Toward a theory of the ethics of bureaucratic organizations

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46 Scopus citations


This essay articulates a crucial and neglected element of a general theory of the ethics of bureaucratic organizations, both private and public. The key to the approach developed here is the thesis that the distinctive ethical principles applicable to bureaucratic organizations are responses to the distinctive agency-risks that arise from the nature of bureaucratic organizations as complex webs of principal/agent relationships. It is argued that the most important and distinctive ethical principles for bureaucratic organizations express commitments on the part of bureaucrats that function to reduce the agency risks that are inherent in such organizations. This approach to the ethics of bureaucratic organizations is shown to be more illuminating than those that concentrate exclusively or primarily on determining the conditions for corporate responsibility or on the idea that the ethical obligations distinctive of bureaucracies are role-derived.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)438-440
Number of pages3
JournalBusiness Ethics Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Philosophy
  • Economics and Econometrics


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