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Integrity and Ethics

Integrity has often been confused with Morality and moral philosophers have more often than not discussed about the various tenets of Morality than that of Integrity. Integrity is often used as a synonym for completeness without any impurity affecting it. For example, even a database has integrity if it not corrupted with any errors and bugs. With relation to humans, integrity is often referred to as a characteristic that a person possesses. This can be further broken down to categories such as professional, personal or artistic integrity that we so often hear in our day-to-day lives.

As a result, Integrity is seen as a concept that is fundamentally different from the concept of morality. But is it so? What does it take for a person to have integrity? Does he have to moral to have integrity or can an immoral person possess the virtue too? I would like to analyze how moral philosophers Christine Korsgaard, Bernard Williams, Susan Wolf would answer the above questions keeping in line their views on the concept of Morality. The utilitarianism and the Kant models of moral theory have barely touched upon the concept of integrity.

In fact, both the theories concentrate more upon what are moral actions and what are not, effectively undermining the importance of integrity in the picture. Bernard Williams, for the first time, pointed out the missing links in the theory that are important to explain the significance of integrity along with Morality. According to Williams, both the theories have put forward tenets of morality that would make the existence of integrity in humans impossible. For example, the utilitarianism theory defines a moral person as the one who always places the larger good more important than his personal goals.

It does not leave room for personal desires and goals that a person would possess. According to Williams, this makes the person neglect his duties towards his interests and desires and therefore, would not be a moral person since the “moral act” performed was done out of force and not will. This is an attack on integrity and hence rejects it. William considers Integrity as one’s personal beliefs which remain constant irrespective of the situation they are in. Integrity in a man would stand the tests of time and any other examination they need to go through.

Williams gives much importance to personal desires and aspirations which calls Projects and also bases integrity on top of it. A person is said to have integrity if he is able to do justice to the beliefs he holds true in his heart. According to Williams, “…yet, unless such things exist, there will not be enough substance or conviction in a man’s life to compel his allegiance to life itself. Life has to have substance if anything has to have sense, including adherence to the impartial system; but if it has substance, it cannot grant supreme importance to the impartial system, and that the system’s hold on it would be, at the limit, insecure.

” Williams specifically points at the utilitarian view of the impartial system which does not permit saving one’s loved ones life over another person and this effectively nullifies any beliefs that the individual holds. William believes an individual’s allegiance to life is through Projects and once they are snatched away, his will to live may vanish too. He believes morality depends on the individual and his circumstances and integrity is no different.

An immoral person may still have integrity but no one can be moral without have integrity. Continuing on similar lines, philosopher Christine Korsgaard questions the very origin of the emergence of morality. According to Korsgaard, morality has been fed to us implicitly and has unavoidable effect on humans. Morality defines what is right and what is wrong for us and thus Korsgaard believes, it becomes very important that the origin of why a particular act is moral and the opposite is immoral is known to the one acting on it.

As Korsgaard says, “We all know in a general way how and why we were taught to follow moral rules, and that it would be impossible for us to get on together if we didn’t do something along these lines. We are social animals, so probably the whole thing has a biological basis. So, what’s missing here that makes us seek a philosophical “foundation”? …. Concepts like knowledge, beauty, and meaning, as well as virtue and justice, all have normative dimension, for they tell us what to think, what to like,…..

And it is the force of this normative claims – the right of these concepts to give laws to us – that we need to understand. ” Korsgaard, seeks an answer to the “foundation” of the normative claims that the Moral laws places on us as she believes there are many situations when an individual questions them and also has a strong urge to go against it. A typical example that Korsgaard gives is that of saving Jews by having them hide in your house with the danger of you being killed in the act.

According to the morality laws spelled out for us, it is a moral act and the right thing to do. In fact, giving up on the Jews in the face of danger is immoral. The person involved who is risking his life for he believes is the right thing to do may suddenly asks why is it so? Why is it important to save the ones who started the Nazis in the first place? In such cases, if the individual has adequate knowledge above the normative dimension of the moral law that is acting on him, he would be able to take the correct step.

In short, we can interpret this as a case where there will be less conflict between his integrity and morality than be the case when he has to choose between his loved ones death and saving Jews (who he believes started the wrong thing first) and saving his family and exposing the Jews. The integrity of the individual is in question when he would be found inconsistent with the promise to protect his family. Knowing the reason why he has to sacrifice his family would fill the gap that Morality laws offers us today.

Korsgaard also emphasizes on the importance to be one’s own self when one is being Moral. As Korsgaard says, “If moral claims are ever worth dying for, then violating them must be in a similar way, worse than death. And this means that, they must issue in a deep way from the sense of who we are. ” In other words, integrity and morality seems to go hand-in-hand and one without the other is always not worth dying for. Susan Wolf comes about questioning the very concept of morality and do we really need morality and its harbingers?

According to Wolf, morality and its followers are good people but won’t the world be a boring place if each one of us is a “Moral saint”! Susan Wolf considers common sense and bit of immorality is what makes the planet earth a place worth living in. According to Susan, a moral saint is defined as the one who would always sacrifice his own interests and desires for the betterment of the society or for someone else’s happiness. Doing such an act would definitely require lot of self-control but she also feels blessed that none of her friends and family members acts that way.

However, she also recognizes the reason behind our wishing not to be moral saints in the following lines, “…some of the reason for the disaffection we feel for the model of moral sainthood is our reluctance to criticize ourselves and reluctance to committing ourselves in giving up the activities and interests that we heartily enjoy. ” Susan believes instead of having Mother Theresa as our role model, we would more often find Jane Austen inspiring us. She does not deny that Mother Theresa as a moral saint but definitely believes that a person need not be moral in all aspects to make him/her a moral person.

In fact, we can readily interpret from this that Susan might believe a person may be moral in some aspect and immoral in some other and that would not necessarily make him an immoral person and hence, can conclude that an immoral person can have integrity. Susan believes that the moral theories of today curb many opportunities to be more moral by imposing rules on personal desires and aspirations. More often than not, Susan Wolf’s view on moral saints can be a base for the belief that integrity is not restricted to only moral saints but to anyone who can stand the test of his/her desires.

All the three philosophers seem to have stumbled upon an important facet of a human being that of individuality, and the individual’s personal goals that so often sacrificed in the name of morality. As mentioned in the beginning, Integrity is defined as something pure and whole. For me, a person has integrity when he fulfills his responsibility with perfection the very first time. I believe, a person has integrity if he behaves the same way with his friend and lover when they both commit the same mistake. For me, a person is gifted with the virtue of integrity if he fights for his beliefs even if that means he may have to face death.

Integrity, for me, is when you sacrifice your life fully knowing the reason why you are doing it and the reason being it is not for others but for your own sake. For example, I would never risk my life saving others first if my own family life is at risk. Integrity would not be if I abandon my family and save strangers for the sake of morality rules imposed on me. Integrity would be if I save my family for I have promised to be with them in thick and thin. What use are the moral laws if I cannot have inner peace? My guilt conscious would always remind me of the integrity I should have maintained intact.

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