Accounting Ethics and the Fragmentation of Value

  • Céline Baud
  • Marion BrivotEmail author
  • Darlene Himick
Original Paper


This study investigates how one important accounting professional authority—CPA Canada—discusses accounting ethics and exhorts its members to think about ethics-related issues. To do this, we rely on empirical evidence of the types of arguments used by CPA Canada to describe what they consider acceptable moral justifications in a variety of practical situations that accountants may encounter. We argue that the articles contained in the profession’s primary publication for all members, CPA Magazine, offer a wealth of such evidence. We analyze 237 articles about accounting ethics that were published in CPA Magazine from January 2000 to December 2017, and find evidence of moral pluralism (Nagel in Mortal questions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1979). Six categories of justifications dominate: private commitments, utility, perfectionist ends, general duties, and specific obligations, plus self-interest. Of these categories, the specific obligations logic is the most widely used. We offer a tentative explanation, and discuss the implications of our findings for a better grasp of the complexities of accountants’ practical conflicts and a rethink of the ongoing tension between professionalism and commercialism.


Accounting ethics Thomas Nagel Value fragmentation Pluralism Discourse Accounting profession CPA Magazine Canada 



We thank Professor of Philosophy Luc Bégin of Université Laval, for his insightful comments on the paper’s theoretical approach. We are also grateful for the comments received at the following research workshops and conferences: The Public Interest Accounting Group workshop, held at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, on November 4th, 2017; ESSEC’s research workshop held on December 20th, 2017; Université Paris Dauphine’s research workshop, on December 21st, 2017, the 2018 Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference in Edinburgh, on July 12th, 2018, and Université Laval’s Faculty of Philosophy’s workshop, organized on September 28th, 2018, by Professor Patrick Turmel. Finally, we thank Ann Gallon for her invaluable copy editing work.


None of the authors has received any funding for this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Céline Baud, Marion Brivot and Darlene Himick, declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Laval, Faculté des Sciences de l’AdministrationQuébecCanada
  2. 2.Telfer School of ManagementUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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