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In a consideration of the relationship of ethical systems to social structure, it is important to show how these terms are being used; different meanings can represent different degrees of abstraction, and the kinds of relationship possible will vary accordingly.

“Social structure” has been taken by Radcliffe-Brown (1952, p. 11; compare pp. 188–204) to mean “an arrangement of persons in institutionally controlled or defined relationships”; in this case, the term stands for a social organization with actual individuals as its constituents. It may be taken, as by Evans-Pritchard ([1940] 1963, p. 262), to exclude relations between persons, but to describe such relations between groups as have a high degree of constancy and consistency. Or it may be taken in a still more abstract sense–as a network of relationships between sets of institutionalized social roles (Firth 1954; Nadel 1957; Emmet 1960; 1966).

The view here adopted is that although observation must start from the first of these senses (interactions between persons) and may proceed through the second (regularities in group interactions), the systematic notion of a “social structure” will need to be couched in the abstract terminology of relationships between roles.

The notion of an ethical system is even less clearly determined. It may be taken to mean (a) the mores of a given society as a sociologist observes them; (b) a systematic code of moral principles, such as that of the Roman Catholic church; and (c) a philosophical theory about the rationale of moral action, such as utilitarianism.

Ethics and social structure. In considering relationship to a social structure, we would be tempted to say that we need be concerned only with (a). This, however, would be unsatisfactory, since to talk of an ethical system is to imply far more than a pattern of observed forms of behavior; rules of conduct, as derived from ethical notions, may be honored in the breach as well as in the observance. In order to discover a people’s ethical system even in sense (a), it will therefore be necessary to take into account their statements about what is considered right and wrong and why, as well as to describe conformities in their behavior and the working of sanctions against deviation.

For this reason, it might be logically preferable to consider an ethical system simply in sense (b), as a body of beliefs about right and wrong, although these are unlikely in many cases to be as systematic as those connected with a formulated theological position, such as that of the Roman Catholic church. Sense (b), however, can be related to social structure only by showing how the ethical beliefs in question affect the ways members of the society behave in their social roles.

Social structure in theory and practice. We also need to distinguish here between an idealized view of the social structure, seen as a network of roles played according to the rules (or, where rules are broken, corrected by sanctions) and the social structure as a generalized description of typical role behavior that may fall short of official ethical prescriptions. In the latter case, however, ethical prescriptions must be taken into account in seeking to understand the behavior, if only to show ways in which the prescriptions are being evaded; the notion of “role expectations,” often used in speaking of social structures, can thus be ambiguous. It may stand for predictions of how a person is likely to behave in a given role. It may also stand for “what is expected of him” (normatively) in that role; and notoriously people do not always live up to these “expectations.” An ethical system as a set of norms for action needs to be distinguished, therefore, from a descriptive account of the mores as customary ways of behavior (cf. Sumner [1906] 1959, chapter 2).

Distinctiveness of ethical judgments. It is also important to try to distinguish those aspects of the mores that should properly be called ethical from those more properly called religious, legal, political, or matters of etiquette. This is a matter in which the anthropologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Westermarck, were interested, but to which less direct attention has been paid more recently, perhaps because moral values pervade these other aspects of social life and are difficult to isolate from them (Edel 1962). Some recent work has been done by moral philosophers on what may be the distinctive criteria of moral as distinct from other kinds of judgment (Ladd 1957; Brandt 1954; cf. Macbeath 1952). But the question of whether these criteria are logically necessary to anything that can be called an ethical system, or whether they are culture bound, is a matter calling for cooperative work between philosophers and anthropologists. Until there is a larger body of material for comparative study directed to such questions as whether primitive peoples have specifically ethical notions that are independent of their religious or political notions, the field of study will remain largely speculative.

Two kinds of ethical relativism. The distinction between the logical criteria of what makes a system an ethical system and the substantive principles it contains has not always been drawn by writers on the cultural conditioning of ethical beliefs. While generally holding that ethical beliefs are “relative” to a culture, they do not always distinguish the “reductionist” form of ethical relativism, which presents the ethical beliefs of a people as functionally dependent on their other beliefs and practices, and the kind of “content” relativism which, while allowing that substantive ethical beliefs and practices may be affected by other factors within the society, nevertheless recognizes that there may be distinctive moral interests not exhaustively explicable in terms of other interests. The difference between these two approaches can be summarized by saying that the reductionist maintains that the ethical beliefs of a people can be exhaustively rendered in terms of their non-ethical interests, such as the familial or economic, whereas the “content” relativist is prepared to admit that the belief that “X is right” can provide a bona fide reason for acting accordingly, although the content of X may be culturally variable (Emmet 1966, chapter 5).

The latter approach would be concerned with seeing how these different interests may affect each other in producing a particular “way of life”; an instance is Max Weber’s well-known thesis on the relation between the Puritan ethic and capitalism in the seventeenth century (Weber 1904–1905). This need not be taken (as by some Marxists) to mean that the ethical ideas of the Puritans were simply a superstructure rationalizing their economic behavior. On the contrary, it can mean that the kinds of behavior, such as hard work and thrifty living, prescribed by their ethical beliefs fitted the kinds of behavior needed for successful entrepreneurial activity in the early stages of a capitalist economy. Thus, a mutual reinforcement of two strong human interests–the ethical and the economic–would be produced and a way of life with survival value established. This type of analysis aims at finding functional interrelations between ethical and other practices within a society without prejudging the question of whether, nevertheless, there may not be distinctively ethical motives and interests; for instance, the belief that hard work is morally commendable need not only be a disguised way of saying hard work is economically profitable, nor is it necessarily caused by the fact that hard work is profitable.

Ethical systemsform and content. The question of the distinctive criteria of ethical as distinct from other kinds of judgment has not been overlooked, however, by all writers on the social relativism of morals. Westermarck, in particular, held that there was a universal form of ethical judgments inasmuch as they expressed disinterested retributive emotions (1906–1908; 1932). This question of the distinction between the general logical character and the particular substantive content of an ethical system is a point where the third meaning of the term that we distinguished earlier–philosophical theories about the nature of ethical systems–becomes relevant. Edel and Edel (1959) have suggested that an ethical system may be distinguished by certain broad notions that any such system may be supposed to provide for; for example, it will contain some kind of sanction, reasons justifying some kinds of conduct and not others, and, more specifically, some means of controlling aggression and some notion of distributive justice. This may be compared with what Hart (1961, p. 189) has called the minimum content of natural law. This is not a notion of natural law as a universal rational code of ethical principles but a listing of certain basic requirements that any code must somehow meet if people are to live together sufficiently permanently to satisfy the logical and empirical requirements of constituting a “society” (see also Levy 1952, chapter 4 on “The Functional Requisites of Any Society”). Comparative work on these requirements, and on what differences of emphasis may be given them, would be one of the ways in which the study of ethical systems and social structures could be brought together.

Some alternatives to functionalism. The structural-functionalist approach reflected in the terms “ethical system” and “social structure” has sometimes been interpreted as assuming a more highly integrated and normatively controlled unity within a society than need in fact obtain. The work of Parsons, especially The Social System, 1951, has been criticized on these grounds (Lockwood 1956; see also Emmet 1958 for a more extended discussion of the issues). An approach of perhaps more immediate empirical applicability has been outlined by Merton (1957, chapters 8 and 9), who uses the term “reference group” to denote the group or groups from which an individual may take his ethical cues. Modern societies in particular may contain many persons who, although they are conformists from the point of view of their own reference group, are deviants by the values of the larger society of which their group is a part. Study of deviance and conformity in terms of reference groups may have the effect of reviving interest in the formal means, such as political and legal systems, of preserving social cohesion within pluralistic societies. Structural-functional studies, on the other hand, have been mainly concerned with the less formal sanctions of custom and unplanned institutional practices [see REFERENCE GROUPS].

Students of organizations have also drawn attention to the importance of informal as well as formal structures. The workings of a large industry cannot be understood simply by looking at the organization chart or by consulting official statements of aims; it is also necessary to discover the unofficial networks of communication, interaction, and leadership. In some cases, elements within these unofficial structures may have their own ethical systems (for example, views on the amount of work that ought to be done), and these can frustrate the official system unless they are taken into account [see ORGANIZATIONS, article on EFFECTIVENESS AND PLANNING OF CHANGE].

Role, status, and the individual. If we recognize the looseness of the texture of actual social life, in contrast with any simplified model of the social structure, we see the individual not only as carrying specified role obligations but also as having to meet the demands of a number of different and perhaps conflicting roles. A variety of social structures can be abstracted from the whole field of human relationships: professional, political, family, and friendship roles may all be played by the same individual and are likely to produce competing pressures. Barnard (1938) has called attention to this in the case of high executives, showing how positions of responsibility produce conflicting claims that make heavy demands on an individual’s intellectual and moral resources. It is unlikely that any ethical system can be so structured as always to show the priorities among these claims, or any social structure be so simple as not to produce these conflicts.

In relating ethical systems to social structure, therefore, it may be asked whether the former can thereby be explained in terms of the latter. A “sociological explanation,” following Durkheim (1895), may here be taken to mean an account of behavior not in terms of historical or psychological causation, but in terms of the ways groups are related to one another within the society. Role behavior in social groups is defined partly with reference to ethical norms of expected conduct (cf. Durkheim 1893 on how this is so even in the economic field); we may therefore say that the ethical system of defining role obligations can be considered as an aspect of the social structure, insofar as ethical notions enter into the ways roles are seen and performed. Here a mutual conditioning between ethical beliefs and social arrangements, as we have said, seems more plausible than a one-way causation of the one by the other.

Role performance and social change. It may, of course, be asked whether an individual may not be conditioned by the training he receives through the institutions of his society in order to see his role obligations in only one particular way. However, individuals can have their own styles in role performance; they may deviate in various ways; they will have to decide between conflicting role obligations; and in some cases they may create a new role for themselves. There may thus be much individual behavior that will not enter into the description of a social structure except insofar as it may produce innovations that alter the image of an existing role or create a new one. Indeed, it may be said that individual innovation becomes sociologically important only when it modifies role behavior to such an extent that social structure is affected (Emmet 1966, chapters 7 and 8). Individual conduct, therefore, is not being considered as such and is more properly left to psychologists and philosophers.

Nevertheless, the study of social structure can show how certain kinds of behavior will be expected and certain possibilities will be foreclosed because of features in the social situation; and to study the nature of ethical systems in relation to the social structures in which they are embedded may help us to understand why certain actions are thought of as right or wrong in particular societies. These two kinds of understanding can thus fructify one another without being thought of as mutually reducible.




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Ethics is concerned with standards of conduct among people in social groups; for this reason, research in social science is inextricably bound up in ethical problems. The initial choice of a problem for investigation by the social scientist is often value-laden. The process of inquiry in the social sciences, engaging as it frequently does the lives of people, must meet moral as well as scientific standards. And the product of inquiry constantly adds new data and new theories requiring the revision of established ethical systems. Ethics and social science thus move in contrapuntal relationship, each adding to the character of the other (Shils 1959).

Old issues and new. There are a number of principles of ethics in social science research that are so widely recognized and honored that they do not need detailed discussion. Among these are maintaining highest standards of work, reporting procedures and results faithfully, protecting information given in confidence, giving appropriate credit to co-workers, making appropriate acknowledgment of other writers’ materials, representing accurately one’s own qualifications, and acknowledging, when appropriate, sources of financial support. The central issue in all of these is integrity, as indeed it is in every step of a true research endeavor. For this reason some social scientists have objected to proposals to define ethical standards for research, arguing that the canons of science are an exacting and sufficient guide to conduct. However, new problems arise as scientists move into new areas under new auspices; old problems appear in new contexts and require new solutions. Ethical standards must be redefined continually to keep them relevant to contemporary situations. Below are several issues that are subjects of concern and of lively debate as this article is written. If these issues are soon dated and no longer lively, it is probably a healthy sign that consensus is being reached on them and that new issues are capturing concern.

Deception in social science research. In many experiments or inquiries in the social sciences, it is necessary, or has been widely considered necessary, to disguise the nature of the task assigned to the subject. The procedure arises usually from the need to control the “set” or “expectancy” with which the subject approaches the task, since set is known to be an important determinant of responses. While in most instances the consequences are trivial, in some instances they may not be trivial at all. In all instances the issue is raised, Is deception ever justified?

Clearly, scientists think that deception is sometimes required to achieve a good that would not otherwise be achievable. For example, it is common practice in medical research to administer a placebo to a control group in order to assess the effects of a drug. No harm is done; the control subjects might still be given the drug if it proves effective. But the outcome of deception is not always benign. In one of the classical experiments on deceit, the investigators tempted children to steal and deceived them into believing that their action could not be detected. Some children did indeed steal. The investigators concluded that honesty is often influenced by the situation, a point demonstrated as much in their own behavior as in that of the children (Hartshorne & May 1928). In a second well-known investigation, social psychologists infiltrated a religious group, posing as converts (Festinger et al. 1956); their conduct has been questioned (Smith 1957). In an experiment on the effects of group pressure on judgment, five co-workers of the experimenter were represented as uninstructed subjects, just like the person whose resistance to social pressure was to be tested (Asch 1948). Both the deception and the stress generated thereby may be questioned, from an ethical viewpoint. Russian psychologists investigating the same problem have avoided the need for deception by using all naive subjects and analyzing the data for trends that occur naturally, accepting the loss in experimental efficiency.

A reasonable ethical standard for such a situation would be that the investigator has an obligation to inform his prospective subject of any aspect of the experiment that might be considered an important factor in the subject’s decision to serve. While such an ethical policy obviously has much to commend it, the losses would be great; many experiments concerned with the dynamics of human behavior would be made impossible. Ethics aside, there are pragmatic arguments in favor of a policy of full disclosure of intent. With growing sophistication, the public may come to regard all social science experiments as situations in which deception is to be expected. At this point even truth is suspect. The problem is not simple, nor is it unimportant. Perhaps a minimum obligation of the social scientist is to make the public aware of the problem.

Stress in social science research. While many experimenters have subjected participants in research to stress, one investigator has been taken to task for his seeming insensitivity to the excruciating ordeal his subjects were going through and for his failure to see the larger implications of his methodology. The critic (Baumrind 1964) very reasonably questioned the ethics of subjecting people to extreme stress and pointed out the moral parallels to historical situations in which innocent people have been tortured in the interest of science. The experimenter’s rejoinder (Milgram 1964) provides further instruction in the complexity of the problem and demonstrates the value of a continuing debate of ethical issues in research.

The customary routine is to talk with the subject after an experiment involving stress, to explain the procedure, and to try to relieve any residual discomfort. This procedure may suffice in many investigations, but there are others reported in the literature in which the stress is so severe that one could not realistically hope to repair the damage by such a postsession conference. A suitable topic for cross-disciplinary research would be an investigation of possible lingering or delayed effects of experiments involving stress or deception.

It has been proposed that there is already enough stress in life arising from natural causes and that social scientists should not add to it. An alternative is to study stress reactions in natural settings. Many of these are unpredictable and are amenable only to observational study after the event, but some excellent research has been done following disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, by sociologists who were prepared to take advantage of an unpredictable event. There are also predictable and necessary stressful situations that are a normal part of living and could be used in research. A first-grade classroom on the first day of school and the father’s waiting room at a maternity hospital are settings where stress can be studied without the investigator’s causing it. Webb and his co-workers (1966) have provided an imaginative and useful examination of methodological options in “nonreactive research in the social sciences,” including attention to ethical problems.

Protection of research data. The right of the clinician to keep data confidential is widely (though not universally) recognized by custom and in some states and countries by law. But the scientific investigator does not as clearly enjoy such protection. For example, the social scientist engaged in survey research may encounter a serious ethical problem, and lack clear guidelines for conduct, when his evidence is introduced in a court as legal testimony. The court or either contending party may have a legitimate interest in the reliability of the survey and may demand that respondents be identified in order to call them as witnesses. But survey data are generally obtained with assurances of anonymity; a violation of this pledge would not only involve a betrayal of confidence but would also impair the survey method as a research technique by diminishing public confidence in agencies that use the procedure. In at least one ruling, a court has sustained the right of a survey agency to keep confidential the names of persons interviewed, but other judges may rule differently. Obviously, the social scientist engaged in survey research has a minimum obligation to inform himself on the issues involved so that he can behave responsibly toward people who supply him with information (King & Spector 1963). He might also be expected to anticipate such problems in the planning stages of a study and to take protective measures against a number of contingencies. The issue of proper protection of data, here discussed with reference to surveys, may be equally relevant in other kinds of research. The problem is complicated by the investigator’s obligation to keep his work open for scrutiny by competent scientists.

