A History of Ethics

July 15, 2015
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A History of Ethics


A History of Ethics, and Could Ethics In Organizations Improve Integrity and Reduce Corruption and Fraud?

What is Ethics? It is a systematic study of standards of human conduct, also defined as a “moral Philosophy” It is about shared beliefs. It provides standards for not only assessing individual choice, but collective choice as well. A difficult subject, most are uncomfortable in discussing ethics.

It is about what is right and wrong. Most of us prefer to assume that our family, nations, colleagues, clients and friends share similar constant values. Ethics was around for a long time.

In Ancient Egypt there was a papyrus picture of the Day of Judgement from the Egyptian Book of the Dead where after death, people were weighed in scales according to their deeds.

In ancient Egypt, to understand morality and ethics in those times, one must have a basic knowledge of the term, ma’at. Ma’at was the ethical conceptions of “truth”, “order” and “cosmic balance”. These principles were also personified in a goddess named ma’at.

A historical Perspective of ethics for over 5.000 years:

In Ancient Greece: It was the philosophy of: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. According to Socrates, the ultimate object of human activity is happiness, and the necessary means to reach it, virtue.

Since everybody necessarily seeks happiness, no one is deliberately corrupt. All evil arises from ignorance, and the virtues are one and all but so many kinds of prudence. Virtue can, therefore, be imparted by instruction.

The disciple of Socrates, Plato (427-347 B.C.) declares that the summum bonum consists in the perfect imitation of God, the Absolute Good, and an imitation which cannot be fully realised in this life.

Virtue enables man to order his conduct, as he properly should, according to the dictates of reason, and acting thus he becomes like unto God. But Plato differed from Socrates in that he did not consider virtue to consist in wisdom alone, but in justice, temperance, and fortitude as well, these constituting the proper harmony of man’s activities.

In (469 BC) Socrates expounded that virtue (or ethical conduct) is knowledge of what is useful to man.

(460 BC) Democritus year of birth, the Greek philosopher, to him well-being and cheerfulness are the ends that man should seek above all else.

(2650 BC) Ptahhotep in his notable work on papyrus to his son of the same name

(427 BC) Plato gave various explanations in his Dialogues on morals and ethics

(384 BC) Aristotle considered the approach to ethics to be determined on a scientific basis

(1588) Thomas Hobbes asserts the great difficulty in constraining human conduct to arrive at a useful code of right or wrong to which all men will conform’

(1632) Barush Spinoza introduced the beginning of the modern period of philosophy based on human action is right or wrong according to whether it tends to “obstruct the self-fulfillment of human life”

(1685) Bishop Berkeley, philosopher said, “the only true happiness is that which comes from satisfaction of our reason”

(1770) George Hegel, German philosopher taught that it is necessary to reconcile our subjective inclinations with our duties to society

(1859-1952) John Dewey, American philosopher required a continual application of intelligence to determine whether the means of right or ethical ways to attain a particular end.

Ethics/ morality should not comply blindly to various rules or dogmas – social, religious or political or otherwise. It should relate to the respect that an individual have for himself, for others and the environment

Parents are neglecting the education of their children
Education should consist of implanting civic and ethical values
Humanity must regenerate itself by spiritual alchemy which would change every human fault into its opposite quality.

Could Ethics Programs In Organizations Reduce Corruption and Fraud?

Benefits of an Ethics Program is that it could prevent ethical misconduct, monetary losses and losses to reputation, adapt the organization to rapid change and regulatory changes, new technologies, mergers & acquisitions, and global competition can require new ways of doing business.

What are the rules?

Managing relations with stakeholders while informing suppliers about a company’s own standards and Reassures other stakeholders of the company’s intent.

Globalization has created challenges in the implementation of ethics such as:

  • Some cultures communicate ethical standard informally
  • Managers fear to discuss ethics because they might believe that their views might not be practical or possible
  • Managers should encourage discussions of ethics on a regular basis, not just E-learning, always give examples
  • Not a hard science like accounting or information technology;
  • Encourage year round discussions on ethics at all levels of the organization
  • Managers are best suitable to conduct sessions on ethics, this is the best method of setting the TONE at the TOP.
  • Countries must have appropriate integrity legislation and matching laws for the private sector legislation to control conflicts of interests, bribery and corruption.

There is a report from Transparency International showing that bribery, fraud and corruption is on the rise. Transparency International 2014 report called on countries at the top of the index where public sector corruption is limited to stop encouraging it elsewhere by doing more to prevent money laundering and to stop secret companies from masking corruption. (See www.transparency.org/2014/press).

There are several private and public sector organizations that have developed codes of conduct/ethics , hired a Compliance and Ethics officers to conduct training sessions, monitor the ethics policy for compliance, create hot lines to report issues, have a functioning Whistle-blowers policy.

These are resulting in reducing fraud and corruption in public and private sector organizations. Your organization too could improve your ethical situation by Ethics audit, risk assessment, training and review.

Please contact me at mredmans@rogers.com for more information.

Morris Redman
Morris Redman
Morris Redman studied Business Administration at Ryerson in Toronto. In 1994 he graduated from the University of Ottawa with an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA). He is a Certified General Accountant (CGA), Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (FCA) of Barbados, a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) of Ontario former member of the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Chapter of the Association of CFEs.


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