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J Bus Ethics (2017) 140:515

DOI 10.1007/s10551-015-2688-z

Intuition, Analysis and Reflection in Business Ethics


Chris Provis1

Received: 4 July 2014 / Accepted: 8 May 2015 / Published online: 16 May 2015
 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract The paper aim draws together two ideas that Keywords Analysis  Dual-process theory  Ethical
have figured in different strands of discussion in business decision-making  Intuition  Moral judgment  Reflection 
ethics: the ideas of intuition and of reflection. They are Social Intuitionist Model
considered in company with the third, complementary, idea
of analysis. It is argued that the interplay amongst these is
very important in business ethics. The relationship amongst Moral judgment is fundamental to business ethics, and
the three ideas can be understood by reference to parts of attention has been given to different types of moral judg-
modern cognitive psychology, including dual-process the- ment processes. One basic judgment process is step-by-step
ory and the Social Intuitionist Model. Intuition can be thinking, or calculative ratiocination, as we might call it
misleading when based on fast and frugal heuristics, and (Solomon 1992, pp. 174179). Here, we shall refer to it as
reasoning needs social exchange if it is to support moral analysis. Analysis can be contrasted with other processes
judgment effectively, but in the complex institutional en- like reflection and intuition, and these have figured sig-
vironment of business, reflection and analysis can underpin nificantly in different strands of discussion (e.g. Moberg
social communication and feedback to develop sound in- and Calkins 2001; Harris 2008; Sadler-Smith and Burke
tuition. Reflection and analysis are both more deliberate, 2009; Provis 2010; Sadler-Smith 2012). However, the re-
systematic judgment processes than intuition, but are dis- lation between analysis, reflection and intuition has not
tinguished by the fact that reflection embraces hypothetical been clearly elaborated. This paper first explores the dis-
thinking and imagination, while analysis is careful, step- tinction amongst the three processes, aiming to develop an
by-step reasoning. Examples of business ethics problems account that clarifies them by drawing on modern cognitive
illustrate the need for both of these processes, and also psychology, which then allows us to see how they can
suggest how they themselves can be enhanced in the same complement one another to improve moral judgment.
social exchange process that underpins the development of While each of the three ideas has some everyday use, we
good intuition. can make them more precise and more consistent with
psychological research and theory, and we can then un-
derstand their implications more fully. Intuition, for ex-
ample, is a term with wide common use, but on closer
examination there seem to be differences amongst forms of
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Conference of the intuition: on one hand, intuition can use mental heuristics
Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics, Sydney, in
June 2014. The author is grateful to participants in discussion on that
that give quick but sometimes inaccurate results (Gilovich
occasion, and well as to anonymous referees for this journal. et al. 2002), and intuitive value judgments may disguise
hidden emotional responses (Haidt 2001); on the other
& Chris Provis hand, intuition may on occasion be the product of experi-
chris.provis@unisa.edu.au
ence and learning (Plessner et al. 2008). Reflection and
1
School of Management, University of South Australia, North analysis are more effortful, systematic processes than in-
Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia tuition, but they can be distinguished from one another. As

