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Explaining Unethical Behaviour Among People Motivated to Act Prosocially

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Moral reasoning theorists working in the constructivist tradition have tended to explain unethical behaviour by assuming that a breakdown occurs in the link between a person's moral judgement within a particular situation and his ultimate behaviour in that situation. This breakdown is usually seen as being the result of the individual ignoring his deontic judgement in favour of meeting a competing, non-moral social obligation or of fulfilling a selfish interest. This model of unethical behaviour has led to suggestions that moral educators focus on fostering the incorporation of morality into people's self-concepts and on building moral character. An argument is presented that unethical behaviour, especially that involving relatively minor moral breaches, is often not the result of a moral judgement-behaviour hiatus but rather a corruption of the construal process. This corruption, driven by a desire for personal gain, results in the erroneous conclusion that an unethical action is actually morally acceptable. Immoral behaviour under this scenario is not a result of moral judgement failing to determine action but rather of moral judgement corrupted by self-serving interests succeeding in driving action. The educational implications of this alternative model of immoral behaviour are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 1999

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