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The Conflict of Ethos and Ethics: A Sociological Theory of Business People’s Ethical Values


  • Lydia Segal


  • Mark Lehrer



This article develops a sociological theory of ambivalence to explain several puzzling and contradictory ethical attitudes of business people: (1) a simultaneous disposition to comparatively more self-interested and more charitable behavior than many other occupational groups and (2) a moderate level of receptiveness to inculcation of moral principles through social channels such as higher education. We test the theory by comparing the way that business students rate the ethical acceptability of various ethically challenging scenarios with the way that criminal justice students rate these same scenarios. We also explore the malleability of ethical views by measuring differences between the responses of sophomores and seniors. The data generally support hypotheses based on a theory of ambivalence. At the same time, however, we also report on findings that suggest alternative explanations to ambivalence. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

Suggested Citation

  • Lydia Segal & Mark Lehrer, 2013. "The Conflict of Ethos and Ethics: A Sociological Theory of Business People’s Ethical Values," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 114(3), pages 513-528, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:114:y:2013:i:3:p:513-528
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1359-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Eddy Ng & Ronald Burke, 2010. "Predictor of Business Students’ Attitudes Toward Sustainable Business Practices," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 95(4), pages 603-615, September.
    2. Robert H. Frank & Thomas Gilovich & Dennis T. Regan, 1993. "Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 159-171, Spring.
    3. Kaikati, Jack G., 1977. "The phenomenon of international bribery," Business Horizons, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 25-37, February.
    4. Ailian Gan, 2006. "The Impact of Public Scrutiny on Corporate Philanthropy," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 69(3), pages 217-236, December.
    5. A. S. MacKewn & K. W. VanVuren, 2007. "A Study of Moral Decision-Making: Business Majors Versus Non-Business Majors," Global Journal of Business Research, The Institute for Business and Finance Research, vol. 1(1), pages 139-146.
    6. Ponemon, Lawrence A., 1992. "Ethical reasoning and selection-socialization in accounting," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 17(3-4), pages 239-258.
    7. David Jones, 2009. "A Novel Approach to Business Ethics Training: Improving Moral Reasoning in Just a Few Weeks," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 88(2), pages 367-379, August.
    8. Burroughs, James E & Rindfleisch, Aric, 2002. " Materialism and Well-Being: A Conflicting Values Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 348-370, December.
    9. David Fritzsche & E. Oz, 2007. "Personal Values’ Influence on the Ethical Dimension of Decision Making," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 75(4), pages 335-343, November.
    10. Claus Frederiksen, 2010. "The Relation Between Policies Concerning Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Philosophical Moral Theories – An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 93(3), pages 357-371, May.
    11. William E. Shafer & Richard S. Simmons, 2008. "Social responsibility, Machiavellianism and tax avoidance: A study of Hong Kong tax professionals," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 21(5), pages 695-720, June.
    12. Jaepil Choi & Heli Wang, 2007. "The Promise of a Managerial Values Approach to Corporate Philanthropy," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 75(4), pages 345-359, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stuart M. Belle, 2017. "Knowledge Stewardship as an Ethos-Driven Approach to Business Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 142(1), pages 83-91, April.


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