Task 5c: Professional Ethics

Three main areas where ethics are considered: personal, professional and organizational.

Personal                                            Professional                                      Organizational
Family                                              Evolved from the norms                   Ethos
Religion                                            of practice within a                           Organizational Culture
Conscience                                       profession                                       “How we do things”
                                                                                                                     Code Of Conduct

Ethics is frequently not a case of black and white – where an action is either right or wrong. Often it is rather a grey area...

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At whose door do ethical principles lie – personal, professional, organizational, societal? Where do the limits for responsibility lie? Are there any overlaps? Where are there tensions? How would these be resolved?

If we take Figure 1. from the reader as a starting point, it would appear that ethical principles lie with the individual, as personal accountability and actions have a 'ripple effect' that cause repercussions throughout the other levels of a culture.

However, personal ethics vary widely from individual to individual, based on culture, religion, upbringing, morals, etc. So how far can a persons individual code of ethics be judged to be right or wrong within the wider context of an organization or society?

For example, the government runs a 'healthy eating' campaign, designed to encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices. However, surely this is an individuals choice? But what if an individual eats so much they make themselves ill (as is reported on an almost daily basis in the tabloid newspapers) and then expects the NHS to treat them? Could the NHS refuse to treat a patient who has 'brought it on themselves'? Surely not! There are those who would (and do) argue for this – that smokers should not be treated for lung cancer, for example. A basic breakdown would indicate that the choice to eat healthily is a personal one and should therefore not be dictated by a government stratagem, therefore is it the government's responsibility to tell us what to eat or not, when people making better lifestyle choices would save the NHS billions of pounds a year?

In my opinion, ethical issues are difficult to apply when one persons idea of ethical practice will differ from another's.

I recently came across a situation with a professional associate who works in the fundraising department of a theatre. They described to me an aspect of their job which involves investigating the visitors to the theatre, and identifying which of those are 'regular theatre-goers'; they then have to find out each persons background in order to determine whether they are wealthy and worth courting as a patron of the theatre or if they would be willing to donate money to a project. My associate told me that they had managed to identify one such client by accessing their daughters Facebook page, and realised the client was particularly wealthy. They said they had an ethical issue with this sort of work, and described it as being akin to stalking. However without this money the theatre could not produce the work it does and would not have the reputation it has, so this work is 'for the greater good'.

Ethics has its roots in moral philosophy and is concerned about the right or the good way to carry out actions... ethos means 'character' (READER 5, PG.7)

This is interesting as a person can be said to be 'acting out of character.' Character witnesses are often called upon in court cases to vouch that someone stealing bread, for example, was acting out of character and was therefore under duress or in an extreme circumstance to have acted in such a way. It is an ethical consideration, therefore, to determine whether the bread was stolen in order to feed a starving family: it was wrong to steal the bread but is it not worse to let the family starve?

"Aristotle... considered virtues to be mid-points between two extremes." (READER 5, PG.8)

Thomas Hobbes (1651) believed that we should adhere to a set of moral rules: “morality is a set of rules for mutual benefit.”
As mentioned previously, ones morality will differ depending on background, upbringing, religion, etc. For example, Jewish people believe it is immoral to 'eat flesh with milk' – so a cheeseburger is out! However to a person of another (or no) religion this is fine. On wider issues, I think most people would accept that it is immoral to kill another, however how does this apply in the army in a situation of war? Or in self-defence were it may be 'kill or be killed'?

Immanuel Kant (1779) believed that morality was absolute and based this on reason above religion. He believed that you should help people no matter what, above and beyond your own personal desires. Lying is always wrong, no matter what the circumstances or outcome.

JS Mill (1861) believed in moral obligation: to choose that which produced the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. The means justifying the end: the moral dilemma of the train tracks – Mill would believe that switching the tracks would be the morally correct thing to do.

Hobbes                                Kant                                    Mill
       Image Source: iep.utm.edu    Image Source: ageac.org    Image Source: brittanica.com

Mill and Bentham advocated consequentialism: i.e. 'right' is the route of the greatest good for the greatest number
Kant proposed deontology or, the only good thing is a good will (which is similar to the Ancient Greek philosophy of Plato and Artistotle who created Virtue Ethics stating that moral behaviour and character is more important than action.

“Whatever in any city is regarded as just and admirable is just and admirable in that city for as long as it is thought to be so.” 'Theatetus' Artistotle

Notions of what is 'good' change: being gay used to be illegal, not very long ago. Now, gay marriage has been legalised and there are laws in place to prosecute persecutors of homosexual individuals or couples. It has become morally and legally 'right'.

I came across this interesting philosophical riddle recently, and I considered it in the light of the different moral philosophies. It is fascinating how an individuals sense of right and wrong can change in different circumstances!

Devlin (1959) believed private behaviour should be regulated in order for the greater good of society. Hart (1963) argued the laws purpose is to prevent certain harmful acts and that there can be no common morality.

Ethics are caught between law and religion

The Greeks believed that carrying out professions in a 'good' way was central to a civilised society. Certain roles demanded certain attributes. If the Greeks view of ethics resided mainly in the ideal that behaviour and character were the determining factors of ethical reasoning, then the view of a king being authoritative, a judge being just, etc, justified their actions as long as they acted in a way coherent with their role.

