36262_CH02_FINAL - Chapter 2 Administrative Ethics Ideas...

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F illing in the content of administrative ethics will proceed in two stages. In this chapter, we will define ethics in general and administrative ethics in particular and examine the prevailing or conventional model of ethical thinking among public administrators. This is called the basic ethics model . In the next two chapters, the major approaches to ethics will be examined in more depth, and an advanced ethical model will be developed. The first questions pursued in this chapter are big ones: What is ethics, and where do ethical ideas come from? An important source to these answers is philosophy and its major theories of ethics. Our discussion, however, of the sources of ideas for administrative ethics will focus initially on the ethics derived from the nature of the administrative position itself; in other words, the standards and expectations that are based on a duty to serve the public. It will then be possible to consider how this duty-based ethics is linked to other approaches that draw on philosophical approaches. Having identified major approaches, two more questions arise: How does ethical thinking develop and what are the levels of ethical reasoning? The responses from other students who completed the pop quiz about their code of ethics are linked to the sources and levels. There is some direct evidence from the stu- dent responses as well as results from other research to justify the character- istics of the basic ethics model. If you have not completed the pop quiz, backtrack to Chapter 1 before going further. The chapter concludes with an examination of other key concepts and considers what ethics shares with morality and legality, and how it is different from these concepts. Administrative Ethics: Ideas, Sources, and Development Chapter 2 9
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Definition and the Sources of Ethical Ideas A general definition of ethics follows: Ethics refers to well-based standards of right and wrong that pre- scribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of duties, prin- ciples, specific virtues, or benefits to society. 3 This definition identifies four dimensions or sources of ethics; one based on the nature of public service and three based on the philosophical perspec- tives to ethics. They are: 1. Duties: the behaviors expected of persons who occupy certain roles; i.e., the obligations taken on when assuming a role or profession 2. Virtues: qualities that define what a good person is; moral excellence 3. Principles: fundamental truths that form the basis for behavior; “kinds of action that are right or obligatory” (Frankena 1963, 49) 4. Benefits to society: actions that produce the greatest good for the greatest number 4 For persons who work in government and nonprofit organizations, duty has a special importance. They must serve the public, fulfill the expectations of public office, and be trustees of public resources. These are the actions required by their occupation or role independent of—but reinforced by— other ethical considerations.
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