The Value of Virtues: Perplexing Ponderings for Public Accountants

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Pfau, Thomas

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How can teaching values-based ethics influence behavior and decision making among professional in the accounting, financial management and auditing professions? Will a shift from historical examples of outcomes to a philosophically oriented evaluation of situational goals, personal values and cultural influences yield stronger moral compasses among accounting professionals?
In what follows, I will argue that the standard approach to teaching ethics to accounting professionals is not just compromised by its antiquated administration but rests on unsound conceptual foundations as regards ethical pedagogy in general. For it turns out that all the core virtues (values) that underlie the decisions are missing from the prevailing approach to ethical education. Rather than rely on examples tainted by the sensationalized coverage they have received in the media, neutral material ought to be used to illustrate how to engage in ethical reflection and judgment without being constrained by mere facts or presumptive consequences. The professional community needs to be armed with a position from which to consider ethical inquiry, to transcend fears about how to define what is “right” and, most importantly, to engage others in intellectual conversation that leads to practiced habits that in turn reflect the people we desire to be rather than only the consequences we hope to promote or prevent.

I conducted an exploration of fundamental behavioral values that can inform ethical behavior and decision making across a variety of situations, personalities and personal conflicts. Specifically, I incorporate philosophical texts by Aristotle, Aquinas and Anscombe. These fundamentals are connected to current professional ethics expectations in the contemporary business environment. Finally, I leverage time-tested children’s literature – specifically, Dr. Seuss message books – to design case studies to be used in teaching ethics fundamentals to practicing accounting, auditing and financial management professionals.





Goller, Leigh (2015). The Value of Virtues: Perplexing Ponderings for Public Accountants. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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