The determinants of ethical behaviour are not limited to the individual, with factors such as the culture and environment in which an individual is situated being significant influences on ethical behaviour. The article strives to explore the general determinants of ethical behaviour in light of its ability to influence decision making and the effect this has on other people.
This article is an exploration of the factors which influence ethical behaviour. In addition it investigates how these factors are likely to be influenced by other factors such as demographics, culture and environment in particular areas.
Definition of Determinants of Ethical Behaviour:
The term determinants of ethical behaviour is defined as the factors which influence ethical behaviour, in this article these are reviewed with respect to an individual and their environment. While there is no general consensus on the definition, ethics can be defined as a set of moral principles or values. It is these moral principles and values which may be associated with a person’s ethical behaviour. There are 3 such determinants which are:
1) The Object: In the sphere of ethics the object may be defined as the object which is of concern to ethical behaviour, for example there is an ethical dilemma if a person is confronted with a decision regarding the use of resources or access to certain services. When considering this it is important to note that sometimes the end result of an action may not be in question and rather it is its intention that necessitates ethics.
2) The Circumstances: This refers to circumstances in which an individual finds themselves in, this may be a situation in which an individual is faced with a dilemma and the object of concern may not be clearly defined.
3) The End: It is this outcome that is of concern, so for example the intention to kill a person may be unethical but the act of killing in itself may be ethical.
The idea that ethics are concerned with things such as healthcare, education and universal access to basic needs is widely represented in current western lifestyle and culture. The market economy and individualism have become widely accepted by people within an affluent society which has high levels of social mobility. The high levels of competition in society encourage individuals to take up these roles with little regard for morality or ethical behaviour beyond what is required by the business environment.
Determinants of Ethical Behaviour for an Individual:
The determinants of ethical behaviour for the individual are primarily based on social influences, such as family upbringing, peer groups and even individuals who have influenced them. These factors are also dependent on an individual’s cultural background, as individuals from different cultures will have different values and moral principles.
A study by Avolio, Luthans, Walumbwa and Makhija (2008) suggests that the ethical behaviour of a person is determined by their internal characteristics such as their self-esteem, motivation and competence. The study goes on to show that the ethical behaviour of a person is influenced by the presence of a high or low level of psychological traits such as integrity, honesty, loyalty and sincerity. In addition to these internal factors which influence an individual’s ethical behaviour it has been suggested that external factors may be influential.
An individual’s ethical behaviour is influenced by the legal implications of an action and how this may affect them personally. The law of the land in most areas of the western world place a duty on individuals to avoid harming other people or the environment. In addition there are laws which restrict economic activity and these may relate to antitrust laws, consumer protection and employment legislation.
This is one determinant of ethical behaviour which has clearly been influenced by social factors such as culture, religion and marriage customs. This determinant could be seen to be related to a person’s religious beliefs as this is likely to influence marriage customs.
Culture is defined as a set of customs, traditions, values and behaviours which define a particular group of people. It is through the integration of these cultural aspects that groups become widely accepted and as such are often expounded upon as moral principles. While this may be widely associated with western culture there are numerous examples of cultural aspects which are widely understood to be universally held. For example there has always been extensive use of the rule in Judaism whereby an individual may not murder
The effect that culture has on ethical behaviour relates to the fact that a person’s ethical behaviour may not be representative of their societal general ethical behaviour.
1) Stages of moral development: In the development of an individual’s moral decision making process there are six stages that are divided into two levels, the first level has three stages namely pre-conventional, conventional and postconventional. The second level has three stages namely pluralistic tolerance through to universal ethical principles.
2) Level of sophistication: a person’s ethical behaviour is affected by their level of ethical sophistication which may need to be considered when explaining their reasoning for the course of action they have chosen.
3) Personal values and morals: the personal values and morals of an individual influence their opinions regarding what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.
4) Personal ethics: the personal ethics of an individual may be defined as their general moral principles which are in accordance with the culture and circumstances within which they exist. This ethics may also be influenced by their religious beliefs.
5) Family influences: this relates to the influence you receive as a child from family or friends, it could be through example or negative influence.
6) Peer influences: this refers to any influence you receive from peer groups, if this is in the form of negative influence it may result in an unethical behaviour.
7) Cultural influences: these are defined as the beliefs, values and expectations which are held within a specific society.
8) Historical reasons: these are the reasons given for a person’s behaviour in the past that may have influenced their behaviour today and particularly their ethical decisions. For example one person may consider that murder is acceptable in certain circumstances and within certain cultures whilst another person may consider murder to be morally wrong. Another explanation could be seen in that a particular person was brought up to believe that it was ok to kill if it was not for personal gain or benefit to others.
The determinants of ethical behaviour in an individual will differ according to each situation that they are faced with. The important factors to consider are the factors which influence each individual’s decisions and these will be dependent on the social and cultural background, their family values and religious beliefs, their personal ethics and moral principles as well as their level of sophistication.