Moral disengagement is a term used to describe the process by which an individual convinces himself that ethical standards do not apply to him within a particular situation or context. Moral Disengagement can be further broken down into four categories: reconstructing immoral conduct, diffusing responsibility, dehumanizing the victim, and misrepresenting injurious consequences (1).
Reconstructing conduct is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor depicts an otherwise morally reprehensible behaviour as having some sort of moral purpose. In this way he convinces himself that the behaviour is now acceptable.
Diffusing responsibility is a method of moral disengagement in which individuals collectively behave in an inhumane manner by aggregating individual behaviours which by themselves are harmless.
Dehumanizing is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor convinces himself that the person receiving the behaviour is less than human, and thus does not deserve the same treatment as others should receive.
Finally, misrepresenting injurious consequences is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor attempts to avoid admitting to himself that his conduct is wrong by ignoring personal reflection on what the negative consequences of his behaviour might be.
1. Bandura, A. (1999). “Moral Disengagement in the Perpetration of Inhumanities“. Personality and Social Psychology Review 3 (3): 193–209.