Introduction to Ethical Issues in IT

The Concept of Ethics

The notion of ethics is regularly drawn upon in the context of expected patterns of behaviors written or unwritten, consistent with generally accepted standards for those to whom it may concern. However, there are various perspectives on the concept of ethics. Griffin cited in Agbonifoh (2002) defines the concept as an individual’s personal belief about what is right or wrong, good or bad. Conversely, Miner (2002) defined ethics as right or wrong actions that stems from the value and expectation of society. Mintz and Morris (2007) notes that ethics are acceptable standards of behavior that define how people ought to act (i.e. prescriptive) not how people really act (i.e. descriptive).

Nevertheless, the generic sociological meaning of the concept of ethics seems to provide a common ground for most of them. Sociologically speaking, ethics are provided in order to render behavior intelligible and to “prevent conflicts from arising by bridging the gap between action and expectation” (Scott & Lyman, 1968).

In the context of an operational definition with regards to professions, Ethics generally refers to those principles and codes of behaviour that guide the conduct of any profession. The term usually carries along moral values, normative judgments and moral obligations. At any rate, every profession possesses its own ethics. However, there are some commonalities in professional ethics. These ethics that are common derive from the general expectations of the public from either a public officer or a professional practitioner. The issue of ethics usually goes along with allocation of value judgment such as good or bad; right or wrong.

Fisher (2004) defines the concept as an individual’s personal belief about what is right or wrong, good or bad. It is the arbiter of an individual’s evaluation of the “rightness” or otherwise of his or her actions. Though often regarded as subjective, it is traceable to the foundation of an individual’s belief system and judged within context. Conversely, Logsdon and Yuthas (1997) notes that the ethical stance of a firm is constructed based on the expectation of society, that is, the legitimate claims made by the constituencies to whom the firm interacts. According to Hanekom (1984), the question of ethics is one that is linked with the history of mankind. Ethics deals with the character and conduct and morals of human beings. It deals with good or bad, right or wrong behaviour. It evaluates conduct against some absolute criteria and puts negative or positive values on it. It is the reflective study of what one ought to do, or how one ought to live.

Erondu, Sharland and Okpara (2004) hold that the study of “ethics” focuses on issues of practical decision making, including the nature of ultimate value, and standards by which a human action can be judged right or wrong, good or bad. For Adenubi (1999), ethics applies to any system or theory of moral values or principles. For Beauchamp and Bowie (2001), ethics is the general term referring to both moral beliefs and ethical theory on human conduct.

Ethics is a reflection on morality. It refers to the principles of right and wrong in making choices by individuals. It has been described as the art and science that seeks to bring sensitivity and methods to the discernment of moral values (Carbo, 2006). Thus, ethics guide human and societal behavior. Capuro (2006) had no difficulty in asserting that ethics is an unending quest on explicit and implicit use of the moral code.

It can also be describe as the rules of conduct or moral principles that are recognised in respect to a particular class of human action or a particular group, culture, profession.

Rue and Byars (2000) are of the views that ethics are principles of conduct used to govern the decision-making and behaviour of an individual or a group of individuals. They further indicate that because management is concerned with making decisions within an organization, the ethics of the individual or group making these decisions have significant implications for the organization’s stakeholders: employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, the government, and the public at large.
According to Cyert and March (1992) Ethics and morals are synonymous. Ethics is derived from Greek while morals are derived from Latin. They are identical terms referring to ideals of character and conduct. These ideals, in the form of codes of conduct become the criteria for distinguishing between right and wrong”. Ethics is therefore the same thing as morality and they shape our conduct and behaviour right from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. In every aspect of life our conduct and behaviour is guided by what we were taught to be right or wrong.

Heynes (1986) is of the opinion that ethics has to do with the actions of man. Consequently, it requires adjustments in the actions and attitudes of the individual in whatever context in relation to his environment as well as in relation to himself. He notes that ethics are basic perceptions of the relative importance of our elements of existence. These perceptions always have to do with priorities, whereas norms are the function by which direct evaluation of human attitudes and actions is made possible.

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