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Ethical perspective: moral failure in decision-making


The ethical perspective sees crime as the result of a moral failure in making decisions. Crime takes place when a person fails to appreciate the wrongfulness of an act or its impact on the victim. The ethical explanation of crime appreciates that external factors have a role to play in influencing some people toward criminal conduct, but these factors do not cause the conduct by themselves.

The ethical perspective also agrees that a free-will decision underlies criminal behaviour, but contrary to what is asserted by the classical approach, the inherent tendency to engage in crime is not controlled by the risk of apprehension. Instead, the presence or absence of ethical principles informs one's decisions.

The ethical perspective on crime causation

The ethical view sees crime as placing one's own self-interest above the interests of others. Any short-term gain for the offender obtained from a crime is outweighed by understanding the wrongfulness of the conduct and the harm it causes to the victim or community. From an ethical standpoint, therefore, a person refrains from criminal behaviour because, all factors considered, it does not bring pleasure. Ethical decision-making and reinforcement from an early age would help inculcate the notion of personal and social responsibility for one's own behaviour, and a greater appreciation of the harm caused. Such appreciation is often found to be missing in many cases of organized crime and corruption (Glor and Greene, 2003; OECD, UNODC and World Bank, 2013).

According to the ethical perspective, crime occurs when criminal acts bring pleasure rather than guilt or shame (Albanese, 2016). Ethicists argue that people often do not make decisions in ethical terms because ethical principles and their application to decision-making are often not part of the educational process, or are not modelled by parents or family members. Lacking education and experience in making ethical decisions, people often do what comes naturally and thus make decisions based on self-interest, failing to understand or appreciate the legitimate interests of others or the community at large (Narvaez, 2006).


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