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6 C. Provis

we explore the nature of the three processes and their in- Empirical Research and Dual-Process Theory
terrelationship, we can see what makes the processes more
effective or less so: for example, the availability or absence Both the negative and the positive aspects of intuitive
of appropriate feedback. Feedback processes are especially judgment have been explored in a wide variety of empirical
important, and to some extent feedback that supports one studies. There has been experimental work, like that by
of the three processes emerges from another of them. It will Kahneman and Tversky on peoples statistical inference
be seen how that may occur in business, and it will be (see e.g. Tversky and Kahneman 1974), and like that by
argued that complex institutional environments like busi- Haidt and colleagues on peoples rationalisation of intu-
ness organisations create a distinctive need for intuition, itive, emotion-driven responses (see e.g. Haidt 2001; Haidt
analysis and reflection to complement one another. and Bjorklund 2008a), and there have also been field
studies like those of Klein and colleagues (see e.g. Klein
1998, 2009). Research on expert decision-making has also
Aspects of Intuition cast light on intuition: for example, in recent studies by
Schweizer and colleagues of soccer referees intuitive de-
To begin with, consider a case involving a manager; call cision-making (Schweizer et al 2009). There have also
him Max. Maxs organisation has many retail outlets, in- been analyses based on computer simulations of human
cluding quite a number in rural areas. He is a member of a cognitive processes (e.g. Johnson-Laird 2006; Ohlsson
group that deals with equal opportunity in the organisation, 2011), and other related work has included exploration of
and he noticed that some of the rural outlets had few brain activity during different types of mental processes,
indigenous employees: in fact, quite a few had none at all. using techniques like functional magnetic resonance
He prepared a paper for the group, starting from this fact, imaging (see e.g. Satpute and Lieberman 2006; Salvador
arguing that recruiting in country areas should try to and Folger 2009).
overcome the apparent rural prejudice against employing In particular, the nature of intuition has been explored
indigenous workers. quite extensively as part of dual-process theory, which
Unfortunately for Max (but perhaps fortunately for or- is now a familiar idea in cognitive psychology (see e.g.
ganisational policy), Sue, one of the other members, looked Chaiken and Trope 1999). Although there are many
more closely at the employment figures, and came to Max variations and some controversies in accounts of dual-
about them. She pointed out that while rural outlets do process theory (Reynolds 2006; Evans 2008), there is
indeed include those with the lowest levels of employing widespread agreement that the functioning of the brain
indigenous workers, other rural outlets also have the can be characterized by two different types of cognition
highest rates of indigenous employees. Max was surprised, having somewhat different functions and different
but then commented that the explanation must just be that strengths and weaknesses (Stanovich 2011, p. 16). The
the anti-indigenous prejudice was localised, perhaps be- two types of cognition have been distinguished in
cause of specific historical or cultural factors in those areas. various ways. They are characterised by Kahneman as
No, Sue said, its just the fact that our rural outlets are follows:
relatively small. Its sometimes called the Law of Small
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little
Numbers. She went on to give details: small sample sizes
or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
simply give unreliable indications of population data. Max had
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental
to contact other members of the group, explain that he should
activities that demand it, including complex computa-
have analysed the data more fully, and retract the paper.
tions. The operations of System 2 are often associated
Here, Max made an intuitive judgment that was unsound
with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and
and needed correction through analytical reasoning. Re-
concentration (Kahneman 2011, pp. 2021).
searchers on heuristics and biases, such as Amos Tversky
and Daniel Kahneman, have highlighted the ways that in- The terminology System 1 and System 2 is drawn
tuitive responses mislead us in a wide range of areas, sta- from Stanovich and West (2000). Some dual-process the-
tistical judgment not least of all (Kahneman 2011, see in orists use the terms X-system and C-system, where
particular chap. 10). However, others, like Gary Klein and X is drawn from reflexive, and C is drawn from
his colleagues, have tried to show that there are many reflective (Satpute and Lieberman 2006, p. 87; Salvador
difficult cases where intuitive judgment can provide a and Folger 2009, p. 8): the connotation of reflexive is
sound basis for decisions, and the positive role of intuition speed and automaticity; that of reflective is careful de-
in management has often been noted: Chester Barnard, for liberation. However, the idea of reflection has a specific
example, wrote about it in The Functions of the Executive history of its own. It will be suggested below that recent
(Barnard 1938; see Sadler-Smith 2007, pp. 4246). work in cognitive science could make it worthwhile to

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Intuition, Analysis and Reflection in Business Ethics 7

distinguish reflection from other System 2 processes in a which intuitive judgments can be beneficial (e.g. Klein
way that builds on that past background. We shall therefore 1998, 2009; Lehrer 2009, chap. 5; Sadler-Smith 2007;
just use the terminology System 1 and System 2. Plessner and Czenna 2008; Hodgkinson et al. 2009), and
Work by Kahneman and Tversky was some of the ear- how intuitive judgments can deliberately be improved (e.g.
liest to explore the difference between System 1 and Sys- Hogarth 2001; Raab and Johnson 2008; Sadler-Smith and
tem 2. Thus, for example, experiments have repeatedly Burke 2009).
shown that our automatic or semi-automatic judgments Despite some controversy, there is consensus amongst
based on statistics tend to embody systematic errors that leading theorists about some key issues (Kahneman and
can best be explained on the basis that we seek out causal Klein 2009). Intuition can sometimes lead us astray, but
explanations for matters that are actually just random sometimes is invaluable. So far as ethics is concerned,
variations, as Max did in the example above. Only by more some intuitions are certainly questionable, such as those
careful, systematic reasoning can we arrive at sound about in-group loyalty (Baron 1998, chap. 4; Provis 2012,
judgments of such phenomena. Kahneman (2011, p. 19) pp. 3941). However, it is arguable that good ethical
notes that System 1 may embody what we often call in- judgment in many business situations must be based on
tuitive thinking, whereas only the slower System 2 can intuition, and that such intuition constitutes Aristotles
construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps (2011, phronesis, or practical wisdom (Provis 2010; Sadler-Smith
p. 21), which is the sort of process we may associate with 2012, p. 363). Debate over the role of intuition in decision-
analytical thinking. The fact that there are the two different making in management, and in ethics, nowadays tends to
sorts of processes makes good evolutionary sense (Stano- focus not on whether good decisions can be made intu-
vich 2004, p. 40, 2011, p. 25). If early homo sapiens en- itively, but on the sorts of occasions when they can be, on
countered a predator, we were more likely to survive how frequent and important they are, and on how intuitive
through a rapid, automatic response than through a careful, judgment may be improved (e.g. Weaver et al. 2014).
systematic process of assessment and decision. We might To some extent, such points remain contentious because
sometimes flee when there was no real threat, but in the they cannot be resolved by empirical investigation alone,
long run we were still much better off. Equally, it may have as may be illustrated in the three perspectives represented
been useful for us to perceive causal links whenever we by Kahneman, Klein and Haidt, respectively. Kahneman is
could, even if doing so sometimes led us to see links sceptical of intuitive judgment, focussing on the extent to
amongst phenomena that were actually random. In our which we are systematically misled by cognitive heuristics
modern world, there are often problems with such judg- when we use our intuitive judgment. Klein, on the other
ments. When we need an accurate conclusion, as Max did hand, has emphasised situations where it seems that indi-
in the case above, a slower, more systematic System 2 viduals have been able to make good judgments only on the
response is preferable. In such cases, intuition can lead us basis of intuition. However, they agree on many funda-
into error. mental points about intuitive expertise: We found that the
sharpest differences between the two of us were emotional
Debates About Intuition rather than intellectual, they say (Kahneman and Klein
2009, p. 518), and they identify a number of key theoretical
As noted above, there is debate about the place of intuitive, points they agree on as well as a number of key recom-
System 1 judgments. This is partly because although some mendations about when to trust intuitive expertise and how
of our System 1 judgments seem to be hard-wired, a direct to develop it. It seems as though part of the difference
result from evolutionary development of the human brain, between them regards what is important. For Kahneman,
others are acquired through experience (Stanovich 2004, the theoretical implications of heuristic-driven bias loom
p. 38, 43; Evans 2008). Intuitive judgment includes not large; for Klein the success of intuitive judgment in com-
only responses that are innate, developed through evolu- plex real situations is more prominent. Could we say that
tionary selection, but also responses that individuals de- one emphasis is correct, the other not? That may turn on
velop initially through System 2 processes of deliberation what kind of setting we have in mind.
and evaluation. Chess is one well-studied example. A A similar issue arises with regard to the Social Intu-
novice chess player will spend some time carefully think- itionist Model propounded by Haidt and his colleagues.
ing through the possible outcomes of a particular move, The model has shone light in some dark corners, exploring
whereas an expert will evaluate the move quickly and ef- the way that many intuitive moral judgments are prompted
fortlessly (Lehrer 2009, p. 44). Intuition developed in this by feelings like disgust, only subsequently to be ra-
way can sometimes yield good judgment where individuals tionalised in discussion by reference to moral rules or
are under pressure from time constraints or situational principles. Haidt and colleagues acknowledge that moral
complexity. Various theorists have discussed the ways in reasoning sometimes has a causal role to play, but such

