Principles of Ethics

Principles of Ethics

Principles of Ethics

Principles of Ethics: It is important to concentrate on the two leading models that are involved with ethical thoughts and actions within the public sector-

1. Ethics of the sovereign good; and

2. Ethics of the service of goods

It has to be kept in mind that we are not taking any particular or specific approach but rather will be taking the modern understanding of what could be called “vulgar Kantianism” or a “vulgar utilitarianism” (Harmon, 2005).

1. Ethics of the sovereign good

1. The ethics of the sovereign good is nothing but the set of guidelines based on which individual acts. The ethics of the sovereign good is identified to be a set of values from which the different views on ‘what is good’ can be judged.

2. It can be commonly seen in real-world scenarios that many people have different versions of the same ethical concept. People try to twist the concept to fit their needs based on their conception of the “good”. Therefore it is important to identify the viewpoint that holds the true spirit of the ethical guidelines.

3. The primary issue with the ethics of the sovereign good is the fact that it refers to itself as the absolute last word when it comes to ethical decisions.

4. Another issue is that it tends to assume an attitude that is raw linguistic positivism. One reason why the ethic of the sovereign good is so appealing is that it tends to transcend beyond the individual and looks at the bigger collective when it comes to defining proper ethics.

5. Therefore it will not solve the individual issues but will rather lead us into an unrecognized and impossible (from its perspective) aporia.

2. Ethics of the service of goods

1. The values that are promoted by the ethics of the service of goods are mainly efficiency and maximization of the inputs to outputs.

2. Basically, there are three aspects that are important when it comes to the service of goods. They are the logic of reciprocity, its view of the collective, and its criteria for judgment.

3. It can also be clearly seen that the ethics of the sovereign good are mainly targeted toward the market. At the very core, the service of goods is based on mutual exchange.

4. Basically it assumes that people are rational and have the freedom to choose what goods or services they want. Thus, if an individual likes a particular good/ service; he/she can enter into an agreement with a suitable trader on the terms for the purchase of the same service or good. In exchange, the individual can offer monetary resources to compensate the trader for the services and goods that they have provided.

5. This is an amicable process that is disrupted only when someone fails to deliver the goods as per the terms agreed to. This will result in the decline of social good. However in the case when everything is going smoothly, what is good for the individual ends up being good for the collective whole.

READ MORE ABOUT  Administrative Ethics

There have been a lot of questions that have been directed towards the ethics of the service of goods. The questions that are raised are often related to the presumption of self-interest and the ability of people to know their true interests. These questions are considered to be problematic for reasons both empirical and logical.

According to different researchers (Bauman, 2001, 2005; Catlaw, 2009), viability is an issue since the ethics of the sovereign good tends to legitimize everything as long as it promotes trade and therefore in the long run has a tendency to wear away minimal stability. This stability is needed for an intelligible world with better ethics. It neglects the problem that one must always ask “efficient to what end”? “Or “good for whom”?

Following this line of thought, different imperatives need to be understood in the context of ethics in administration which are discussed as follows-

Principles of Ethics: Imperatives

Accountability Imperatives:

1. The distinction between politics and administration, which forms one of the most classic doctrines of modern political science and public administration, connotes not only their division of functions and their structural separation but also the subordination of the latter to the former.

2. This stream of thought also feels that politics is superior to administration and that the government controls the administrative machinery. Bureaucrats are loyal to their ministers, who in turn are loyal to the legislature, which is loyal to the people as they are their countrymen.

3. Thus these ‘people’s representatives’ hold the administration accountable in the interests of the general public. Ministers are accountable to the Parliament and not civil servants and hence civil servants have to act as per the orders of their ministers whether they are in agreement or not as long as the law is not circumvented or breached.

4. Subordination of civil servants to elected representatives who act as law-makers and policy-setters forms a sine qua non-precondition of democratic politics.

5. When the bureaucracy and administration usurp power, which does not belong to it; the bureaucracy (civil or military) enters the political arena, undermines representative democracy, and subjugates politics and government to its own interests and commands.

Thus, it falls upon the civil servants to work diligently under the legislature as these representatives actually reflect the will of the people.

They also have to apply considerable restraint in partisan politics and while expressing their personal views. Thus, democratic virtue is not a part of the core value of public administration, and neither can the parliament usurp public service institutions for its own political ends.

Modern governance celebrates the different roles and responsibilities of politics and administration as it leads to higher efficacy of both functions and that is an important part of moral and personal integrity-the ability to be able, to tell the truth to the powers that be.

Legal Imperatives:

1. Administrators have to respect the legal framework and act within its bounds thus rendering all government action legitimate. Law is a universal concept in both politics and society. Max Weber sees the action of a state within the law as the third way of legitimizing authority with the other two being charisma and tradition.

