Application of the CPA Code of Ethics: Towards Integrating the Science and Practice of Psychology (Canadian Psychological Assn)

By Catano, Victor M. | Canadian Psychology, April 1994 | Go to article overview

Application of the CPA Code of Ethics: Towards Integrating the Science and Practice of Psychology (Canadian Psychological Assn)


Catano, Victor M., Canadian Psychology


O'Neill (1990) has written that at the heart of an ethical dilemma lies a conflict between competing values. In the case of field research, the dilemma often involves competing principles derived from different value systems, "such as an ethical code and the dictates of good research methodology." O'Neill went on to present several dilemmas created by attempts to follow both commonly accepted methodological procedures as well as the Code of Ethics for psychologists developed by the Canadian Psychological Association (1986). At times, the solution to the dilemma involves compromising either the ethical principle or the methodological procedure.

This argument raises an interesting question, namely, why should there be a difference in value systems? Kurtines, Alvarez, & Azmitia (1990) provide some helpful insights by proposing a framework for understanding the role of values in science. They contend that theoretical discourse (scientific theory), the question of what is true, is based on facts, data, and method. Practical discourse, the question of what is right, is based on norms, values, and principles. Kurtines et al. argue that all scientific theories involve meta - theoretical assumptions which do not ordinarily enter into scientific discourse; however these "shared presuppositions ... that are part of the shared background of scientific activity" provide the context for particular truth claims. Furthermore, the boundaries between theoretical discourse and practical discourse breakdown at the meta - theoretical level; "What one can know ... becomes inseparable from what can be known ..." Scientific theory, facts and method, which can be used to derive truth claims at the level of theoretical discourse become problematic at the meta - theoretical; similarly, norms, values, and principles used to justify normative claims at the practical level also become problematical at the meta - theoretical level. Kurtines et al. conclude that at the level of meta - theoretical discourse, the relation between theoretical (scientific) and practical (normative) issues is reciprocal. Scientific facts, data, methods must be considered when resolving problematic normative issues just as values, norms and principles must be considered when resolving problematic theoretical issues. The examples provided by O'Neill (1990) illustrated this reciprocity. Even more importantly, the case provided by Harvey (this issue) demonstrates that the Code of Ethics can be used as a meta -theoretical framework which may lead to an integrated value system.

Moral Phenomena

Kurtines et al. (1990) argue that the debate over values, or normative assumptions, enter into all scientific discourse, but that it plays a more explicit role in fields within the human sciences, including psychology, that touch on moral phenomena. An anthropologist, sociologist, or management consultant could conduct the research described by Sutton (1989) without concern for the ethical conflicts with the CPA Code of Ethics detailed by Harvey (this issue). As psychologists, however, we must accept our professional code as part of the meta - theoretical context of psychological science. The Code of Ethics should be seen as the mechanism which serves to bridge the realms of scientific and practical discourse in psychology. Unfortunately, this is not always the case; as psychological researchers, we often view our ethical code as a barrier to overcome rather than as an aid in the planning of good research.

Thus, within a human science such as psychology, the question of values may become even more explicit when dealing with "humans" rather than with "science". Starting with graduate school, we learn to associate ethics with "practice" issues (practical discourse) more so than with "science" (theoretical discourse). This division can be seen in various guidelines and policies that have been developed over the years. The Section on Industrial/Organizational Psychology of CPA (1989) adopted guidelines for graduate education in I/O psychology which were closely modelled after those developed by The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology of the American Psychological Association ( 1985).

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