Ethical Considerations

Ethical Behavior 


Ethics is central to politics, and every elected official has their own standard of moral beliefs and conduct. Ethical leadership must be a priority for all members of Congress. They are looked up to as leaders of their communities, districts, and states, and must display appropriate levels of ethical behavior at all times during their service in Congress.


Ethical behavior has many different meanings and components; doing the right thing may seem simple but ethics can be ambiguous. The "right" course of action for one individual or group may be unacceptably unethical to another group. Hot-button issues such as abortion and immigration immediately come to mind as topics with different definitions of ethical behavior.


There are three definitions of ethical behavior generally observed by politicians:


Ethical Absolutism - There is only one standard of ethical behavior. Others are wrong when deviating from that standard

Ethical Relativism - All points of view and standards of ethical behavior are equally important

Ethical Pluralism - There are many ways to define "right" and "wrong," some of which may be incompatible with our own


Standards of Ethics


The ethical standard appropriate for most members of Congress, and which many members follow, is ethical pluralism because in public service it is important to seek a middle path, work collaboratively with those who have different governing philosophies, and respect other points of view. 


Some members of Congress follow an ethical absolutism standard. Ethical absolutism is an inappropriate ethical standard because no one has a monopoly on the truth, even if some believe they do. There is no single set of ethical beliefs because ethics mean different things to different people.


Ethical relativism, defined as all points of view being equally important, is not an appropriate ethical standard because some behaviors, such as hatred and racism, are not correct even in their own world.

Elected officials don't generally discuss their standards of ethical behavior or what ethical theories they most closely align with. Most discuss being ethical in general terms. But it is important for members to be ethical leaders and have a strong sense of what is right an wrong while also respecting the legitimate beliefs and of others with whom they may disagree. This is why ethical pluralism is the preferable ethical standard.

© 2019 Ted Dahlstrom - Gonzaga University COML Class of 2019

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