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8 C. Provis

reasoning is hypothesized to be rare (Haidt and Bjorklund had made to the places where the garments are produced.
2008a, p. 193), occurring for example when intuitions She had spoken to workers, and even visited some of their
conflict or in some public policy issues where one simply families. While it was true that some of the other factories
does not know enough to have an opinion (Haidt and in the country were oppressive and exploited workers very
Bjorklund 2008a, p. 195). It is not clear how the claim of badly, the garments sold by this firm came only from as-
rarity can be empirically tested. Narvaez presents some siduously vetted sources. The prices were low not because
evidence to the contrary (2008, p. 235), to which Haidt and the workers were low-paid, but because the owners had
Bjorklund respond (2008b), but at least part of the issue is invested in new, superior equipment. Terminating these
not about statistical frequency but about the relative im- products would have exactly the opposite effect to what
portance of cases where moral reasoning has a central role Max intended, making life harder for good employers and
to play. That sort of issue does not seem to be a straight- their employees.
forwardly empirical one, and I shall argue below that in Max was silent, then promised to check what Lucy said.
business it is both common and important for moral rea- He spent the afternoon doing so, and her account was fully
soning to play a causal role in peoples judgments and confirmed. He should have done more work to analyse the
decisions. issue before he made a decision. He sent another message
Part of the explanation why moral reasoning can play an retracting the first, and wrote a letter to the consumer
important role in business ethics judgments and decisions group.
is the prominence in business of social exchange and Reflection is important. It can help us enormously in
feedback. That such processes can allow reasoning to fig- ethical decision-making, allowing us to see new possi-
ure in judgments and decisions is a significant part of the bilities and different points of view. However, it often
Social Intuitionist Model. However, we can understand needs to be based on systematic analysis, checking details,
more fully how they may do so if we first consider the ideas working carefully through all the known possibilities,
of analysis and reflection. considering whether a conclusion stands up to detailed
scrutiny. Max engages in a process that we might reason-
ably call reflection, and fails to engage in a process we
Reflection and Analysis might reasonably call analysis. Nevertheless, ordinary
language is an imperfect tool. Our choice of terms is often
Consider Max once again. Later in the week, he had a letter a matter of context or audience, of etiquette or inclination.
from a consumer group expressing concern over the sour- Is there any theoretically useful distinction between the
cing of some of the firms clothing products. He was al- process of reflection and the process of analysis?
ready familiar with publicity about working conditions in
some of the countries where clothing is produced, high- The Idea of Reflection
lighted by disastrous fires where workers lost their lives in
factories with appalling conditions. Media stories revolved Virtues of analysis might seem to be particularly to do with
around the conditions and exploitation of workers. drawing accurate conclusions. It seems plausible to suggest
Max turned the letter over in his mind, reflecting on the an account of analysis that identifies it as some sort of
implications. Suppose they took these items out of their systematic, step-by-step approach to drawing or checking
product lines, they would lose some profit, but not too conclusions. But what of reflection? The idea of reflection
much. He could picture the lives of workers in ramshackle has figured in philosophical discussion at least since the
wooden factories, and contrast it with his own comfortable time of John Dewey. In How We Think, he says that re-
family. Removing the products would not only placate the flective thought is active, persistent, and careful consid-
consumer group, it would be a good thing to do, and not too eration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the
hard to sell to directors and shareholders. He came to a light of the grounds that support it, and the further con-
decision, and sent an e-mail message: they would terminate clusions to which it tends (Dewey 1910, p. 6). From our
the products. point of view, though, this seems to cross over the dis-
Shortly afterwards, he had a phone call. It was Lucy, one tinction between reflection and analysis. For Dewey, the
of the international buyers. She wanted to speak about the essence of reflective thought is that it contains an element
decision on the clothing products. He started to explain the of inference, drawing conclusions from evidence (Dewey
decision: regardless of the lost profit, it was the moral thing 1910, p. 8). This is something Max failed to do effectively
to do. For a moment, there was silence on the other end of in coming to a decision about the letter from the consumer
the phone. Then Lucy slowly and carefully recounted the group. The question is whether there is any sound theore-
work that had been done to check their suppliers. There had tical way to make a satisfactory distinction between ana-
been exhaustive checks, supported by personal visits she lysis and reflection.