The invasion of privacy. Privacy is a most cherished right of the individual in a free society, and it may well be an important condition for the integration of experience and the achievement of autonomous selfhood. Social scientists are engaged in a number of enterprises that can lead to a reduction of individual privacy. The ethical issue that seems most frequently involved is that information about a person or his family may be collected, and perhaps used officially, without the individual’s being aware of what is happening. The use of personality tests for appraising prospective employees, screening school children, and so on has recently attracted public attention. In some instances, restrictive regulations have been imposed to prevent what is seen as an undue invasion of privacy.

Privacy is not always an individual matter but may involve social institutions which depend for their effectiveness on assurances against intrusion; such is true of the jury system in the United States. In 1955, some sociological investigators, with the permission of the trial judge and the contending lawyers, concealed microphones in a jury room and recorded the jury’s deliberation. Although the information obtained was treated with scrupulous care by the investigators, the incident created a national furor. The jurors had clearly been deceived and were appropriately indignant. An issue of broader concern involved in this instance was the appropriateness of scientific inquiry into an established social institution; the social scientist who undertakes such studies must be uncommonly concerned with ethical issues, since damage may be done both to social science and to the institutions studied by social scientists.

As computers become increasingly available and efficient in both storage and processing capacities, we face the prospect of an invasion of privacy of quite a different sort. With various agencies collecting diverse data about an individual over a sufficient period of time, and with the data centrally stored and processed, the possibility is imminent that extensive and reliable inferences can be made about an individual that far exceed his intentions of disclosure. The protection of privacy that has come from fragmentation of information or from the sheer tedium and expense of analysis may indeed be lost.

One example may suffice to indicate the further significance of technological developments: it is now possible to obtain, by mail order, a detailed analysis of an individual’s responses to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory; the evaluation that once required the services of a highly skilled clinician can be provided now, in much shorter time, by a computer. The ethical implications of advances in computer technology are yet to be explored.

The invasion of privacy issue arises at the point of intersection of two highly valued social goods: the need for knowledge about problems, opinions, motivations, and expectancies of people and the need for preservation of personal rights. While the conflict of social values involved is an ancient one (the rack and screw were information-obtaining devices), the problem is of notable contemporary importance because of the steady increase in amount of, and reliance on, social science research, on the one hand, and the advances in the technology of inquiry, including electronic listening devices, recorders, cameras, computers, personal inventories, projective techniques, and planted informers or confederates, on the other hand.

Among the issues that must be considered in achieving a proper balance of conflicting social and individual interest are the importance of the investigation, the informed consent of subjects, the preservation of confidentiality, and the judicious use of records of research. The individual scientist’s decisions about these moral issues must be harmonious with the opinion of his peers or with a community consensus. As the social scientist comes to have more of value to offer the community, he can expect more community understanding and support of the unavoidable violation of privacy attendant upon much social science research. (For an informed and sophisticated analysis of the problem of privacy, see Ruebhausen & Brim 1965.)

The issue of informed consent. In medical research it has generally been the practice to obtain the informed consent of a patient as a condition for his participation in an investigation; however, loose definitions of what is meant by informed have permitted great latitude in practice. In a decision that will have implications for all research involving human subjects, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York in 1966 stringently defined expectations for medical investigators:

No consent is valid unless it is made by a person with legal and mental capacity to make it, and is based on a disclosure of all material facts. Any fact which might influence the giving or withholding of consent is material. A patient has the right to know he is being asked to volunteer and to refuse to participate in an experiment for any reason, intelligent or otherwise, well-informed or prejudiced. A physician has no right to withhold from a prospective volunteer any fact which he knows may influence the decision. It is the volunteer’s decision to make, and the physician may not take it away from him by the manner in which he asks the question or explains or fails to explain the circumstances. (Langer 1966, p. 664)

In this statement the words social scientist might be substituted for physician and subject for patient to arrive at an important guideline for research in the social sciences.

But again the issue is not simple. Is a patient in a control group in a medical experiment to be told that the treatment he will receive is known to have no physiological effect but will be administered to control for psychological effects? If such candor were required, much medical research would be impossible. And so it is with social science research, where possible gains in socially valuable knowledge must be weighed against possible losses of individual prerogatives. For a clear joining of the issue, in regard to psychological research, see the correspondence of Miller and Rokeach (1966). Rokeach wrote, to define the complexity of the problem: “What is typically involved in making a decision about moral values, whether in or out of science, is not a choice between good and evil but a choice between two or more positive values, or a choice between greater and lesser evils” (1966, p. 15). All-or-none solutions are seldom satisfactory.

Cross-cultural studies. The many ethical issues involved in cross-cultural and transnational investigations, long a concern of the professional anthropologist (see, for example, Redfleld 1953 and also the “Statement on Ethics of the Society for Applied Anthropology” 1963–1964), were thrust into public prominence, in 1965, by the debacle of Project Camelot, an inquiry sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense into “the causes of revolutions and insurgency in underdeveloped areas of the world.” Exposure of the project in a South American country led to protests from the U.S. ambassador, a Congressional investigation, the cancellation of the project, and a policy requiring that all government-sponsored, foreign-area research be approved by the U.S. Department of State. The fact that Camelot became a national and international cause célèbre involving ambassadors, senators, cabinet members, newspapermen, university officials, social scientists, and the president himself, and that it was interpreted as a cloak-and-dagger operation in spite of the sincerity and good will of the participating scientists, has served to obscure the ethical issues involved, issues that demand serious and sophisticated consideration by the social scientist, whether involved in cross-cultural studies or not.

Among the ethical issues are these: Should the intentions of a sponsoring agency be the concern of a social scientist even when he is personally allowed full freedom of inquiry? Should the social scientist be concerned with the uses to which the results of his studies will be put? What is the responsibility of the social scientist for ensuring that the very process of inquiry does not have a deleterious effect on the people being studied? Does the social scientist have an obligation to preserve access to people for subsequent investigators? Is there a point at which inadequacies of design or procedure, or lack of scientific merit in a study, become intrinsically ethical issues by virtue of their imposition on others? These and similar questions may appear to have easy answers, but a sympathetic study of Project Camelot will show their complexity and emphasize the need for social scientists to consider them anew in the context of every proposed investigation (Horowitz 1965).

Social science and social issues. Social science may often have relevance to crucial matters of public policy. With increasing frequency advocates of diverse political and social policies turn to the social scientist for support of their position. Or the social scientist himself, exercising the prerogative of a citizen to make public statements on social and political issues, may find his statements given credence beyond what could be supported by data, by virtue of his being recognized as a scientist, regardless of his competence on the particular topic. Drawn into such an unaccustomed arena, the social scientist must be especially mindful of how he presents his qualifications and of the ethical implications of his statements. Issues related to racial characteristics, for example, have so conjoined science and public policy that they have been made the subject of study by the Committee on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (“Science and the Race Problem” 1963).

Care of animals in research. The psychologist has relied heavily on animals–rats, dogs, birds, primates–as subjects in research. To protect laboratory animals from neglect or abuse, formal regulations governing the management of animal laboratories have been developed. These require the provision of adequate food, water, and medical care, the maintenance of sanitary living quarters, the use of anesthetics to prevent pain in operations and other procedures, the provision of postoperative care, and the destruction of animals by humane means. Committees on care of laboratory animals review problems periodically. The U.S. Public Health Service publishes a booklet entitled “Guide for Laboratory Animal Facilities and Care” (Animal Care Panel 1963) and requires recipients of grant support to observe the requirements to assure proper and humane treatment of research animals. The American Psychological Association requires posting in “all rooms where animals are housed and where animal experimentation is conducted” of regulations titled “Guiding Principles for the Humane Care and Use of Animals.” In spite of these efforts to assure highest ethical standards in the care of laboratory animals, there is a perennial demand for federal legislation to control practices, especially with respect to dogs and cats. In 1964 there were eight bills introduced in the 88th Congress of the United States, two of which would have been severely restrictive. Although there are occasional cases of negligence or of needless infliction of pain, animals are generally well cared for, and the Congress has shied away from enacting legislation on the matter (Brayfield 1963).

Communication in social science research. Marin Mersenne promoted science in seventeenth-century France by copious letter writing; the problem of communication in science has since become exceedingly complex, with many attendant ethical issues. Ethical problems have involved such issues as plagiarism, misrepresentation of data, the betrayal of confidence, claiming undue credit, and other clearly unacceptable behavior. With the development of what has been called “big science” with extensive government support, problems of a new and more subtle character have emerged. For example, the assignment of credit for research accomplished by a large organization seems to be solved neither by crediting the director alone, as has been done and protested, nor by crediting 30 contributors, as was done in a recent listing of authors. Although promotions may depend on publications, there is a growing need to limit publication to significant findings likely to be of value to others. The sheer volume of reports threatens to overwhelm our most efficient systems for coding, storing, and finding information. Thus, for an investigator to impose the same findings twice on about the same audience constitutes an offense to the development and dissemination of knowledge. The following statement has been proposed to control the volume of publication: “. . . scientific publication [should] be considered a privilege consequent upon the finding of something which people may need to read, rather than as a duty consequent upon the spending of time and money. . . . Furthermore … no paper [should] be committed more than once to the published literature without very special pleading” (Price 1964).

Research on moral development. Thus far certain theoretical and practical problems relating to ethics and social science research have been considered. It should be noted now that social science research itself is a potential major source of understanding of ethical conduct, of the origins and development of moral standards. Pioneer work was done by Hartshorne and May (1928). Piaget (1932) provided a theoretical matrix for illuminating stages in the moral development of the child. Anthropologists and social psychologists (Whiting 1963) have studied the influence of the family on character formation in different cultures. Russian pedagogical specialists are working explicitly to provide educational experiences to instill communist values in children (Bronfenbrenner 1962). In the United States, the establishment of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, to promote research on normal development, can be expected to encourage basic research on the problem.

Social control of scientific inquiry. Various professional, trade, labor, and fraternal groups exert a major influence on the behavior of individuals in contemporary society. Perhaps because of their very diversity they escape attention as instruments of social control, yet it has been contended that they speak with more authority today than do organized religious groups and, further, that they influence day-by-day conduct even more than do local, state, and national governments.

Many of these associations have formal codes of ethics. For the most part these codes have been found to have little effect on the behavior of members of the group (American Academy of Political and Social Science 1955). They are one of the appurtenances of associations and are designed with an eye to building public confidence. However, the traditions, mores, and expectancies that are generated in professional groups do affect behavior, often holding members to extraordinarily high standards of conduct. When codes of ethics are in harmony with long-established tradition (as in The Principles of Medical Ethics) or when they are backed up by effective machinery for enforcement, they can be powerful instruments of social control.

The American Psychological Association has applied social science theory and methodology to the task of developing a code of ethics (Hobbs 1948). The critical incidents technique was used to obtain the basic data for the construction of the code. Members of the association were asked to supply descriptions of situations in which a psychologist took some action that either upheld or violated ethical standards. From over a thousand such incidents a committee extracted the principles that appeared to be involved in the behavior reported. The result is two documents: a succinct code (American Psychological Association 1963) and a book-length statement (American Psychological Association 1953) of ethical standards that includes principles, discussions of issues, and illustrations drawn from the collection of critical incidents. Now underway is a new inquiry directed specifically at ethical issues in psychological research; the critical incident technique is again being used to develop basic data from which ethical principles will be derived.

The psychologists’ statement of ethical standards is being augmented by a collection of case studies drawn from the files of ethics committees responsible for the enforcement of the code. The assumption is made that the definition of ethical standards is an ongoing, never-finished process and that participation in the process by members of the association may be more important than the written code itself in nurturing high ethical standards in the profession. The Committee on Cooperation Among Scientists of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is collecting similar descriptions, not necessarily to prepare a code of ethics but to illuminate the ethical problems encountered by scientists in all fields.

When scientists fail to regulate their own behavior to the satisfaction of informed members of the community, one can confidently predict that controls will be imposed by legislation or by administrative regulations. In 1965–1966, two major federal agencies adopted procedures governing ethical issues in research supported by their grants. One agency requires that tests, questionnaires, and other data-gathering devices be approved in Washington by a special review group composed of staff members, with the assistance of consultants. The other agency has established a requirement that grant requests involving possible ethical issues must be reviewed by a recognized local committee of peers of the investigator. The second solution appears to offer protection to research subjects on the basis of competent review without the danger of overcentralized control of scientific inquiry. However, there are responsible investigators who contend that a prescribed review by local peers is an invidious requirement implying incompetence and guilt when competence and rectitude should be assumed, with intervention indicated only when there is some evidence to the contrary. Here again a social process to define appropriate procedures is underway, with the proper resolution still unclear.

It can be expected that society will develop, in time, a productive balance between its need for knowledge and the individual’s need for protection against intrusion, inconvenience, or discomfort. A dialectic tension involving values fundamental to a democracy must be resolved, both in terms of general principles and in terms of particular instances. For example, freedom of inquiry must be balanced against rights of privacy, both cherished values in our society. While the issues are complex, resolution is possible. The accommodation, both in substance and in process, will probably be comparable in character to rules governing the right of eminent domain and the right of the individual to own property.

The individual investigator is not without common-sense guidelines. While the answers may not always be clear, some of the questions are: Is the knowledge to be gained worth the imposition involved in obtaining it? Would another design be equally productive but less intrusive? Has fullest advantage been taken of the subject’s informed willingness to cooperate? Has the proposed inquiry been designed to minimize effects on the subject population so that subsequent investigators will not be handicapped? To what extent are the proposed procedures consonant with emerging standards, or a calculated departure from them?

Nor is the investigator without criteria to assess and perhaps discover the adequacy of his answers to such questions: first, his own standards as an investigator, concerned quite as much with ethical as with statistical elegance of design; then the approbation of other competent scientists; and, finally, the appreciation of the larger community, or of significant sections of it, whose support is essential to the continued development of the social sciences.

It is of greatest importance to keep ethical problems under continuing scrutiny and debate, in journals, in training programs, in public forums, with social scientists themselves taking the initiative in the process, in order to provide increasingly instructive principles for clarifying ethical issues in social science research.

Nicholas Hobbs



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school teaching
kenneth a. strike

higher education
carol j. auster


Ethical concerns about teachers and teaching occur in a variety of contexts and can be thought of in several ways. This article discusses (1) how ethical issues are represented in the law; (2) how ethical issues are represented in the National Education Association's (NEA's) code of ethics; (3) ethically based comprehensive views of education; (4) the role of ethics in educational policy; and (5) meta-ethical disputes relevant to education.

Ethics and the Law

The education codes of many states require that teachers be persons of good character. Most states also permit teachers to be dismissed for unethical conduct. States also forbid particular forms of misconduct, such as child abuse, sexual harassment, and drug abuse, and their violation may be grounds for dismissal.

What counts as good character or conduct can be a contentious matter. In past decades teachers might have been dismissed not only for drunkenness, homosexuality, unwed pregnancy, or cohabitation, but also for myriad other offenses against the moral code of their community. Some of these may still be gray areas; however, in recent years, courts have been inclined to insist that actionable immoral conduct be job-related, providing some protection for the private lives of teachers. Here a particularly contentious matter is whether being a role model is part of the job of teachers, because this expectation can expand public authority over the lives of teachers. In certain cases, as when teachers discuss controversial matters in class or employ controversial teaching methods, they may be protected by the First Amendment. Teachers, especially those who are tenured, are also likely to have significant due-process rights. Dismissal for immoral conduct is most likely when the teacher has committed a felony, in cases of inappropriate sexual advances toward students, or in cases of child abuse. In this last case, teachers may also have a duty to report suspected misconduct by others.

The kinds of misconduct dealt with by the law are usually acts that are (or can be viewed as) unethical in any context. Teachers, like others, are expected to not steal, kill, commit assault, abuse children, or engage in sexual harassment. Although the definition of immoral conduct in the law has not become coextensive with violations of criminal law, there is little in the meaning of immoral conduct that is distinctive to teachers or teaching.

The NEA Code of Ethics and Ethical Principles Internal to Teaching

The most prominent code of ethics for teachers is the NEA's Code of Ethics for the Education Profession. The preamble to this code begins: "The educator, believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of democratic principles. Essential to these goals is the protection of the freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal education opportunity for all."

The code has two sections with eight provisions in each. The first section, entitled "Commitment to the Student," promotes the freedom to learn, requires equal opportunity, protects students against disparagement, and protects privacy. The freedom-to-learn provisions prohibit teachers from preventing student inquiry, denying students access to diverse points of view, and distorting subject matter. The code-specific provisions do not assert affirmative duties for teachers to create an inquiry-oriented environment or to pursue educational objectives, which might be associated with the pursuit of truth, individual autonomy, or democratic principles. The prohibition against distortion of subject matter falls short of a prohibition of indoctrination.

The second section of the code begins with the comment that "the educator shall exert every effort to raise professional standards, to promote a climate that encourages the exercise of professional judgment, to achieve conditions which attract persons worthy of the trust to careers in education and to assist in preventing the practice of the profession by unqualified persons."

