Handbook on Ethics and Marketing
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Handbook on Ethics and Marketing

Edited by Alexander Nill

Exploring both the theoretical and the applied aspects of the role ethics plays in marketing, this Handbook analyzes key issues in order to advance our understanding and provide an overview of the state of the art in this vital field.
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Chapter 5: Ethical judgments are different: an information processing perspective on the unique nature of ethical judgments and ethical judgment processes

John R. Sparks


Decisions about ethical issues rank among the most important decisions facing marketers. In exchanges of all types, all sizes, and involving all manner of goods and services, the efficient and fair operation of the marketplace relies on the ethical behavior of marketers. Therefore, understanding how and why some marketers choose to behave ethically and others do not is more than an interesting academic question; it contributes to our collective economic and social well-being. Central to understanding the ethical decisions of marketers are the ethical judgments they render about potential courses of action available to them when faced with a choice. Because of its importance, an extensive literature about ethical judgments has developed within marketing and other disciplines. Despite its size and breadth, fundamental questions remain unaddressed regarding the nature of the ethical judgments construct. One such fundamental question is what separates ethical judgments from other types of judgments. Of course the obvious answer is content; ethical judgments pertain to ethics and other judgments do not. However, a purely content-based distinction suggests only superficial differences. To be sure, ethical judgments are a type of evaluative judgment and therefore share much conceptually with evaluative judgments about any content matter (Sparks and Pan 2010). That said, the transcendent quality of ethical judgments is not well captured by simply saying that they differ from other judgments on the basis of subject matter alone.

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