Role morality in the accounting profession – how do we compare to physicians and attorneys?

Journal of Business Ethics 79 (3):279 - 297 (2008)
Role morality can be defined as “claim(ing) a moral permission to harm others in ways that, if not for the role, would be wrong” (A. Applbaum: 1999, Ethics for Adversaries: The Morality of Roles in Public and Professional Life (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ) p. 3). Adversarial situations resulting in role morality occur most frequently in the fields of law, business, and government. Within the realm of accounting, professional obligations may place the accountant in a situation where he/she is susceptible to the pressures of role morality. If the accountant engages in acts consistent with role morality, significant harm to others may result. The current study represents an initial investigation into role morality in accounting and includes survey data from three samples of professionals: accountants, physicians, and attorneys. Results suggest that accountants generally do not agree that role morality is acceptable. Additionally, when compared to the groups of physicians and attorneys, physicians agree the least with role morality, while attorneys agree the most. Implications for practicing accountants and suggestions for future research into the theory of role morality are offered.
Keywords accountants compared to attorneys and physicians  ethical behavior  role morality
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