Ethics – Q&A

Answers can be written in point wise manner or in paragraphs. Point that is to be kept in mind is that answers should be coherent, well explained and lucid. Following are questions on ethics and their model answers. [These are only sample answers. Students can exercise their own reasoning to develop different answer.]

Question #24:

Suppose two lives are under serious threat under similar conditions. One of them is your father and other is a stranger. You decided to save your father while your brother decided to save the stranger in a similar situation where your mother’s life was under serious threat. In both the cases, only one life could be saved.
(a) Do you think your brother had been insensitive and unethical?
(b) Did you do the right thing?
(c) According to you, is there any situation in which people closer to us should have precedence over others or always everybody should be treated equally?

Answer:

There are certain difficult situations to decide. However, most of us in these situations intuitively choose to be biased in favor of our own people. Though there can be people who may not become biased and would decide to act impartially. In the given case, my brother can be considered as ethical if his action is judged bu the standards of universal ethics. He seems to be under the influence of ideas those believe that human beings irrespective of their particular identities are to be treated equally. Every human being is of equal worth and thereby deserve similar ethical considerations. For me though, every human being is of equal worth but same standard I can’t maintain when it comes to choose between my own and a stranger under similar situation. I believe that what we are as selves include our interconnections with others, we will naturally have greater obligations to those that we are in closer relationship with. For my, my brother’s act has been unethical and I may not excuse him for his actions though he might have his own reasons. In situations where a choice between our close relationship and stranger is to be made provided situation is same for the both, I believe the moral tiebreaker is to be exercised in favor of the closer relationship.

Question #23:

WHAT IN YOUR OPINION IS TRADITIONAL ETHICS FAIR TOWARDS ALL OR BIASED TOWARDS CERTAIN GROUPS? SHARE YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE WHILE GIVING ANSWER.

Answer:

Generally traditional ethics or traditionally ethics is considered to be universal and objective.
This means it applies to everyone equally and fairly. However, everyone understands the world through the lens of their experiences.
Two people growing up in vastly different experiences will, if put into the same exact situations, understand things differently.
This essentially results into bias occurs when a persons naturally developed perspectives are seen as special insights into the why the world is, or should be. In other words, people with biases ignore the fact that their mind prepackages experiences in terms of their uniquely experiences part, and the mental simplications are taken to apply to locations and persons with different types of experiences.
Thus, traditional ethics that is based on an universalization approach should be understood or reasoned through the above arguments.
Since traditional ethics doesn’t take into account the divergence in experiences, it is not able to identify how the person’s experiences can heavily influence the ways that person (or group) thinks. That is why it wrongly emphasizes on ethics being universal and objective.

Question #22:

What are the ethical responsibilities of companies doing business in a country where corruption is known to be ripe and deeply embedded in public life?

Answer:

In contemporary world, private organisations are responsible to the society and citizens, so their ethical responsibilities, if not as high would still be comparable to public institutions;

  • There are examples of successful private companies, which exist in societies where corruption is ripe. On the contrary, there are examples of companies like Satyam, which when they indulge in corruption have gone wrong or suffered;
  • Companies have diversified their markets and good and services that they provide cater to a large population. So, their behaviour not only influences the behaviour of citizens but also can harm the citizens;
  • Amidst corruption in the society, private organisation has to adhere to honest standards, as corruption might lead to incoherence and incompatibility within its employees and lead to its downfall.

Question #21:

University professors are usually fairly bright and they typically hold reason in high regard. But sad to say, university professors aren’t widely acclaimed as moral models. In fact, academic departments are notorious of being dense of intrigue and betrayal and squabbling among faculty in common. If that assessment of the moral status of the university faculty is accurate, does that count against the claim that rationality is the core of ethics?

Answer:

University professors are considered to be highly knowledgeable and their knowledge isn’t based on mere beliefs, or fate. Rather based on scientific and empirically developed knowledge. They are considered to be reasonable and logical. However, their conduct had not been highly praised. In fact, on many accounts they have been found guilty of unethical conduct. Many a time, they have been involved in petty politics, activities that is directed towards self promotion, pursuing behaviour immersed in jealousy, unhealthy competition and other questionable conduct.