Among its enumerated provisions are prohibitions against misrepresenting one's own qualifications or those of others, prohibitions against assisting unqualified persons to teach, and prohibitions against the defamation of colleagues. Although the ideals expressed in the introduction of the second section of the code might lead one to expect specific provisions requiring conscientious professional development, the maintaining of qualifications, or the creation of a collegial learning environment, no such provisions are found.

The NEA code implicitly recognizes three sources of ethical ideals and principles. The first is what might be termed the ethics of inquiry. The second area might be called the civic ethic. That is, the NEA code recognizes those ideals and principles that regulate the public conduct of citizens of liberal democratic states to be ideals and principles that should also regulate the practice of education. A reason for this is that one goal of education is the creation of citizens. The third source of ethical ideals is the ideal of professionalism.

There are difficulties and questions associated with such ideals and principles. Consider the following examples:

  1. What fundamental values underlie these principles? The NEA code suggests that the value that underlies the ethics of inquiry is truth, but another possibility is autonomy.
  2. What is the best construction of these abstract principles? The NEA code indicates that students may not be unfairly excluded, denied a benefit, or given favoritism on the basis of a list of presumptively irrelevant characteristics. The use of the word unfairly cloaks a multitude of issues. For example, how do we know when exclusion or inclusion on the basis of race (one of the irrelevant characteristics listed) is unfair? Is affirmative action unfair?
  3. Are there values that must be balanced against these principles? In some understandings of professionalism, a core commitment of professionalism is: Those who know should rule. If so, professionalism in education needs to be balanced against the expectation that public schools are under the democratic authority of school boards and state legislatures.
  4. What is omitted? These three sources of ethical content do not clearly include various conceptions concerning human relations that seem relevant to teaching. Examples might be caring and trust. Nor are ideals such as promoting the growth of the whole child or creating community mentioned.

Ethics and the Philosophy of Education

It has been common in the philosophy of education to begin an inquiry into the aims of education by asking questions such as "What is the nature of the good life?" and "What kinds of societies promote the best lives?" The Greek philosopher Plato's Republic is a classical example. Such questions fall within the range of the subject matter of ethics. Answers to these questions can provide part of the framework for building a comprehensive vision of education rooted in what John Rawls has termed a "comprehensive doctrine" (1993, p. 13), and they may guide the professional practice of teachers. In societies characterized by what Rawls calls durable pluralism, there are serious difficulties with such an approach. In such societies, the educational systems cannot be rooted in a single comprehensive doctrine without marginalizing or oppressing those who hold other doctrines and without restricting personal autonomy.

Arguably, societies committed to liberal democratic values may respect pluralism and personal autonomy while also emphasizing creation of citizens. Amy Gutmann in Democratic Education (1987) argues that the central aim of the schools of a democratic society must be to develop democratic character. Eamonn Callan in Creating Citizens (1997) argues that societies committed to liberal principles of tolerance and reasonableness must provide students with an education enabling them to understand and sympathetically engage a variety of ways of life. It may, however, be argued that such an education is itself intolerant of those who wish to transmit a distinctive way of life to their children. One of the more difficult issues for the schools of liberal democratic societies is how to respect diversity while having common schools that produce good citizens.

Ethics and Educational Policy

The civic ethic provides conceptions that are relevant, not only to teachers' classroom practice, but to wide-ranging areas of educational policy. For example, it has been common in recent years to claim that equality of opportunity should emphasize equal educational outcomes instead of equal access or equal inputs. Assume that achievement can be measured by test scores. What pattern of test scores would be desired, and how should resources be distributed to attain it? Consider three possibilities:

  1. Emphasize increasing average test scores. Possible objections are that this is consistent with considerable disparity in levels of achievement. Moreover, average scores might be increased by focusing resources on the most able at the expense of the least able.
  2. Emphasize the achievement of the least advantaged or least able. Possible objections are that such an approach might lead to significant investment in the education of students where there will be only modest return, and resources will be used inefficiently.
  3. Emphasize getting all who are able above some threshold that defines minimal ability to participate in our society. This approach may lead to difficulties similar to the previous one.

These are competing principles for distributing educational resources. Although they concern such matters as state or school district budgets, in fact they may also concern the distribution of teacher time. They shed light on such questions as whether teachers should spend disproportionate time with those who are most needful or with those who will make the most progress. These various approaches are analogous to principles of distributive justice that are widely discussed in philosophical literature. The first is a utilitarian principle emphasizing the maximization of good outcomes. The second seeks to maximize the welfare of those who occupy the least advantaged positions in society. The third is a threshold view emphasizing getting everyone above some defined level. These principles illustrate the ways in which moral conceptions can inform policy and practice.

Meta-ethical Issues

The term meta-ethics concerns the general nature of ethics instead of specific ethical prescriptions. Two meta-ethical disputes are the justice/caring debate and the postmodern critique of modernity.

The justice/caring dispute grows out of a critique of Lawrence Kohlberg's views of moral development by feminist scholars, principally Carol Gilligan. Kohlberg viewed justice as the central moral conception. Gilligan claimed in In a Different Voice that women's thinking about ethics emphasizes care. Other advocates of an ethic of care, such as Nel Noddings, have developed the notion into a robust view of ethics and of education. By the early twenty-first century there was some rapprochement between these views, based on the claim that both justice and caring should be a part of any adequate ethic.

A second meta-ethical perspective is postmodernism. Although understandings of this stance are complex and varied, one useful characterization of postmodernism claims that it is incredulity toward all grand meta-narratives. A grand meta-narrative is a sweeping and general view about human beings and society. Liberalism and socialism are examples. Postmodernists often argue that all such grand stories represent the perspectives of groups or eras and, when viewed as the single truth of the matter, are oppressive. Postmodern critiques often seek to deconstruct such meta-narratives by showing their biased character and how they serve the interests of some over others.


The following (not mutually exclusive) sources of ethical ideals and principles are relevant to an informed view of the ethics of teaching:

  • 1. The law pertaining to teacher certification and dismissal, which is likely to proscribe only the most egregious behavior.
  • 2. The NEA code of ethics. This code draws on three sources of ethical content.
  • a. The ethic of inquiry.
  • b. The civic ethic.
  • c. An ethic of professionalism.
  • 3. Ethical conceptions that inform educational policy, such as views of distributive justice.
  • 4. Conceptions of human flourishing and the nature of liberal democratic societies.
  • 5. Competing meta-ethical conceptions.

Of these sources, ethical conceptions rooted in the ethics of inquiry and in the civic ethic may have the most salience to teachers because they are associated with the paramount educational goals of advancing knowledge and creating citizens. They are "internal" to the activity of teaching. Other sources apply to schools because they apply broadly to most social institutions or human activities.

See also: National Education Association; Philosophy of Education; Teacher.


Bull, Barry. 1990. "The Limits of Teacher Professionalism." In The Moral Dimensions of Teaching, ed. John Goodlad, Roger Soder, and Kenneth Sirotnik. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Callan, Eamonn. 1997. Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Feinberg, Walter. 1998. Common Schools: Uncommon Identities. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Fischer, Louis; Schimmel, David; and Kelly, Cynthia. 1999. Teachers and the Law. New York: Longman.

Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gutmann, Amy. 1987. Democratic Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Katz, Michael; Noddings, Nel; and Strike, Kenneth A., eds. 1999. Justice and Caring: The Search for Common Ground in Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. 1981. The Philosophy of Moral Development. New York: Harper and Row.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. 1993. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Noddings, Nel. 1984. Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Peters, Richard. 1996. Ethics and Education. Atlanta, GA: Scott, Foresman.

Plato. 1964. The Republic of Plato, trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rawls, John. 1993. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sockett, Hugh. 1993. The Moral Base for Teacher Professionalism. New York: Teachers College Press.

Strike, Kenneth A. 1988. "The Ethics of Resource Allocation." In Microlevel School Finance, ed. David H. Monk and Julie Underwood. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

Strike, Kenneth A. 1990. "The Legal and Moral Responsibilities of Teachers." In The Moral Dimensions of Teaching, ed. John Goodlad, Roger Soder, and Kenneth Sirotnic. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strike, Kenneth A., and Soltis, Jonas F. 1998. The Ethics of Teaching, 3rd edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

White, Patricia. 1996. Civic Virtues and Public Schooling. New York: Teachers College Press.

internet resource

National Education Association. 2002. "Code of Ethics of the Education Profession." <>.

Kenneth A. Strike


As members of the academic community, faculty and students have a responsibility to abide by ethical principles regarding academic freedom, intellectual integrity, and the fair and respectful treatment of others. The notion of academic freedom lies at the very heart of the academic enterprise. In the "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure," the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) states, "Academic freedom applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning" (p. 3). Intellectual integrity involves using sound and ethical methods in the pursuit of knowledge as well as embracing honesty in the dissemination of knowledge. Individuals' expectation of fair and respectful treatment by faculty and students applies not only to interactions with one another, but also to administrators, staff, and others with whom they interact in their role as members of the academic community. Fair and respectful treatment also extends, for example, to the evaluation of students' academic work and colleagues' scholarly work.

The ethical principles that guide the behavior of faculty are reflected in standards of ethics described in the documents of professional associations for faculty in higher education, such as the "Statement on Professional Ethics (1987)" published by the American Association of University Professors, and codes of ethics published by disciplinary associations, such as the American Chemical Society, the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Modern Language Association. In addition, college and university faculty handbooks often include a section that addresses ethical standards or expectations regarding the behavior of faculty. Ethical standards for students may be found in official student handbooks or college and university catalogues, although standards for graduate students are also addressed in some of the professional and disciplinary association codes of ethics. These various documents embody shared beliefs that are intended to guide both the activities and the behavior of those engaged in the academic enterprise.


Faculty are guided by ethical principles that address their professional responsibilities as teachers, scholars, and, more generally, members of college and university communities. While some aspects of documents concerning ethical standards describe the behavior to be embraced, other aspects make clear what actions must be avoided.

Plagiarism. Representing the ideas, words, or data of another person or persons as one's own constitutes plagiarism. Thus, a person's words, ideas, or data, whether published or unpublished, must be acknowledged as such. For example, the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual states, "To use another person's ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source is to plagiarize" (Gibaldi, sec. 1.8). "The most blatant form of plagiarism is reproducing someone else's sentences more or less verbatim, and presenting them as your own" (Achten and Gibaldi, sec. 1.4). Although scholars have long recognized the importance of citing both published and unpublished work, those engaged in teaching or research also recognize that information from electronic resources must be properly credited. Proper citation allows others to trace the origin and development of ideas, theories, and research outcomes and helps support the integrity of the academic enterprise and needed mutual trust between those seeking and those disseminating knowledge.

Acknowledgement of contributions. Acknowledgement of the contributions of others means appropriately recognizing and crediting those who have contributed to a scholarly work whether the work is a manuscript, exhibit, or performance. Both recognition and accountability come with allocations of credit. Depending on their contributions, such others, including students, may be deserving of credit ranging from acknowledgement in a footnote to coauthorship. Regardless of whether faculty members work with students or colleagues, the work of all parties should be equitably acknowledged in a manner appropriate to the norms of their discipline.

Data. Researchers must acknowledge the source(s) of their data and accurately describe the method by which their data was gathered. Moreover, the fabrication or falsification of data or results constitutes a violation of ethical standards. While fabrication is defined as "making up data or results," falsification is "changing or misreporting data or results" (Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, p.16). Both of these actions interfere with the search for knowledge and truth and undermine trust both within and outside the academic community.

Conflict of interest. Research funded by corporate sponsors potentially leads to a situation in which a conflict of interest may arise. Researchers may feel pressure, for example, to conduct research in a way that would bias the results toward the desires of the sponsor or to reveal only those results that benefit the sponsor. Biomedical research, in particular, brings forth such concerns. Conflict of interest issues are not limited to corporate-sponsored research projects; conflict of interest situations may occur with government-sponsored research as well. Non-profit organizations and social advocacy groups also have the potential to place college and university researchers in situations that make it potentially difficult to conduct the sponsored research in an unbiased manner. Researchers must be able to publicly disclose their sources of funding and the intent of the research, as well as conduct their research in a manner consistent with the ethical standards for investigation in their respective disciplines. Scholars must not let the source of their funding nor the sponsors' goals cloud their own professional and scientific judgments regarding their research.

Other research concerns. The prevalence of the discussion of particular ethical concerns varies across disciplines because of the nature of the research process. For example, the American Sociological Association's "Code of Ethics" describes the importance of informed consent for research involving human subjects. That is, human subjects must be aware of the nature of the research as well as voluntarily agree to be a part of such research. The American Psychological Association discusses not only informed consent in their code of ethics, but also the importance of the humane use and care of animals in research. Disciplines that rely more heavily on archival research may say little about informed consent from human subjects, but may focus on the importance of obtaining permission to use archival data. Professional associations in the sciences, such as the American Chemical Society, are additionally concerned with providing safe working conditions for those who work in research laboratories.

Harassment. The most frequently discussed form of harassment is sexual harassment. As the AAUP statement on sexual harassment states, "no member of the academic community may sexually harass another" (p. 209). Such policies are applicable to faculty and students as well as to administrators, staff, other employees, and research subjects. The American Sociological Association notes that "sexual harassment may include sexual solicitation, physical advance, or verbal or non-verbal conduct that is sexual in nature" (p. 7). Some types of sexual harassment are quid pro quo, in which the sexual favors are presumably requested in exchange for a promised or implied future benefit, such as a higher grade or appointment to a position. Other conduct, namely that which creates a hostile or uncomfortable work environment, including the classroom environment, also constitutes sexual harassment. The code of ethics of many professional and disciplinary associations addresses the issue of sexual harassment, and faculty handbooks and other institutional documents typically include a set of procedures for dealing with situations in which alleged sexual harassment has occurred.

In addition, members of the academic community should not harass others on the basis of other personal and demographic characteristics, including race, ethnicity, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability. Regardless of the basis of harassing or demeaning behavior, victims of harassment may find it helpful to consult with faculty and administrators for advice on avenues of action in such situations.

Nondiscrimination and fair evaluation. In their work, members of the academic community should not engage in discrimination "based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law" (American Psychological Association, sec. 1.10). With regard to employment, members of the academic community should not "discriminate in hiring, promotion, salary, treatment, or any other conditions of employment or career development" (American Sociological Association, sec. 8). Furthermore, professors who have agreed to serve as reviewers of manuscripts, grant proposals, or other scholarly submissions, should evaluate those materials in a fair, objective, professional, and timely manner. These standards are also applicable to the evaluation of students' academic work. In "A Statement of the Association's Council: Freedom and Responsibility" the AAUP further explains, "Students are entitled to an atmosphere conducive to learning and to even-handed treatment in all aspects of the teacher-student relationship" (p. 135). The principle of fair and respectful treatment also applies to interactions with and evaluation of the work of other members of the academic community.

Allegations of ethical misconduct. Alleged ethical violations on the part of faculty are dealt with in a number of ways. A student or faculty member may choose to approach the faculty member thought to have engaged in ethical misconduct. One could also speak with another faculty member, chair of the department, or administrator about the alleged misconduct and seek advice about possible avenues of action. A hearing on the matter is one of the possible outcomes. Faculty members accused of ethical misconduct are entitled to academic due process. That is, the educational institution should follow a set of procedures already in place for dealing with such allegations. For faculty, the AAUP also sets forth a number of parameters related to the allegations of various types and methods for proceeding to pursue such allegations, particularly within the confines of the employing educational institution. Although most incidents of alleged misconduct are handled within such institutional frameworks, many disciplinary and professional associations have provisions for pursuing breaches of ethical conduct through mechanisms within those associations.


Students are guided by the same general ethical principles as faculty regarding their academic work. Academic honesty and intellectual integrity are central in the educational process. These two principles apply to academic work, including, but not limited to, papers, theses, assignments, laboratory reports, exams, quizzes, oral presentations, exhibits, and performances. Students can avoid plagiarism by proper citation of the resources that provide them with the ideas, words, and data that they present in their academic work. Although intellectual theft may not have been intended, careless note taking can also result in inadvertent plagiarism. Students must also not engage in the fabrication or falsification of sources, data, or results. If students work on a project together, the work of those students should be equitably acknowledged. Moreover, students must not engage in unauthorized collaboration nor give or receive inappropriate assistance with their academic work. Violation of ethical standards would be grounds for action against a student. The situational context of the violation along with the institutional norms and regulations affect the path of action. Although some situations involving a student's alleged violation of ethical standards may warrant action on the part of a faculty member or an administrative officer, other situations may warrant a hearing by a duly constituted committee to determine whether the alleged act occurred as well as the appropriate sanctions.

