Fraud and guilt: rationalization strategies and the relevance of Kierkegaardian life-views

Date01 April 2019
Publication Date01 April 2019
AuthorMichel Dion
SubjectAccounting & Finance,Financial risk/company failure,Financial crime
Fraud and guilt: rationalization
strategies and the relevance of
Kierkegaardian life-views
Michel Dion
School of Management, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to use Kierkegaardslife-views (aesthetical, ethicist and religious
life-views) for better understanding the way fraudsters are dealing with their ontic-existentiell guilt, while
developingrationalization tactics.
Design/methodology/approach Rationalization tacticsmake possible to neutralize moral discomfort
about fraudulent practices.Endorsing Kierkegaard life-views actually unveilsthree basic patterns fraudsters
could agree with (consciouslyor not): the focus for individualization processes, the ontic-existentiellquest and
the attitude towards guilt. Each Kierkegaardian life-view has deepened this threefold pattern in a very
Findings The aesthetician life-view is so emphasizing immediacy and pleasure that it strengthens an
amoral perspective. Fraudsterscould easily adopt such life-view. The ethicist is so basically concernedwith
morality (distinction between good and evil)that he/she cannot consciously favour fraudulent practices. At
best, fraudstersmay be would-be ethicists. As long as they are unable tofeel repentance, fraudsters will not
be able to fullyembrace the religious life-view. At best, they may be would-bereligious.
Research limitations/implications The way Kierkegaards life-viewscould put light on fraudsters
rationalization tactics has notbeen empirically assessed. Empirical studies that would be focussedon such
topics should deepen the relevance and meaning of fraudsterspsychological, sociological, cultural and
Originality/value The paper analyzesto what extent fraudsters could feel psychological guilt, as wellas
ontic-existentiell guilt, as it is grounded on ontological-existential guilt (guilt as an ontological category).
Taking Kierkegaards life-views as reference pattern, it presentsthe implications of being oriented towards
immediacy/pleasure(avoiding guilt, at any cost), towards freedom (beingaware of ones guilt) or towards the
innite(being fully aware of ones guilt).
Keywords Corruption, Fraud, guilt, Kierkegaard, Rationalization tactics
Paper type Conceptual paper
1. Introduction
Guilt cannot be reduced to psychologicalprocesses, or to social, cultural and even religious-
spiritual conditioning factors. It is rooted in our being-free, and thus, in our ontological-
existential nitude. Martin Heidegger (1962, p. 33) asserted that ontology implies the
analysis of the structure of existence, while ontic affairs actually deal with the way we are
deciding our own existence. Heideggers ontological difference referred to the difference
between Being and entities. Unlike nonhuman beings,human being can grasp the being of
entities. He/she can understand Being itself and the being of entities (Käufer, 2005, p. 483).
Being is not the concept thatactually covers all entities. Rather, understanding Beingmakes
possible to meet entities as entities(Nicholson, 1996, p. 362). In What is metaphysics? (1938),
Disclosure statement: No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Fraud and
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.26 No. 2, 2019
pp. 607-622
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-01-2018-0009
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Heidegger explained that Being cannot be displayed without entities. Entities cannot be
without Being (Heidegger, 2006,p. 77). Existential understanding is related to the structure
of existence, and thus refers to ontological categories. Existentiell understanding is rather
addressing the possibility to be ourselves throughout our own existence, as an individual
(historically based, ontic) entity. Existentiell nitude is concretely expressed through the
ontic/existentiell dimension of human life. Existential nitude is rather an ontological
category: it makes an integralpart of what-it-means-to-be. Authenticity implies to acceptour
existential nitude, while inauthenticity means that we are unable to take our existential
nitude upon ourselves. In the daily life, authenticity takes an ontic-existentiell form and
inuences the way we are seizing our own responsibility. Ontic responsibility could be
authentic, or inauthentic (Pols, 1981,p. 298). Being nite and free to choose our own values,
emotions, and words is opening the way to imperfect attitudes and deeds. We cannot
overcome ontological-existential nitude (and thus existential guilt), since it is an integral
part of human existence. Being-nite is being-free. Being-free is having the capacity to
undertake imperfect behaviours.Being-imperfect makes possible to feel guilty for wrongful
conducts. This is the realm of the ontic-existentiellguilt.
Soeren Kierkegaards life-views have been connected to three positioning leadership
(1) aesthetic life-view and the instrumental leadership position;
(2) ethical life-view and the responsible leadership position; and
(3) religious life-view and the spiritual leadership position (Storsletten and Jakobsen,
In this article, we are using Kierkegaards notions of aesthetic/ethical/religious life-view to
see how such life-views could help to better understand the way fraudsters are using
rationalization tactics to remove their ontic-existentiell guilt. Literature about the feeling of
guilt has often neglectedto consider the existential/existentiell dimensionof guilt. The ontic-
existentiell aspect of guilt is emphasizedby the ethical life-view, while the religious life-view
insists on its ontological-existential dimension. The aesthetician does not worry about the
ontic-existentiell and/or ontological-existential dimension of guilt. Taking into account the
existential/existentiell dimension of guilt should never minimize individual suffering,
particularly for those who have developed posttraumaticstress disorders as well as burnout
and depression (Golembiewski et al., 1992). However, guilt is not only a psychological fact,
but also basic dimension of human existence. Using Kierkegaardian life-views will make
possible to identifythree basic patterns fraudsters could strengthen:
(1) the focus on their own individualization;
(2) their ontic-existentiell guilt; and
(3) their attitude towards guilt.
2. Fraud and rationalization tactics
According to Cressey (1950), there are three basic conditions for having fraud: Perceived
pressure; Rationalizations, and perceived opportunity. The interaction between those three
conditions constitutes the Fraud Triangle. Rationalizations are explanatory patterns which
are used to morally justify ones behaviour in a given group.Members of the group actually
share such explanatory patterns, so that they are unable to nd out any other motivation
behind their actions and decisions. However, criminals are not aware that an explanation
can never be a moral justication. Whether it is sociological, psychological, legal, political,

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