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Interrogating the concepts of Integrity and Ethics

Education 12 Feb, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

On 18 and 19 October 2018, under its Education for Justice (E4J) initiative, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized an Expert Workshop for university lecturers aimed at enhancing their capacity to teach integrity and ethics. The Expert Workshop was held at the Universidad del Rosario, hosted and co-organized by the University's Centre for Ethics and Citizenship.

Having recently completed the development of the Education for Justice (E4J) University Modules on Integrity and Ethics, the UNODC has rolled them out and is engaging as many universities and academics as possible to strengthen integrity and ethics education worldwide.

I had the privilege of attending this event. The teaching of ethics and integrity must be an important component of education itself, and in my view, especially at the tertiary levels.

The University Modules on Integrity and Ethics developed by the experts chosen by the UNODC is a treasure trove of scholarly and practical information on the subject. They cover such areas as ethics and universal values, ethics and society, ethical leadership, ethics, diversity and pluralism, challenges to ethical living, strategies for ethical action, behavioural ethics, gender dimensions of ethics, media integrity and ethics, professional ethics and integrity, ethics and law.

This article discusses briefly the concepts of ethics and integrity. The current preference is towards a shift from ‘corruption’ studies, to a widening and broadening of the focus to examining integrity and ethics. It is believed that this more ‘comprehensive perspective’ allows us to move beyond discussions about the difference between right and wrong, in order to focus on relationships and behaviour as well.’

Derived from the Greek word ethos, ethics is that branch of philosophy that covers systems of moral principles essentially seeking to answer the question: ‘How should we live our lives?’

Considerations of right and wrong must have weighed heavily on the minds of our specie from the most primeval times, however, in the western tradition, the formal study of ethics began with the Greek philosopher, Socrates, who saw morality as a kind of self-discovery to know what is right. Others after him such as Plato, taught character based ethics emphasizing such qualities as courage, temperance, justice and prudence.

Whereas the term integrity is used in various contexts, from the perspective of philosophy, it involves considerations of the ethical and the moral dimensions of our lives. In fact, integrity treats, firstly, with how we see and relate to ourselves, and, secondly, the moral constraints that we place on our behaviours with each other.

The following is a quote from UNODC’s module ‘Introduction and Conceptual Framework’:

‘The concept of integrity has been derived from the Latin "integritas" (wholeness). It is defined as consistency between beliefs, decisions and actions, and continued adherence to values and principles. When someone is described as a person of integrity, the suggestion is that such a person is not corruptible as a result of the "wholeness" and "connectedness" of the values and principles that such a person subscribes to.

‘Integrity is often used in conjunction with ethics, suggesting that the values and principles that are adhered to should be ethical values. Some of the values that are often mentioned in this regard are honesty, openness, accountability and trustworthiness. Organizational integrity refers to the ability of individual organizations to develop and implement an integrity management framework, and for employees to act in accordance with the values of the organization.’

The concept of ethics always comes back to the question of – how ought we to live? What is right conduct? How do we ‘know’ what is right conduct? How can we be sure that ethical values such as trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, compassion, fairness, honesty, integrity, transparency, accountability, stewardship and excellence ae key universal values that are worth promoting?

With the rise of China as the world’s second largest economy, and the international, political and cultural influence that comes with this, ethicists have become particularly interested in Confucianism. Confucius was a famous Chinese thinker and social philosopher whose teachings have deeply influenced East Asia for centuries. He lived approximately between 551 and 479 BC and was a founder of the Ru School of Chinese thought. He is credited with such quotations as ‘He who will not economize, will have to agonize’, ‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand’, ‘It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop’, and ‘To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle.’

As an ethical and philosophical teaching, the main ethical principle of Confucianism is humanism- the belief that human beings can be taught good qualities, how to respect each other and how good engage in respectful, yet meaningful communication. A fundamental teaching is that organizations, economics, and societies are built on relationships and that the blueprint for fostering trusting healthy is taking seriously the Golden Rule, demonstrating humanity towards others, and seeking the good of others over our own interests.’ Everyone, no matter the status is worthy of our respect and should be treated as we would want to be treated.

As the module points out, he also considered ethics to mean questions of how we ought to live, what goes into a worthwhile life, how to weigh duties toward family versus duties toward strangers and whether human nature is predisposed to be morally good or bad. He even considers how one ought to relate to the non-human world, the extent to which one ought to become involved in reforming the larger social and political structures of one's society, and how one ought to conduct oneself when in a position of influence or power.

Clearly, discussions about integrity and ethics address the fundamental distinction between right and wrong. It also considers how we might best arrive at this distinction. As pointed out by the module, arriving at decision is much more difficult than deciding whether we prefer one type of food to another, or whether the answer to a simple mathematical equation is right or wrong.

Ethical theories were developed to help us navigate what are sometimes challenging decisions of a moral nature. We examine a few of these in the next article.

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