This certainly undermines many great minds those considered reason as the defining spirit for ethical behaviour. Right from Plato to Immanuel Kant and beyond, had based their analysis of ethical human behaviour on reason or rationality.

But if we take into account the above-mentioned behaviour or university professors or some of the major historical instances like that of Hitler explains how reason could be misused and reasonable behaviour could be unethical. Ethical behaviour would require not only the supportive strength of reason but also virtue, occasionally intuition or even at times, faith.

Question #20:

Do you think it is alright to choose evil or wrong if the end or objective is good?” Justify your answer with examples.

Answer:

This question is one of the most frequently raised moral dilemma. Basically it means that if you want to achieve is a good thing, then it does not matter how you get there. As a general rule, the way we assuage our conscience when we do evil for a good end is to pretend that the good end cancels out the sin that we do. As Mansfield says, when the act accuses, the result excuses.

The Axis used this consequentialist argument for bombing London, Rotterdam, Pearl Harbor, and Nanking. The Allies used the same argument for incinerating children in their beds in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The idea that the end justifies the means, can be taken to praise Robin Hood who steals from the rich to give to the poor, Aladdin, who steals bread from the market, because he has nothing to eat, or Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews because be thought that if he could kill all of the Jews whom he felt controlled all of the wealth, he thought he would be able to get the economy moving again.

Many of us are in the habit of making a distinction between “truly evil people” (those whom we assume pursues evil ends by evil means) and “charming rogues” like ourselves (who pursue good ends by evil means). Accordingly, we measure sins by this criteria.

However, in my opinion, evil means cannot justify honorable ends. An immoral act is an immoral act, no matter what the circumstances. The outcome in situations may be beneficial, and evil means may seem necessary in some cases, but that won’t change the fact that they are deep down wrong. Evil will never lead to anything good. Evil will try to find it way into the mix of something that seems good.

All sin, great and small, is an attempt to gain some good (power, happiness, release from pain, etc.) by some disordered means, either colossally so or trivially so. Hitler and Stalin both sought happiness. Charles Manson has spent his life in pursuit of some good end. So did Antony Lavey or any random sadistic fiend in one of Saddam Hussain’s torture chambers.

While many kinds of evils are socially unacceptable, many are tolerated, and some are even lauded. It must be understood that evil is something that only bad people do!!

Question #19:

In your opinion, whether the traditionally carried opinion that the government organisations would malfunction if it chooses to be ethical? Illustrate.

Answer:

There has been a widespread belief that ethics is bookish and it is not practically possible to pursue it in organisational life. But ethics has multiple contributions for government. Unlike earlier, ethics is considered no more a blockage for efficiency. (Studies of Menzer and Metcalfe)

  • It is significant because it increases efficiency as it is by the organisation and for the organisation, which gives rise to an atmosphere of trust and mutual confidence, brings in more cooperation and coordination, higher commitment towards the job, reduces cynicism and suspicion, thereby creating a team feeling.
  • This increases motivation and performance;
  • The organisation enjoying higher trust, getting support, cooperation is able to easily implement its policies and programmes.
  • Policy success increases and reduces corruption, wastage, misuse and thereby deficiency.
  • You should give examples in support of your arguments.

Question #18:

In Indian Civil Service, what all values would you consider to be desirable? Justify your answer while considering the developmental role of civil services.

Answer:

The public servant shall be guided by the following values in discharge of their functions: Neutrality, objectivity, honesty, diligence, transparency, accountability, etc.

  • Pick up the value(s) you think are desirable and justify your answer accordingly, while focusing and explaining that how inculcation and carrying forward with these values helps a civil servant in development.

Question #17:

Just because a civil servant can do a thing doesn’t mean that he or she should do a thing”. Discuss this statement while explaining ethical responsibilities of a civil servant towards the citizen.

Answer:

What is allowable is different from what is moral or ethical;

  • Can means the civil servant can harass and misuse. Ethics isn’t about what you can do, but what you should do; Ethics deal with ought and should be;
  • Civil servant should be responsible for his actions, but he / she shouldn’t be misusing his / her position for personal benefit or mistreating anyone;
  • Citizens are well aware that once the policies have been formulated, civil servants are the one responsible for implementing them. The citizens look towards the civil servant so that they receive the intended benefits with the implementation of policy.
  • The civil servants should act with impartiality and objectivity, and not favour any one group or community. He / she should maintain integrity in all his / her actions and words.

