Skip to main content


Log in

Dissolving the Moral Dilemma of Whistleblowing

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


The ethical debate on whistleblowing concerns centrally the conflict between the right to political free speech and the duty of loyalty to the organization where one works. This is the moral dilemma of whistleblowing. Political free speech is justified because it is a central part of liberal democracy, whereas loyalty can be motivated as a way of showing consideration for one’s associates. The political philosophy of John Rawls is applied to this dilemma, and it is shown that the requirement of loyalty, in the sense that is needed to create the moral dilemma of whistleblowing, is inconsistent with that theory. In this sense, there is no moral dilemma of whistleblowing. This position has been labelled extreme in that it says that whistleblowing is always morally permitted. In a discussion and rejection of Richard De George’s criteria on permissible whistleblowing, it is pointed out that the mere rejection of loyalty will not lead to an extreme position; harms can still be taken into account. Furthermore, it is argued that the best way is, in this as in most other political circumstances, to weigh harms is provided by the free speech argument from democracy.

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

Access this article

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

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Beauchamp T. L., Bowie N. E. (eds.) (1988) Ethical Theory and Business, 3rd edn. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall

    Google Scholar 

  • Bok, S.: 1988, ‚Whistleblowing and Professional Responsibility’, in T. L. Beauchamp and N. E. Bowie (eds.), Ethical Theory and Business, 3rd edn. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall) pp. 292–299

  • Bowman S. R. (1996) The Modern Corporation and American Political Thought: Law, Power, and Ideology. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Brison S. J. (1998) The Autonomy Defense of Free Speech. Ethics 108(2): 312–339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chryssides G., Kaler J. (1996) Essentials of Business Ethics. London: McGraw-Hill Book Company

    Google Scholar 

  • Coase R. H. (1960) The Problem of Social Cost. Journal of Law and Economics. 3(1): 1–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Corvino J. (2002) Loyalty in Business? Journal of Business Ethics 41(1–2): 179–185

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dahl, R. A.: 1981, Democracy and its Critics, Reissue edition (Cumberland: Yale University Press)

  • De George R. T. (2006) Business Ethics, 6th edn. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall

    Google Scholar 

  • Duska, R.: 1988, ‚Whistleblowing and Employee Loyalty’, in T. L. Beauchamp and N. E. Bowie (eds.), Ethical Theory and Business, 3rd edn. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall) pp. 335–339

  • Honoré A. M.: 1961, ‚Ownership,’ in A. G. Guest (ed.), Oxford Essays on Jurisprudence (Oxford: Oxford University Press) pp. 107–147

  • Jubb P. B. (1999) Whistleblowing: A Restrictive Definition and Interpretation. Journal of Business Ethics 21(1): 77–94

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin M. W., Schinzinger R. (1997) Ethics in Engineering, 3rd edn. New York: McGraw Hill

    Google Scholar 

  • Meiklejohn, A.: 1996, [1961], ‚The First Amendment is an Absolute’, in J. Cohen and A. Fung (eds.), Constitution, Democracy, and State Power: The Institutions of Justice II Democratic Government 1: Speech and Elections (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar) pp. 3–24

  • Mill, J. S.: 1859, On Liberty, in On Liberty and Other Essays (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1998)

  • Muirhead, R.: 2004, Just Work, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge)

  • Nuyen A. T. (1999) The Value of Loyalty. Philosophical Papers 28(1): 25–36

    Google Scholar 

  • Phillips R. A., Margolis J. D. (1999) Toward an Ethics of Organizations. Business Ethics Quarterly 9(4): 619–638

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pogge T. W. (1989) Realizing Rawls. Ithaca: Cornell University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Rawls, J.: 1999, A Theory of Justice, Revised edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

  • Rawls J. (2001) Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Sunstein C. R. (2003) Why Societies Need Dissent. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Waldron J. (1981) A Right to Do Wrong. Ethics 92(1): 21–39

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weiss J. W. (2006) Business Ethics – A Stakeholder and Issues Management Approach, 4th edn. Mason: Thomson South-Western

    Google Scholar 

  • Whitbeck C. (1998) Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lars Lindblom.

Additional information

Lars Lindblom is a Ph D. student in philosophy at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. He has worked as a business ethics consultant and has written on efficency, workplace inspections and business ethics.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lindblom, L. Dissolving the Moral Dilemma of Whistleblowing. J Bus Ethics 76, 413–426 (2007).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: