Validating unethical behaviors
Ethics Alarms frequently refers to rationalizations, which lie at the core of most unethical conduct.They are, as one ethicist put it, lies we tell ourselves to allow us to pretend that what we know is wrong, isn’t.Some rationalizations are used so frequently, by us and others, that we come to believe them.The list of rationalizations has been available on the blog under the Rule Book heading from the beginning, but it is constantly updated, and even though posts frequently link to it, it is clear to me, especially from comments that resort to exactly the same examples of flawed ethical reasoning that populate the list, that a lot of visitors never see it.For those readers, and also those who may not have read the Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions page recently, I am posting the whole list of 24 rationalizations here.If you have a candidate for #25, please send it in. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it” This rationalization has been used to excuse ethical misconduct since the beginning of civilization.
The simple answer to them is that even assuming they are correct, when more people engage in an action that is admittedly unethical, more harm results.
An individual is still responsible for his or her part of the harm.
If someone really is making the argument that an action is no longer unethical because so many people do it, then that person is either in dire need of ethical instruction, or an idiot. Consequentialism, or “It Worked Out for the Best” The ethical nature of an act must be evaluated when it is done, and not based on its results. Councilman for Ward 8) Marion Barry earned himself a place in the Ethics Distortion Hall of Fame with his defense of his giving his blatantly unqualified girlfriend a high-paying job with the DC government.
is an open invitation to extreme “the ends justify the mean” conduct, where even cruel and illegal conduct becomes “ethical” because good consequences happen to arise out of it, even when the good was completely unintended or unpredictable. Barry declared that since there was no law against using the public payroll as his own private gift service, there was nothing unethical about it.
Snooping into the contents of your host’s medicine cabinet is wrong, and the fact that you discovered a mislabeled pill bottle with rat poison in it doesn’t make your violation of her privacy ethical, even though it allows you to tell her and save her life. Similarly, an ethical act doesn’t become wrong because it happens to set in motion an unpredictable chain reaction resulting in a catastrophe. Marion Barry’s Misdirection “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.” Former D. Once the law was passed (because of him), he then agreed that what he did would be wrong the next time he did it. Many other kinds of behavior as well, but that is just the factual error in the this rationalization.
In the classic old “Star Trek” episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Dr. That doesn’t mean his courageous and selfless act was unethical. Ethics is far broader than law, which is a system of behavior enforced by the state with penalties for violations. The greater problem with it is that it omits the concept of ethics at all. Simply put, compliance with rules, including laws, isn’t the same as ethics.