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Intuition, Analysis and Reflection in Business Ethics 9

After Dewey, the idea of reflection has been prominent in premises might be, and their implications. To do so, we
some modern academic writing, with a focus especially on shall have to take account of our aims and desires, and
the place of reflection in teaching and the professions (e.g. what beliefs or knowledge we have that may be relevant to
Schon 1983; Kolb 1984; Moon 1999), including its role in the task at hand, that are not taken account of so far in the
business ethics education (e.g. Harris 2008; Hoivik 2009). premises we have used in our reasoning.
However, writing in these areas has often been unclear in That suggestion clearly needs further development.
defining reflection. Twenty years ago, Hatton and Smith However, it seems consistent with common usage. One
commented that the term reflection is often ill-defined and connotation of reflection seems to be taking an overview
has been used rather loosely to embrace a wide range of or sitting back from a situation to review it (Moon 1999,
concepts and strategies (1995, p. 33). They surveyed p. 5): moving back, perhaps, to reconsider the premises that
various uses of the term in modern literature. Eventually, have hitherto been the basis for our reasoning. Is the idea
for their own study, they defined reflection as deliberate consistent with emerging literature in cognitive psy-
thinking about action with a view to its improvement chology? Moon (1999, viii) commented that modern psy-
(1995, p. 40). Like Deweys, such a definition is very broad, chology literature is relatively unhelpful in regard to
and does not offer a distinction from analysis. reflection, not offering any clear way to distinguish re-
Part of the difficulty in defining reflection has been the flection from thinking more generally. Some more recent
aim to maintain ordinary connotations of the idea. Jennifer work in the area may have changed that. Koriat comments
Moon has said There is no point in defining reflection in a that there has been a surge of interest in metacognitive
manner that does not relate to the everyday use of the word processes in recent years (2007, p. 289), and some recent
if further confusion is not to be created (Moon 2001, p. 1; literature suggests possible ways to make sense of the idea
see also Moon 1999, p. 92). That is true. However, ev- of reflection that distinguish it from analysis.
eryday use may be ambiguous and vague, and a
theoretically useful definition may not be able to retain all Reflection as a Cognitive Process
everyday connotations. How wide everyday usage is,
shows itself in the comment by van Manen: Reflection is In particular, an aspect of cognitive processing that has
a fundamental concept in educational theory, and in some been extensively studied is hypothetical thinking: the
sense it is just another word for thinking (1991, p. 98). kind of thinking we do when we imagine alternatives to
While disavowing any intention to give a definition, things that have already happened, or things that are in
Moon suggested that reflection at least includes a form of prospect. Often it might be reasonable to refer to such
mental processing with a purpose and/or an anticipated thinking as reflection, as we envisage a person considering
outcome that is applied to relatively complicated or un- past or future possibilities, or mulling over what course of
structured ideas for which there is not an obvious solution action to choose. This is what Max did when he received
(1999, p. 4) and that commonly it is seen as a means of the letter from the consumer group. He imagined what
transcending more usual patterns of thought to enable the would happen if the firm did something different in the
taking of a critical stance or an overview (1999, p. 5). The future, he imagined the possibility that he himself was a
latter comment is consistent with the useful suggestion by worker in the sort of clothing factory the letter referred to,
Moberg and Calkins that the raw material of reflection is he imagined himself a few days later explaining to stake-
an experience (cognition) on which a person engages in the holders why the products had been removed from sale. It
process of cogitating and meditating (metacognition) should come as no surprise that hypothetical thinking has
(2001, p. 258). Then, they turn to possible objects of re- received a lot of attention in research on cognitive pro-
flection in business ethics, such as ones moods, expecta- cesses. Hypothetical thinking requires us to undertake the
tions or defining moments, and suggest a way to promote computationally demanding process of reasoning about a
constructive reflection. Their discussion is important, and it situation, while maintaining our awareness that it is an
is possible to refine one of the key ideas: that reflection is a imaginary or hypothetical situation (Stanovich 2011,
form of metacognition. We may take Deweys account as a 4850), a process that has sometimes been called cogni-
starting point, but consider that his account applies better to tive decoupling. This process makes great demands on
what we have termed analysis, rather than reflection. His working memory, and a wide variety of experimental
account refers to considering the support for a proposition studies have explored its detail (Byrne 2005; Evans 2007).
and its implications. Interpreting this as working out what From the point of view of dual-process theory, it seems
conclusions follow from specified premises, or checking clear that hypothetical thinking is a System 2 activity
whether some putative conclusions do actually follow from (Evans 2006, p. 379; Stanovich 2011, p. 47). Although not
specified premises, we might identify this as analysis, and all System 2 processes involve hypothetical thinking, it
specify reflection as imagining what some alternative seems to be a key part of System 2 processes to support