Some institutions of higher education have an honor code that makes clear that cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty are violations of ethical standards. These codes typically obligate students to practice academic integrity and avoid engaging in academic misconduct, but also to take action when they believe others have engaged in academic misconduct. The action taken by a fellow student who witnesses the ethical digression can range from directly confronting the alleged perpetrator to reporting the alleged act to individuals acting on the part of the institution, who may find it appropriate to convene a hearing panel for a judicial process in which students usually play an important role.

Broader Concerns

Some ethical standards apply to members of the academic community in their relationship with wider society. The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy says, "Society trusts that the results of research reflect an honest attempt by scientists to describe the world accurately and without bias" (preface). Many codes of ethics for professional disciplinary associations specifically recognize the consequences of research beyond its intended goal. For example, the American Chemical Society indicates that, "Chemists should understand and anticipate the environmental consequences of their work. Chemists have responsibility to avoid pollution and to protect the environment." Under the heading "Social Responsibility," the American Sociological Association says, "Sociologists are aware of the their professional and scientific responsibility to the communities and societies in which they live and work . When undertaking research, they striveto advance the science of sociology and to serve the public good" (Principle E). Both faculty and students need to be aware that their ideas and implications of their research may reach well beyond their own immediate goal.

Socialization to ethical principles needs to be more explicit and the mechanisms of social control within academic profession need to be strengthened in order to improve adherence to ethical principles. To improve faculty adherence to ethical principles, John M. Braxton and Allen E. Bayer suggest, in particular, that faculty and administrations need to (1) better articulate and codify the norms of professional behavior; (2) more explicitly socialize graduate students about the profession and its ethical obligations; (3) increasingly provide incentives for teaching [and research] behavior that is consistent with the standards of the profession; and (4) when necessary, impose sanctions for violations of those standards. Undergraduate and graduate students need to be made more aware of the expectations for their behavior as well as the consequences of the failure to meet those expectations.

If the ethical standards were more explicit, members of the academic community might be more likely to both act in accordance with such standards and speak out against the ethical misconduct of others in the academic community. In fact, the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy says, "someone who has witnessed misconduct has an unmistakable obligation to act" (p. 18). Yet, allegations of misconduct may require certain types of confidentiality because of the situations or the parties involved. However, if colleges and universities deal with alleged misconduct in a less clandestine manner, it will be easier for members of the academic community, particularly newcomers, to distinguish between ethical and unethical behavior.

See also: Academic Freedom and Tenure; Faculty Research and Scholarship, Assessment of; Faculty Roles and Responsibilities; Human Subjects, Protection of; Scientific Misconduct.


Achten, Walter S., and Gibaldi, Joseph. 1985. The MLA Style Manual. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

American Association of University Professors (AAUP). 2001. AAUP Policy Documentsand Reports, 8TH EDITION. WASHINGTON, DC: AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS.

Braxton, John M., and Bayer, Alan E. 1999. Faculty Misconduct in Collegiate Teaching. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Gibaldi, Joseph. 1999. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Modern Language Association of America. 1992. "Statement of Professional Ethics." Profession 92:7579.

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American Chemical Society. 1994. "The Chemist's Code of Conduct and ASC Ethical Guidelines." <>.

American Psychological Association. 1992. "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct." <>.

American Sociological Association. 1997. "American Sociological Association Code of Ethics." <>.

Carol J. Auster

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Ethics, also commonly referred to as morality, is the broad discipline that deals with determining what is right and what is wrong. There are various approaches to ethics and a wide variety of ethical rules and principles put forward by different ethicists. Making moral decisions is something

that people do on a regular basis. Ethics assists individuals in deciding what to do when faced with various situations.

Ethics is also a crucial component of social life, as individuals' actions usually have an impact on others. Ethical systems are necessary for ordered human existence, but there is and has always been deep disagreement about the proper rules and principles to put in place. Ethics can be grounded in natural law, religious tenets, parental and family influence, educational experiences, life experiences, and cultural and societal expectations.


Ethics in business, or business ethics as it is often called, is the application of the discipline, principles, and theories of ethics to the organizational context. Business ethics have been defined as principles and standards that guide behavior in the world of business. Business ethics is also a descriptive term for the field of academic study in which many scholars conduct research and in which undergraduate and graduate students are exposed to ethics theory and practice, usually through the case method of analysis.

Ethical behavior in business is critical. When business firms are charged with infractions, and when employees of those firms come under legal investigation, there is a concern raised about moral behavior in business. Hence, the level of mutual trust, which is the foundation of our free-market economy, is threatened.

Although ethics in business has been an issue for academics, practitioners, and governmental regulators for decades, some believe that unethical, immoral, and/or illegal behavior is widespread in the business world. Numerous scandals in the late 1990s and early 2000s seemed to add credence to the criticism of business ethics. Corporate executives of WorldCom, a giant in the telecommunications field, admitted fraud and misrepresentation in financial statements. A similar scandal engulfed Enron at around the same time. Other notable ethical lapses were publicized involving ImClone, a biotechnological firm; Arthur Andersen, one of the largest and oldest public accounting firms; and HealthSouth, a large healthcare firm located in the southeast United States. These companies eventually suffered public humiliation, huge financial losses, and in some cases, bankruptcy or dissolution. The ethical and legal problems resulted in some corporate officials going to prison, many employees losing their jobs, and thousands of stockholders losing some or all of their savings invested in the firms' stock.

Although the examples mentioned involved top management, huge sums of money, and thousands of stake-holders, business ethics is also concerned with the day-today ethical dilemmas faced by millions of workers at all levels of business enterprise. It is the awareness of and judgments made in ethical dilemmas by all that determines the overall level of ethics in business. Thus, the field of business ethics is concerned not only with financial and accounting irregularities involving billions of dollars, but all kinds of moral and ethical questions, large and small, faced by those who work in business organizations.


Philosophers have studied and written about ethics for thousands of years, and there continues to be vigorous investigation into and debate about the best ethical principles. Although many different ethical theories have been developed through the ages, there are several broad categories that are commonly used to group different theories by their major traits. These groupings are: teleology, deontology, and virtue. A fourth category, relativism, may be added, although relativism is less an ethical theory than it is a broad claim about the nature of ethics.

Each of the three major types of theories is prescriptivethat is, they purport to determine what conduct is right and wrong, or to prescribe what people should (and should not) do. The prescriptions put forward by the theories in each category stem from different fundamental principles. For teleological theories, the fundamental principles focus on the consequences caused by human actions, while deontological theories of ethics focus on (1) the rights of all individuals and (2) the intentions of the person(s) performing an action. Deontological theories differ substantially from teleological views because they do not allow, for instance, harming some individuals in order to help (a greater number of) others. To the deontologist, each person must be treated with the same level of respect, and no one should be treated as a means to an end. Virtue ethics, unlike both teleology and deontology, emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, behind a certain action or set of actions instead of looking at duties or rules, as deontology does, or the outcomes of actions, as teleology does. Thus, an action is evaluated in terms of whether or not a good person would perform that action.

Teleological, deontological, and virtue theories are all universal theories, in that they purport to advance principles of morality that are permanent and applicable to everyone. In contrast, relativism states that there are no universal principles of ethics and that right and wrong are by different individuals and groups. The relativist does not accept that some ethical standards or values are superior to others and believes that standards of right and wrong change over time and are different across cultures.


Teleological theories of ethics, often referred to as consequentalist theories, focus, as the name indicates, on the consequences or outcomes of ethical decisions. For instance,

when evaluating whether or not it is ethical to use company time to deal with personal business, the relevant question would center on whether any harm came from the action. The consequentialist would look at what happened as a result of that choice. If, say, there were no loss of productivity as a result of conducting a piece of personal business while at work, then consequentialism theories would likely make no adverse ethical judgment about that choice. A commonly heard phrase justifying such choicesIt's not hurting anyoneis practically the consequentialist motto.

Consequentialist theories are very popular, largely because they are more concrete than deontological or virtue-based ones. It is much easier to determine the consequences of an actionthey can be seenthan it is to determine a person's intentions or their moral character. Consequentialism is widely used in the field of business ethics, most likely because businesses are about results, not intentions or character. The most common consequentialist theories are egoism and utilitarianism. These two theories differ in their focus on where the consequences of actions are evaluated. For egoism, the relevant consequences concern one's self; for utilitarianism, the overall impact on society is considered.

Egoism. Egoism is defined by self-interest, and defines right and wrong in terms of the consequences to one's self. An egoist would weigh an ethical dilemma or issue in terms of how different courses of action would affect his or her physical, mental, or emotional well-being. Egoists, when faced with business decisions, will choose the course of action that they believe will best serve their own interests.

Although it seems likely that egoism would potentially lead to unethical and/or illegal behavior, this philosophy of ethics is, to some degree, at the heart of a free-market economy. Since the time of political economist Adam Smith, advocates of a free market unencumbered by governmental regulation have argued that individuals, each pursuing their own self-interest, would actually benefit society at large.

This point of view is notably espoused by the famous economist Milton Friedman, who suggested that the only moral obligation of business is to make a profit and obey the law. However, it should be noted that Smith, Friedman, and most others who advocate unregulated commerce, acknowledge that some restraints on individuals' selfish impulses are required.

Utilitarianism. In the utilitarian approach to ethical reasoning, one emphasizes the utility, or the overall amount of good, that might be produced by an action or a decision. For example, companies decide to move their production facilities from one country to another. How much good is

Table 1
Approaches to Ethics in Business
Adapted from: Ferrell, Fraedrich, and Ferrell, 2002, p. 57.
Teleological Actions are judged as ethical or unethical based on their results.
Egoism Actions are judged as ethical or unethical based on the consequences to one's self. Actions that maximize self-interest are preferred.
Utilitarianism Actions are judged as ethical or unethical based on the consequences to others. Actions that maximize the good (create the greatest good for the greatest number) are preferred.
Deontological Actions are judged as ethical or unethical based on the inherent rights of the individual and the intentions of the actor. Individuals are to be treated as means and not ends. It is the action itself that must be judged and not its consequences.
Justice Actions are judged as ethical or unethical based on the fairness shown to those affected. Fairness may be determined by distributive, procedural, and/or interactional means.
Relativism Actions are judged as ethical or unethical based on subjective factors that may vary from individual to individual, group to group, and culture to culture.

expected from the move? How much harm? If the good appears to outweigh the harm, the decision to move may be deemed an ethical one, by the utilitarian yardstick.

This approach also encompasses what has been referred to as cost-benefit analysis. In this, the costs and benefits of a decision, a policy, or an action are compared. Sometimes these can be measured in economic, social, human, or even emotional terms. When all the costs are added and compared with the results, if the benefits outweigh the costs, then the action may be considered ethical.

One fair criticism of this approach is that it is difficult to accurately measure costs and benefits. Another criticism is that the rights of those in the minority may be overlooked or even intentionally trampled if doing so provides an overall benefit to society as a whole.

Utilitarianism is like egoism in that it advocates judging actions by their consequences, but unlike egoism, utilitarianism focuses on determining the course of action that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Thus, it is the ends that determine the morality of an action and not the action itself (or the intent of the actor).

Utilitarianism is probably the dominant moral philosophy in business ethics. Utilitarianism is attractive to many business people, since the philosophy acknowledges that many actions result in good consequences for some, but bad consequences for others. This is certainly true of many decisions in business.


In addition to ethical theories about right and wrongprescriptive theories, sometimes also called normativethe field of business ethics consists of theories about how people make ethical decisions. This area of business ethics is more descriptive than prescriptive. There are many approaches to the individual ethical decision-making process in business. However, one of the more common was developed by James Rest and has been called the four-step or four-stage model of individual ethical decision-making. Numerous scholars have applied this theory in the business context. The four steps include: ethical issue recognition, ethical (moral) judgment, ethical (moral) intent, and ethical (moral) behavior.

Ethical Issue Recognition. Before a person can apply any standards of ethical philosophy to an issue, he or she must first comprehend that the issue has an ethical component. This means that the ethical decision-making process must be triggered or set in motion by the awareness of an ethical dilemma. Some individuals are likely to be more sensitive to potential ethical problems than others. Numerous factors can affect whether someone recognizes an ethical issue; some of these factors are discussed in the next section.

Ethical (Moral) Judgment. If an individual is confronted with a situation or issue that he or she recognizes as having an ethical component or posing an ethical dilemma, the individual will probably form some overall impression or judgment about the rightness or wrongness of the issue. The individual may reach this judgment in a variety of ways, following a particular ethical theory or a mixture of theories, as noted in the previous section on approaches to ethical decision-making.

Ethical (Moral) Intent. Once an individual reaches an ethical judgment about a situation or issue, the next stage in the decision-making process is to form a behavioral intent. That is, the individual decides what he or she will do (or not do) with regard to the perceived ethical dilemma.

According to research, ethical judgments are a strong predictor of behavioral intent. However, individuals do not always form intentions to behave that are in accord with their judgments, as various situational factors may act to influence the individual otherwise.

Ethical (Moral) Behavior. The final stage in the four-step model of ethical decision-making is to engage in some behavior with regard to the ethical dilemma. Research shows that behavioral intentions are the strongest predictor of actual behavior in general and ethical behavior in particular. However, individuals do not always behave consistent with either their judgments or intentions with regard to ethical issues. This is particularly a problem in the business context, as peer group members, supervisors, and organizational culture may influence individuals to act in ways that are inconsistent with their own moral judgments and behavioral intentions.


In general, there are three types of influences on ethical decision-making in business: (1) individual difference factors, (2) situational (organizational) factors, and (3) issue-related factors.

Individual Difference Factors. Individual difference factors are personal factors about an individual that may influence their sensitivity to ethical issues, their judgment about such issues, and their related behavior. Research has identified many personal characteristics that impact ethical decision-making. The individual difference factor that has received the most research support is cognitive moral development.

This framework, developed by Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1960s and extended by Kohlberg and other researchers in the subsequent years, helps to explain why different people make different evaluations when confronted with the same ethical issue. It posits that an individual's level of moral development affects their ethical issue recognition, judgment, behavioral intentions, and behavior.

According to the theory, individuals' level of moral development passes through stages as they mature. Theoretically, there are three major levels of development. The lowest level of moral development is termed the pre-conventional level. At the two stages of this level, the individual typically will evaluate ethical issues in light of a desire to avoid punishment and/or seek personal reward. The pre-conventional level of moral development is usually associated with small children or adolescents.

The middle level of development is called the conventional level. At the stages of the conventional level, the individual assesses ethical issues on the basis of the fairness to others and a desire to conform to societal rules and expectations. Thus, the individual looks outside him or herself to determine right and wrong. According to Kohlberg, most adults operate at the conventional level of moral reasoning.

The highest stage of moral development is the principled level. The principled level, the individual is likely to apply principles (which may be utilitarian, deontological, or justice) to ethical issues in an attempt to resolve them. According to Kohlberg, a principled person looks inside him or herself and is less likely to be influenced by situational (organizational) expectations.

The cognitive moral development framework is relevant to business ethics because it offers a powerful explanation of individual differences in ethical reasoning. Individuals at different levels of moral development are likely to think differently about ethical issues and resolve them differently.

Situational (Organizational) Factors. Individuals' ethical issue recognition, judgment, and behavior are affected by contextual factors. In the business ethics context, the organizational factors that affect ethical decision-making include the work group, the supervisor, organizational policies and procedures, organizational codes of conduct, and the overall organizational culture. Each of these factors, individually and collectively, can cause individuals to reach different conclusions about ethical issues than they would have on their own. This section looks at one of these organizational factors, codes of conduct, in more detail.

Codes of conduct are formal policies, procedures, and enforcement mechanisms that spell out the moral and ethical expectations of the organization. A key part of organizational codes of conduct are written ethics codes. Ethics codes are statements of the norms and beliefs of an organization. These norms and beliefs are generally proposed, discussed, and defined by the senior executives in the firm. Whatever process is used for their determination, the norms and beliefs are then disseminated throughout the firm.

An example of a code item would be, Employees of this company will not accept personal gifts with a monetary value over $25 in total from any business friend or associate, and they are expected to pay their full share of the costs for meals or other entertainment (concerts, the theater, sporting events, etc.) that have a value above $25 per person. Hosmer points out that the norms in an ethical code are generally expressed as a series of negative statements, for it is easier to list the things a person should not do than to be precise about the things a person should.

Almost all large companies and many small companies have ethics codes. However, in and of themselves ethics codes are unlikely to influence individuals to be more ethical in the conduct of business. To be effective, ethics codes must be part of a value system that permeates the culture of the organization. Executives must display genuine commitment to the ideals expressed in the written codeif their behavior is inconsistent with the formal code, the code's effectiveness will be reduced considerably.

At a minimum, the code of conduct must be specific to the ethical issues confronted in the particular industry or company. It should be the subject of ethics training that focuses on actual dilemmas likely to be faced by employees in the organization. The conduct code must contain communication mechanisms for the dissemination of the organizational ethical standards and for the reporting of perceived wrongdoing within the organization by employees.

