial or deviant behaviors was strongest when CSR was also strong, demonstrating a contextual boundary effect when two perceptions are inconsistent and conflicting.

At the individual level, Barclay and Saldanha propose a very creative perspective on the management of unfairness at work. Their fundamental assumption is that employees are able to cope with experiences and feelings of injustice, forgive the offender, and move on from the offense, but only when the context is favorable. Based on theories of emotional inhibition (e.g. Friedman and Booth-Kewley 1987), emotional processing (e.g. Lepore et al. 2002), and cognitive adaptation (e.g. Janoff-Bulman 1992), the authors find that allowing employees to express their emotions, cognitively process what happened, and consider forgiveness, all contribute to a feeling that the situation has been resolved. This in turn helps them to forgive the offender and reap the benefits of forgiveness such as well-being and the repair of the relationship. Importantly, their study shows that a very simple intervention that encourages employees to express their emotions and thoughts through writing, can provide a context that can help reduce the physiological and psychological demands associated with inhibition, address the fear and anxiety that have arisen from the experience, and help people engage in sense making.

The five remaining papers of this special issue place an emphasis on the role, leadership capacities, and behaviors of managers. The first three papers identify important contextual predictors of managers’ ethical and fair behaviors. On the basis of self-awareness theory (Duval and Wicklund 1972; Wicklund 1975), Whiteside and Barclay propose that when the context emphasizes managers’ self-awareness (for example when managers can see their faces when communicating though a video system such as Skype), this makes them more likely to engage in interpersonally fair behaviors. The authors find support for this effect and also that it is especially salient for managers who are low on trait empathy, which usually makes them less inclined to behave interpersonally fairly.

Bonner, Greenbaum, and Mayer explore how managers’ moral disengagement allows them to rationalize their unfair and unethical behaviors. According to the moral disengagement literature (Bandura 1990, 1999, 2002; Moore et al. 2012) people may be motivated to reframe unethical or unfair behaviors so that they appear more morally acceptable, to distance themselves from the harmful effects of these behaviors, and to reduce identification with victims. Moore et al. (2012) have established that moral disengagement can be an individual difference, with some people having a greater propensity to disengage morally from their actions than others. According to Bonner and colleagues, the more managers are morally disengaged, the less they are seen as ethical, and this is especially so in the eyes of those employees who have themselves a low level of moral disengagement. Moreover, supervisory moral disengagement has a negative impact on the performance and organizational citizenship behaviors of employees. For these reasons, authors recommend building organizational contexts that avoid moral disengagement and its deleterious effects, for example through ethics training.

Letwin, Wo, Folger, Rice, Taylor, Richard, and Taylor investigate another individual difference for managers, the ethical perspective of managers, differentiating between deontological (behaviors are judged as right or wrong based on principles) versus utilitarian (behaviors are ethical if their consequences are good for the greatest number). This study finds that deontological managers are more likely to be considered ethical by both subordinates and their own managers, whereas utilitarian leaders are more likely to be seen as delivering a higher level of performance. Interestingly, despite the correlation with performance judgments, the managers’ own line managers do not judge those who are higher on utilitarianism as more worthy of promotion.

The final two papers also deal with managers’ leadership but in a very different way. Long explores how managers promote fairness as a day-to-day activity in the concrete context of their jobs. He finds that managers’ main motivations for fairness consist of building positive relationships with their subordinates and in influencing subordinates’ level of work effort. Fostering work effort makes them engage in developing employees and in allocating fair rewards and responsibilities. By contrast, fostering positive relationships with their subordinates makes them engage in fairness promotion activities such as demonstrating moral leadership and enacting managerial propriety. These two activities in turn make managers engage in concrete actions such as allocating fair rewards and responsibilities, applying procedures fairly and exchanging information about managerial decisions. This study suggests that fairness promotion is in fact completely embedded in the context of managers’ jobs and represents an intrinsic part of it.

Finally, Leavitt, Zhu, and Aquino provide a highly original piece examining managers’ unconscious ethical leadership processes. Building on the theory of moral intuitions (Lieberman 2000), Leavitt and his colleagues explore how subtle contextual cues can be more important than conscious deliberation when predicting managers’ moral choices. More specifically, they show that priming the moral identity of managers makes them less likely to implicitly associate “business” with “ethical,” which in turn leads to a broader moral concern for external organizational stakeholders. The authors conclude that since a lack of morality can be unconscious, organizations should fight it by building work contexts that make moral identity unconsciously more salient.


