Defence Ethics and the Individual

56. For Defence to be ethically fit and healthy, the defence ethical fabric must be seamlessly ethical, at both the individual and the collective level. Canadian Forces members and Department of National Defence employees have no problem accepting that they have ethical obligations that come with their organizational roles. In the case of public servants, ethical obligations go hand in hand with the more general terms of conditions the of their employment contract. Military personnel do not have, strictly speaking an “employment contract”. Their ethical obligations are reflected in their oath and in the multiplicity of laws, rules, and regulations they “sign up to”. In this section, we take a closer look at how defence ethics relates to the individual. Specifically, we will review what the social sciences have to say about individual moral development and we will examine the notion of a person of integrity.

Understanding Moral Development

57. Everyone in the defence community is affected by the need to give a more visible role to ethics in their actions and in the outcomes they produce. The challenge of the Defence Ethics Program is to assist well-intentioned personnel do the right thing. With that in mind, it is useful to review what the social sciences have to say about the moral development of the individual.

58. One important school of thought in the social sciences is represented by Laurence Kohlberg and those who have followed in his research. Kohlberg considers that individuals go through three broad stages of moral development: the first stage is characterised by behaviour that is particularly motivated by external rewards and punishments; the second stage, by behaviour that conforms to the expectations of a larger society; and in the third stage, behaviour is determined by universal values and principles. For example, someone would be functioning at stage two if he or she determines the ethical acceptability of all actions solely by how it conforms to laws and regulations. The inherent risks of relying too much on a stage two approach is that it can foster a minimalist attitude to ethical behaviour whereby if something is not legally prohibited, it is deemed to be allowed. However, a minimalist attitude is at odds with the generally accepted belief that it is false to assume that as long there is no specific law prohibiting something, it is considered ethically acceptable to do it.

59. One specific point of contention rests on the fact that much of Kohlberg’s work focused on an individual’s ability to make judgements. When we discussed the four stages of the decision-making model: (1) perception, (2) evaluation, (3) decision, and (4) implementation of decision, we stressed that judgement played an important role, especially in stages 2 and 3. Many have done like Kohlberg and carried out research on the development of judgement skills because the link between knowledge and judgement is strong and because progress in the ability to use this skill lends itself well to measurement in a training environment. Some have questioned whether too much was being expected by concentrating primarily on the development of judgement skills? J.R. Rest, A. Schlaefli, and S.J. Thoma (1985) reviewed 55 studies on the results of training done in educational facilities for the purpose of developing moral judgement. They concluded that optimal results are obtained in modules that last three to twelve weeks, and that programs with adults produce more improvement in moral judgement than with younger age groups. However, the research also revealed that the link between ethical judgement and action. In other words, the link between knowing what’s right and doing what’s right is a weak link. That result implies that concentrating the majority of resources solely on improving skills in moral judgement, the second component of the model, does not deal adequately with the ethical decision-making process.

60. Although much of Kohlberg’s work linked an individual’s sequential progress through the stages of moral development to his or her ability to make moral judgement, others have argued for a more complete interpretation of moral development. With that in mind, James Rest proposed a four component model of the determinants of moral behaviour: moral sensitivity, moral judgement, moral motivation, and moral character. (Rest, 1994) Rest argues that the components not only interact and fit together dynamically but are distinct in many ways. The first component, moral sensitivity, refers to the skill of interpreting a situation. The second component, moral judgement, is limited to the act of judging the moral rightness and wrongness of actions and outcomes. A third component, moral motivation, deals with the manner in which moral values are prioritised in relation to other types of values. Finally, the last component, moral character, addresses the elements that make up character, such as interpersonal skills, courage and persistence. In a similar vein another researcher, Linda Klebe Trevino, proposed a person-situation interactionist model that would include Kohlberg’s cognitive development model, but would also deal more adequately with the effect of an individual’s environment on moral behaviour. These would include factors that address the job context, the characteristics of the work involved and the organizational culture.

61. In contrast, other researchers in social psychology have distanced themselves altogether from the Kohlberg approach. They have claimed that other factors contribute to moral development in a fundamental way and have argued that the Kohlberg approach gives little or no weight to these factors. One such school of thought is offered by Martin Hoffman who has stressed the importance of our ability to empathise with other human beings and their plight in life. He argues that we possess an intrinsic ability to generate an affective response to another’s situation that is more appropriate to that other person’s than to our own. This affective response capability can be developed through socialisation and is an important basis for moral development. Hoffman argues that the empathic affect contributes to the internalisation and activation of some of our moral principles. Thus, a comprehensive approach to a theory of moral development must give importance to the development not only of cognitive abilities but also to our empathic capabilities. (Hoffman, 1991) Another approach is represented by Carol Gilligan and those who have shared her ideas. They have argued that there is a strong link between gender and social development and that the resulting differences play a determining role in the development of moral behaviour. For example, Gilligan has argued against a certain tendency to interpret ethics based solely on a certain understanding of justice that gives undue weight to objectivity and impartiality and to the paradigm of law. In contrast to this type of justice, Gilligan has maintained that the obligations of care that we owe to our fellow human beings are fundamental to morality and moral development. (Gilligan, 1988)