Question #16:

What do you understand by ethical competency? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do one need to be ethically competent?

Answer:

Ethical Competency and the knowledge, skills and abilities required for being ethically competent

  • It refers to a grasp of some conception of legitimacy in governance, an awareness of one’s commitments in relation to one’s own interest and interest of others;
  • It is an attitude of respect for the collective effort with in the organisation, reflected in participation within and promotion of a culture of justification;
  • One must have the skills and ability to recognize an ethical issue and act appropriately to resolve it;
  • International County/ City Management Association (ICMA) defines ethical competency in term of integrity: personal, professional and organisational;
  • Ethically competent administrators must understand and practice moral reasoning, be able to sort through competing values, and engage in prudent decision making;
  • Refusal to do something unethical and application of ethical theory.

Question #15:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary explain this statement while focusing on the importance of ethics in public services.

Answer:

This statement is given by James Madison, which represents how well he has understood the human nature and created a system of governance that checked ambition with ambition and power with power. This is also a remark on the need for ethics.

  • It is in this regard that ethics were considered important for public services;
  • Ethics can be understood as values and principles that guide right and wrong behaviour;
  • It is not always easy to figure out what the right thing is, especially in a complex organisation that have come to dominate modern governance;

Question #14:

What do you understand by ethical behaviour? What can be done to encourage ethical behaviour and prevent misconduct in a public organisation?

Answer:

Ethical Behaviour refers to human behaviour that is considered to be appropriate; however the appropriateness not necessarily is considered from the standpoint of society, culture or the group;

  • The behaviour that is in congruence with being a human being, a distinct status among living beings. But this has though being addressed by many superior minds throughout the history, yet a conclusion is to be reached;
  • While some has based behaviour on reason, others have linked it to consequence. Therefore, ethical behaviour in different situation will be based on a different basis. In some cases, it might be based on utility, in other case might be based on harm principle, as in some other case, might be based on benefit to poor, marginalised and unprivileged and in certain other cases it might be consideration of principles.
  • Two approaches used for encouraging ethical behaviour and prevent misconduct:(presented here in brief but it should be expanded while writing a similar question)
    • Compliance Approach dependent heavily on rules and practices, which are designed to keep members of the organisation out of trouble; rules in form of code of conduct, personal manuals, and employee orientation session, etc. are important. This is more dominant. Rules and penalties can be drafted.
    • Integrity Approach it empowers the individual to make value judgements about right and wrong. It is value driven rather than rule driven.

Question #13:

What drives employees of an organisation to do unethical things?

Answer:

Often it is believed that bad things are done by bad people or people who do wrong things are bad people. But this may not be true. Individuals of all categories populate the organisations of today. Unethical actions within the governmental and non – governmental organisations are committed under different conditions and for different reasons.

There might be diverse ethical problems that occur in organisations. Many of these problems arise because of the situation, context or environment within which people work.

First, conduct of the employees are majorly influenced by management and its defining of incentives and disincentives. Managers could manipulate the incentives and disincentives that enhances or mitigates ethical problems for employees. Second, employees could be influenced towards unethical conduct under the pressure from authority. Effect of authoritative instructions on employees to behave unethically to be stronger in cultures in which respect of authority is considered a virtue.

Third, employees action is also influenced by the group and peer pressure. This kind of pressure that lead towards unethical behaviour might be stronger in organisations in which conformity is prized.

Fourth, people often take their ethical cues by observing what others do. If others behave ethically, then people may respond to the social norm and behave ethically themselves. If others lie, cheat or steal, however, then people may believe the social norm accept such behaviour and behave accordingly.

Fifth, when there is a personal gain in unethical behaviour, then people rationalise their bad behaviour. Sixth, employees under pressure of time or when working to achieve targets that are extremely difficult to achieve tend to deviate from ethical conduct. These reasons, though not exhaustive, are some of the major factors that explains unethical behaviour of employees within an organisation.

Question #12:

What do you understand by the term values? What is the role of educational institutions in developing ethical behaviour in children?

