Academic journal article Journal of Power and Ethics

Of Reason, Morality, and Ethics: The Way of Effective Leadership in a "Multicultural Society"

Academic journal article Journal of Power and Ethics

Of Reason, Morality, and Ethics: The Way of Effective Leadership in a "Multicultural Society"

Article excerpt


This article examines both the pitfalls of the "post modernist" viewpoint, whose blind avocation of religious and cultural relativism has allowed the tribalization of American society, and political "leadership", which survives on such division. It advocates the utilization of ethical rules of conduct and discourse derived through reason, sans religion or culture, and prescribes the leadership qualities essential for its inculcation. This article was originally presented at the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics XVIII, Washington, D.C. (January 25-26, 1996). The views presented herein are entirely those of the author, and do not represent the official position of the United States Army Combined Arms Support Command, the United States Army, or the Department of Defense.


To the student of philosophy, the terms "ethics" and "morality" are used, with few exceptions, synonymously. "Popular" usage, it appears, makes a distinction. Time and time again, students insist "ethics" is merely the philosophy of right and wrong. "Morality", however, is determined by religion. A significant minority believes "morality" is strictly "Christian". The holders of this view are generally referred to as "fundamentalist" and have definite responses regarding the judgment of moral beliefs and actions. Why argue? Why not state, for educational purposes, the definitional history of the Greek (Aristotelian) usage of ethikos and Cicero's concept of moralis, and say, "but let's look at it your way"? "What is the significance of your definitional dichotomy?" And, of course, for this paper, what is the significance for defining the requirements of effective leadership?

Visions of Faith

If morality is determined by religion, then to Christians, are Muslims immoral? What about a Baptist's "moral view" of Catholicism, or a Seventh Day Adventist's moral judgment of Presbyterianism? If you are Jewish, what is your moral view of Muslims, and if you are Muslim, let's examine the immorality of Hinduism. Now, of course, if you are Hindu, just what do those Buddhist's think they are doing?

The tying of "morality" to a religious belief or faith has dangerous connotations, particularly in a secular, open society. Could a devout member of "religion A" be subordinate to a believer of "religion X" if a tenet of "A" is that followers of "X" are, at their core, immoral? Edmund L. Pincoffs asserts morality should not "lean too heavily" on religious belief:

   Religious belief is, in an open society, a society that encourages critical
   reflection, a notoriously fragile structure. Many reflective persons come
   to disavow it. But such persons are better off if their realizations that
   they no longer are believers is not the occasion of a moral crisis--a
   crisis that arises only if their motivation to be moral arises solely from
   religious sources (Pincoffs, 1986: p. 163).

The linking of morality to religious beliefs creates, by definition, not only moral relativism, but quickly degenerates any discussion into "religious relativism". While comparative religion is an interesting topic in its own right, it generally becomes divisive. While a high percentage of Americans respond they have "religious faith", the underlying basis of what they believe, much less why, is at best tenuous, and hardly establishes a common ground for constructive inquiry and discussion (The Economist, 8 July 1995: pp.19-21). It also follows, of course, if morality is an extension of religious belief, it cannot be taught in public schools.

Cultural Revolution

No less worse is basing ethics or morality on one's culture. "Cultural relativism" can be just as divisive as religion. "I can do "X, Y, or Z" because my "culture" says I can", appears to be becoming the "in" excuse these days for all types of antisocial behavior: e.g. gang culture or drug culture. …

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