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Morals and Ethics

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Why has ethics come into the limelight? One obvious explanation is that the technological development has become a saviour and a devil at the same time. It gives promises about solving the problems of poverty, sickness and pollution, and it threatens to produce new destitution, new suffering and new environmental degradation. Another explanation is that rational decisions tend to invite conflicts and protests. In a pluralistic society, trust in a neutral and objective rationality has vanished. Each and every cause can provide its own experts, and when rational arguments clash with rational arguments a solution can only be found by going beyond rational arguments. It becomes clear that rationality is based on values. It also becomes clear that belief in a pure rationality leads to not-so-pure trouble. Therefore values have to come to the forefront and be discussed.

We face a dilemma when distinguishing between good and bad research or between responsible and short-sighted leadership. On the one hand, it should be possible to invoke values that almost all can agree upon. On the other hand, society is confused at a higher level; in the name of freedom each individual and each group has the right to develop its own distinctive character and identity. Each discipline has developed its own repertoire of concepts and methods. Each political party clings to its own special profile. A result is chaotic pluralism, where the term ‘shared values’ may sound ludicrous.

This leads to an invocation to ethics. The word has a somewhat pompous tone that tends to lift it above the quarrels between groups, each with its own interests. But what do we mean by ethics and what do we mean by morals? And what is the difference between them? In everyday language there is no clear distinction; they are used synonymously. On the other hand, philosophers tend to consider ethics as the theoretical basis of morals – as reflections on how moral demands can be justified.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0384-1_1

Publication date: January 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Rational, Ethical and Spiritual Perspectives on Leadership
    The author's experiences in many organizational and cultural contexts are reflected in this book's selection from his writings during the past twenty years. They portray an evolution in his mind-set - from rational to ethical to spiritual perspectives on leadership. This evolution is not just a personal matter; it reflects developments that are taking place, although usually tacitly, at the individual and corporate level throughout the world. A primary motivation underlying the development of the book is to inspire leaders as well as teachers and students of leadership to integrate their hearts, minds and souls when making decisions, and to develop the awareness and conviction that wise and successful leadership is concerned not only with effectiveness and wealth generation, but also with contributing to the well-being and fulfilment of all those whom one serves as a leader. The book is divided into six interrelated themes: Morals and Ethics; Ethical Accounting; Values and Leadership; Identity; Responsibility; and Spiritual-based Leadership.
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  • Learn more about Peter Lang @ GSE Research
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