Organizations must also ensure that perceived ethical violations are adequately investigated and that wrong-doing is punished. Research suggests that unless ethical behavior is rewarded and unethical behavior punished, that written codes of conduct are unlikely to be effective.

Issue-Related Factors. Conceptual research by Thomas Jones in the 1990s and subsequent empirical studies suggest that ethical issues in business must have a certain level of moral intensity before they will trigger ethical decision-making processes. Thus, individual and situational factors are unlikely to influence decision-making for issues considered by the individual to be minor.

Certain characteristics of issues determine their moral intensity. In general, the research suggests that issues with more serious consequences are more likely to reach the threshold level of intensity. Likewise, issues that are deemed by a societal consensus to be ethical or unethical are more likely to trigger ethical decision-making processes.


Ethics has been an important dimension of business and management practice for several decades, but in recent years, largely due to high-profile scandals, ethics has been placed on the center stage. Since the corporate scandals of the early-2000s, there has been vigorous debate about which ethical principles should prevail in the business world and about the proper role of government in enforcing morality in the marketplace. While there is no universal agreement on ethical principles or underlying theories, there has been wider agreement that the government has to take a more aggressive role in defining and enforcing ethical practice in the business world.

Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to reform American business practices in response to corporate scandals. This act establishes new or enhanced standards for publicly-traded companies (it does not apply to privately-held companies). Following passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations were updated in 2005 to strengthen the standards for corporate compliance and ethics programs.

Business ethics is an exceedingly complicated area, one that has contemporary significance for all business practitioners. There are, however, guidelines in place for effective ethical decision making, and there is continued attention paid to developing and maintaining these guidelines. These all have their positive and negative sides, but taken together, they may assist the businessperson to steer toward the most ethical decision possible under a particular set of circumstances.

SEE ALSO Corporate Governance; Corporate Social Responsibility; Goals and Goal Setting; Mission and Vision Statements


Barnett, Tim, and Sean Valentine. Issue Contingencies and Marketers' Recognition of Ethical Issues, Ethical Judgments, and Behavioral Intentions. Journal of Business Research 57 (2004): 338346.

Beauchamp, Tom L., and Norman E. Bowie. Ethical Theory and Business. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.

Consequentialism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 9 February 2006. Available from:

Ferrell, O.C., John Fraedrich, and Linda Ferrell. Business Ethics. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

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Hosmer, LaRue Tone. The Ethics of Management. 6th ed. Homewood, IL: Irwin, 2007.

Hyatt, James C. Birth of the Ethics Industry. Business Ethics Summer 2005.

Kuhn, James W., and Donald W. Shriver, Jr. Beyond Success. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Lawrence, Anne T., James Weber, and James Post. Business and Society. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Paine, Lynn Sharp. Managing for Organizational Integrity. Harvard Business Review March-April 1994.

Trevino, Linda K., and Michael E. Brown. Managing to Be Ethical: Debunking Five Business Ethics Myths. Academy of Management Executive 18 (2004): 6981.

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Chemistry, like any discipline, has a social structure. It relies on the interactions, behaviors, and expectations of individuals in order to function. Every social structure has a code of practices that constitutes its behavioral norms, that is, a set of rules governing what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. These rules are the moral philosophy of that social structure. When people find themselves in a situation in which there is a conflict or dilemma, the decision-making processes that they use to make the behavioral choices that follow are called ethical decision-making skills. Ethics, then, is the process whereby an individual, faced with a moral dilemma, arrives at a morally defensible decision.

What do these ideas have to do with science? The answer is that science as an undertaking is a quite human process that relies on many decisions. For example, progress in science relies on the complete honesty of those who report their experimental results, because (among other reasons) those results are key to the understanding of the natural phenomena under investigation. In addition, because scientific results are generally made public and accessible to all, it is extremely important that scientific results are trustworthy. If results are not reported honestly, then anyone who uses these results in his or her work has had his or her trust violated, and the injured party has wasted time and other resources. When the results impact a field such as medicine, or bear on product safety, an immense number of people could be put in harm's way because of decisions made on the basis of false information.

A scientist's past experience of ethical decision making is embedded in every value judgment he or she makes, large and small. Aspects of scientific enterprise that require ethical decision making encompass a broad range of responsibilities, including experiment design, the interpretation and reporting

of data, interactions between collaborators, and the evaluation of colleagues.

When a scientist "cheats" for any reason, for instance by making up results or excluding selected data, the entire process of science is shaken. Other scientists and laypeople will make decisions based on the false reports that are generated, and these decisions could have devastating consequences. Imagine someone overseeing a clinical trial designed to test a medical treatment not disclosing a harmful side effect. Also imagine that people might actually be harmed because of such a nondisclosure. There are many reasons why a scientist might choose not to disclose potentially hurtful information. Perhaps he or she stands to make a financial profit from the sale of this medical treatment. Perhaps he or she is being pressured by a supervisor to report false results and is under threat of being fired. Personal gain at the expense of others is often the crux of willful misrepresentation of scientific experiments.

The use of human and animal subjects in drug testing is an area in which scientists must practice ethical reasoning in order to explore complex and contradictory ideas. There are all sorts of views held by all sorts of people on whether drug testing should be conducted on living beings. It is important for scientists to consider the moral philosophies that underlie these different perspectives, as they will have to make the decisions to proceed (or not) with such testing. Apart from the responsibilities of scientists, a non-scientist must sometimes decide, for example, whether she or he wants to be part of an organization that participates in such testing.

Topical Categories

Some ethical reasoning topics have been well debated over time, although every new technological advance spawns a new set of debates (for example, debates having to do with the uses of genetic information or research

involving stem cells). A violation of the standards of ethical scientific practice is called scientific misconduct. Some major categories of scientific misconduct, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, are:

  • Falsification of data. Data fabrication (creating data that never existed). Selective reporting of findings. Omission of data that conflicts with other data (leaving out information in order to make one's story seem better). Willful suppression of data (not revealing relevant information) and/or distortion of data (exaggeration, for example).
  • Plagiarism. Stealing the language, ideas, or thoughts of another and representing them as one's original work.
  • Improprieties of authorship. Giving credit improperly or not giving credit at all in published materials. Publishing the same results in more than one place and claiming that each is an exclusively published report. Listing as authors individuals who have not made a definite contribution to the work published. Submission of multiauthored manuscripts to publishers without the agreement of all authors on the content of the text.
  • Misappropriation of the ideas of others. An important aspect of scholarly activity is the exchange of ideas among colleagues. New ideas gleaned from such exchanges can lead to important discoveries. Scholars also acquire new ideas during the review of grant applications and scientific manuscripts. Improper use of information acquired in these ways could constitute fraud. Wholesale stealing of such material constitutes scientific misconduct.
  • Violation of generally accepted research practices. Serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing or carrying out research. Any manipulation of experiments to bring about desired results. Deceptive statistical or analytical manipulation of results or improper reporting of results.
  • Material failure to comply with federal requirements affecting research. Includes but is not limited to serious or substantial, repeated and/or willful violations involving the use of funds, care of animals, human subjects, investigational drugs, genetic products, new devices, or radioactive, biologic, or chemical materials.
  • Inappropriate behavior in relation to misconduct. An inappropriate accusation of misconduct. Failure to report known or suspected misconduct. Withholding or destroying information relevant to a claim of misconduct. Retaliation against any person taking part in the allegation or investigation.
  • Deliberate misrepresentation of qualifications, experience, or research accomplishments (one's own or another's) to advance a research program, to obtain external funding, or to further other professional advancement.
  • Misappropriation of funds or other resources. For example, use of funds for personal gain.

An Example from Practice

The reproducibility of results is a hallmark of establishing reliable knowledge in scientific practice. In 2000 Professor Gérard Buono reported the results of a series of experiments carried out by him and his coworkers in France (Buono et al. 2000, p. 2554). In late 2001, Buono published a retraction of these results (Buono 2001, p. 4536). The retraction and accompanying story recounted in the text are an example of the self-correcting nature of ethical scientific practices. Buono describes how he was contacted by the editor of the journal that published the results and by Professor ScottE. Denmark, a scientific leader in the relevant area of chemistry who had not been able to reproduce the experimental results. In his retraction Buono writes, "At this stage, I asked my co-workers to check the experimental procedures and analytical conditions and to try to reproduce the described results. I was provided with experimental data and material that fully confirmed our original claims." After repetition of the experiments and upon close examination of his students' work, however, Buono saw evidence of error. He writes that he "noticed several inconsistencies with the analytical material the students had previously provided. Therefore, I decided to reproduce personally and independently the whole experimental procedures from the very beginning." Buono could not reproduce the results originally reported by him and his coworkers, but obtained the results reported by Denmark and his coworkers. Buono concluded this episode by writing that he wished "to withdraw [the original] communication. Other pieces of work based on related experimental results that were published elsewhere will also be withdrawn."

A Moral Education

Where and how do students learn about these ethics-related scientific practices? Historically, for scientists in training the process has been rather learn-as-you-go. It is generally assumed that senior scientists and teachers follow a code of defensible moral behavior and that, by their example, valuable lessons are transmitted to their students. Unfortunately, these assumptions are not necessarily valid, and cases of scientific misconduct surface in the news fairly regularly. By making ethical reasoning and the expectation of moral scientific behavior a more explicit part of education, it is hoped that the number of such cases can be reduced. The strategies for making rules of conduct explicit vary, and it is also hoped that many messages from many sources will impact the way scientists and future scientists make decisions.

In 1994 the editors of the Publications Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) began publishing a series of articles titled "Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research" in ACS journals. (See, for example, the Journal of the American Chemical Society [1994] 116[13]: 8A10A.) These guidelines, revised in January 2000, define the ethical obligations of each participant in the science community who is responsible for bringing a scientific publication to that community, namely, the editors, authors, reviewers, and scientists publishing in the more popular science venues. As stated in the introduction to these guidelines, one characteristic of a profession is for its members to have an accepted code of behaviors, responsibilities and obligations, to one another and to the public. The advancement of science requires sharing information in an utterly honest and open fashion. Editors need to give unbiased consideration to all scientific reports submitted for publication in a timely and fair manner. Those who have the privilege of reviewing unpublished scientific results cannot use or disclose that information prior to its publication. Reviewers must also be sensitive to conflicts of interest; for example, a reviewer should not review a manuscript if it is authored by a person with whom the reviewer has a close personal relationship, or a relationship which would otherwise bias the reviewer's ability to judge the manuscript fairly. Authors are obliged to provide an accurate and honest account of their work, with enough information so that reviewers and readers can properly evaluate the validity of the information and reproduce the results.

In scientific research, as in business and medicine, the writing of and analysis of case studies are an effective formal vehicle for ethics instruction. Students, having been given an authentic narrative scenario to consider and debate, can practice ethical reasoning as they think through the moral issues that have been raised by a particular case. A case study debated in a classroom is a safe proceeding, because it is not an actual circumstance in which a student might face serious personal consequences. Educators hope that students, having to think through ethics-related dilemmas in classroom settings, can acquire the reasoning skills they are going to need when they are confronted with actual situations. The following is an excerpt from a case study.

After only a few days in your new lab, you notice that one of the senior students is quite open about what appear to be many questionable experimental practices: he does not really keep a notebook, but numbers a new page for each reaction he performs and scribbles out a little information about what he had done, sometimes only the date and the starting time.By now, his practices are quite well known in your particular lab room, and a number of jokes and asides by your labmates affirm your perceptions. Indeed, even the senior student has been heard to quip: "If I had done this the right way, I think the yield would have been 75%." When the research advisor comes to lab for a weekly update on progress, this student presents the data on the purified materials and reports a 75% yield. The research advisor and this student have already published 3 papers based on his previous results. Who is potentially affected by this student's behavior? What are your options for possible actions? (Coppola, pp. 15061511)

It is important to understand that the educative development of ethical reasoning skills neither represents nor advocates a prescribed moral position, and does not commit a student in advance to dogmatic solutions to all moral problems. Ethics, or ethical reasoning, is the process by which the most defensible resolution to a moral dilemma is sought.

Brian P. Coppola


Buono, Gérard (2001). "On the Beneficial Effect of ortho-Methoxy Groups in the Asymmetric Ring Opening of meso Epoxides with Silicon Tetrachloride Catalyzed by Chiralortho-Methoxyphenyldiazaphosphonamide Lewis Bases." Angewandte Chemie, International Edition in English. 40:4536.

Buono, Gérard; Brunel, J. M.; Legrand, O.; et al. (2000). "On the Beneficial Effect of ortho-Methoxy Groups in the Asymmetric Ring Opening of meso Epoxides with Silicon Tetrachloride Catalyzed by Chiralortho-Methoxyphenyldiazaphosphonamide Lewis Bases." Angewandte Chemie, International Edition in English. 39:2554.

Coppola, Brian P. (2000). "Targeting Entry Points for Ethics in Chemistry Teaching and Learning." Journal of Chemical Education 77:15061511.

Sieber, J. E. (1992). Planning Ethically Responsible Research: A Guide for Students and Internal Review Boards, Vol. 31. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society (1991). Honor in Science. Research Triangle Park, NC: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources. Office of Research Integrity (September 24, 2000). Analysis of Institutional Policies for Responding to Allegations of Scientific Misconduct. Final Report. Columbia, MD: Office of Research Integrity. Also available from <>.

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Ethics. The human concern for what is right and wrong, good and evil. Ethics arise from the human awareness of the future, combined with a lack of detailed knowledge about it. Lives and actions have to be projected into acknowledged but unknown futures, which at once makes evaluation inevitable: is a possible action right or wrong, wise or foolish, prudential or risky, good or evil? The attribution of value then extends to much else, and produces the characteristic recognition by humans of truth, beauty, and goodness, not as contingent or arbitrary, but as independent of the moment which gives rise to them—i.e. as absolutes. What counts as good or evil varies from age to age, culture to culture, though even then there is a considerable convergence which overrides what is known as cultural relativity.

Religions are aware of these universals as a matter of experience. They know that thoughts and actions based on the absolutes of truth, beauty, and goodness are to be endorsed and encouraged, and perhaps are to be rewarded after death, even if not in this life. Religious ethics are concerned, far more than secular ethics are, with the causes and consequences of evil. Nevetheless, they affirm (and give good grounds for doing so) the sovereignty of good.

On the basis of the experience of the human universal to make moral judgements and recognitions, religions have believed, in general, that there is a naturally good way to live and behave. In the E., this tends to be summarized under dharma, in the W. under natural law. Roughly speaking, if there is a consistent way for things to behave appropriately in the natural order (e.g. for stones to fall when dropped, or for the movement of planets to be predictable—hence the interest in the connections between those regularities and humans in astrology), it would be extremely odd if there were not a naturally good way for humans to live with each other. In the W., this led Aristotle to propose what has subsequently been elaborated as eudaimonism—human flourishing. What has been a matter of contest, within religions as well as between them, is whether what counts as ‘flourishing’ has been fixed for all time (e.g. in the word of God in revelation, whether Vedic, Biblical or Quranic), or whether there is a constant exegesis of the eudaimonic—no doubt on the basis of previous experience and revelation (where applicable), but nevertheless prepared to move and change. Aristotle, after all, could not imagine a world without slaves and the subordination of wives to husbands—it was both natural and eudaimonic for those concerned; we do not agree, because the detail of the eudaimonic is not fixed for all time in all respects.

On the same basis of the human universal to make judgements of what is right and wrong, good and evil, religions have developed many different styles of moral living and accountability. But all religions believe that we have some competence to take charge of the lives we project into whatever futures there may be, and to allow moral considerations to act upon our decisions. This is what it means to be human. If there is a basic human right (concerning which, in such terms, religions say little), it is the right to be human in this way—to be sufficiently free to exercise responsibility and accountability in this way.


Jewish ethics are derived from Torah as the God-given revelation of the way in which the broken human condition (described graphically in the opening chapters of Genesis) can be repaired. Humans are not radically evil (the story of Adam and Eve is not understood as Christians understand it): they are confronted by the two inclinations. In this context, law merges with morality—and it was a dispute among the rabbis whether an act to be moral had to go beyond what the law required (lifnim mi-shurat ha-din, ‘beyond the boundary of the law’). It is perhaps simplest to say that law is the necessary, but not the sufficient, condition of the good life. In the vital imitatio Dei (imitation of God), the details are all derived from Torah itself. Judaism, while based on law, is not legalistic. There are in fact only three moral absolutes, summarized in kiddush ha-Shem; otherwise, much rabbinic discussion is devoted to ranking obligations in order of priority: saving life having precedent over keeping the Sabbath is an example.


