The Moral Challenge of Choosing Between Right and Wrong
Integrity is an often misunderstood value and that’s the reason it is reasonable to ask whether it is always a moral value. The dictionary defines it as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” That’s fine but there’s more to it than that.
Integrity can also be thought of as being true to your values and acting in accordance with them. Our integrity is an integral part of who we are and what we stand for. It means to stand up for what you believe – what you believe is the right thing to do. It means to have the courage of your convictions. Now we’re getting closer.
Integrity relates to one’s choice of action and consistency in application. When you are consistent in actions, there is only one you. You act with consistent principles wherever you are so people know what to expect. A person of integrity can be trusted, but trusted to do what?
In an insightful blog on the true meaning of integrity, So-Young Kang states that a person of integrity intentionally reflects on what to say, how to behave, how to make decisions in a way that is reflective of his/her values and beliefs. A person of integrity recognizes the consequences of one’s actions on others. All this is true but it also crystallizes the problem with integrity. It’s nice to be thoughtful, make deliberate decisions, think of others and so on. But, what if all this leads you to take an action that harms others because the consequences for others, which you recognize, are not those that would be considered morally inappropriate by you?
Some say the word moral must appear before integrity to understand it as a true moral value and a good way to be. But, moral integrity can be good or bad based on whose integrity it is. What’s moral for one person may not be moral for another. For example, one person may believe that assisted-suicide is a moral decision to alleviate the pain and suffering of a cancer patient or one with a disabling disease. Another person might say it is immoral because killing is always bad. In other words, morality can be relative to the individual at a particular time and place.
When we act it is important to understand our motives for acting. Our motives should be based on the innate moral conviction to do what we think is right regardless of the consequences attached to us by our actions. But, the key is to act in accordance with moral principles of right and wrong. Otherwise, one’s actions might demonstrate integrity but the convictions are those we might consider of a person with a bad character. For example, Adolf Hitler blamed Jews for Germany’s economic and social problems. He was convinced they were evil people. Consequently, he enacted the “Final Solution,’ a plan to exterminate the Jews. He acted in accordance with his convictions but surely it was immoral.
Integrity is often treated as a means in order to serve a purpose. False moral integrity is always bad because it imitates good morality for a bad purpose.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 18, 2018. Visit Dr. Mintz's website and sign up for his newsletter.