Answer:

  • An individual character is being moulded to become good citizens; for this purpose, the educational institutions must carry the concept of human development and nation building;
  • Educational institutions play an important role in character building of a child. The environment and atmosphere of the educational institutions play a major role in inculcating human values, mainly moral and spiritual values in children;
  • Important for schools to introduce character education programmes; those which are designed to teach children to become honest, responsible and engaged citizens. The educational institutions should also respect the values that students might have developed themselves and help them in clarifying their own views. But then the question arises, whether education should be values neutral or normative? If we argue for Normative approach, then which values and whose values? Are there any core values we all can agree upon?
  • In this context, we have five universal human values: Truth, Righteous conduct, Peace, Love and Non violence, which are directly linked to the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual facets of human personality.

Question #11:

What do you understand by the following terms in context of public services?

(i) Honesty

(ii) Fairness

(iii) Responsibility

(iv) Integrity

Answer:

(a) Honesty  as a character trait aims in production of certain types of action like:

  • reliably telling the truth;
  • Is being truthful and open;
  • To set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible;
  • To use resources only for the authorized public purposes for which they are provided;
  • Must not deceive or knowingly mislead ministers, parliament or others, or;
  • Must not be influenced by improper pressure from others or the prospect of personal gain.

(b) Fairness 

  • A public servant exercises certain discretionary authority, but is committed to ensuring that discretion doesn’t result into discrimination;
  • It is one of the values that are concerned with honesty and the development of public trust in government;
  • Those treated with fairness will be motivated to follow values such as respect for human dignity, participation, openness, respect for diversity, etc.;
  • Only when acting with fairness, that an administrator decision will be able to withstand scrutiny, which in turn will ensure deepened trust and respect for accountability among employees and the public in the administrator ability to carry out his / her duties.

(c) Responsibility

  • Acting as per one duty irrespective of desires to the contrary;
  • One obligation to behave depends on the expectation arising from outside such as that of laws, religious norms, cultural values, etc. and also on one understanding and feeling of these things.

(d) Integrity

  • It is putting obligations of public service above your own personal interests;
  • Fulfilling our duties and obligations responsibly;
  • Must not misuse your official position by using incarnation acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interests or that of others known;
  • Must not accept gifts or hospitality seen to compromise your personal judgements;
  • Must not disclose official information without authority.

Question #10:

Given below are three quotations of great moral thinkers / philosophers. Explain each of these briefly and what it means to you in the present context:

(a) Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. (Abraham Lincoln)

(b) To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society. ( Teddy Roosevelt)

Answer:

(a) This analogy of character with tree and reputation with shadow is worth considering;

  • Because shadow moves / shifts over time. This means that reputation is what people think of us which in itself is feeble in nature and changes over the period of time; the shadow moves as the light moves;
  • However, the tree has its roots deep down in the Earth, which goes through a lot of light shifting, bends back and forth in strong winds, deals with rain, wind, etc., but still doesn’t move itself from its position. The tree exists to be, what it is, irrespective of the light being shone on it;
  • In this context, character refers to what a person is and reputation is what people is generally think he is.

(b) This quote means that educating a person with knowledge without also teaching morality is like creating a person who will be more problematic for the society. For e.g., when the business school teaches its students how to run a business and maintain it, they also teach business ethics and moral behaviour, and how acting with certain moral behaviour must be considered when making business decisions;

  • This also means that the ultimate aim of education should be for the entire development and maturity education seekers. This holistic approach will not only make them academically sound but also respectful and responsible citizens in a society.
  • Furthermore, it also means that an individual without moral education is likely to act selfish and disregard the consequences of his / her actions on the others and in general, the welfare of the society.

Question #9:

In the contemporary era, people have started valuing liberty and individualism. We usually value a life based on freedom. Do the people have what it takes to be free? Do you have what it takes to be free?

Answer:

  • Generally the individuals have been slave to morals, traditions, customs, conventions, etc.,
  • That had a functional aspect in the sense that it maintained order, stability, discipline, but at the same time it had number of unethical consequences as well;
  • A major violation has been individual integrity and autonomy; following Renaissance with the ideas of democracy, equality, freedom, individualism gained prominence;
  • Many great men and women of history including major thinkers like Kant, Nietzsche, etc. provided the moral foundation and recently philosophers like Friedman and Nozick encouraged individualism.
  • To be free, one needs to act with right reason acting with knowledge free from superstition, ignorance, and humanly failings (anger, jealousy, etc.)

