Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Business and Public Management

First Advisor

Richard McKenna


The purpose of this study to investigate the morality of persons in organisations and especially the effect of organisations on the moral autonomy of persons. In addition to reviewing the literature of moral autonomy in philosophy, psychology, sociology and organisation studies and management, the thesis also examines the ontology of organisations, moral agency and the organisation as a context. Based on this knowledge, a model is developed that addresses the relations of the organisation to society and the person to the organisation in ethical decision making. From this model the thesis develops three moral decision making categories. These are: moral autonomy. Where persons are allowed to use their moral values, moral heteronomy, where the organisation provides such values and moral anomy, where there is a lack of moral deliberation and moral values. Four research propositions are developed from this model. The propositions are that people are more likely to make morally autonomous decisions in personal life dilemmas than in organisational life dilemmas. In organisational dilemmas it is proposed that the organisation will affect the morality of its members. In bureaucratic organisations, people are expected to make more anomous organisational decisions when faced with an easy and simple dilemma and more heteronomous decisions when faced with complex and difficult dilemmas. In clan organisations, people are expected to make more autonomous organisational decisions. In a market organisation, people are expected to make more anomous organisational decisions. An exploratory primary research project is undertaken to test the model and the propositions developed. People from three Australian organisations that approximate Ouchi's (1980) typology of bureaucracy, clan and market organisations participated in the research. Managers and supervisors from each organisation were asked to assess the ethical climate of their organisation using Victor and Cullen's (1987, 1988) Ethical Climate Questionnaire. They also responded to Forsyth's (1980) Ethics Position Questionnaire and resolved and justified their resolutions six organisational and six personal ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas had been assessed by two groups of MBA students for relevancy, complexity and difficulty. The analysis of the primary data reveals that the three organisations have different ethical climates. It also reveals that the respondents from the three organisations do not differ insofar as they share similarly idealistic end relativistic ethical ideologies. They do however differ in the reasoning they use to resolve organisational and in some cases personal ethical dilemmas. People In organisation Alpha, the bureaucratic organisation, are more likely to make heteronomous decisions. People from organisation Beta, the clan organisation, are more likely to make autonomous moral decisions, and people from organisation Gamma, the market organisation, are more likely to make anomous moral decisions. These findings support the research propositions developed. More importantly, some people in organisations Alpha and Gamma did not perceive some organisational dilemmas as ethical issues but only as business issues that are void of ethics. In addition, people from organisation Alpha in particular were more likely to try to avoid making a decision and suggest that someone else in the organisation should make the decision not the person facing the dilemma. The findings suggest that organisations that rely on rules and regulations are more likely to remove the responsibility from ethical decision-making, and lead to avoidance of such decisions. The implications of these findings are discussed and opportunities for further research are identified.