Incrementalism

Incrementalism is the slippery slope that often causes people to slide unintentionally into unethical behavior. It can happen when people cut small corners that become bigger over time.  For example, almost every instance of accounting fraud begins with people fudging small numbers that grow larger and larger.

People’s brains are not adept at perceiving small changes. In addition, continued exposure to unethical behavior is desensitizing and makes those activities seem routine. Indeed, we can easily lose sight of the fact that those activities are immoral and possibly illegal.

Wrongdoers, and people in general, may never even realize that they are making a life-changing decision when they make small, unethical choices. But in truth, as philosopher Jonathan Glover says, incrementalism is how we “slide into participation by imperceptible degrees so that there is never the sense of a frontier being crossed.”