READ MORE ABOUT  Concerns of Ethics

2. Once the administration works within the realm of the law, it automatically sets forth for itself a series of controls and regulations. Power flows from the people and thus all power must be used for the good of the people, a fundamental requirement of most democratic constitutions.

3. Governments and administrations, therefore, have no choice but to work within the legal framework. Thus, the way the judiciary implements these laws which are there to ultimately serve the people forms the core of the legal determinants.

Courts ensure that the law will be followed during the discharge of public duty and that no injustice or partiality will do and that power will not be abused. Constant monitoring and protection of the law have to be a priority if administrative reforms are to take place. Even Aristotle commented that the law should be supreme in the eyes of the people and should operate without any interference.

Integrity Imperatives:

1. As professional ethics entered the administrative space so did the need for studying public administration and defining its scope and determinants. The nation-states of Europe among others have taken steps to professionalize the government (The ethics framework and the European Code of ethics).

2. Ministers guide the bureaucracy which discharges its public duties in conformity with the law. They are chosen on the basis of special criteria and procedures which govern their recruitment, career path, discipline, scope, etc.

3. Professional virtue brings with its integrity and acceptance of the hierarchical dominance of the government but works under the authority of the law.

Civil servants are the permanent officers of the transient politicians in Parliament. Their competency in experience, knowledge, depth, etc., helps them assess ground realities and advise the parliament and implement public policies in an effective manner in the interest of the public.

The essential features of a professional public service which would include knowledge of expertise, judgment, and conduct in accordance with standards, as well as a commitment to the field, comprise the following:

1. Recruitment should be carried out on the basis of tests and merits conducted by separate bodies and governed by regulations that are independent of politics and political systems. It should take place impartially and solely consider merit and achievements. Merit, therefore, is a huge determinant of integrity and autonomy.

2. Self-governance should be stressed by administrative councils to promote corporate spirit and professionalism. Experience and length of service as well as achievements and performance must be taken into account for promotions.

3. Training and education should increase professionalism in government and administration as a whole.


Corruption can be a major obstacle in the process of economic development and in modernizing a country. The greater recognition that corruption can have a serious adverse impact on development has been a cause for concern among developing countries.

In a survey of 150 high-level officials from 60 third-world countries, the respondents ranked public sector corruption as the most severe obstacle confronting their development process (Gray and Kaufmann, 1998).

READ MORE ABOUT  Essentials of Administrative Ethics

Countries in the Asia and Pacific region are also very worried about this problem and they are in substantial agreement that corruption is a major constraint that is hindering their economic, political and social development, and hence view it as a problem requiring urgent attention at the highest level.

 “What the service of the state really requires is that men shall forego the selfish and capricious satisfaction of their subjective ends; by this very sacrifice, they acquire the right to find their satisfaction in, but only in, the dutiful discharge of their public functions”.

It may be inferred from the aforementioned that there exists a link between universal and particular interests. The government employee would then be expected to follow a code of ethics consolidating professional virtue and integrity. Another advantage of this is that by doing so, their self-confidence and motivation will rise.

This is applicable to any professional in any country. Integrity can be achieved through self-control in administrative conduct based on ethical standards.

Imperatives for Responsiveness:

1. The ‘civic virtue’ of ethical reasoning in state action entails that public institutions be responsive to society and pay attention to the needs and demands of the people, facilitating access to services and creating an enabling environment for sustainable human and social development.

2. Alertness is not confined to market authorities but is majorly involved in the citizens’ role to every extent and in every tier of the government, and it also involves giving power to people in human groups.

3. Responsiveness also entails consultation in governance and the promotion of a kind of ‘communicative ethic’ in societal affairs.

4. The transition, however cumbersome it may be, from the command type of authority over people to more communicative types of reasoning and administration of things seems to emerge as a radical paradigm shift in societal affairs.

In this context, civil society not only furnishes the state with the needs and demands of an individual nature but also with valuable sources of information, feedback criticism, and evaluation of performance.

Therefore, notions like decentralization, de-bureaucratization, privatization, and citizen participation loom large in the repertoire of reform programmes and practices of many contemporary administrative systems and affect the interface between civil society and the state.

It also influences the interaction between the state and civil society. State officials are affected by the way the public at large regards them. Eventually, civil servants forming a middle-class profession, par excellence, acquire the features that society expects of them.

Public Administration forms a partial regime in the societal complex; it is part of the state, which is subject to a distinct ‘ethic of responsibility’ – in the Weberian sense vis- à-vis the society.

The ideas of alertness and accountability and answerability have some similarities. These ideas also have overlapped. In spite of the number of meanings they have, it cannot be ignored that the basic aspect concerns the duty and the preparedness of civil servants to honestly rationalize and defend their moves for the public good.

More topics from Ethics

Principles of EthicsAdministrative Ethics
Concerns of EthicsEssentials to ensure the Practice of Administrative Ethics

Please leave your valuable feedback/suggestions. Share this article with your friends and other aspirants.

Follow us on FACEBOOK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.