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‘A return to Ethics’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    16th Nov, 2020


In the 21st century, Ethics have become an organizational priority, it is neither a luxury nor an option. There is a growing impatience within society with selfish and irresponsible actions that impoverish some, while enriching the crafty.

Ethics, the acceptable conduct in society

  • Ethics refers to a set of rules that describes acceptable conduct in society. Ethics serve as a guide to moral daily living and helps us judge whether our behavior can be justified.
  • Ethics refers to society’s sense of the right way of living our daily lives. It does this by establishing rules, principles, and values on which we can base our conduct. The concepts most directly associated with ethics are truth, honesty, fairness, and equity.
  • While ethics is a societal concern, it is of critical importance to the professions that serve society. Because professionals such as physicians, attorneys, engineers, and property and facility managers provide services that affect our welfare, they develop professional codes of ethics that establish professional standards for behavior.
  • Examples of the types of standards found in professional codes of ethics include:
    • An attorney or physician maintaining client-patient confidentiality
    • An accountant not using client information for personal gain

The ‘lost’ focus

  • One of the issues often missing in ordinary conversation and public discourse is a concern for ethics.
  • The focus is given to management, ecology, politics, or the economy, but the ethical aspect in a substantial sense rarely enters the discourse.
  • Even if it does, it emerges as a pomposity, as a term of piety or even a fundamentalist intolerance.
  • The missingness of ethics in everyday language that is replete with pragmatism and utilitarianism is worrying.
  • Even professional ethics, which sociologist Émile Durkheim (1957) once thought of as an antidote to capitalism as a form of amorality, has become trite.

Why do we need ethics?

Primarily it is the individual, the consumer, the employee or the human social unit of the society who benefits from ethics. In addition ethics is important because of the following:

  • Satisfying Basic Human Needs:Being fair, honest and ethical is one the basic human needs.
  • Creating Credibility:An organization that is believed to be driven by moral values is respected in the society even by those who may have no information about the working and the businesses or an organization.
  • Uniting People and Leadership:An organization driven by values is revered by its employees also. They are the common thread that brings the employees and the decision makers on a common platform. This goes a long way in aligning behaviors within the organization towards achievement of one common goal or mission.
  • Long Term Gains:Ethics and values lead to gains in the long run, though in the short run they may seem to lose money.
    • For example-Tata group, one of the largest business conglomerates in India was seen on the verge of decline at the beginning of 1990’s, which soon turned out to be otherwise. The same company’s Tata NANO car was predicted as a failure, and failed to do well but the same is picking up fast now.
  • Securing the Society:Often ethics succeeds law in safeguarding the society. The law machinery is often found acting as a mute spectator, unable to save the society and the environment.

How to reinvent Ethics?

  • To recapture ethics, one has to reinvent it, bring it to the range of philosophical ideals and storytelling it lacks.
  • Treating ethics as a performative act: To reinvent ethics, one has to begin with agency and the exemplar, treat ethics as a performative act which then ritualises and institutionalises itself.
  • Making ethics a pedagogic act: Memory, and the power of memory, is the first creative part ethics has to enact. Storytelling becomes central, as children are told and retold the ethical acts of exemplars, as they become heroic models in the imagination. In fact, one would like to suggest that one begins with exemplars, rather than the code, that ethics becomes a pedagogic act which is not only more comprehensible but easier to enact.
  • Restoration: Reading or hearing about a Gandhi, a Dalai Lama, a Mother Teresa, a Vaclav Havel, a Jan Palach, or the Mothers of Argentina, restores both drama, poetry, and the power of philosophy back to ethics. The parable, in fact, captures the textures of the ethical judgment.
  • More focus on interpretation: The hermeneutics, the interpretation of codes, is the second step in the rite of passage we call ethics. As a heuristic reworking, we need to create a Weberian ideal type of the exemplars one needs to imitate today.
  • Playfulness to ethics: Ethics begins as an alchemy, where vulnerability acquires strength and agency, an unexpected power and conviction which makes the dominant system rethink itself. There is a sense of faith, but also music of playfulness to ethics. The distinction between play and game is fundamental.
    • Game is rule-bound in an instrumental sense, which is why we create war-gaming as a monstrosity.
    • Play refuses to be instrumental. It is performative, pedagogic, but still operates as an imaginary.
  • Experimentation: Third, ethics enters as a wager beyond certainties. It is experimental, but the act of experimentation is inaugurated with one’s own self, particularly with one’s body. One does not experiment on the other as one does in a scientific vivisectional experiment.
  • Memory, a deeply ethical act: Memory is not a rote ritual, but a sacramental summon to the human. Memory, in that sense, is a deeply ethical act. To remember the other is to recollect and retrace one’s shared humanity.

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