The `ALIR' Imperatives of Ethical Reasoning (1)

By Makrydemetres, Anthony | Global Virtue Ethics Review, July 2001 | Go to article overview

The `ALIR' Imperatives of Ethical Reasoning (1)


Makrydemetres, Anthony, Global Virtue Ethics Review


Abstract

This paper advances a set of guiding ethical principles, which is of a heuristic nature and may prove useful to integrate and rearrange the process of dealing with ethical dilemmas in public administration. Naturally, administrative systems whether in western societies or in emergent administrative cultures of developing countries are often confronted with opposing values and ethical dilemmas concerning the shape, the conduct and the orientation of public services they deliver. The construct resulting from this analysis--namely the ALIR model of imperatives of ethical reasoning--facilitates the understanding of ethics and morality as an important factor in the shaping of the public administration by taking into consideration as cornerstones of administrative ethics the fundamental principles of democratic accountability, of the rule of law and the principle of legality, of professional integrity and autonomy, and of responsiveness to civil society.

Introduction

The new century seems to dawn with a renewed load of ethical and philosophical dilemmas which leave practitioners and academics of public administration alike in a predicament. Whereas in the beginning of the 20 th century there seemed to be only answers and convictions, at the beginning of the new century we are surrounded by new questions, uncertainties and doubts resulting from the overarching processes of the globalization of market economies and information technology as well as the localization of political conflict, authority systems and culture. A phenomenon termed the `institutionalisation of doubt' (Giddens, 1990) is then of wider significance.

Naturally, these features of modernity do not contain themselves to civil society but they also affect the civil service and public administration in its various manifestations at the national and international level. Administrative systems in western societies as well as emergent administrative cultures in developing countries often experience and are confronted with a number of opposed values and ethical dilemmas concerning the shape, the conduct and the orientation of public services. As a result, the burden of conflicting values and divergent responsibilities leave the contemporary administrator in an ethical quandary and in a state of personal anxiety or angst. However, it is not hard to realize that to overcome such a state of systemic doubt is not simply a matter of personal integrity and professional qualification. Equally significant and even harder to sustain is a threshold of institutional awareness and receptivity of emerging demands, as well as an increased capacity to adequately respond to and effectively deal with these challenges.

The Rise of the Ethical Question: Reasoning about Morals

In the history of philosophy, ethics has not been among the earliest issues to be examined in a systematic manner, it has rather been among the latest. A similar trend can be observed in the history of administrative thought about moral standards of governance and administration. Whereas in philosophy the concern about nature--physics--preceded the concern about the inner world, in the evolution of administrative thinking the attention has gradually shifted from purely structural and functional aspects of organization and management to questions about leadership and motivation initially, and about proper conduct on the grounds of certain ethical and normative standards later.

If ethics came after physics in philosophy, in administrative and organizational analysis ethical questions arose in the aftermath of earlier concerns with the specification of legitimate conduct on the basis of `external', so called, determinants. The focus of ethical analysis has shifted to the value aspects and normative dimensions of conduct, and how and to what extent are they internalized and respected by the individual civil servant in public institutions.

It is worth noting that the decisive moment that marked the process of transition from physics to ethics in philosophy is related to Socrates--who is regarded the founder of moral philosophy--since ethics and the concern with the inner--and not the outer--world became his chief object of thought and inquiry in the 5 th century B. …

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