The Psychology of Ethics

On the role of ethics in personal development and the need to develop a comprehensive psychology of ethics

Ethics is a very relevant area in the study of psychology as ethical values on what is wrong and what is right relate directly to an individual’s moral standing in society. Our ethical standards could closely associate with our moral standards although morality is more individualistic and moral standards could vary between cultures, societies and religions. Ethical standards are however more general as they depend on our basic human nature and human values and ethical values are more human and thus more about psychological dynamics than the moral values. Yet ethics is considered as a branch of moral philosophy

In a study of the Psychology of Ethics it is important to distinguish between ethics and morality and a Psychology of Ethics would be more about values of being human whereas Moral Psychology specifically deals with questions of morality. Moral psychology or psychology of morality is thus considered a part of the broader psychology of ethics. Ethics deals with morality as well as questions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, virtue and vice, good and evil and responsibilities of being human.

Ethical philosophy also shows how ethical judgments and ethical statements or attitudes are formed. Ethics was studied in philosophy from the days of Socrates and Aristotle and was related to self realization about the needs of the human condition. Doing the right thing at the right time and in the right manner for the right reason is considered virtuous and ethical. Yet a psychology of ethics would involve more than just understanding moral values and appreciation of the human condition. The psychology of ethics is about our basic beliefs and attitudes and the formation of these beliefs as also how our value systems are shaped in childhood through moral development. Psychoanalysis and social and developmental psychology could use a range of theories to explain ethical development in children and adults.

Freud has used the concepts of Id, Ego and Superego to suggest that the superego serves as a moral filter and helps individuals to decide what is right and what is wrong. The id, ego and superego are described as the three parts of the psychic apparatus with the id being the instincts and base desires, the ego is the realistic part that balances the desires and the superego is that which monitors and controls and the part that has a strict moral dimension. The superego is thus the part of the psyche that deals moral values and triggers us towards moral justification. This means we seek an ethical explanation of behavior or tend to consciously or unconsciously behave in a certain way because of the underlying ethical needs.

Apart from psychoanalysis that would explain ethics mainly as a mechanism controlled and directed by the Superego so that all dark unethical desires are somehow filtered, ethical development is also explained with social and moral psychology.

In social psychology belonging to a group would mean following basic standards of conformity and conformity determines the extent to which social behavior would be in accordance with what the society accepts or considers as standard. Standard behavior would in fact be closely related to ethical behavior thus within the context of social psychology, ethics is about conformity and doing what is right according to social standards or values. If we consider developmental psychology, individual needs are met through social conformity as following ethical standards and engaging in ethical behavior would be continually rewarding to an individual and would encourage or reinforce ethical standards. Ethics fulfils our social and recognition needs and our moral needs of regulating our desires. So psychoanalysis would consider ethics as the moral aspect of our psychic structure and according to social psychology theories ethics is essential to group behavior and conformity as ethics according to social theories is an important social developmental process in our interaction. Some of the questions that would be central to the psychology of ethics are the stages related to the development of ethics. This would be similar to moral development although ethical values and beliefs would be distinct and unlike general morality can be shaped even at old age.

The slight distinction between ethics and morality apart from the fact that ethics is a part of broader moral psychology is that ethics could be changeable or related to attitudes that may change with time. For example euthanasia is an ethical decision and doctors or nurses who face such a situation in their profession depends on their ethical stance and this could be affected by what they have learnt in their profession, their years of experience and their personal upbringing or value systems.

In some cases, circumstances could determine ethical choices as also social systems and individuals and their thoughts are influenced by others in ethical development providing the social theory of ethics. However specific theories such as cognitive dissonance theory could explain ethics as a change of behavior or attitudes through discomfort with a specific view of things. If certain actions are basically incongruent with attitudes held then the individuals will either have to change their actions or their attitudes and thus personal ethics would also change. Evolutionary psychology also explains our moral and ethical development as when we are constantly rewarded by society for certain behavior, we would naturally consider these as positive and this would then be socially acceptable and ethical. Behaviors rewarded over time are finally seen as ethical and ideal.

The psychology of ethics will have to encompass theories from psychoanalysis, evolutionary psychology and social and developmental psychology to provide a comprehensive understanding of moral development and changes in the development of ethics. Ethics would be affected by the unchangeable element of basic values that we hold and the changeable element of experience as ethics are values shaped and even changed by experience.

