Ethical Fading – Georgios Ardavanis (Ph.D.)

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A psychological phenomenon known as “Ethical Fading” can overtake an organization’s culture, allowing people there to make extremely unethical actions while still believing they were acting within the bounds of their ethical frameworks. Almost always, if not always, moral decline in businesses, departments, and organizations begins at the top. Typically, it is a leadership issue. It results from undue pressure to achieve narrow, short-term objectives, making acting morally more challenging. As a result, several factors contribute to ethical fading, including our attempts to reason away the consequences of our choices.

 We say things such as:

– It is what you have to do to get ahead.

– It is what my boss wants.

– Everyone is doing it.   

– It’s the system.

– I don’t have a choice.

One searches for means of disengaging from any obligation in this way. This fallacious justification hurts the growth of both the person and the organization. In my employment as an engineer, I frequently observed technical managers’ ethical standards eroding in an effort to defend themselves and their errors.


According to Professor Brock Bastian, there are three ways to prevent ethics from fading:

1) Go Slowly: We need to slow down and employ System 2 thinking (reflective, deliberative, effortful) when making significant ethical decisions to understand the situation better and consider many viewpoints.

2) Remind and reframe: It is possible to prevent ethics from fading from view by reframing a problem by beginning with the ethical consequences rather than the financial or productivity imperatives.

3) Avoid euphemisms. Is it “creative accounting,” or “cooking the books,” and firing, or “right-sizing”? Accounting techniques that are either unlawful or “aggressive.” “Externalities” or damage to the environment? civilian fatalities or “collateral damage.” Please be aware of when language starts to use euphemisms, which can cause the ethical implications to disappear from view quietly.


 Georgios Ardavanis – 08/04/2023

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