Toward a Theory of the Ethics of Bureaucratic Organizations

Journal Article

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.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Buchanan, A

Published Date

  • 1996

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 6 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 419 - 440

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1052-150X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2307/3857497