Moral Accountability - Huizenga Business School

Business Ethics:
Requirements through
Moral Leadership
------Chapter 12 – Moral Accountability
Moral Accountability for Acting
Moral Accountability-Not Acting-The Ethical
Principle of “Last Resort”
Social Responsibility
Moral Saints and Heroes
Ethical Codes
Role Responsibility
Agent Responsibility
Collective Responsibility
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Introduction: Casual and Legal
The purpose of this section is to enumerate and explain
various types or levels of moral accountability. In order
to comprehend degrees of moral responsibility,
however, it is necessary first to examine casual and legal
A person is accountable casually for all consequences of
his or her actions, regardless of intent, volition, or the
length and attenuation of the causation chain of events.
A person is responsible legally for his or her intentional,
wrongful actions, and careless, negligent, wrongful
actions, as well as the foreseeable consequences thereof.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Moral Accountability for Acting
A person is responsible morally for an action he or
she knowingly and freely performed or brought
about; he or she is responsible immorally when the
act was morally wrong to be performed or brought
Moral responsibility may be excused or lessened
because of the actor’s ignorance, inability, or lack of
Performing an immoral action, or failing to perform
a moral action, without a recognized excuse reflects
poorly on one’s moral character.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Moral Obligation to Act – Ethical
Principle of “Last Resort”
The ethical principle of “last resort” indicates when one
has a moral duty to act, to aid another, or to rescue.
The principle is based partially on Kant’s admonition
that “ought implies can,” that is that one is obligated to
do only what one can do.
The “last resort” principle usually involves an
obligation of immediacy and high priority posed by an
emergency; it thus generates moral obligation to act that
one cannot ignore without moral condemnation.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Social Responsibility
The term “social responsibility” may be defined
as taking an active part in the social causes and
civic life of one’s community and society. While
corporations may be limited in their abilities to
solve the multitude of social problems, they
stand to gain an improved public image by being
socially responsible thus the possibility of
gaining more customers.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Societal Accountability
Although business may not have a moral
responsibility, based on the principle of “last
resort,” to improve the quality of life in the
community and society, business may be
obligated by a standard of social responsibility to
work for social as well as economic betterment.
The words “accountability” and “responsibility,”
imply some sort of an obligation on the part of
business to deal with social problems.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Moral Saints and Heroes
A person is deemed a saint or hero if he or she does an act or
performs a duty under circumstances in which almost all people
would not. Saint and hero status invariably involves great
Saints and heroes differ in that a saint primarily resists desires
and self-interest, whereas a hero primarily resists fear and selfpreservation. Saint status also usually entails a consistency in
character, purpose, and deeds over a period of time, whereas a
person can become a hero by the performance of a single heroic
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Business Hero
A business hero has vision. He or she must be willing
to take risks and must be determined and persistent in
achieving his or her objectives.
The business hero puts one’s vision into action and
successfully leads others through the future.
In the world of business, people do not see themselves
as heroes but maybe they should. Explaining their
contributions to society could be one way in altering
the world’s view about business and heroes.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Ethical Codes
An ethical code should serve human needs. A
code cannot demand conduct beyond the
capacity of ordinary people in ordinary
Distinguishing levels of conduct is extremely
important when one attempts to hold people
accountable and to exert moral pressure in the
form of praise and blame.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Demands of Corporations
There are three legitimate types of demands that can be
made against a corporation. Legally, a corporation
must obey the law and is held accountable for breaking
the law. A corporation is morally accountable. The
essence of a corporation’s moral obligation is to do no
moral harm. A corporation should be involved socially
to a limited degree, and a corporation must be
cognizant of the fact that society can impose on
business certain social obligations that are neither legal
nor moral.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Role Responsibility
Role responsibility encompasses assuming a certain position,
role, or occupation in society or in an organization. A
parent, for example, has a moral obligation to sustain and
nurture his or her child and a corporate executive has a
moral obligation to be an honest and efficient manager for
the benefit of the shareholders.
When one assumes a position in a business as an employee,
one takes on the responsibility of performing the functions
of that role and obeying the rules of the employer. However,
if an organizational rule or employer order requires one to
act immorally that employee is not exonerated. Role
responsibility is subordinate to general moral responsibility,
as determined by ethical principles.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Role Morality
Business people must be careful and avoid
adopting a “role morality” mentality, which may
cause them to abandon their ethics in the belief
that the sacrifice is necessary to succeed in a
highly competitive environment.
Clearly, it must be understood that business
objectives, and even profession status, do not
supersede fundamental ethical principles.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Agent Responsibility
A large organization, such as a corporation, usually reflects a
hierarchical structure of authority, where orders and directives
emanate from those higher in the organization to a variety of
subordinates, who act on the basis of orders from their
superiors. This type of structure at times may cause problems of
moral accountability.
One view holds that the subordinate, even though he or she was
the agent in the immoral act’s execution, nonetheless is absolved
from responsibility and only the superior is accountable. It is
wrong, however, to exonerate the subordinate totally if he or she
knowingly performs an immoral act.
The superior, of course, morally is held accountable because he
or she knowingly and freely brought about the immoral act
through the means or agency of the subordinates.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Collective Responsibility
Assigning or assuming moral accountability within an
organization raises the issue of collective responsibility.
Legally, the acts of the corporation generally are
attributed to the entity, so long as the board of
directors, managers, agents, and employees act with
authority and within the scope of their authority. The
notion of collective moral accountability, however, is
ambiguous and may be interpreted in a variety of ways.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Moral Responsibility Views
The “individual responsibility” view holds that those
people who knowingly and freely did what was
necessary to produce the corporate act are morally
The “group responsibility” view holds that when a
group of people jointly act to produce a result, the act is
the act of the group, and thus the group is morally
The “legal” view of collective moral accountability
attributes responsibility to the entity itself and not to
the people involved either as individuals or as a group.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
In conclusion, individuals are ultimately
responsible morally for the known, intended,
and foreseeable consequences of their freely
chosen actions and also for joining their actions
with others to produce a group result. Moral
accountability is attributed to the entity, the
group, as well as to the individuals involved.
© Cavico & Mujtaba, 2005
Cavico, F. & Mujtaba, B., (2005). Business Ethics:
Transcending Requirements through Moral Leadership.
Pearson Custom Publications. U.S.A. ISBN: 0-536-5783-0.
Address: 75 Arlington Street, Suite
300. Boston Mass,
02116. Phone: (800) 3741200. Or: (800) 9220579.
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