In sum, the nine papers of this special issue shed new light on the role of context in the dynamics of ethics, fairness, and performance. Some of the contextual variables that have been investigated stem from the organization, such as informational distance (Melkonian et al.) and CSR (Hansen et al.). Other contexts are more closely related to employees themselves, such as employees’ expression (Barclay and Saldanha) and employees’ group moral identity (Thornton and Rupp). As for managers, three papers show the importance of characteristics and states—such as self-awareness (Whiteside and Barclay), moral disengagement (Bonner et al.) or managers’ utilitarian or deontological ethical ideology (Letwin et al.). The two final papers show how fairness in the concrete context of work is intrinsic to the role of managers (Long) and how unconscious cues may make managers’ morality more salient (Leavitt et al.).

The papers presented here also illustrate the three current challenges and developments in the ethics and justice literature that we reviewed above. First, with regards to the interface of social scientific with normative-philosophical study, we find that some of the papers (explicitly or implicitly) focus on the compliance of behavior with specific ethics and justice rules. For example, Whiteside and Barclay focus on interactional justice rules, and Leavitt and Aquino study implicit moral frameworks as an important aspect of people’s morality. We find it encouraging that several studies included not only measures designed to capture specific norms or manipulations of specific norms but also measures of more general impressions of fairness or ethics (e.g., Melkonian et al.; Barclay and Saldanha). Such studies allow researchers to more clearly differentiate between rule compliance versus judgments about rules and compliance. Interesting in this respect are the three quantitative papers concerned with ethical leadership (Bonner et al.; Letwin et al.; Hansen et al.), all of which measure ethical leadership through a mix of more general impressions or judgments (e.g., conducts his personal life in an ethical manner) and more specific questions regarding the compliance with specific norms (e.g., when making decisions, asks what is the right thing to do). It seems that the ethical leadership literature may benefit from more explicitly differentiating between these two aspects, as has only recently been done in the justice literature (c.f. Goldman and Cropanzano 2015).

Second, the collection of studies presented here also focus on different aspects of the duality of “ethical” and “just” versus “unethical” and “unjust”. For example, spirals of injustice (Barclay and Saldanha) are considered as well as positive promotion and enactment of justice (Whiteside and Barclay; Long). Both negative and positive concepts from the ethics literature are represented—for example, Greenbaum and Mayer study moral disengagement while Leavitt, Zhu, and Aquino investigate when managers will be more likely to show moral concern for external stakeholders. Building on these studies, we hope to also see future research that is able to capture both positive as well as negative behaviors in the same study.

Third and last, the studies draw on a mix of hot versus cold views on human decisions and behaviors. In the tradition of the “hot view”, considering affect as a central mechanism, stands the study by Barclay and Saldanha that explores emotions as a mediator of justice effects. On the other hand, Long’s rationalized accounts of justice enactment and Melkonian et al.'s application of construal level theory tap into important cognitive mechanisms and may therefore be more closely related to the “cold view”. A very exciting approach is taken by Thornton and Rupp, who provide competing hypotheses based on the hot versus cold views of justice. Interestingly, Leavitt, Zhu, and Aquino’s paper takes another approach, showing that cold and hot processes may be at stake at the same time but at an unconscious level.

Finally, we find it noteworthy that the papers presented here concern different stages of the process ranging from the formation of justice or ethics judgments to reactions and counter-reactions and to possible remedies after transgressions have occurred. This is another area where the ethics and justice literatures can enrich each other, as the justice literature has traditionally focused more strongly on reactions to justice events (i.e., investigating justice as independent variable or starting point), while the ethics literature has tended to pay more heed to the predictors of ethical behavior (i.e., investigating ethical behavior as dependent variable or end point). We see some exciting extensions to this tradition in our set of papers. For example, Whiteside and Barclay investigate justice motivation, which parallels moral awareness often investigated in the ethics literature. Bonner, Greenbaum, and Mayer investigate the links between managers’ moral awareness, employee awareness, and employee reactions. Letwin et al. even consider the longer term career consequences of ethical leadership. Melkonian and colleagues on the contrary start their theorizing even before justice events occur, by considering the role of anticipation. Through shedding light on different temporal stages of ethics and justice processes, future researchers will be in a better position to build more complete process theories of justice and ethics in organizations. Importantly, some of the papers presented here focus explicitly on interventions. That is, beyond describing what can go wrong, researchers are moving on to investigate which specific remedies may make organizational contexts better.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marion Fortin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thierry Nadisic
    • 2
  • Chris M. Bell
    • 3
  • Jonathan R. Crawshaw
    • 4
  • Russell Cropanzano
    • 5
  1. 1.Center for Research in Management (CRM)University of Toulouse 1 CapitoleToulouseFrance
  2. 2.IÉSEG School of Management-LEM-CNRSParisFrance
  3. 3.Schulich School of BusinessYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Aston Business SchoolAston UniversityBirminghamUK
  5. 5.Leeds School of BusinessUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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