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Ethics: Why Not Intellectual Integrity?


Much has been written and taught about ethics, as it is readily understood that personal ethics are the foundation of a civilized society. The basis of ethics is trust, responsibility, and tolerance based upon understanding along with a concern for the welfare of others. It usually requires the subjugation of self-interest in place of the concern for the well-being and perpetuation of the communal whole. Personal slights of principle and perceived breeches of ethical conduct have often been the basis for disputes, wars and the downfall of entire societies giving cause to the subject of ethics and intellectual integrity as being of great importance.

Courses on ethics are taught in the universities and enlightened groups promote ethics with the well-intentioned and effective effort to have some standards and principles established in our society. The term ethics appears generally to apply to an understanding of what is good and bad and a standard for what is right and wrong conduct. Religious dogma and theories, political agendas, gender biases, racial customs etc. are not generally considered as ethical issues even though they are relative. These have high impact and sensitive social controversies and differences with their deeply imbedded and structured customs, rituals, theories and ideals. Ethics usually applies to adhering to the civil, moral and even natural laws in doing the 'right thing'. In different cultures, political societies and religious movements perceptions on what is right or wrong can vary greatly. An example: in some indigenous native societies the personal ownership of possessions was not part of their concept of life. They believed they could not own things that did not belong to them in the first place, but belonged to all who required them. As a result they did not consider taking things that did not belong to themselves as an act of theft. The concept of accumulation beyond their personal needs was a foreign concept. All things belonged to all the inhabitants of the earth.

Intellectual integrity may be considered to be above and beyond ethics in that it would be incorporated into all subjects, beliefs and theories, whether economic, scientific or religious. The principle that every theory and belief should stand up to the light of logic and reason is often dismissed in order to rationalize and justify the existing theory or plan that one has rightly or wrongly committed so much time and energy to. Everything from personal egos, machismo, loss of face, emotional family ties, stubbornness, or to loss or expectation of financial gain can stand in the way of the truth. Is not logic and reason the closest we can come to truth? Is reasoning based upon cold hard logic combined with compassionate tolerance and understanding close to intellectual integrity? Should not human intellect be based upon reasoning with integrity?

We see a world of hundreds of religions and beliefs, each one maintaining they are right, often without the due consideration of subjecting the belief to the light of logic and reason. Most religions are faiths based upon a belief that a miracle has happened or is about to happen. The faith and belief in prayer with the expectancy that something may be attained through piety and devotion to a superior being, is a common concept. Faiths based upon beliefs and expectation of supernatural events, raises the question in the light of intellectual integrity: that if you can believe in one miracle or event that is beyond the realm of reason, than you can readily accept any further unsubstantiated theory. Whether the acceptance of one or more illogical theory can undermine our intellectual integrity is the primary question. If the acceptance of an illogical theory or belief that is so fundamental a principle that it affects our personal mental perspective, then, yes we may find it much easier to accept future relative illogical theories. The slippery slope theory may take effect as we may fall into an integrity breakdown freefall

For centuries the prevalent European belief and acceptance that the earth was flat permeated all relative astronomical, geographic theories etc. This is a classic example of how intellectual integrity was undermined by fear of reprisal for suggesting anything different from the limited scientific knowledge of the times. This gave rise to the willful discouragement of pursuit of exploration of the planet. Are not ignorance and the clinging to ancient myths and theories the true enemy of mankind today? Are we undermining our children's intellectual integrity with our personal beliefs and fears of venturing into unexplored areas of personal development that will affect their growth to mental maturity? The perpetuation and the expectation of the human race to have a civil society free of fear should be at the focal point of our reasoning process.

Do not many religious, scientific or political theories accept principles of ethics but on the other hand ignore many principles of intellectual integrity? Children are often taught that if they do the wrong thing that they can pay penitence or a penalty; this can become a systematic way of life that undermines self-discipline and mental integrity that often escalates, as they grow older. Penalizing and enforcing lack of ethics and integrity has become a major industry in our increasingly complex society. Granting the option to children to think that mankind is genetically inclined, or divinely created to not follow the rules of ethics and logical thinking is in itself a questionable theory that removes personal responsibility. Civility either by nature or by nurture is both quite acceptable; incivility is seen to be unacceptable for either reason. Greater emphasis on nurturing civility rather than penalizing incivility could be the objective. Intellectual integrity should be the cornerstone of our mental perspective along with basic theories of ethics that we teach the future generations can and will be the basis of any further advancement of a civilized society.