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10 C. Provis

hypothetical thinking. However, it may be that there are On the other hand, however, it is also possible for us to
two aspects to such support: the process of initiating hy- become too much caught up with step-by-step analysis in
pothetical thinking on one hand, and on the other hand the algorithmic thinking, as we focus too exclusively on a
process of maintaining it once started. There is a case to be single issue. We might concentrate too much on the process
made for referring to the first process as reflection, and to of recruiting someone to do a particular job, without paus-
the second as analysis: reflection consists of imagining ing to reflect that the job may be unnecessary in the near
different possibilities, while thinking through their details future. Or we may put all our mental efforts into techni-
is a process of analysis. Stanovich argues for such a dis- calities of a new computer system, without paying attention
tinction amongst System 2 processes: those processes that to the situation of the people who will be using it. We may
initiate hypothetical thinking and simulation, on one hand, implement a flawless recruitment process for an unneces-
and on the other hand those that sustain it by preventing sary position, or establish a computer arrangement that
confusion between real and imagined situations (Stanovich works perfectly given the correct input, but which many
2011, pp. 4752). The first sort of System 2 processing individuals are unable to use. Such problems are likely to
Stanovich labels the reflective mind, the second sort he occur in hypothetical thinking because our cognitive system
terms the algorithmic mind. The reflective mind inter- tends to mitigate the demands on it by concentrating on just
rupts System 1 or other processing to initiate focussed al- one possibility: in hypothetical thinking, we consider one
gorithmic processing; the algorithmic mind maintains such hypothesis at a time and maintain it until we find a good
processing in the face of potentially distracting stimuli and reason to give it up (Evans 2006, p. 380). Stanovich refers
ensures that attention to the previously determined cogni- to this error as focal bias; it can be seen in a number of
tive goal is maintained (Stanovich 2011, p. 59). Processes well-attested experimental results, such as framing and
of the algorithmic mind are the sorts of processes tradi- anchoring effects (2011, p. 105; cf. Berlyne 1960, p. 266).
tionally measured by standard intelligence tests. On the Once I have started to think about finding someone to do the
other hand, the reflective mind determines the cognitive job, I remain focussed on the process of recruitment and
goal for the algorithmic mind. Stanovich argues that the selection, failing to think about other possibilities, such as
difference between the reflective mind and the algorithmic temporarily reallocating work to others.
mind is captured operationally in the distinction that psy- Stanovichs account of the reflective mind is consistent
chologists make between tests of intelligence and tests of with the idea of stepping back to look again at the premises
critical thinking (2011, p. 39). that one has been using previously. Other recent work also
We are well aware of failures of algorithmic thinking. seems consistent with the same general idea. One example
When we make a mistake in our mental arithmetic, when is Ohlssons work on mental creativity: how we solve
we fail to work through the implications of a changed problems that initially baffle us. Ohlsson gives an account
meeting schedule, when Max failed to undertake a step-by- of creative imagination that focusses partly on the occur-
step examination of the firms clothing supply chain, the rence of insight, the experience we may have when we
explanation is often that our cognitive resources have let us solve a problem that has resisted ordinary analysis (Ohls-
down. In business, it is easy to make mistakes because of son 2011, p. 87). There are some parallels between insight
shortcomings in algorithmic processing. We can omit to and intuition (Sadler-Smith 2007, chap. 3), and ordinary
order resources, forgetting that others will have been used. language does not always distinguish the ideas clearly, but
We can make commitments that require us to be in two here insight refers just to the solution of problems that have
places at once. We can fail to allow for seasonal variations. confronted individuals with some cognitive impasse, some
And so on. There are failures because our working memory sort of puzzle they have previously been unable to solve.
cannot cope with the demands on it, or because the de- They are problems that need creative imagination, the sorts
mands are so effortful (Kahneman 2011, chaps. 2, 3). Ex- of problems which in ethical matters demand moral
perience helps us guard against such lapses: for example, imagination (Johnson 1993; Werhane 1999). Ohlsson
accounting arrangements can focus attention on areas contrasts analytical thinking with the sort of process that
where mistakes might be made, or we can develop leads to insight (Ohlsson 2011, pp. 6061). Like other
checklists to ensure that actions are conducted only in the forms of hypothetical thinking, the cognitive process that
correct order, or to ensure the people speak to one another results in creative insight explores implications of a single
before decisions are made where they could lead to a set of premisses, but after continued impasse moves to
problem (Gawande 2009, pp. 6567). Such a checklist consider alternative possibilities (Ohlsson 2011,
could have helped Max, as he neglected the effortful task pp. 102107). The way forward for someone who has ar-
of examining supply chain details. It can often be important rived at an impasse in efforts to solve a problem is to reach
in ethical issues, as we ensure that people are treated fairly back to find a different starting point, rather than just
in a recruitment process, for example. continuing to apply the same analytical processes.