62. The development of the Defence Ethics Program has been based on a strategy of integration of these various approaches. Thus, the Defence Ethics Program is heavily influenced by the claim that ethical behaviour and development are the result of the interplay of personal and environmental factors. It assumes that each individual operates at one of the three broad levels identified by Kohlberg when dealing with any issue: (1) responsive to external rewards and punishments; (2) conforming to the expectations of a larger society; and (3) determined by universal values and principles. However, the program does not accept the strict interpretation of the stages approach advocated by Kohlberg. For example, there are many situations in life for which it is perfectly adequate and appropriate to allow our behaviour to be guided by a conventional approach to law and order, until we are given reason to challenge that attitude. In addition, the Defence Ethics Program considers that personality and character have multiple dimensions and that moral development in any one of these dimensions may vary as a result of experience and knowledge. The program has also been responsive to the arguments put forward by Gilligan, especially in avoiding a narrow definition of justice that leaves aside the notion of the obligation of care. Similarly, the program has left room for the role of empathy with one’s fellow human being in assessing what’s the right thing to do.

63. In summary, the development of the Defence Ethics Program has been consistent with the following ideas. The program must take into consideration the work done in the social sciences on moral development because decisions and actions in roles that serve the public has an effect on people. It has treated the Kohlbergian levels of moral development as descriptive categories of the way in which people make ethical judgements and that ethical behaviour is both contextually and motivationally dependent. The program considers that individuals may choose either to adopt habitual uses of the categories or to select a category according to their composite assessment of the ethical import of the issue and its related motivational factors. In addition, these choices are heavily influenced by environmental factors. It is considered that individuals must continually deal with the obligations of care and reserve a role for empathy in the performance of their functions and duties.

The Person of Integrity

64. The Defence Ethics Program is based on the belief that ethics in the public domain is not only a collective responsibility but that it must necessarily also rest with the individual. It is also based on the belief that members of the Canadian Forces and employees of the Department of National Defence are individuals who strive to be persons of integrity. What is integrity? In discussing the Statement of Defence Ethics we focused on the sense of wholeness and completeness conveyed by the term integrity. That meaning is carried over into the expression “person of integrity”. According to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, to speak of integrity in a person is to refer to “the quality of a person who can be counted upon to give precedence to moral considerations, even when there is strong inducement to let self-interest or some clement desire override them, or where betrayal of moral principle might pass undetected. To have integrity is to have unconditional and steady commitment to moral values and obligations (...).

This moral commitment becomes a crucial component in his or her sense of identity as a person: it confers a unity (integration) of character”. It is in this sense that each person in the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence is expected to be a person of integrity, a person who can be counted upon to give precedence to moral considerations even when there is strong inducement to do otherwise. Accordingly, people with integrity always form their judgements in a manner consistent with ethical principles and obligations.

65. The Defence Ethics Program is a value-based program, and not a compliance-based program, because it stands primarily on a positive belief that personnel generally want to do the right thing. Although certain behaviours must be prohibited and call for compliance measures, a value-based approach focuses on the values at work when personnel strive to act responsibly and with integrity. In that context, the purpose of promulgating the ethical principles and obligations in the Statement of Defence Ethics is to assist personnel in developing themselves as persons of integrity through the conscious and visible exercise of these principles and obligations. A primary responsibility of personnel at all levels is to be visibly ethical in practise. One way to do this is to include ethical factors in the justification provided for decisions and actions. Individuals are also responsible for promoting high standards of ethical conduct in units and work groups. This responsibility may require them to question policies and practices that do not meet the ethical standards set out in Defence Ethics Program documents. It may also require them to voice concerns about perceived unethical behaviour. Ultimately, if there is no other recourse, it may require them to report flagrant and serious ethical violations to an appropriate authority.

66. In order to be ethically responsive to their public roles, individuals require a heightened awareness of the values and principles that the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence should promote in Canada and around the world. It requires an understanding of the ethical risks and vulnerabilities that can be encountered. There is no doubt that unethical behaviour and ethically questionable behaviour, when allowed to subsist unchecked or uncorrected, corrupts the defence ethics environment and adversely affects each one of us. Finally, fostering ethical health requires a Canadian defence environment that truly encourages being ethical as a value in itself.

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