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Individual Ethics and Personal Moral Development

Individual Ethics

Individual ethics is a philosophical category that determines what a person believes about morality, right and wrong. This is often distinguished from business or legal ethics. These branches of ethics are derived from organizations or governments other than the individual’s conscience. These areas of ethics occasionally intersect. Personal ethics can have an impact on all aspects of one’s life, including family, finances, and relationships.

The Jefferson Center for Character Education has identified ten universal moral values: honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, fidelity, fairness, caring for others, respect for others, responsible citizenship, pursuit of excellence, and accountability. The Josephson Institute for Ethics promotes Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

People bring their own values to the workplace, including integrity, honesty, accountability, openness, and trust. Some individuals don’t embrace these values, or they see them as irrelevant to doing business.

Sometimes, there is a clash between business and personal ethics, and the individual has then to make a choice between personal or business ethics. However, if people are asked to engage in what they regard as unethical behavior, they may have no other choice but to resign from the organization.

Personal Moral Development

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg described six stages of moral development, which begin in infancy and advance in enlightenment. In Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, an individual at Stage 1 measures morality by punishment (“When I do wrong, I get spanked”); someone at Stage 3 measures morality based on how it makes others feel (“I won’t get a tattoo because it would upset my parents”); and someone at Stage 6 measures morality based on “the greater good.” People tend to advance through these stages as they age.

Kohlberg believed people could become fixed in one stage. It is possible to live life in the fairly juvenile Stage 1 or 2 and measure ethics based upon punishment or reward. Kohlberg believed strongly that ethics were learned and that schools were responsible for teaching work and business ethics.

Kohlbergs-Stages-of-Moral-Development
Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development

Some Key Challenges

Personal ethics has been described as the practice of becoming an excellent human being. Ethics in the workplace, on the other hand, means adherence to given organizational values. These competing ethical influences can sometimes be in conflict.

According to some scholars, the values of honesty, trust, responsibility, and character are instilled during childhood, but how they are strengthened during early childhood and adolescence varies from person to person and may depend on their family, friends, and the community.

The Question of Temptation

Honesty, trust, and integrity are virtues that are vital in both the personal and professional life of an individual, but at times these characteristics may not always win out over the temptations of power, greed, control, and opportunity. These temptations may cause individuals to “cut corners” or behave unethically.

Career Pressures

Individuals sometimes may engage in unethical behavior because they feel they need to in order to hold onto their job. In some cases, their superiors may encourage or pressure them into such conduct.

Ethical Compartmentalization

Ethical compartmentalization is when the ethical behavior or choices made by individuals in the workplace differs from how they may choose to act in their personal lives.

For example, a police officer may enforce a law they personally believe is unfair. The officer will put aside personal concerns and will let professional obligation guide their behavior. In the same manner, a judge may follow the law and impose the death penalty even though they may be personally opposed to it. People have resolved this by drawing a line between their role as a professional and their role as an individual.

If professional obligations or duties places an individual in a state of conflict where they feel they cannot uphold their personal ethics, then they may choose to resign.

Recommended for you Ethical Framework

Review Checkpoint

To test your understanding of the content presented.

  1. True or false?

An emphasis on obeying rules and respecting authority is the focus of individuals in Kohlberg’s fifth stage of moral development, Social Contract and Individual Rights.

Choose only one answer below.
a. True

b. False

Correct. This is a false statement. An emphasis on obeying rules and respecting authority is the focus of the fourth stage, Maintaining the Social Order.

  1. True or false?

The Jefferson Center for Character Education and the Josephson Institute for Ethics both cite fairness, caring, respect, and citizenship as desired moral characteristics.

Choose only one answer below.
a. True

Correct. This is a true statement. The Jefferson Center for Character Education and the Josephson Institute for Ethics both cite fairness, caring, respect, and citizenship as desired moral characteristics.

b. False

Recommended for you The Ethical Triangle

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