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Intuition, Analysis and Reflection in Business Ethics 11

Accounts like these by Stanovich and by Ohlsson seem Examples of Business Ethics Problems
consistent with distinguishing analysis from more reflective
thinking: they at least suggest a distinction between two The characteristic of business that allows social exchange
sorts of processes that are importantly different, and in and feedback to build good intuitive judgment is its com-
particular may be importantly different for ethical judg- plex institutional environment. Individuals have specific
ment and decision. It seems clear that there is developing roles to play, in a social context governed by a mixture of
work that can help to make sense of a distinction between formal rules, informal conventions and personal relation-
analytical reasoning and reflective thought, broadly along ships. Some moral demands are quite general, and the same
the lines that analysis consists of focussed, step-by-step as elsewhere, but others are more specific to the environ-
reasoning about a single possibility, whereas reflection ment. Consider these examples:
considers new, alternative possibilities to be examined.
a firm faces the prospect of bankruptcy, and directors
Such work can be linked to dual-process accounts of
have to decide whether it is ethical to rearrange
mental functioning that can also allow intuitive judgment
company affairs in a way that will disadvantage some
to be distinguished from analysis and from reflection.
creditors but maintain the company as a going concern;
the director of a company is invited to serve on a
government committee, and has to decide whether
The Relevance to Business Ethics
membership of the committee would involve her in a
conflict of interest;
Intuition, analysis and reflection are all relevant to busi-
a middle-level manager finds evidence that suggests to
ness, and each can have a place in business ethics judgment
him that a product sold by his firm may pose a risk to
and decision-making. But are they any more relevant here
consumer safety, and when other managers have an
than elsewhere? In fact, there are some characteristics of
opposed view to his, has to decide whether to disclose
the business environment that can make it especially im-
the matter publicly.
portant to see how the three forms of cognitive processing
can complement one another. Examples like these suggest limitations of the Social In-
Earlier, we made particular note of the different ap- tuitionist Models claim that most moral judgments are im-
proaches to intuition represented by Kahneman, by Klein and pelled by intuitive emotional responses like disgust and
by Haidt. The first concentrates on the experimental work shame. It is easy to accept that our judgments about incest or
that demonstrates hard-wired System 1 tendencies to use eating a pet dog are prompted by emotional reactions and
cognitive heuristics; the second is developed from natural- subsequently rationalised, but situations like those mentioned
istic studies that show how individuals can develop good above are distinguished by their complex organisational and
intuitive judgment from appropriate experience and feed- institutional environments. Someone unfamiliar with the
back; while the third emphasises the extent to which intuitive context and institutional structures of the cases may barely
moral judgments emerge from basic emotional responses understand the issues that arise, let alone have judgment dri-
like shame and disgust. However, Haidt and colleagues ven by an intuitive emotional response. A good deal of our
Social Intuitionist Model also incorporates the point that moral judgment about such cases revolves around interpreting
System 2 reasoning is important as a part of social interaction the situations in the first place. To understand them, we have to
that can modify and improve ethical judgments (Haidt and know about details of the institutional framework, about
Bjorklund 2008a, p. 181). Now, we have seen also that peoples roles and the specific conventions and rules that
System 2 style reasoning can be reflective or analytical. A shape others expectations, on which people base their deci-
number of those various points play complementary roles in sions and actions. These factors distinguish such situations
understanding and managing business ethics judgment and from many others that call for moral judgment.
decision-making. Intuitive judgments can be as misleading In particular, the complexity of such environments em-
in business ethics as they can be elsewhere. The initial case phasises the need for complementary intuition, analysis and
where Max erred in seeing evidence of discrimination is one reflection. Even in a small organisation in a stable envi-
sort of example. On the other hand, with experience man- ronment, unaided analytical thinking would be thwarted by
agers can develop intuitive ethical expertise. But develop- the number of possibilities it would have to deal with, as
ment of sound intuitive judgment through experience each individual would need to take account of other indi-
requires appropriate feedback. Often, that needs to be ob- viduals possible perceptions, expectations, and reactions:
tained through social interaction based on sound analysis and a combinatorial explosion (Ohlsson 2011, p. 64). Choice
reflection. The interplay amongst all these processes emer- of possibilities to consider has to emerge from knowledge
ges from the sorts of organisational and institutional settings and experience of such contexts: the choice constitutes
in which business is conducted. the memory systems best guess as to what knowledge is

