Summary and Keywords
Organizations and their agents regularly face ethical challenges as the interests of various constituents compete and conflict. The theory of other-orientation provides a useful framework for understanding how other concerns and modes of reasoning combined to produce different mindsets for approaching ethical challenges. To optimize outcomes across parties, individuals can engage in complex rational reasoning that addresses the interests of the self as well as others, a mindset referred to as collective rationality. But collective rationality is as difficult to sustain as it is cognitively taxing. Thus, individuals are apt to simplify their approach to complex conflicts of interest. One simplifying strategy is to reduce the relevant outcome set by focusing on self-interests to the neglect of other-interest. This approach, referred to as a rational self-interest mindset, is self-serving and can lead to actions that are deemed unethical. At the other extreme, individuals can abandon rational judgment in favor of choices based on heuristics, such as moral values that specify a given mode of prosocial behavior. Because this mindset, referred to as other-oriented, obviates consideration of outcome for the self and other, it can result in choices that harm the self as well as other possible organizational stakeholders. This raises the question: how does one maintain an other-interested focus while engaging in rational reasoning? The resolution of this question rests in the arousal of moral emotions. Moral emotions signal to the individual the opportunity to express, or the need to uphold, moral values. Given that moral values direct behavior that benefits others or society, they offset the tendency to focus on self-interest. At extreme levels of arousal, however, moral emotions may overwhelm cognitive resources and thus influence individuals to engage in heuristic rather than rational reasoning. The effect of moral emotions is bounded by attendant emotions, as individuals are likely to experience multiple hedonic and moral emotions in the same situation. Deontic justice predicts that the arousal of moral emotions will lead individuals to retaliate in response to injustice, regardless of whether they experience personal benefit. However, evidence suggests that individuals may instead engage in self-protecting behavior, such as withdrawal, or self-serving behaviors, such as the contagion of unjust behavior. These alternative responses may be due to strong hedonic emotions, such as fear or schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from others’ misfortunes, overpowering one’s moral emotions. Future research regarding the arousal levels of moral emotions and the complex interplay of emotions in the decision-making process may provide beneficial insight into managing the competing interests of organizational stakeholders.
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