Ethics, Morality and an Ethic of Risk

imageIt is important to know the difference between Ethics, Morality, Virtue and an Ethic.

· An Ethic is a methodology (philosophy/ontology) that drives a method.

· Ethics encompass the study of that Ethic and its outworking in morality.

· A Code of Ethics is a systematic policy in organizing to denote expected moral conduct.

· A virtue is a trait deemed as morally good by an Ethic.

When we read a Code of Ethics what is hidden is the Ethic that drives such a code. In a Code of Ethics we often read a statement of values but an Ethic explains why those are valued.

The reason why risk and safety need to articulate an Ethic is because of the methods it uses to reach outcomes. Eg. as a foundation there can be no moral and ethical outcome that can emerge out of the denial of fallibility. The language and mantra of zero can only result in hopelessness, dehumanizing and de-personing of humans.

At the core of any Ethic is a belief in the nature of persons, humans, society, community and being. The fact that there is no study of Ethics in the risk and safety curriculum is an indictment of these industries. The beginning of all conduct should be the articulation of an Ethic. Once that Ethic is articulated and a value critical anthropological values such as fallibility, vulnerability and personhood is accepted, then we can know what moral values fit such an Ethic.

This is all discussed more fully in my latest book: The Social Psychology of Risk, i-thou (pp. 96ff and 222ff)

It is interesting that the safety industry is so attracted to the idea of Just Culture and yet does not define an Ethic that would drive an ethic of Justice. Similarly a study of Politics is also absent from the risk and safety curriculum and hence the Politik of safety becomes one of accidental bumbling. The lack of study and definition of Ethics and Politics can only lead to confusion and a range of assumptions left undisclosed, resulting in the emergence of unethical practice. Hence, bullying, dehumanising and victimization are often justified in the name of zero!

Often when I speak to people about the enactment of Just Culture they tell me about unethical practice in the name of that principle. It is interesting that organisations portray safety as the ‘right thing to do’ yet don’t define an Ethic or Politic of safety. Similarly, you won’t find discussion of fallibility and human personhood in texts on Just Culture because owning such an Ethic is avoided.

In the end the safety industry ends up being an industry of an accidental ethic of pragmatism and utilitarianism. The weaknesses of such an Ethic are often studied in Ethics (see further Mizzoni, (2017) Ethics, The Basics. Wiley-Blackwell, London.).

In the risk and safety industry it seems definition and articulation of An Ethic are off limits. How else could it maintain the mythology and demonization of humans by zero if it had an Ethic that acknowledged the reality of fallibility? If one has a vice of zero, then learning cannot make sense. Learning assumes two things: the fact that error is essential to learning and that perfectionism is unattainable.

So we find an industry that is yet to mature in being professional because it holds back from embracing critical concepts such as an Ethic, Justice, Learning and Wisdom. And so it scouts about talking about mental health but never tackling the Ethic that drives bullying in organisations. So the industry studies regulation in absurd excess but never considers the Ethic of compliance and the challenges this poses for fallibility, punishment and personhood. Until some of these challenges are embraced it is never going to measure up to the maturity of a profession.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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