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12 C. Provis

relevant for the problem at hand (Ohlsson 2011, p. 99). business, and then can we exchange feedback that is ac-
Sometimes we may call on memories of scripts that tell curate, diagnostic, and reasonably timely.
us what to expect of people in specific situations, and
which set out peoples role requirements (Witteman and Intuition, Reflection and Analysis
van Geenen 2009, p. 47; Provis 2012, chap. 3). However,
undue focus on role prescriptions can be the kind of ana- Language does not only function to allow interpersonal
lytical thought Stanovich argues to be defective in the communication about such complex institutional environ-
absence of reflection (Stanovich 2011, p. 65). It is a type of ments. It is also crucial for intrapersonal processes of ana-
compartmentalization that shows cognitive and moral lysis and reflection. It may be that social use of language is
shortcomings (Sadler-Smith 2012, p. 364). evolutionarily primary, and that human cognition then be-
In their complexity, these situations resemble the cases came able to use it for individual analysis and reflection
studied by Klein and his colleagues. As in development of (Stanovich 2011, pp. 9192), but in any event it seems clear
many sorts of expertise, development of good intuitive that language can facilitate such thinking (Stanovich 2011,
judgment in situations of this type requires substantial ex- p. 50). Intrapersonal thought is then able to rehearse the
perience, but experience alone is not enough: if subsequent language that might be used for interpersonal persuasion or
judgments are to become better, the experience needs to in- accounting. Once intrapersonal processes of analysis and
clude feedback. This feedback needs to be accurate, diag- reflection are established, we can then see how they may
nostic, and reasonably timely (Phillips et al. 2004, p. 306). affect and be affected by interpersonal processes of social
But what form can such feedback take in business ethics? exchange. We analyse issues and reflect on them, and then
In complex institutional settings, appropriate feedback expose our judgments to social feedback, either through
does not emerge from success or failure so straightfor- discussion or when we implement our decisions. Then the
wardly as in many other contexts. The novice chess player three processes of intuition, analysis and reflection can build
who gobbles up an offered pawn soon experiences the ig- on and develop one another.
nominy of rapid checkmate, and learns accordingly. Man- Thus, for example, in the cases envisaged above about a
agers who make poor ethical judgments sometimes get prospect of bankruptcy or a possible conflict of interest,
quick, vivid feedback, but more often outcomes of actions analytical reasoning may be very important. Only by
are slow to develop, and frequently are contestable in their carefully thinking through the effects of a possible rear-
interpretation. Very often, it is easier to maintain a view rangement would it be possible to come to any ethical
that an action was ethical than that it was profitable. If conclusion. A failure of analysis might cause great harm or
others disagree, we can tell ourselves that in such matters unfairness. The analysis will have to be based on extensive,
our judgment is simply better than theirs. In ethics, more sophisticated understanding of business processes and
than in many other areas, we can maintain belief in our structures, but the details will also need to be worked
own superior judgment. We are subject to confirmation through carefully. In considering a putative conflict of in-
bias, in its various forms: our tendency to seek or interpret terest, the director will not only have to understand the idea
evidence in ways that are consistent with our pre-existing of a conflict of interest and how it might possibly apply in
beliefs or ideas (Nickerson 1998). this case; she will also have to carefully analyse the details
Here, the Social Intuitionist Model shows one of its of her role as a director and the functions of the committee.
strengths and offers assistance. As individuals, we tend to Some reflection may be necessary to consider different
maintain belief in the soundness of our judgments and possibilities, but analytical thinking will be dominant.
decisions, but in social contexts we have to give accounts On the other hand, in the third case, reflection may be
to others and expose ourselves to their views: when you paramount. The manager needs to step back and consider
put flawed reasoners together into a social group good the implications of various alternatives. In doing so, he
reasoning can emerge, because each persons confirmation may use his imagination to consider a hypothetical future
bias is challenged by others (Haidt 2013, p. 288). In where he acts in one way, and contrast it with an alternative
general, individuals are very much aware of group norms, where he acts in a different way. Some analysis may be
and very attentive to others judgments, evaluations and necessary to see the likely effects of the different alterna-
actions (Haidt 2001, p. 819, 2007, p. 9991000; Sadler- tives, but reflective thinking will be dominant.
Smith 2012, p. 361). This does not only happen in business, When the individuals make their decisions, they will be
of course, but in business such social interaction is a key confronted with the outcomes. Those outcomes may in-
source of feedback. Often, it uses language, and that clude social feedback, which will confirm or disconfirm
enormously increases its scope. When we can define and their judgment. Over time, from such decisions and feed-
use terms like conflict of interest can we develop the back, they will be able to develop better intuitive judgment.
sorts of norms and judgments that are important in modern But that development may not be fostered solely by social

