Moral Neutralization

  • øyvind Kvalnes
Open Access


Criminologists Sykes and Matza developed a conceptual framework in which to explain and understand juvenile delinquency. They challenged the virtue ethical assumption that criminals are primarily morally deviant individuals, and instead suggested that crimes can be the result of processes where individuals with ordinary moral beliefs and convictions have been able to convince themselves that their actions are morally acceptable. This chapter adopts a similar approach to moral wrongdoing in organizations, and explains how it can be a process where initial moral dissonance gives way to acceptance through a process of moral neutralization. Sykes and Matza defined five techniques juvenile delinquents applied to overcome the queasiness of acting against their moral convictions: Denial or responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of condemners, and appeal to higher loyalty. All of these can be active in workplaces where people experience dissonance between their moral beliefs and what they are tempted or ordered to do. A significant dimension of ethics in organizations is to be alert to neutralization attempts, and to be ready to challenge and question them.

Copyright information

© øyvind Kvalnes 2015

Open Access This Chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • øyvind Kvalnes
    • 1
  1. 1.BI Norwegian Business SchoolNorway

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