The stages of ethical development will have the general structure of social and moral development as individuals go through guilt in childhood (of mischief etc.) through group conformity and learns what is right and what is wrong. This is developed further in adolescence which is marked by identity crisis (as suggested by psychologists including Erikson) and ethics is formed in young adulthood as part of this identity consolidation. When a 20 year old man says to himself ‘I believe cheating is wrong’ he is suggesting that his sense of ethics is connected to his sense of identity. Finally in middle and late adulthood experiential changes may lead to change of ethics and the final stage of reflection and evaluation in which there is evaluation and the need to defend one’s own ethical beliefs and attitudes. The stages of ethical development could be thus given as guilt-group conformity-identity crisis- identity consolidation-experiential change-evaluation or defense.

Psychoanalysis and the role of superego could suggest why ethics are formed in humans and the general interplay between the psychic structure and the formation of ethics. Evolutionary psychology shows the interplay of the biological structure or human body systems and ethics formation and suggest how ethics are formed over many years of evolution and social psychology shows the general interplay of social structures and formation of ethics or value systems and highlights the basis of ethics in society telling us what ethics are formed according to the demands of society. Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality with an emphasis on social systems could also provide insights on the study of the formation of attitudes, values and ethics.

Along with the social, developmental, psychoanalytic and evolutionary dimensions of ethics, it is important to delineate the types of ethical decisions for example ethics from a legal perspective, ethics from a moral perspective, ethics from an educational perspective, ethics from medical perspective and so on. Business ethics, legal ethics, medical ethics and all branches of ethics will have to consider the psychological stages of ethical development with social, psychoanalytic, evolutionary theories.

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What Do Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility Mean Today?

“Ethics is a body of principles or standards of human conduct that govern the behavior of individuals and groups” (Bottorff, n.d., p.1). “While ethical behavior is based on a set of values and principles, ethical behavior goes beyond mere belief; it also encompasses actions of individuals, groups and organizations (p. 2). Ethics encompasses “the principles, norms, and standards of conduct governing an individual or group” (Trevino and Nelson, 2003, p. 13). Ethics can be considered a set of standards that an individual or organization uses to guide actions of the individual or group. Corporate social responsibility “is about how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society”

A socially conscious organization recognizes its responsibilities on several different levels, including; economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities (Trevino and Nelson, 2003, p. 31). Therefore, ethical behavior can be seen as one aspect of a socially responsible company. A company cannot be socially responsible if it only looks after its economic and legal responsibilities. There are times when a company must do more than what is required by the letter of the law and consider what is ethical. This is especially true for multi-national organizations that operate in countries with varying legal responsibilities. The company must be driven by ethical standards above and beyond bare minimum legal requirements.

Just as ethical behavior is a part of a socially responsible organization; it is difficult to imagine a company that is striving to be ethical, not to become socially responsible. As a company examines its ethical actions, they will be driven to make decisions that become more socially responsible. This is especially true as the company strives to provide ethical treatment to all stakeholders beyond shareholders. If employees and community are considered in the decision making process as stakeholders, then decisions will be made in ways to reduce negative and enhance positive outcomes for each group. Hence, the company’s actions become more and more socially responsible.

Ethical behavior then is one component of a social responsible organization. If the organization or leader strives for social responsibility, they will be driven to act more and more ethically toward all stakeholders. Likewise, an ethical leader or organization will become more socially responsible as they consider making decisions through an ethical lens.

Magnify: “To make great or greater; to enlarge; to augment; to exalt.” – Webster

James’ vision is to magnify individuals’ natural abilities; maximizing their full potential and increasing their value as leaders and professionals in the organizations where they work and serve. He is the founder of Magnify Leadership and Development, a training consulting company with global experience in management/leadership and sales force effectiveness training; the author of Magnify Change Leadership; and training consultant.

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Leaders: Legal, Ethical, or Right?

Do you remember playing games as a child when you made up the rules as you went along? Those rules that evolved on such short-notice often proved to be a source of contention!

Likewise, for leaders at work. When people decide to disregard their moral compass as the official business handbook, they begin to make up the rules as they go. Anything can happen, and the situation frequently proves to be a source of conflict.

