A Matter of Ethics
From Ethical Dimensions of the Scholar, a professional development module for 1989-91 Kappa Omicron Phi and Omicron Nu Program Theme, developed by Dorothy I. Mitstifer, 1989.
Purpose: This activity will
Clarify the concept of ethics
Identify ethical behaviors and guidelines for acting ethically
Materials Needed: Newsprint and markers for each small group
Detailed Procedural Steps:
Form groups of 5-8 persons (if total group is small, 3-4)
Assign half of the small groups to gripe roles and half to glee roles.
Gripe session - Share your experiences about a time you observed an unethical behavior but nothing was done about it.
Glee session - Share your experiences about a time you observed someone challenge and rectify unethical behavior.
1. Assign each small group to use the discussion ideas to develop a list of ethical behaviors on newsprint.
2. Share lists with large group.
3. Develop a master list of ethical behaviors. List on newsprint.
Synergizing (Facilitator presentation of mini-lecture)
Although ethics as a concept is familiar to all of us, some definitions will assure shared understanding. Ethics has to do with how people ought to act towards each other (Rest, 1985). Ethical issues have to do with questions of right and wrong-our duties and obligations, our rights and responsibilities in the ethical dilemmas at home, on the job, and in social situations (Strike, 1988). Ethical reasoning involves forming judgments about what to do. Ethics and morality, in general, refer to the same things, so the two terms can be used synonymously (Arcus, 1987).
The activity you just experienced demonstrated that ethical behavior is characterized by specific behaviors. But how does one judge how to behave ethically? The following principles (Thiroux, 1986) are guidelines for regulating ethical behavior.
- Value of Life - Human life has inviolable sanctity. ". . . it is always wrong to act in a way which directly intends to harm or to kill an innocent human person" (Goodwin, 1985, p. 7).
- Goodness or Rightness - Ethical decisions should involve the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. Doing good, in addition to refraining from doing evil, is required so that the consequences are good for the individual and for society.
- Justice or Fairness - This principle relates to equality of treatment and fair distribution of benefits and burdens among members of society.
- Truth-telling or Honesty - Although ethical action should be based on the truth, this principle is complicated by issues related to who has a right to the truth and whether or not it is appropriate to withhold it. When do you know you have all of the facts and can determine what is true? Confidentiality (contact-keeping), related to honesty and individual freedom, poses its own set of complications: What do you do when human welfare conflicts with confidentiality? When do you break a promise?
- Individual Freedom - Ethical decisions should consider the principle of self-determination. ". . . treat human beings as ends in themselves, never as means only" (Kant in Goodwin, 1985, p. 7). Related to this standard are the following complexities: Whose right is uppermost when one person's autonomy impinges on another? Who should speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?
Because of the complexities already discussed these principles provide no easy answers. There is no foolproof, cookbook approach in making moral decisions.
Arcus, M. E. (1987, April). Ethics in home economics: Taking it seriously. Ethics in today's world. Proceedings of 30th Anniversary Conference of Illinois Teacher of Home Economics, University of Illinois, 12-19.
Goodwin, L. (1985, Fall) Ethical theory in the practical context. SCAN, 6-8.
Rest, J. R. (1985, October). Evaluating moral development. In J. C. Dalton (Ed.), Promoting values development in college studies (pp. 77-89), NASPA Monograph Series, Vol. 4 (ED 272 803).
Strike, K. A. (1988, October). The ethics of teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(2), 156-158.
Thiroux, J. (1986). Ethics: Theory and practice. London: Collier McMillan.