Question #8:

Every day people make decisions that actually make our lives harder in the day to day reality of living. Is happiness really what they are aiming for in life? And for what reasons do they make these choices? Have you ever chosen such things in your life that had increased the suffering, struggle and trials in your life? If yes, illustrate.

Answer:

(This can be explained by using the ideas of different philosophers such as Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, Camus etc.)

  • There are two aspects to this question: one, many time the search for happiness we keep on planning, choosing certain course of action and stop living in the present. Thereby creating an illusion/expectation of happiness. We bear the pain now, in order to be happy in future;
  • The other aspect is that not necessarily anything that is harder, which is complex undermines happiness. Because human being is a creative being with an immense potential. So unless the human being challenges himself and chooses difficult things, its potentialities will be never known.
  • So life becomes meaningful not only by pursuing vocation that is easy and comfortable, but by pursuing vocation that is slower, difficult, complex, creative but meaningful.
  • Share your own experiences based on this.

Question #7:

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. (Plato) Explain.

Answer:

  • This statement means that the way you act is the result of these three sources;
  • Human behaviour is reflected into what you say, what you choose, what you do, why do you say things when you don’t intend to, why do you behave in a particular manner in a certain situation, etc.;
  • Desire, appetite, impulse, instinct; Emotion “ Spirit, ambition, courage; Knowledge “thought, intellect, reason. All these qualities are present in all human beings, but in variant degrees;
  • In an effective individual action / human behaviour, desire is warmed with emotion, and guided by knowledge;

Question #6:

“Virtuous acts require conscious choice and moral purpose or motivation”.(Aristotle) Explain.

Answer:

  • By this he (Aristotle) meant that human being has a personal moral responsibility for his actions.
  • A virtuous person is someone who has ideal character traits. And these traits derive from natural internal tendencies, which need to be nurtured. However, once established, they will become stable.
  • Aristotle argued that a human being distinctive feature is reasoning, and so the life “worth living” is one that is reasoned out well.

Question #5:

Socrates claimed that the unconsidered life is not worth living. Explain this statement while focusing on the way we should live in order to lead a good life.

Answer:

  • By this statement, Socrates meant that a life lived without forethought or principle is a life vulnerable to chance, and dependent on others actions and choices; and therefore, it will be of little value to the person living it;
  • Furthermore, he emphasized that a life well lived is the one which has goals, and integrity, and is chosen and directed by the one who is living it; and the individual is able to realise its full potential through this living;
  • For Socrates, unlike animals, a human being is marked by the capacity to transcend instinct and desire to make conscious, ethical choices. In this context, this line means that those who don’t examine their lives fail to live a life that allows them to experience their true potential, or to experience what being human is.

Question #4:

Do you think human reason can be the basis for ethical human behavior? Illustrate.

The week following, I gave a few links for everyone to go through and try writing an answer for this question. I am posting the model answer now.

Answer:

Finding out how to arrive at an ethical position has been immensely difficult and controversial. From Socrates to the contemporary post modern moral philosophers, all of them have been struggling to find out whether ethics has any foundation or it can be established through any well accepted framework. Many rely on human reason or rationality while many others rely on human emotion or even intuition to find out what is an ethical human behavior.

Most of the moral philosophers seems to be relying on human reason. Some of the prominent among them being Aristotle, Plato, Kant, etc. Reason is considered to be a suitable way of knowing for ethical decisions. Reason lacks the attachment, and it has the ability to remain detached from a situation. So, by this we can make conscious decisions based on facts, with no reference to personal involvements. The use of reason as a way of knowing allows for the knower to see the consequences of their actions throughout the decision making process.

Further, reason allows for comparisons with other similar examples, leading to consistency in behavior, which is the prerequisite of fairness.

However, as human beings we are drawn into certain scenario because of something much deeper than reason, which is what makes us human. It might be our emotions or intuitions or conscience. Emotions creates a strong opinion that is hard to overcome. Same can be intuition or conscience. It might be these things that make us react initially faced with pictures of riots or hearing the news of mass killings.