"Ethics is... a matter which governs our actions and guides the decisions we make" (READER 5, PG.15)

Professions have rules and norms, and codes of practice have been developed to uphold these standards. There are often professional bodies that oversee these areas of practice to ensure codes of practice and ethical standards are being adhered to. Often, however, personal codes of ethics can be in conflict with professional, and with the employers expectations: for example, it is against the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses to have transfusions of blood. If an injured persons life could be saved by this procedure is it the doctors moral obligation to do it, regardless of the ethical and moral views of the patient? Should the doctor let the patient die?

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Moral issues such as these raise 'normative' questions, i.e “Is it right to...” rather than 'factual' questions.

Metaethics: analysis to discern what moral terms generally are understood to mean.
Theoretical Normative Ethics: Making moral judgements and developing theories
  • Moral Axiology: theories of good and evil
  • Virtue Ethics: theories of moral excellence in character
  • Theory of moral obligation: what kind of actions are permissible
Applied Ethics: Finding acceptable resolutions of moral problems

Descriptive Ethics                                                 Normative Ethics
Objective Description                                           Norms or principles that people ought to use
Does not examine or question                               Questions of duty: what one ought to do
States what the case is                                          Whether an action is morally right or wrong

Ethical Arguments: move logically from the premise to the conclusion
                                acknowledge objectivity and subjectivity “offers absolute principles”
                                “moral relativism” there are no universal norms
                                Consider context

Adhere to good ethical practice when carrying out research (objectivity) The Reader lists the following points, in order to determine whether the enquiry is ethically sound, and suggests a personalised ethics checklist to factor in specific points of our personal enquiry:
  • What is the motivating factor behind the enquiry?
  • Does the enquirer want to bring about social (professional) good?
  • Who stands to benefit from the research?
  • Who are your participants? (role, experience, age?)
  • How have you chosen these participants?
  • Why were the participants chosen (relate to enquiry question)
  • How will you contact them?
  • How will you make sure your participants can leave the inquiry if they choose?
  • Do the participants have your contact details?
  • Are you storing the participants data safely?

Personalised Ethics Checklist
  • Develop questions and proposals that are ethical and legal
  • Conduct research in accordance with legal requirements and agreed protocol
  • Ensure honest and respectful treatment of research participants by informing them of the purpose of the study
  • Ensure that data collected is accurate, relevant and valid
  • Ensure that data is securely stored and archived, and attention is paid to confidentiality
  • Manage resources (time, finances) efficiently
  • Report and log any problems, failiures or suspected misconduct in an accurate manner
  • Provide feedback of the results to the participants should they request it
  • To compile accurate and truthful reports

Ethical issues of research include balance of power between researcher and the subject, trust, care of the subject and the authority of the researcher: how can ethical issues be balanced when carrying out research? Especially if that research involves personal questions?

It is ethically correct to present the findings of the research accurately, and not be biased by personal prejudice or opinion, even if the research findings contradict the initial assumption.

After reading the fictitious case study in the Reader, I have become more aware of the use of language. I believe I am already aware of the need for anonymity and the correct terminology when referring to subjects, however it has allowed me to think through the correct use of descriptive terms, not use leading terms or references that may allow a reader to identify the subject.

Incorrect terminology could offend or upset a participant: in the study in the reader it refers to 'normal' people, to make a distinction between two groups of participants. This would be offensive to those in that particular group and it is an awareness of this that I will take forward into my enquiry.

Instead of referring specifically to groups of people, the study shown would have been better referring to 'other groups' rather than singling out particular sections of society, as these are sweeping generalisations. There are also references to 'his' rather than 'their' as making reference to a sex when it is not necessary could show the researchers bias in this area.

Given the parameters of the research I am intending to carry out I will need to comply with the data protection act, and make sure each of my participants has the level of anonymity they require. I do not intend to use names, ages, sex or class of individual participants when conducting my research and I will take steps to ensure that these details are kept safely.

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This Task has been fascinating for me so far: the conflict of ethics (personal, professional, societal) is immersing and interesting. 

I have begun to think about the ways in which I approach situations, and the ethical guidance behind my actions. It is interesting to note that Ethics and Theatre were both developed by the Greeks and Theatre has been considered as moral or immoral throughout the ages. The philosophers of the past often used theatre as examples of morality and ethics, and ethical questions are played out in the great Greek tragedies.

Considering ethical practice when carrying out research is important: I am debating whether the use of sex, age range and social background would have an impact on my research, and whether the good ethical practice to disregard these would reflect in my study. This is something I shall think further about and discuss with my professional network and Special Interest Group.

Something else that I have also considered throughout this task is the importance of correct accreditation. A friend online has recently been talking about plagiarism, and raising the issue of accrediting another's work. The Reader makes the point that in a university context plagiarism is punishable by expulsion, and it is important that people are given the correct credit for their work. It is unethical and illegal and it is something I aim to be very astute about. Looking back at my early blogs on here, I didn't always accredit pictures that I found online, believing (as I suppose many people do) that if it's found through a Google Search then it is in the public domain and free to use. However I began making a concerted effort to credit any images found with the source of the original image, even if this is only a website online, linked through Google.

I believe that online I do practice good ethics, and this made me think about a blog I posted early in Module One, discussing the 'Magna Carta for the Online Age' - how far can ethics impinge upon personal freedoms? Could the ethical standpoint of 'do no harm' impact upon freedom of speech, when language and terminologies can be interpreted as offensive? I will keep referring back to my personalised checklist to ensure that I am practising good ethics throughout my study and blog about this further in the future.


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