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Theoretical considerations for a meaningful code of professional ethics

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The professions have focused considerable attention on developing codes of conduct. Despite their efforts there is considerable controversy regarding the propriety of professional codes of ethics. Many provisions of professional codes seem to exacerbate disputes between the profession and the public rather than providing a framework that satisfies the public's desire for moral behavior.

After examining three professional codes, we divide the provisions of professional codes into those provisions which urge professionals to avoid moral hazard, maintain professional courtesy and serve the public interest. We note that whereas provisions urging the avoidance of moral hazard are uncontroversial, the public is suspicious of provisions protecting professional courtesy. Public interest provisions are controversial when the public and the profession disagree as to what is in the public interest. Based on these observations, we conclude with recommendations regarding the content of professional codes.

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Karim Jamal is an Associate Professor in the Department of Accounting at the University of Alberta. His research interests are in modelling judgment processes of individuals in professional firms and financial markets. He is currently involved in research on the auditor-client negotiation process, the role of framing effects in masking fraud as well as the means by which frauds are detected, and tensions in professional codes of conduct especially between confidentiality and public disclosure.

Norman E. Bowie is the Elmer L. Andersen Chair in Corporate Responsibility at the University of Minnesota. He is the co-editor ofEthical Theory and Business and has published numerous books and articles in business ethics and political philosophy. His most recent book isUniversity Business Partnerships: An Assessment.

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Jamal, K., Bowie, N.E. Theoretical considerations for a meaningful code of professional ethics. J Bus Ethics 14, 703–714 (1995).

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  • Economic Growth
  • Public Interest
  • Theoretical Consideration
  • Moral Hazard
  • Professional Ethic