Managerial action in the face of moral conflict: Role responsibilities and moral dilemmas

Rosemarie Monge, University of Pennsylvania


Managers are frequently confronted with difficult decisions that must be made in the face of great uncertainty. One class of decisions stem from the fact that they seem to require managers to do something morally controversial in order to safeguard the success of the firm. When discussing managerial decisions of this kind, two answers are often invoked in order to justify pursing a morally controversial course of action, such as making facilitating payments or complying with government's censorship requirements. One response the businessperson may give is "I am just doing my job." This response attempts to establish straightforward permissions to engage in what would otherwise be considered morally wrong in virtue of the moral agent's role in a specific institution or system. A second possible response is that these are cases in which "I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't" because managers are confronting genuine moral dilemmas. In such circumstances, because there is no right course of action that keeps one's hands clean, some would argue that the best thing one can do is to act to ensure success in the business endeavour. The overarching aim of this dissertation is to critically explore the plausibility of these two responses. I argue that these two responses do not provide managers with permissions, justifications, or excuses to engage in wrongdoings. As an alternative, I develop a minimalist account of permissible complicity by invoking the importance of the managerial intentions. I argue that there are circumstances in which a morally problematic course of action may be justified and propose two necessary conditions for establishing permissible complicity in someone else's failure to live up to their responsibilities. Under the first condition, managers must intend and act in such a way so as to minimize their complicity in the other actor's failure. Under the second condition, managers ought to communicate to the firm's constituents their recognition of the important interests at stake and their commitment to minimizing their complicity.

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Recommended Citation

Monge, Rosemarie, "Managerial action in the face of moral conflict: Role responsibilities and moral dilemmas" (2013). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3568064.