Moreover, reason can be reason for certain unethical and inhuman acts. Meticulous planning by war mongers, terrorists, mafia and others have been the cause for serious human sufferings. So, reason in itself cannot be the basis for finding ethical human behavior. Very rightly the English enlightenment philosopher Hume says, “I thought reason was ethically inert”. We can also agree with some of the recent thinkings that rightly says “reason is human creation” it is created by the mainstream history, experience, culture, values, etc. So, reason itself is constructed so can’t be relied fully.

However, in order to reach at a decision regarding what is an ethical human behavior, we can choose multiple ways rather exclusively relying on reason. We can use language is a participative mode along with our emotions while applying reason. For example, while punishing somebody for breaking rule, we might feel bad. So, about the consequences or effects of our action, reason may not alone provide us knowledge.

Give examples and cite case in this answer.

Question #3:

In India, considering its unique demographic characters, whether doctors should independently decide for the patients on their course of treatment or they should go according to the patients’ opinions and choices? Justify.

Answer:

The job of the doctors have been a matter of great responsibility as well as a matter of great confusion and controversy. However, the role of the doctors in today’s world is guided by biomedical ethics, i.e., the application of ethics to medicine and biotechnology. Apart from this, it is also governed by organizational code of conduct, various rules, regulations, and laws.

It is generally understood that doctors being experts always know the best. So, patients should submit to the doctors and doctors should decide the course of treatment based on their expertise. On the other hand, many believe that one should have control over ones own body and life. So, they believe that doctors should treat after providing patients enough information. This is refer to as informed consent. Moreover, it is widely understood that doctors should go about their treatment based on the Hippocratic Oath “Do No Harm!!

In Indian context, most of the patients are illiterate and are in awe with the doctors. But, there is also widespread feeling about medical malpractices among people. On a regular basis news on doctors or hospital mischief or misbehavior is reported. On the other hand, people in general consider the doctors with high regard. Their expertise is respected. But at the same time, there is an element of suspicion. Many a time, out of helplessness, they submit to the doctors or hospitals authority and advise.

In this context, it is advisable that doctors should properly inform the patient about their condition. Doctors should make patients clear the reasons clear about why some treatment is the right option. Final decision should be taken by the doctors based on their professional ethics guided by the principle of “do no harm”.

Question #2:

Think of a religious text that you believe expresses the will of God (or imagine for the moment that you believe there is such a thing). Why is God telling you how you should act?

Answer:

  • The texts that we believe are expressing God will tells us to do what is good.
  • Through this, we tend to believe that God is offering a piece of advice about a moral system that God Himself is subject to.
  • Basically you have to write that God does not produce religious text. Irrespective of that religious text might be a source for guidance because it comprises wisdom of ages.
  • But at the same time, whatever is there, you have to not necessarily believe it. You have to go against human reason. At the same time, there may be certain aspect of religion which hasn’t been proved by reason, but accepted as faith. E.g., Kierkegaard – occasionally we can send our reason on holiday. Because not necessarily things matter of human faith can be defended through human reason.

Question #1:

What happens in privacy does not hurt anyone. While explaining this statement, answer the following:

Do private ethics have no bearing on public life or social ethics? Elaborate.

Answer:

Here the theme is privacy, personal preferences and choices, and how private ethics has a bearing on public life or social ethics.

  • Many believe that how they act in personal space is inconsequential and unimportant and their choices are reflection of their individuality and identity.
  • What we consider as ‘personal’ is seen as something lying beyond the realm of legitimate societal regulation and moral concerns we are born and brought up with because they pertain to privacy.
  • In this regard, personal domain isnt simply something that has been left over, or unregulated. Rather, it involves issues that are consciously and actively negotiated and claimed to be personal, and confined to private space only.
  • Private ethics do have a bearing on public life or social ethics because many a times, the choices that we make in our personal life, or the manner in which we conduct ourselves in privacy reflects our unique individuality.

E.g.,

  • Lying “ if you lie about one individual to another in your private sphere, then its unethical and harmful for you and that also for that individual you are lying about;

If you would have said something within your rights and private space, that causes someone else to act out against other individuals, and these people hurt others, you have incited them.