Christian ethics derive from the occasion when Jesus was asked, as teachers, especially rabbis, often were at that time, to give his kelal of Torah (choice of verse which summarizes Torah). His choice, the love of God and the love of one's neighbour, was neither unique nor controversial. This context-independent command of love had to be made context-specific: it had to be related to the circumstances in which the early and subsequent Christians found themselves. This is exactly what one finds Paul and others doing in the writings which became eventually the New Testament. For example, in 1 Corinthians, Paul states how they should deal with a case of incest, with dietary scruples, with marriage and virginity, with support of ministry, with the behaviour of women in services, until he bursts out, almost in exasperation, ‘I will show you a more excellent way’; and he reverts to the controlling, but context-independent, command of love. Christian ethics have oscillated through history between these extremes: on the one side, Situation Ethics, associated with Joseph Fletcher, emphasized the importance of each situation determining what is the most loving thing to do (echoing Augustine's, Ama, et fac quod vis, ‘Love, and do what you will’); on the other, when the pope defines a matter of morals (as also of faith), it is infallibly decided. Between the two, most Christians refer to the Bible (though with great division about whether or not the Bible, or at least the New Testament, should be treated as containing commands, applicable as non-negotiable law) and live their lives somewhere between the two extremes by the exercise of conscience. In the main forms of Christianity, conscience is the absolutely inviolable and sacrosanct centre of the person as human, as responsible for her or his decisions.


Since God has given to humans his guidance for their behaviour in the Qurʾān, Muslim ethics (akhlāq) are necessarily grounded in the Qurʾān. But as with all revelations, not every conceivable circumstance is covered in the Qurʾān. A second major source of guidance, therefore, lies in ḥadīth: Muḥammad and his Companions were the first living commentaries on Qurʾān, and although ḥadīth is not in the same category of authority as the Qurʾān, nevertheless the example of insān al-kāmil (the perfect man) is of constant importance. Life as God desires it was eventually formulated more systematically in the schools of shariʿa (law), which detail the things which are lawful and prohibited (al-halal wʾal haram) for a Muslim. However, by no means all things are specified, and the principle applies that whatever God has not forbidden is allowed (as a mark of his generosity), though always within the boundaries of ‘what God wills’ as revealed in more general terms in the Qurʾān. Lives are judged by God (judgement) on the basis of good and evil done, controlled always by intention (niyya).


Hinduism is a coalition of widely differing styles in religious life and belief, but shared in common is the belief that humans are bearers of souls (ātman) which are reborn many millions of times (saṃsāra)—so long, in fact, as they are entangled in bodies which desire transient appearances more than the truth. In each life, karma accumulates—for good and for ill—which is worked out in subsequent lives, until one orders one's life in the direction of release, which necessarily involves good actions. ‘Hinduism’ is a map of the many ways in which one may so live that the ātman attains its goal and obtains mokṣa (release). In other words, Hinduism is a map of dharma (appropriateness), and its own name for itself is sanātana dharma, everlasting dharma: in the Hindu way, it is dharma that has primacy as ethics, because it corresponds to ṛta, the cosmic order in which natural law is grounded. Central to this in relation to ethical behaviour is varṇāśramadharma, one's duty in relation to class/caste (varna) and the four stages of life (āśrama), which still obtains for many (though as always, not for all) Hindus.


While the Buddha rejected the Hindu belief in an undying ātman passing from life to life, he nevertheless affirmed continuity of consequence flowing from one life to another, working out the consequences of karma and taṇhā (thirst or clinging). His ‘middle way’ to enlightenment included the necessity for right conduct. This is summarized for laypeople in the Five Precepts (Pañca-śīla), which are not so much commands as promises which a person makes to himself/herself each morning; and the Ten Precepts for the members of monastic communities. The Buddha's own lives are exemplary in defining what is good—the plural ‘lives’ being a reminder that the Buddha-to-be appeared in previous lives, stories concerning which are found in the Jātaka collections. Of the Five Precepts, the first, ahiṃsā (non-injury) has further implications, because no exception was made for the killing of animals for sacrifice. Dāna (giving) developed as a substitute, leading to the characteristically dynamic relationship between lay-people and the saṅgha (monastic community), and to generosity at the heart of ethical life. The aim is the development of mahā-karuṇā, great and unlimited compassion.


The teaching of Confucius and of the Confucian school is addressed to the good of society, not simply to individual behaviour, or the attainment of individual goals. It is often summarized in the phrases, ‘The Three Bonds’ (between parent and child, husband and wife, ruler and subject), and ‘The Five Relationships’ (including those between brothers and between friends). Confucius believed that, with the help of heaven (tʾien) or a positive moral force (te), people can produce the all-important characteristics of jen and li. The moral issue can then be put as a question: ‘How would the wise person (sheng-jen) or ideal person (chün tzu) respond with te, and in accord with jen and li, in this situation?’ Although Confucian ethics may seem to stress the desirability of hierarchical or vertical relationships, in fact the key factor stressed by Confucius is shu (reciprocity), even if the principle of authority has also been upheld in these relationships. Confucianism was open to attack and criticism which also affected the development of the dominant school: see e.g. MO TZU, HSÜN TZU, and (at the root of Taoism) LAO TZU and CHUANG TZU.


‘Truthful living’ is the aim of Sikh life which necessarily embraces ethics (Ādi Granth 62). It requires a positive action and effort (kirat karna) in a constant work of service (seva) to others: ‘Only by the self-forgetting service of others can God be reached’ (AG 26). This is expressed particularly in vand chakna, sharing with others. Because all humans are subverted by haumai, this effort is not easy to initiate or sustain, but Sikhs receive help from the grace of God, the teachings of the scriptures, and the example of the Gurus.

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Personal rules for behavior.

Ethics are rules for behavior, based on beliefs about how things should be. Ethical statements involve: 1) assumptions about humans and their capacities; 2) logical rules extending from these assumptions; and 3) notions of what is good and desirable.

Ethical systems (sets of rules for acceptable behavior) concern the "shoulds" and "should nots" of life, the principles and values on which human relations are based.

The assessment of whether a behavior is ethical is divided into four categories, or domains: consequences, actions, character , and motive. In the domain of consequences, a behavior is determined to be "right" or "wrong" based on the results of the action, whereas the domain of actions looks only at the act itself. The domain of character looks at whether a person's overall character is ethical; a person who is deemed as "virtuous" has consistently ethical behavior. The motive domain evaluates a person's intentions, regardless of the consequences. It considers whether the person intended to do good, even if the result was bad. A behavior may be deemed "ethical" according to one domain of assessment, but appear "unethical" according to another. For example, a poor person steals a small amount of food to feed her starving child from a wealthy, well-fed person who does not even notice that the food is missing. This act would be considered ethical in the domain of consequences, since the child can be fed, and motive, since the person is caring for her child, but unethical in the domain of actions, because stealing in itself is wrong. The poor person's general behavior would have to be evaluated to determine whether she is ethical in the domain of character.

Ethics can also be divided into two main schools, absolutism and relativism. Absolutists believe that ethical rules are fixed standards (for example, stealing is always wrong, no matter what the circumstances). Relativists, on the other hand, believe that all ethics are subject to context (for example, stealing may be wrong in certain circumstances but not in others). Few people are actually pure absolutists or pure relativists, but rather fall somewhere along the spectrum between the two extremes, tending towards one or the other. Most who tend towards absolutism will allow for special circumstances and bend the rules on occasion, while those who tend towards relativism will admit to some universal standards that form a "bottom line" of behavior.

In order to develop ethical maturity, people must have moral awareness and moral agency (or autonomy). Moral awareness is the ability to recognize the ethical element of a given situation. For some, eating beef is simply an act of appetite and habit, with no thought given to its ethical implications. For others, whether to eat beef is a complicated moral question involving the ethics of land use (grazing cattle vs. growing food crops), conservation (the destruction of rainforests to increase grazing grounds), and the global economy (the transformation of underdeveloped countries into cattle farms for Western industrialized nations). Moral agency or autonomy means the freedom to choose between alternative behaviors. A person cannot develop ethical maturity without being able to choose from alternatives. Without moral awareness and moral agency, ethics become meaningless because behaviors are simply automatic, or forced.

The question of moral agency becomes complicated by the tendency to equate ethical behavior with obedience. Because humans first learn ethics as small children from adult authority figures, our initial understanding of ethics is "obeying." When we do what adults want us to, we are told we are "good." If we disobey, we are "bad." Some people never outgrow this, continuing throughout life to believe that being "good" means obeying external authorities. These people have never developed a sense of moral agency, even though they are capable of making choices. A prime example of this dilemma is the numerous soldiers and citizens who carried out or assisted in the torture and murder of millions of Jews, Russians, gays, and others in the Holocaust of World War II. Do their claims that they were "just following orders" exempt them from ethical responsibility? Likewise, in situations of oppression where people have been traumatized into blind obedience to their oppressors, are the oppressed ethically responsible for their actions, or do they lack moral agency? These are difficult questions with no clear answers, but they do illuminate the essential character of freedom to choose in the development of ethical maturity.

Ethical maturity involves accepting full responsibility for one's ethical choices and their consequences. An ethically mature person obeys her or his own, inner authority (or conscience ), rather than an outside authority figure. Moving from the infantile state of externally determined obedience to the mature state of self-determination is a long and difficult process, however. In her 1994 book, psychologist Elizabeth McGrath presents nine stages of ethical development.

  • Stage 1 = The person sees the world in polar terms of we-right-good versus they-wrong-bad. Right answers for everything are known to an authority whose role is to mediate or teach them.
  • Stage 2 = The person perceives diversity of opinion and uncertainty and accounts for these as confusion engendered by poorly qualified authorities or as exercises designed to encourage individuals to find their own system.
  • Stage 3 = The person accepts diversity and uncertainty as legitimate, but only as temporary conditions in areas for which the authority has not yet found an answer. The perceived uncertainty on the part of the so-called experts makes the person anxious. Therefore, this stage does not last long.

In Stages 1-3, ethical choices are based completely on obedience to external authorities. A person in these stages of ethical development is rigid in their beliefs and defensive when challenged, because there is no internal sense of confidence. The person's ethics are not grounded in any self-determined understanding of right and wrong, but rather in the dictates of outside authorities. When the infallibility of those authorities comes into question, the anxiety produced either pushes the person on to Stage 4, or back to the unquestioning stance of Stage 1. Some people never progress beyond the first three stages of ethical development.

The biggest shift in ethical understanding comes between Stages 3 and 4, if the person chooses to progress rather than regress. At this point, blind obedience to absolute, externally determined codes of behavior is thrown off and replaced with extreme relativism. As the person matures further, this extreme relativism is gradually modified. In McGrath's words:

  • Stage 4 = The person perceives that legitimate uncertainty and diversity of opinion are extensive and concludes that all people have a right to their own opinions. The person rejects ethical authorities in favor of a thoroughgoing relativism in which anyone's opinion, including the individual's, is as good, true, or reliable as anyone else's.
  • Stage 5 = The person perceives all knowledge and values, including those of formerly recognized ethical authorities, as contextual and relativistic and relegates dualistic right-wrong functions to a subordinate status by placing them in context.

In other words, Stage 4 reasoning makes "right" and "wrong" meaningless with a completely relativistic, anything-goes ethical stance. In Stage 5, however, "right" and "wrong" return, not as absolutes as in the first three stages, but as contextual concepts.

The next steps in ethical maturity involve taking responsibility for one's own ethical choices, leading eventually to a solid, well-reasoned, ethical self-determination.

  • Stage 6 = The person recognizes that he or she must orient himself or herself in a relativistic world through a personal commitment, as distinct from unquestioned or unconsidered commitment to simple belief in certainty.
  • Stage 7 = The person makes an initial, limited commitment.
  • Stage 8 = The person experiences the initial implications of commitment and explores the subjective issues of responsibility.
  • Stage 9 = The person assumes responsibility for his or her beliefs and realizes that commitment is an ongoing, unfolding activity.

The ethically mature person understands that ethical maturity is not a final achievement but a lifelong process of growth and development.

Ethics are acquired from the day of our birth until the day of our death. At first, ethics are absorbed through parent-child relationships and the imitation of adult behavior. Children should interact with warm, caring, ethically mature adults during their first years of life to promote positive ethical development. Parents and teachers have a strong impact on children through the tenor of their relationships with children and with each other. Adults most often try to promote ethical behavior in children by establishing rules and codes of behavior through rewards and punishments. However, experts have found that this is much less effective than modeling and personal interaction.

Ethics are also acquired through labeling and sexual roles. People most often live up to the labels they are given, especially children. If a child is labeled "delinquent," she or he will incorporate that label and behave accordingly. If, on the other hand, a child is labeled "well-behaved," he or she will fulfill that expectation. Sexual roles also confer labels; "masculine" and "feminine" carry distinct expectations in nearly every culture, which children learn to conform to or rebel against early on. To become ethically mature, a person must struggle past assigned labels and roles to develop a freely chosen sense of identity, from which will grow the ethical code.

Two other important sources of ethical development are the practice of ethical behaviors and social interaction. Adults can help promote positive ethical development in children by creating opportunities for the children to make age-appropriate ethical choices and experience the consequences of those choices. It is also important to create a safe, supportive social environment so that children can learn to value others and identify with their community. Empathy is an essential element in positive ethical behavior; unless a person identifies with others and values them, she or he will have no qualms about causing others pain or suffering.

Finally, to reach full ethical maturity, a person must create his or her own ethical systems, born out of a sense of connection with all humans and other forms of life. Children must be given the opportunity to ground themselves in a sense of safety and community, out of which they can develop a responsible code of ethics that will carry them creatively through life.

See also Moral development

Dianne K. Daeg de Mott

Further Reading

McGrath, Elizabeth Z. The Art of Ethics: A Psychology of Ethical Beliefs. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1994.

Messerly, John G. An Introduction to Ethical Theories. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995.

Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1990.

Terkel, Susan Neiburg. Ethics. New York: Lodestar Books, 1992.

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Ethics in the social sciences can be best understood by distinguishing normative ethics from metaethics. Normative ethics derives from the practical purpose of guiding how we ought to live and inquires into the proper guidelines of conduct for a responsible human being. Metaethics asks what ethics is, how it can be distinguished from other forms of human practice, and where it finds its proper place. Twentieth-century social science was dominated by normative ethical questions: questions about what ethical guidelines a professional social scientist should adopt. Normative ethics dominated the discussion because social scientists generally took the model of professional ethicsinstitutionalized in the codes of conduct and peer review committees of associations of (among others) legal or medical practitionersfor granted. This preoccupation with professionalist models reduced social scientists interest in metaethics and thus their capacity to understand what ethics is. Since the 1970s, however, processes of deprofessionalization or horizontalization have reduced the independence of professional practitioners, giving rise to new forms of institutionalizing ethics and increasing the demand and opportunity for metaethical reflection.

In the context of the rise of the welfare states demand for expertise, sociologists, in particular, propounded a folk ideology of professionalism, and its model of ethicsof safeguarding the quality of professional service by codes of conduct administered, in the case of conflict, by a committee of peerswas adopted by social scientists from the 1950s onward. Two famous cases in social psychology one in which religious informants seemed misinformed about researchers own beliefs (Smith 1957), and another where experimental subjects appeared to be put under intolerable stress (Milgram 1964)became paradigmatic in sensitizing many social scientists to the possible abuse of people researched. In addition, anthropologists and sociologists were worried by the use of research for U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and made the interests of people researched paramount in their first ethical codes. This resulted in guidelines of conduct that focused predominantly on the responsibility to avoid doing unnecessary harm to research subjectsby the experimental situation itself, by secret or clandestine research, or by insufficiently protecting the research subjects privacy. When institutionalized by social scientific associations around 1970, such codes and committees were primarily seen as a prerogative of professionals, whose expertise allowed them to speak for or interpret the interests of clients. This assumption of professional autonomy remains dominant today in many ways. Most social scientists think that an ethical code is a necessary and self-evident element of their profession, despite the fact that they managed without codes for half a century or more.

In society at large, however, professional autonomy decreased by changing practices of professional control. In the field of ethics, this was particularly manifested by the increasing insistence on the right to informed consent of people researched, adopted from the medical profession since the mid-1960s. If informed consent already horizontalized the professional experts relationship to some of his audiences, the increasing employment of social scientists outside the university system since the late 1970s forced them to be more explicitly responsible to private employers and sponsors as well. While some protested this dual loss of professional autonomy, others embraced the new ethics of accountability to sponsors and people researchedalthough neither group always knew how accountability was tied to the spread of neoliberal market models and auditing techniques throughout the academic world.

