Ethics Unwrapped Blog

Growth Mindset

How people think about their abilities and talents greatly influences how they learn and grow. Human flourishing seems to correspond intimately with a person’s mindset.

Research by psychologist Carol Dweck distinguishes between fixed and growth mindsets. People with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and attributes, such as intelligence or character, are pre-determined and unchanging. With this mindset, people tend to adopt limiting beliefs about what they can and cannot do. Often, a fixed mindset can lead people to avoid challenges, to feel threatened by others’ successes, and to “tune out” when there is an ethical transgression.

When people have a growth mindset, on the other hand, they believe that their skills and abilities can be developed. With a growth mindset, people see their mistakes and failures as an opportunity for learning. Such people are more likely to take on challenges, to respond well to criticism, and to grow from their endeavors regardless of their success.

The theory of ethical learners, developed by scholars Dolly Chugh and Mary Kern, applies these mindsets to the realm of ethics. As ethical learners, those with a growth mindset recognize their own bounded ethicality. They pursue “psychological literacy,” studying the cognitive biases and external pressures that limit their ethical decision-making. They also see their missteps as opportunities for growth and seek feedback, constantly striving to improve their ethical conduct.

So a growth mindset can encourage learning of all kinds. And having a growth mindset helps us develop the skills we need to become more effective ethical decision-makers.

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Values

Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior.

Generally, people are predisposed to adopt the values that they are raised with. People also tend to believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.

Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.

Some values have intrinsic worth, such as love, truth, and freedom. Other values, such as ambition, responsibility, and courage, describe traits or behaviors that are instrumental as means to an end.

Still other values are considered sacred and are moral imperatives for those who believe in them. Sacred values will seldom be compromised because they are perceived as duties rather than as factors to be weighed in decision-making. For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth.

So, whether values are sacred, have intrinsic worth, or are a means to an end, values vary among individuals and across cultures and time. However values are universally recognized as a driving force in ethical decision-making.

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Morals

Morals are the prevailing standards of behavior that enable people to live cooperatively in groups. Moral refers to what societies sanction as right and acceptable.

Most people tend to act morally and follow societal guidelines. Morality often requires that people sacrifice their own short-term interests for the benefit of society. People or entities that are indifferent to right and wrong are considered amoral, while those who do evil acts are considered immoral.

While some moral principles seem to transcend time and culture, such as fairness, generally speaking, morality is not fixed. Morality describes the particular values of a specific group at a specific point in time. Historically, morality has been closely connected to religious traditions, but today its significance is equally important to the secular world. For example, businesses and government agencies have codes of ethics that employees are expected to follow.

Some philosophers make a distinction between morals and ethics. But many people use the terms morals and ethics interchangeably when talking about personal beliefs, actions, or principles. For example, it’s common to say, “My morals prevent me from cheating.” It’s also common to use ethics in this sentence instead.

So, morals are the principles that guide individual conduct within society. And, while morals may change over time, they remain the standards of behavior that we use to judge right and wrong.

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Integrity

Integrity, said author C.S. Lewis, “is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.”  Integrity is a foundational moral virtue, and the bedrock upon which good character is built.

Acting with integrity means understanding, accepting, and choosing to live in accordance with one’s principles, which will include honesty, fairness, and decency. A person of integrity will consistently demonstrate good character by being free of corruption and hypocrisy.

Integrity is revealed when people act virtuously regardless of circumstance or consequences. This often requires moral courage. Indeed, integrity is the critical connection between ethics and moral action.

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Ethics

The term ethics often describes the investigation and analysis of moral principles and dilemmas. Traditionally, philosophers and religious scholars have studied ethics. More recently, scholars from various disciplines have entered the field, creating new approaches to the study of ethics such as behavioral ethics and applied ethics.

The term ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and for groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.

Some philosophers make a distinction between ethics and morals. But many people use the terms ethics and morals interchangeably when talking about personal beliefs, actions, or principles. For example, it’s common to say, “My ethics prevent me from cheating.” It’s also common to use morals in this sentence instead.

So, whether we use the term ethics to refer to personal beliefs, or rules of conduct, or the study of moral philosophy, ethics provides a framework for understanding and interpreting right and wrong in society.

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