Stages of moral development of corporations

Journal of Business Ethics 12 (9):727 - 739 (1993)
Drawing from the Boulding''s (1956) framework for general systems theory, the need to employ richer paradigm in the study of organizations (Pondy and Mitroff, 1979) is reiterated. It is argued that a better understanding of organizational ethical behavior is contingent upon viewing organizations as symbol processing systems of shared language and meanings. Further, it is proposed that organizations, like individuals, develop into collectivities of shared cognitions and rationale, over a period of time. The study adapts Kohlberg''s (1983) model of moral development to examine if organizations can be viewed as passing through different stages of moral development depending on the type of moral reasoning employed to explain their behaviors in the face of ethical crises. Several cases raising questions about the ethics of corporate behavior were researched. An instrument entitled Organization Response Analysis was constructed using statements made by various spokespersons representing five of these organizations. The instrument was administered to 246 graduate and undergraduate students of business (N = 246). Results indicated a great degree of concurrence among respondents of differing genders, levels of education and work experience in determining the stages of moral development of organizations. Limitations of the current study and implications for future research and practice are discussed.
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