These developments implied new institutionalizations of ethical practice: From the 1980s onward, codes of conduct and good practice mushroomed, but now increasingly produced by universities or funding agencies rather than professional associations. These institutions internal review boards introduced ethical audits, for example, at the level of the grant application, thus increasing the possibility of external control of practitioners by ethical codification (while previously, codes were aimed at safeguarding the practitioners professional autonomy). Meanwhile, professional social science associations reduced their involvement in ethical arbitration (partly because, unlike the medical or legal professions, they could not effectively sanction violations of their codes) and fell back more insistently on the role of the ethical code in professional public relations and education. Surprisingly, such pleas for an education in ethics often focus on teaching by codes rather than by the more appropriate because more practice-orientedcasebook method.

This crisis of the professional model exacerbated existing problems with normative ethics, and especially with ethical codification. In the professional model, the ethical code presupposes a community of scholars who hold each other accountable to its guidelines, but this Enlightenment conception of social contract breaks down once infractions of these guidelines cannot be sanctioned. Moreover, when the membership of such communities is not exclusive, practitioners may find themselves subject to the rules of a multiplicity of organizations (including, of course, ordinary citizens duties)a situation in which most members of social scientific associations find themselves. The adoption of codes of conduct by universities and funding bodies is criticized for merely increasing the means of such institutions internal control, while falling short of achieving its actual goal: improving academic practice. This gives rise to the metaethical question of whether one can speak of an administrative fetishization of ethical codes, and whether this distracts from academic ethical awareness, so that ethical codes reduce rather than promote ethical practice (Bauman 1993). The answer to this question is not unequivocal: the codification of good practice may be a necessary instrument to sensitize practitioners to the possibility of doing harm (there is, for example, surprisingly little agreement on the ethics of research into human genetics). Once a code is in place, however, it can perform some of the less desirable functions mentioned above.

Other recent metaethical reflections radically broaden social scientific ethics, if only because they do not restrict themselves to normative ethics and the dos and donts of the research relationship. Inspired by philosophers such as Michel Foucault (1926-1984) or Charles Taylor, social scientists increasingly discuss ethics as the way in which people constitute themselvesand others as subjects, by not just considering what it is right to do but, more broadly, striving after what it is good to be (Taylor 1989, p. 3). In this way, ethics is recognized as part of the everyday technologies of the self, and therefore as a topic of social scientific study in its own right, claiming a place next to and in comparison with law, politics, or economics (among other things) in understanding human behavior. Thus, sociologists of culture can be seen to study ethics when discussing, for example, the Protestant or the romantic ethic.

The comparative study of ethics, started by the Finnish anthropologist and philosopher Edward Westermarck (1862-1939) around 1900 and only feebly followed up by anthropologists in the 1950s and 1960s, may be revived. Such studies also open up spaces for alternative models of ethics: sociocultural anthropologists and archaeologists, for example, have explored a model of open-ended ethical negotiation (Meskell and Pels 2005)an ethics as necessary for the research relationship as it is for human behavior in general. Such explorations can also question the implicit distinction between fact and value that still often keeps the teaching of research methodology apart from the teaching of research ethics, impoverishing social science education in the process. It seems obvious that only the latter movetoward a full integration of ethics and methodologycan lead to a truly ethical social scientific practice, in which students are made aware of the situational, case-bound ethics of research from the moment they start their first training.


Bauman, Zygmunt. 1993. Postmodern Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Meskell, Lyn, and Peter Pels, eds. 2005. Embedding Ethics. New York and London: Berg.

Milgram, Stanley. 1964. Issues in the Study of Obedience: A Reply to Baumrind. American Psychologist 19: 848-852.

Smith, M. Brewster. 1957. Of Prophecy and Privacy: When Prophecy Fails, by L. Festinger, H. W. Riecken, and S. Schachter. Contemporary Psychology 2 (4): 89-92.

Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Peter Pels

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Education for professionals in the computing disciplines includes, but is not limited to, degree tracks called computer science, computer engineering, software engineering, information systems, and information technology. Major professional organizations for the computing disciplines include the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE-CS), and the Association for Information Technology Professionals (AITP). Each of these professional organizations has published a code of ethics. The complete, current versions of these codes can generally be found on the organizations' web sites. These codes are designed to establish a framework for judging the ethical quality of professional behavior, and anyone who aspires to be a professional in the computing disciplines should be aware of them.

One important general principle contained in these codes is that a professional has a responsibility to society as a whole. For example, the AITP standards of conduct lists six items under the heading of "obligation to society." These include informing the public about computing technology, ensuring that work products are used in socially responsible ways, and making information public when it is relevant to a situation of public concern. The ACM code and the joint ACM/IEEE-CS Software Engineering Code of Ethics each include similar concerns. This overall obligation to society is the foundation for a responsibility to "blow the whistle" if one's company engages in illegal or unethical activities.

Rights and Responsibilities

Another important general principle is to respect intellectual property laws and ensure that credit is fairly assigned for the results of intellectual work. For example, the "General Moral Imperatives" in the ACM code of ethics contains the statements "Honor property rights, including patents and copyrights" and "Give proper credit for intellectual property." The "honoring" of existing intellectual property laws can be a controversial issue. Sharing, or facilitating the sharing of, copyrighted digital audio and video files on the World Wide Web is certainly a violation of existing copyright laws. Some users of the World Wide Web believe strongly in the right to such activity. However, the codes clearly label this behavior as unethical. Existing copyright law also labels it as illegal! Many computing professionals who do not agree with existing copyright law suggest that the more appropriate action is to change copyright laws.

The codes of ethics also touch on general principles regarding software development. These are most fully detailed in the joint ACM/IEEE-CS Software Engineering Code of Ethics. Two elements listed under the "Product" section of this code are the following: (1) "Ensure that specifications for software on which you work have been well documented, satisfy the users' requirements and have the appropriate approvals." (2) "Ensure adequate testing, debugging, and review of software and related documents on which you work." One classic case study of failures in software design, implementation, and testing is that of the Therac-25 radiation therapy machine. Several patients died as a direct result of software failures in this system. Concern about the quality of software development, especially software for safety-critical systems, is one of the factors behind the movement to license software engineers.

In general, a code of ethics cannot be used as a means to avoid serious thought and judgment. In particular, codes should not be used to search for "proof text" for a desired conclusion. Consider the situation of a technician who accidentally discovers that his or her manager has used an office computer to collect a large amount of pornography downloaded from the web. The question is whether the technician should report the pornography or keep it private. One element of the AITP standards of conduct states "Protect the privacy and confidentiality of all information entrusted to me." But other elements of the same code state "Take appropriate action in regard to any illegal or unethical practices that come to my attention" and "Protect the proper interest of my employer at all times."

So if people use the code to search for justification for what they already want to do, they will likely find it. Instead, the correct approach is to look at the code of ethics and the particular situation as a whole, and to make a judgment based on careful consideration of all the relevant facts. In this example, the use of a company-owned computer to collect pornography for personal enjoyment seems to be outside the bounds of acceptable professional behavior, making it something that should be reported to upper management.

Social Issues

There are several important and controversial social issues at the forefront of ethics and computing. One issue involves missile defense systems. In 1983 U.S. President Ronald Reagan proposed a "Star Wars" missile defense system that would protect the United States from attack by the Soviet Union. The goal of the proposed system was to use space-based sensors to detect missiles launched by the Soviet Union, to track the missiles on their way toward the United States, and to direct anti-missile weapons to destroy the missiles before they hit the United States. This proposal was eventually abandoned. In 2001 U.S. President George W. Bush renewed the call for a scaled-down version of the system to meet the perceived threats of the time. Computer programs designed to operate a missile defense system are an extreme example of safety-critical software, and concerns about specifications and testing raise important ethical issues.

Many experts argue that it is not possible to create missile defense software that would have a high reliability of working. One reason for this is that identifying the software specifications requires knowing how the enemy will choose to attack. Therefore, it is difficult to know the specifications with any certainty. Another reason is that it is difficult to envision how the software could be realistically tested. As a result of these and other concerns, many programmers and designers feel that working on such software would go against the values embedded in the code of ethics governing their profession.

Another issue at the cutting edge of ethics and computing is freedom of speech. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a general protection against the government regulating the speech of its citizens. The United States has perhaps the strongest protections for freedom of speech of any country. For instance, some "hate speech" web sites that are legal in the United States would be illegal in Canada, England, France, Germany, and other countries. But it is still unclear how to enforce national laws in cyberspace, and perhaps the free speech tradition as it is known in the United States is not the only workable alternative. Some people argue that traditional free speech rights in the United States should be restricted in the modern world of cyberspace.

The introduction and use of computing technology continues to raise important ethical and social concerns. The professional societies have developed codes of ethics to help provide a framework for ethical decision-making in the computing disciplines. It is the responsibility of each individual computing professional to be aware of and to integrate a code of ethics into their professional behavior.

see also E-commerce; Privacy; Security; World Wide Web.

Kevin W. Bowyer


Bowyer, Kevin W. Ethics and Computing: Living Responsibly in a Computerized World. New York: IEEE Press, 2001.

Leveson, Nancy G., and Clark S. Turner. "An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents." IEEE Computer 26, no. 7 (1993): 1841.

Parnas, David L. "Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems." Communications of the ACM 28 (1985): 13261335.

Internet Resources

Association for Computing Machinery. <>

Association of Information Technology Professionals. <>

Electronic Frontier Foundation. <>

IEEE Computer Society. <>

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Ethics concerns mores: human moral attitudes in general and, more specifically, rules of behavior and their justifications. This system of rules attributes values to behaviors by judging them to be good or bad according to their intrinsic moral qualities or their concrete social consequences. For Freud, ethics takes up where totemism and taboos leave off, and constitutes the basis of all religion.

In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a [1929]), Freud noted, "The cultural super-ego has developed its ideals and set up its demands. Among the latter, those which deal with the relations of human beings are comprised under the heading of ethics" (p. 142).

As early as the Studies on Hysteria (1895a), Freud analyzed hysterical conversion symptoms as the result of a conflict between patients' erotic thoughts and moral ideals. The adjective "ethical," ethisch in German, appeared for the first time in 1898 in "Sexuality in the Aetiology of the Neuroses." In that essay, Freud raised the question of whether physicians have the right to intrude into the sexual lives of their patients and whether their "ethical duty" might not be "to keep away from the whole business of sex" (p. 264).

The notion of ethics in Freud's work refers primarily to those moral ideals in the name of which individuals renounce any instinctual impulses that are irreconcilable with the narcissistic ideals of the ego. These ideals are based on images of loved objects and the esteem of the superego. For Freud, the symptoms of the transference neuroses were substitutes for the remains of old loves that were forbidden by morality.

The reign of "civilized morality" begins when the drives are renounced. This forms the basis of religion and culture. Yet when individuals renounce the drives, they are deprived of the sexual and aggressive satisfactions demanded by the id, and so run the risk of neurosis.

This traditional conception of ethics is emphasized when the German word Ethik is translated as morals or morality. In what Angélo Hesnard calls "the morbid universe of guilt," the unconscious feelings of guilt that cause neurotic symptoms do not relate to the material reality of the patient's actions. Neurotic patients are guilty only of their secret intentions. The psychic reality of the forbidden and repressed wishes of "the child that is in man" (Freud, 1910a [1909], p. 36) is accessible to us by dream interpretation and is realized in the course of analytic treatment in the love/hate relationship of the transference. And yet, by reawakening the demons banished by morality, does not psychoanalysis run the risk of destroying the very foundations of culture, which always demands sacrifices of the individual?

This question leads to another conception of ethics, one that is specific to psychoanalysis. The ethics of psychoanalysis is a consequence of how its practice implements its method and rules. Psychoanalysis does not aim to make the individual adapted to his or her environment. In other words, it does not serve the good; rather, it seeks the truth. When Freud recommended that physicians not give in to the amorous advances of their patients, he was giving voice less to traditional morality than to a psychoanalytic ethics conceived in terms of the requirements of a praxis founded on a method. The patient, by engaging in transference love, aggravated by a resistance to remembering, aims to reduce the analyst to a lover. The analyst is ethically bound not to respond, because he does not mistake the transference for true love. He wants to frustrate the analysand's love so that it can be analyzed. Otherwise, the analyst would become allied with the resistance. Here moral motives converge with psychoanalytic technique.

This psychoanalytic notion of ethics serves philosophical, religious, and moral causes. In Moses and Monotheism (1939a), Freud showed that ethics originates in "a sense of guilt felt on account of a suppressed hostility to God" (p. 134). Using Judaism, he returned to the myth of the murder of the father that he developed in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a). Freud argued that people have always known that at one time they had a primitive father (which in religion becomes the godhead) and that they put him to death. The resulting "nostalgia for the father" reflected an insatiable need to appease a sense of guilt by changing the father's prohibitions into ethical obligations. When sons ingest the dead father's body, they come to identify with someone whom they simultaneously love and hate. Thus, the dead father becomes the superego, demanding self-sacrifice. When the subject obeys the superego and renounces his sexual and aggressive impulses, he can both hate and love the parental authority within himself.

Freud revealed the role that masochism and narcissism play when the drives are reined in by ethics. A subject who suffers by sacrificing his or her desires to the supposed demands of the Other feels loved and chosen by this Other while unconsciously reproaching the Other for sadism.

Jacques Lacan discussed how the death drive functions in the dialectic between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. He began by declaring the prohibition of incest to be the only universal law. All other rules of morality are merely historical and cultural variations of this law. Desire for the mother can never be satisfied, even after the murder of the deterring father, because acting out incest would cause the social order to collapse. For this reason, the "naturalist liberation" of pleasure fails (Lacan, p. 4), jouissance remains forbidden, and the prohibition is reinforced by the work of mourning. The human condition is tragic because the more the subject renounces pleasure, the more his superego demands greater sacrifices. Nevertheless, the superego is necessary to produce the economy of pleasure and to introduce desire into the world of symbolic mediation.

In the character of Antigone, Lacan found an incarnation of a "pure and simple desire for death" (p. 282). This "raw," "inflexible" "kid" (pp. 250, 263) opposes the ethics of the good, represented by Creon. With her sacrifice, Antigone becomes the pure and simple relation between being human and "the break introduced by the presence of language in the human life" (p. 279). The result is that "when an analysis is carried through to its end the subject will encounter the limit in which the problematic of desire is raised" (p. 300).

Jacques Lacan emphasized the human subject's debt to language in becoming human and thus proposed a psychoanalytic ethic that did not concern itself with happiness and the good. The idealization of the figure of Antigone produced a Hegelian imperative to "pure action" that could conceivably be added to or substituted for traditional ethico-religious ideals. What Patrick Guyomard refers to as "the enjoyment of the tragic" must give way to the specific requirements of psychoanalytic work, a work of mourning that, according to Conrad Stein, leads to a "crossing of the tragic." Thus the ethics of psychoanalysis is a consequence of its specific method.

Roland Gori

See also: Boundary violations; Criminology and psychoanalysis; Judgment of condemnation; Kantianism and psychoanalysis; Seminar, Lacan's; Transgression; Truth.


Freud, Sigmund. (1898a). Sexuality in the aetiology of the neuroses. SE, 3: 259-285.

. (1910a [1909]). Five lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 11: 7-55.

. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.

. (1930a [1929]). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 57-145.

. (1939a). Moses and monotheism: Three essays. SE, 23: 1-137.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895a). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.

Guyomard, Patrick. (1992). La jouissance du tragique: Antigone, Lacan et le désir de l'analyste. Paris: Aubier.

Lacan, Jacques. (1997). The seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book 7: The ethics of psychoanalysis (1959-1960) (Dennis Porter, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1986)

Stein, Conrad. (1995). La traversée du tragique en psychanalyse.Études freudiennes, 35, 33-48.

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The term environmental ethics applies to the study of the moral foundation of our relationship with the environment. Questions posed by environmental ethics are varied, but all deal with our responsibility to the environmentwhat is our responsibility and how far does it go? Possibly the most basic discussion in environmental ethics begins with examining the value of naturedoes nature have value on its own (intrinsic value), or is the environment only valuable to the extent that it benefits humans (instrumental value)? The answers to this question dictate how different people approach issues of conservation and pollution.

Two opposing approaches to environmental ethics became evident as the field emerged. The approach that sees the environment only in terms of what in the environment can benefit humans is called the anthropocentric approach. The nonanthropocentric approach, conversely, considers the intrinsic value in every part of the environment, from the oceans to bacteria. But there are many variations in both of these main approaches, as each seeks to expand or limit its scope for reasons of practicality and common sense. For instance, as J. Baird Callicott points out, a strictly anthropocentric view holds that humans alone are morally valuable because only they possess the property of rationalism, and they are the only inhabitants of the environment that do. However, if we follow the logic of such a point of view, infants, for example, would have no moral value and thus not merit our consideration or protection. Anthropocentrism must therefore "lower the bar" of moral consideration such that it includes groups like the one just cited.