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Intuition, Analysis and Reflection in Business Ethics 13

feedback. It may also be important for them to analyse or decoupling, focussing on our mental representations them-
reflect on what transpired. Part of the process of developing selves rather than simply using them as a basis for further
intuitive expertise identified by Klein is individuals en- thought, and that then reflective discussions enable us to
riching their experiences by reviewing prior experiences to compare our views of the world and to create improved
derive new insights and lessons from mistakes (Phillips shared views of the world (2012, p. 304). Such improved
et al. 2004, p. 306). Retrospective analysis and reflection views can be about the physical world, but in the present
can lead to neural restructuring, just as social feedback can context what is most important is that they may be
(Reynolds 2006). As Reynolds comments, anyone who improvements in our understanding of others desires,
has lain awake at night contemplating the experiences of beliefs and intentions. In complex institutional settings, this
the previous day knows that retrospection is a key com- is a key to developed understanding of roles and relation-
ponent of the ethical experience (Reynolds 2006, p. 742). ships, and the improved understanding becomes part of our
Typically, such retrospection will involve both reflection knowledge base for future judgments and decisions. Ulti-
and analysis. In reflecting, our hypothetical thinking ima- mately, over time, individuals will develop intuitive judg-
gines different possibilities, what might have happened or ment about many situations that earlier would have required
how we might have felt if we had acted differently. In System 2 processing of deliberate analysis and reflection.
analysing, we not only have to work out the likely effects The process is not inevitable. Phillips and colleagues
of different courses of action, but also the explanations for emphasise that individuals motivation is important for
what we actually did and what actually happened. their development of intuitive expertise (2004, p. 306), and
Both individual analysis and reflection, on one hand, and Ohlsson emphasises that effort is important for the sort of
social discussion and feedback, on the other hand, are im- reflective thinking that solves insight problems: deciding
portant for developing intuitive ethical expertise in business. to search is a major determinant of the probability of
By seeing the ways that intuition, analysis and reflection finding (2011, p. 386). Individuals characteristics will
may interact, we can also see what conditions may inhibit or include their abilities and dispositions to engage in analysis
enhance the development of good ethical judgment. They and reflection. At the same time, social environments will
will be like processes of developing intuitive expertise in sometimes be more likely and sometimes be less likely to
general, but in an environment where social feedback is foster worthwhile feedback. In organisations, there are
especially important. Social feedback can be added to our enormous pressures for conformity and compliance, and on
memory store, to be called on again in future (Baddeley many occasions organisational culture may inhibit open
et al. 2009, p. 11). Social feedback is important partly be- exchange or ethical reflection. But knowing more about the
cause it leads us to imagine possible feedback as we reflect processes involved can help us to promote and manage
on possible courses of action: hence, such techniques as good ethical judgment and decision. Behnam and Rasche
encouraging ourselves to imagine how we would feel if an (2009) point out similarities between ethical reflection and
action was described to one of our parents, or reported on business strategising. Perhaps the clearest and most fun-
the front page of the newspaper (e.g. Trevino and Nelson damental similarity is that each is a process that may be
2007, p. 108). That is just one amongst a number of tech- neglected, but can be deliberately embarked upon. In dis-
niques that experimental research has identified as effective tinguishing amongst ethical reflection, analysis and intu-
in managing ones cognitive processes and overcoming ition and seeing how they interact, we are better equipped
ones first impulse, and with experience we can develop to manage the processes involved. Such processes are not
others as well (Patterson et al. 2012, p. 2). always under deliberate control, but sometimes they are,
Social feedback is important in developing reflective and the clearer we are about their nature, the better we are
awareness. On the other hand, the converse may also be able to exercise whatever control is possible.
true: reflective awareness may be important to sustain the
social interactions that provide feedback. Comparing au-
tomatic, unconscious, System 1 sorts of processes in social Conclusion
cognition with more explicit processes, Frith and Frith say
Overall, an improved account of the distinction and rela-
We suggest a particular role for explicit processes in
tionships amongst intuition, analysis and reflection assists
fostering social interactions, which may be unique to
moral development and ethical judgment, and does so
humans. These processes are characterized not sim-
especially in business and in other similar contexts where
ply by awareness but also by reflective awareness.
there is a complex institutional environment. To begin
(2012, p. 301).
with, it is important that there are differences between
Just as hypothetical thinking involves cognitive decoupling, different sorts of intuition. In many cases, intuitive ethical
they suggest that reflective discussion involves mental judgments are more or less innate, based on fast and frugal

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14 C. Provis

heuristics or on emotive responses, but in complex insti- Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social
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Some established practices using case studies and other Journal of Moral Education, 42(3), 281297.
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Hodgkinson, G. P., Sadler-Smith, E., Burke, L. A., Claxton, G., &
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