Since the rash of high-profile cases from plagiarism to insider trading, attention has been focused on business ethics. But business morality-or the lack thereof-is nothing new. Dwight Eisenhower observed back in his day, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” These recent corporate scandals have generated other attempts to provide a moral compass: The accrediting agency for the nation’s university-level business schools have put universities on notice that an ethics curriculum will become part of the accreditation review process.

But it’s not like this is the first time people have heard of ethics in the workplace. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 79 percent of all organizations have ethics policies on the books. But according to the latest crime statistics in corporate America, knowing what’s right does not translate to doing what’s right.

Several years ago, Karen, a friend of mine, was dismayed to find herself up close and personal with white-collar crime in a five-week job for a home-health care system. Quickly, she discovered the organization was fraudulently billing Medicare for unused supplies and services not rendered. She conferred with another nurse there, who confirmed that the fraudulent practice had been going on for a long time and agreed to go with Karen to report it to the business owner.

When Karen wrote her letter of resignation and traveled to a distant city to report the situation to the owner, he offered to hire her as a quality assurance consultant and go back to the office and identify all the discrepancies. She accepted that job-only to discover that the owner was working behind her to “fix the charts” and using her “quality assurance” work only to identify the errors that needed “fixing.” She promptly left the organization the second time and reported the practice to the Nursing Board-but not without serious personal consequences: trauma over the incident and unemployment.

This is but one example of the kind of moral dilemmas and their consequences leaders face routinely when they decide ethics matter. Other situations can be less clear-cut:

Take Kevin’s situation at a large computer company during a massive layoff. His region is being lopped off. At the director level, he has a choice to save his own job during the cut-back:

Option 1) He can bid for another job in another region in a highly competitive situation. If he loses, he’s off the payroll altogether and out the door.

Option 2) He can bump one of his four direct reports out of their job and take it for himself.

His decision? His direct reports have all done excellent work and have given him no reason to remove them from their position. He chose option 1, based on doing the right thing-which is usually one step above the ethical thing, which is usually one step above the legal thing.

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The Legal, Ethical and Moral Problems Associated With Surrogacy

The legal, ethical and moral problems associated with surrogacy

A surrogate motherhood entails carrying and delivering a child (premature delivery is also included) under the contract concluded between a substitute mother and commissioning couples. Normally, a proxy is impregnated by implanting the zygote into her uterus. This zygote is formed in a laboratory using commissioning couple gametes or donor gametes. As the rate of infertility is rising every year, surrogacy is becoming more popular. Couples who are not in a financial status to invest much on this process are traveling to different countries where they can expect the same process at less cost. Surrogacy tourism is becoming more popular in Asian countries such as India. However, the increasing popularity of surrogacy has given rise to many legal, political, moral and ethical problems.

In this article, we are focusing on the rights of married infertile couples who made a contract with the surrogate mother to have a biological baby; ensuring the rights of a baby born to a substitute and the different factors included in a contract made with a substitute. The moral and ethical issues associated with the surrogacy are also considered. Doctors observe the problems associated with the surrogate motherhood in a sensible point of view, adhere to the up-to-date ART technologies and always encourage substitutes to move forward. However, the solicitors also don’t observe any particular ethical problems. According to the lawyers, every person has the rights to use their body and mind to commit action in accordance with his consciousness and will.

Commissioning couples seeking surrogacy to have a biological baby should face some legal problem in spite of considering this process as legal. As there is no law governing surrogacy in many states, the commissioning couples often face many obstacles while owning their biological baby. In some cases, when the substitute rejects to hand over the baby, the intended parents often face trouble. According to some state laws, the substitute has the right to keep the baby after delivery, as a result, the infertile married couples who gave their consent for an embryo transfer and made contract with the surrogate to carry their child, will be dishonored. Undoubtedly, at this circumstance either the deceived couples ask reimbursement or their baby. However, women who wish to become surrogate mother often face financial hardship; it will become hard for them dishonor the contract. Such haziness makes it impossible for the proxies to dishonor the laws.

Most of the state laws prefer to show a legal essence in a contract made between commissioning couple and surrogate mother. Some solicitors also argue that ensuring rights of children born to substitutes is also important. In some states, the experienced solicitors are working constantly to establish a strong surrogacy laws in order to give legal rights to the infertile married couples, surrogate mother who bear child upon agreement made with the intended parents and the rights of children born to the surrogate mothers. Once the law becomes strong and controversies related to the social and religious ethics will become normal, both parties can enjoy their journey without any complications and obstacles.

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