On the other hand, an ecocentric approach that requires us to give moral consideration to every living thing on the planet would be too broad to be of any practical value, since inevitably certain human requirements will come into conflict with some parts of the environment. If mosquitoes carry diseases that kill humans (malaria, for instance), it is not practical nor would it be acceptable to claim that we should not try to eradicate the disease-carrying mosquitoes, because they deserve the same moral consideration as humans.

It is interesting to note that there are times when both approaches would arrive at the same conclusion regarding the moral justification (or lack thereof) for a certain action on the environment. In light of what we now know about dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), its use would be wrong from an ecocentric point of view because it causes massive damage to many different species. From an anthropocentric point of view, the damage that DDT contamination causes in humans, both physically and through destruction of the beneficial parts of their environment, would make its use unjustified.

Nonetheless, DDT, although it is banned in developed countries, was still being manufactured by China and Mexico, as late as 1999, and exported to developing countries. It is mainly used to control malaria, for which scientists claim there is no economically feasible alternative, and was formerly employed to protect crops imported by the United States (though this has not been the case since 1986). Is the use of DDT to control malaria justified, in the absence of feasible alternatives? What about the protection of crops? For people living in poverty, healthy crops that can be exported mean a better lifea desirable outcome. But the environmental damage to the region that is sprayed, including its human population, is as bad as it has always been. Furthermore, importing sprayed crops reintroduces DDT into our environment. Even the anthropocentric views that strictly consider human benefits vs. risks would agree that the latter use of DDT is morally unjustified, but can the same be said about its use to control malaria? Approximately one million people die each year as a result of this disease. The problem here is not scientificalternative control methods exist. Therefore, it seems that the only morally justified action would be to make the alternative available at a reasonable price, so that neither the environment nor the people who survive the malaria suffer the consequences of exposure to DDT.

As environmental ethics matured and expanded, so did the questions it raised. Who is responsible for the cost of cleaning up hazardous waste? Or for the harm an old dump site caused when the chemicals there leaked? What if at the time the site was created, the company dumping wastes at that location only suspected this action would present a problem in the future, but had no concrete evidence of this? A holistic view (neither anthropocentric nor ecocentric) would say that the morally correct course of action would be to err on the side of caution. The precautionary principle, as it is known, places the burden of proof on the entity trying to promote the action it says would be beneficialfor example, the DDT manufacturersince an action cannot be reversed once it is taken. At that point, one can only control the damage, if it occurs. Another area environmental ethics expanded into is distributive justice, which calls for everyone involved in a process or decision to receive their due consideration. Distributive justice is important in siting a hazardous waste disposal site, for instance. Currently, these sites often end up in low-income or politically powerless areas, where the local population has no adequate representation. Distributive justice seeks to remedy this kind of discrimination.

Environmental ethics became the basis for many political movements with sometimes contradictory ideas, but the many successful campaigns associated with such movements improved our lives by protecting the environment and reducing pollution. However, in light of the fact that the overall global picture is not improving where the environment is concerned, it would appear beneficial to all of us to adopt personal environmental ethics and live by them day to day.

see also Carson, Rachel; Commoner, Barry; DDT (Dichlorodiphenyl Trichloroethane); Earth Day; Earth Summit; Economics; Precautionary Principle; Tragedy of the Commons.


cooper, david e., and palmer, joy a. (1992). the environment in question. new york: routledge.

rolston, holmes iii. (1988). environmental ethics. philadelphia, pa: temple university press.

rolston, holmes iii. (1989). philosophy gone wild. buffalo, ny: prometheus books.

internet resources

brennan, andrew, and lo, yeuk-sze. "environmental ethics." in stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, summer 2002 edition, edited by edward n. zalta. available from

callicott, j. baird. "environmental ethics: an overview." available from http://www.

Adi R. Ferrara

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Aldo Leopold, The Land Ethic, (1949)

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ethics, in philosophy, the study and evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles. Moral principles may be viewed either as the standard of conduct that individuals have constructed for themselves or as the body of obligations and duties that a particular society requires of its members.

Approaches to Ethical Theory

Ethics has developed as people have reflected on the intentions and consequences of their acts. From this reflection on the nature of human behavior, theories of conscience have developed, giving direction to much ethical thinking. Intuitionists (Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Clarke), moral-sense theorists (the 3d earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson), and sentimentalists (J. J. Rousseau, Pierre-Simon Ballanche) postulated an innate moral sense, which serves as the ground of ethical decision. Empiricists (John Locke, Claude Helvétius, John Stuart Mill) deny any such innate principle and consider conscience a power of discrimination acquired by experience. In the one case conscience is the originator of moral behavior, and in the other it is the result of moralizing. Between these extremes there have been many compromises.

The Nature of the Good

Another major difference in the approach to ethical problems revolves around the question of absolute good as opposed to relative good. Throughout the history of philosophy thinkers have sought an absolute criterion of ethics. Frequently moral codes have been based on religious absolutes. Immanuel Kant, in his categorical imperative, attempted to establish an ethical criterion independent of theological considerations. Rationalists (Plato, Baruch Spinoza, Josiah Royce) founded their ethics on a metaphysics.

All varying methods of building an ethical system pose the question of the degree to which morality is authoritative (i.e., imposed by a power outside the individual). If the criterion of morality is the welfare of the state (G. W. Hegel), the state is supreme arbiter. If the authority is a religion, then that religion is the ethical teacher. Hedonism, which equates the good with pleasure in its various forms, finds its ethical criterion either in the good of the individual or the good of the group. An egoistic hedonism (Aristippus, Epicurus, Julien de La Mettrie, Thomas Hobbes) views the good of the individual as the ultimate consideration. A universalistic hedonism, such as utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham, James Mill), finds the ethical criterion in the greatest good for the greatest number.

Twentieth-Century Ethical Thought

Among ethical theories debated in the first half of the 20th cent. were instrumentalism (John Dewey), for which morality lies within the individual and is relative to the individual's experience; emotivism (Sir Alfred J. Ayer), wherein ethical considerations are merely expressions of the subjective desires of the individual; and intuitionism (G. E. Moore), which postulates an immediate awareness of the morally good. Agreeing with Moore that the morally good is directly apprehended through intuition, deontological intuitionists (H. A. Prichard, W. D. Ross) went on to distinguish between good and right and to argue that moral obligations are intrinsically compelling whether or not their fulfillment results in some greater good.

Important ethical theories since the mid-20th cent. have included the prescriptivism of R. M. Hare, who has compared moral precepts to commands, a crucial difference between them being that moral precepts can be universally applied. In his arguments for virtue ethics, Alasdair C. MacIntyre has cautioned against unbridled individualism and advocated correctives drawn from Aristotle's discussion of moral virtue as the mean between extremes. Thomas Nagel has held that, in moral decision making, reason supersedes desire, so that it becomes rational to choose altruism over a narrowly defined self-interest. See also bioethics.


See H. Sidgwick, Outlines of the History of Ethics (1902); A. C. MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics (1965); M. Warnock, Ethics since 1900 (1979); W. D. Hudson, A Century of Moral Philosophy (1980); B. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985); P. Singer, ed., Applied Ethics (1986).

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145. Ethics

See also 312. PHILOSOPHY ; 407. VALUES

the state or quality of being without morality or of being indifferent to moral standards. amoralist , n. amoral , adj.
the branch of philosophy dealing with values, as those of ethics, aesthetics, or religion. axiologist , n. axiological , adj.
1 . a person who studies and resolves questions of right and wrong in conduct.
2 . an oversubtle or specious reasoner. casuistic , adj.
1 . the branch of ethics or theology that studies the relation of general ethical principles to particular cases of conduct or conscience.
2 . a dishonest or oversubtle application of such principles.
the branch of philosophy concerned with ethics, especially that branch dealing with duty, moral obligation, and right action. deontologist , n. deontological , adj.
eudemonism, eudaemonism, eudemonics, eudaemonics
the ethical doctrine that the basis of morality lies in the tendency of right actions to produce happiness, especially in a life governed by reason rather than pleasure. eudemonist , eudaemonist, n.
a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations of ethics and especially with the definition of ethical terms and the nature of moral discourse.
the practice of morality, as distinct from religion. moralist , n. moralistic , adj.
sensualism. sensationalist , n.
the doctrine that the good is to be judged only by or through the gratifleation of the senses. Also called sensationalism .
the belief or doctrine that the conscience is the repository of the laws of right and wrong. See also 197. HEALTH .
the ethical doctrine that virtue is based upon utility and that behavior should have as its goal the procurement of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of persons. utilitarian , n., adj.

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ethics Ethics is often defined as the concern with what ought to be, whereas science (including social science) is concerned with describing reality as it actually exists. This distinction has given rise to the notion that social science should be value free or value neutral. In practice, however, both the means and goals of social science investigation are intrinsically bound up with ethical considerations.

There is no clear consensus on a complete set of ethical rules to be followed when conducting research involving human subjects—although there are some generally agreed professional guide-lines. One of the basic tenets is that subjects should normally have their privacy protected through the practice of informed consent. This would rule out any observation of private behaviour without the explicit and fully informed permission of the person to be observed. Furthermore, subjects should not be exposed to unnecessary stress, or manipulation, or personal risk. The researcher is also responsible for preserving the confidentiality of any information that could identify subjects. The protection of data, so that anonymity is assured, is an increasing concern and is now subject to certain legal requirements. Ethical principles guide not only the conduct, but also the presentation of research, and there are ethical implications concerning how the results might be used. Sociologists may never face the dilemma of Oppenheimer developing the atomic bomb, but as Robert Friedrichs wrote in A Sociology of Sociology (1970), ‘knowledge of man is not neutral in its import; it grants power over man as well.’ See also RESEARCH ETHICS.

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ethics (moral philosophy) Study of voluntary human actions, both individual and collective, according to moral precepts. For Aristotle, happiness was achieved through the cultivation of virtue. Plato's ethical system was based on metaphysical idealism. Hedonism taught that the pursuit of pleasure was the highest good. Stoics advocated virtue through harmony with nature. Rationalism postulated conscience as the basis of moral behaviour. Empiricism argued that conscience was acquired by experience. Immanuel Kant put moral duty above happiness. He argued that an act is only truly moral if it is motivated solely by duty. The ethics of Utilitarianism are based on the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. See also Ayer, Sir A.J.; Dewey

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eth·i·cal / ˈe[unvoicedth]ikəl/ • adj. of or relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these: ethical issues in nursing. ∎  morally correct: can a profitable business be ethical? ∎  (of a medicine) legally available only on a doctor's prescription and usually not advertised to the general public. DERIVATIVES: eth·i·cal·i·ty / ˌe[unvoicedth]əˈkalitē/ n. eth·i·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv.

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ethic adj. XV (now mostly repl. by ethical XVII). — F. éthique or L. ēthicus — Gr. ēthikós, f. êthos usage, character, personal disposition; sb. sg. moral science XIV, after (O)F. éthique, L. ēthicē, Gr. (hē) ēthikḗ (sc. tēkhnē); ethics pl. XV; after OF. ethiques, medL. ethica n. pl. — Gr. tà ēthiká. See -IC, -ICAL, -ICS.
So ethos XIX. — late L. — Gr. êthos.

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eth·ics / ˈe[unvoicedth]iks/ • pl. n. 1. [usu. treated as pl.] moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior: Judeo-Christian ethics. ∎  the moral correctness of specified conduct: the ethics of euthanasia. 2. [usu. treated as sing.] the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles. DERIVATIVES: eth·i·cist / ˈe[unvoicedth]isist/ n.

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ethical ethical foreign policy the conduct of foreign policy according to ethical as well as national considerations; the phrase has been particularly associated with the incumbency of the Labour politician Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary (1997–2001).
ethical investment investment in companies that meet ethical criteria specified by the investor, typically excluding the armaments and tobacco industries.

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"ethical." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . (December 14, 2017).

"ethical." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from


ethics (eth-iks) n. a code of principles governing correct behaviour, which in the nursing profession includes behaviour towards patients and their families, visitors, and colleagues. An introduction to ethics for nursing students from the International Centre for Nursing Ethics

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"ethics." A Dictionary of Nursing. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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eth·ic / ˈe[unvoicedth]ik/ • n. [in sing.] a set of moral principles, esp. ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct: the puritan ethic was being replaced by the hedonist ethic.

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"ethic." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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See Altruisim; Medical Ethics; Morality; Technology and Ethics; Value

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"Ethics." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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ethichomeopathic, polymathic, psychopathic, telepathic •ethic •Eolithic, megalithic, Mesolithic, monolithic, mythic, neolithic, Palaeolithic (US Paleolithic) •Gothic, Visigothic •Sothic • anacoluthic •Narvik, Slavic •pelvic • civic • Bolshevik • Ludovic •Keflavik • Menshevik • Reykjavik •Chadwick • candlewick • Gatwick •Sedgwick • Prestwick • bailiwick •Warwick • Brunswick • Lerwick •Herdwick • Ashkenazic • Keswick •forensic •aphasic, phasic •amnesic, analgesic, mesic •metaphysic • music

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"ethic." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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ethicalcackle, crackle, grackle, hackle, jackal, mackle, shackle, tackle •ankle, rankle •Gaskell, mascle, paschal •tabernacle • ramshackle •débâcle, diarchal, matriarchal, monarchal, patriarchal, sparkle •rascal •deckle, freckle, heckle, Jekyll, shekel, speckle •faecal (US fecal), treacle •chicle, fickle, mickle, nickel, pickle, prickle, sickle, strickle, tickle, trickle •besprinkle, crinkle, sprinkle, tinkle, twinkle, winkle, wrinkle •fiscal •laical, Pharisaical •vehicle • stoical • cubicle • radical •medical, paramedical •Druidical, juridical, veridical •syndical •methodical, periodical, rhapsodical, synodical •Talmudical • graphical • pontifical •magical, tragical •strategical •alogical, illogical, logical •dramaturgical, liturgical, metallurgical, surgical •anarchical, hierarchical, monarchical, oligarchical •psychical •angelical, evangelical, helical •umbilical • biblical • encyclical •diabolical, follicle, hyperbolical, symbolical •dynamical, hydrodynamical •academical, agrochemical, alchemical, biochemical, chemical, petrochemical, photochemical, polemical •inimical • rhythmical • seismical •agronomical, anatomical, astronomical, comical, economical, gastronomical, physiognomical •botanical, Brahmanical, mechanical, puritanical, sanicle, tyrannical •ecumenical •geotechnical, pyrotechnical, technical •clinical, cynical, dominical, finical, Jacobinical, pinnacle, rabbinical •canonical, chronicle, conical, ironical •tunicle • pumpernickel • vernicle •apical • epical •atypical, prototypical, stereotypical, typical •misanthropical, semi-tropical, subtropical, topical, tropical •theatrical •chimerical, clerical, hemispherical, hysterical, numerical, spherical •calendrical •asymmetrical, diametrical, geometrical, metrical, symmetrical, trimetrical •electrical • ventricle •empirical, lyrical, miracle, panegyrical, satirical •cylindrical •ahistorical, allegorical, categorical, historical, metaphorical, oratorical, phantasmagorical, rhetorical •auricle • rubrical • curricle •classical, fascicle, neoclassical •farcical • vesicle •indexical, lexical •commonsensical, nonsensical •bicycle, icicle, tricycle •paradoxical • Popsicle • versicle •anagrammatical, apostatical, emblematical, enigmatical, fanatical, grammatical, mathematical, piratical, prelatical, problematical, sabbatical •impractical, practical, syntactical, tactical •canticle •ecclesiastical, fantastical •article, particle •alphabetical, arithmetical, heretical, hypothetical, metathetical, metical, parenthetical, poetical, prophetical, reticle, synthetical, theoretical •dialectical •conventicle, identical •sceptical (US skeptical) • testicle •analytical, apolitical, critical, cryptanalytical, diacritical, eremitical, geopolitical, hypercritical, hypocritical, political, socio-political, subcritical •deistical, egoistical, logistical, mystical, papistical •optical, synoptical •aeronautical, nautical, vortical •cuticle, pharmaceutical, therapeutical •vertical • ethical • mythical • clavicle •periwinkle • lackadaisical •metaphysical, physical, quizzical •whimsical • musical •Carmichael, cervical, cycle, Michael •unicycle • monocycle • motorcycle •cockle, grockle •corncockle • snorkel •bifocal, focal, local, univocal, varifocal, vocal, yokel •archducal, coucal, ducal, pentateuchal •buckle, chuckle, knuckle, muckle, ruckle, suckle, truckle •peduncle, uncle •parbuckle • carbuncle • turnbuckle •pinochle • furuncle • honeysuckle •demoniacal, maniacal, megalomaniacal, paradisiacal, zodiacal •manacle • barnacle • cenacle •binnacle • monocle • epochal •reciprocal •coracle, oracle •spectacle •pentacle, tentacle •receptacle • obstacle • equivocal •circle, encircle •semicircle

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