Skip to main content
Log in

Confidentiality decisions: The reasoning process of CPAS in resolving ethical dilemmas

  • Published:
Journal of Business Ethics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


As in other professions, such as law and medicine, accounting has a Code of Professional Conduct (Code) that members are expected to abide by. In today's legalistic society, however, the question of “what is the right thing to do,” is often confused with “what is legal?” In many instances, this may present a conflict between adhering to the Code and doing what some may perceive as proper ethical behavior. This paper examines (1) the reasoning process that CPAs use in resolving ethical issues related to confidentiality; and, (2) whether or not there is a perceived conflict in adhering to the Code and the moral values of some CPAs. The results indicate that although most CPAs sampled resolve ethical issues in accordance with the Code, such decisions do not always reflect their belief of what is morally right. Although the results are useful in understanding how some CPAs reason in making moral choices involving confidentiality decisions, care should be exercised in drawing further inferences from this study due to the limited sample size.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA): 1988,Code of Professional Conduct (AICPA, New York).

    Google Scholar 

  • Claypool, G. A., D. F. Fetyko and M. A. Pearson: 1990, ‘Reactions to Ethical Dilemmas: A Study Pertaining to Certified Public Accountants’,Journal of Business Ethics 9, 699–706.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. and R. M. Turner: 1990, ‘Ethics and Professionalism: The CPA in Industry’,The CPA Journal (April), 42, 44–49.

  • Cooke, R. A.: 1990,Ethics in Business: A Perspective (Arthur Andersen & Co.).

  • DeGeorge, R.: 1986,Business Ethics, 2nd ed. (Macmillian, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey).

    Google Scholar 

  • Epstein, M. J. and A. D. Spalding, Jr.: 1993,The Accountant's Guide to Legal Liability and Ethics (Irwin, Homewood IL).

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, T. M.: 1991, ‘Ethical Decision Making by Individuals in Organizations: An Issue-Contingent Model’,Academy of Management Review 16(2), 366–395.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kohlberg, L.: 0000, ‘Moral Stages and Moralization: The Cognitive Developmental Approach’, in T. Likona (ed.),Moral Development and Behavior (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York), pp. 31–53.

  • Lampe, J. C. and D. W. Finn: Supplement 1992, ‘A Model of Auditors Ethical Decision Processes’,Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 11, 33–59.

  • Mautz, R. K. and H. A. Sharaf: 1961,Philosophy of Auditing (AAA, Sarasota).

    Google Scholar 

  • Stanga, K. G. and R. A. Turpen: 1991, ‘Ethical Judgements on Selected Accounting Issues: An Empirical Study’,Journal of Business Ethics 10, 739–747.

    Google Scholar 

  • Steiner, G. A. and J. F. Steiner: 1980,Business, Government, and Society: A Managerial Perspective (Random House, Inc.).

  • Wheelwright, P. E.: 1959,A Critical Introduction to Ethics (Odyssey Press).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Barbara L. Adams is a Professor of Accounting and Interim Dean of School of Business at South Carolina State University; a member of the AICPA and AAA. She has published inThe Practical Accountant, The CPA Journal and several other professional and academic journals.

Fannie L. Malone is a Professor of Accounting at Texas Southern University; a member of the AICPA, AAA and Texas Society of CPAs. She has published inNational Public Accountant, The CPA Journal and other professional journals.

Woodrow James is an Entrepreneurial Counselor and Adjunct Professor at South Carolina State University. He has published in The CPA Journal and The Southern Business and Economics Journal.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Adams, B.L., Malone, F.L. & James, W. Confidentiality decisions: The reasoning process of CPAS in resolving ethical dilemmas. J Bus Ethics 14, 1015–1020 (1995).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: