Guarding moral and ethical principles
Keeping it right when others might veer left
Sometimes Known As
Moral Custodians, Conscience Keepers, Guardians of Justice, Moral Philosopher
Ethicists are the custodians of ethical standards and moral principles within organizations and communities. They ensure that all actions and decisions are guided by principles of fairness, justice, dignity, and respect.
Jobs an Ethicist Might Hold
Education: Director of Academic Integrity
Legal: Corporate Social Responsibility Advisor
Healthcare: Hospital Ethicist
Technology: Data Ethics Officer
Construction: Ethical Sourcing Specialist
Science: Scientific Integrity Officer
Art: Art Repatriation Specialist
Ethicists are principled, fair-minded, and compassionate. They have keen insight and are excellent at judging whether something is good or bad. They are courageous and are not afraid to stand up for what is right.
Pros at guiding the world towards integrity and justice, ethicists’ skills include:
Moral Judgment: Evaluating whether something is right or wrong.
Conflict Resolution: Facilitating a peaceful ending to a dispute.
Advocacy: Representing and championing fairness and justice.
Ethical Analysis: Critically and reflectively examining different viewpoints and arguments.
Communication: Connecting through dialogue.
The Unscrupulous: Those who have no moral principles, undermining the work of ethicists.
Visionaries: Yes, it’s important to focus on what could be, but will it clash with moral principles and challenge current ethical norms?
Lightworkers: Will the spiritual focus of lightworkers conflict with the rationale and principle-based approach of ethicists?
In order for their work to make its greatest impact, ethicists must watch out for the following:
Rigidity Over Pragmatism: Ethicists working in social change could become so focused on maintaining strict adherence to specific ethical principles that they may fail to adapt to the complexities.
Moral Superiority: Ethicists may view their role as gatekeepers of morality, creating a disconnect with those they aim to help or work with, as it can come across as condescending or paternalistic.
Overemphasis on Intentions Over Outcomes: Ethicists might focus too heavily on the intentions behind actions rather than the outcomes, leading to situations where ethical processes are championed even when they result in negative consequences.
Why They Are Essential For Transformation
Ethicists provide a necessary moral compass, promoting a culture of integrity, fairness, and respect. They help to navigate ethical dilemmas, ensuring decisions align with the initiative's values and societal expectations.
Focus For The Ethicist’s Inner Work: Cognitive Flexibility
Ethicists are the guardians of moral and ethical principles in an ever-evolving society. As the world changes, so too must the frameworks by which we judge right and wrong. Thus, a primary focus for inner work among ethicists should be cognitive flexibility. This involves deliberately engaging in exercises and thought experiments that challenge existing ethical frameworks. By doing so, ethicists can ensure their perspectives remain not only relevant but also inclusive and adaptable to the dynamic nuances of our globalized world. Embracing cognitive flexibility allows them to remain steadfast in their principles while being open to understanding and integrating diverse viewpoints.
On The Ethicist’s Bookshelf
To enhance their cognitive flexibility and deepen their moral understanding, ethicists might consider the following seminal works:
Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter by Peter Singer. In a series of engaging essays, Singer presents a variety of ethical quandaries, pushing readers to rethink and possibly expand their ethical boundaries.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. This exploration of love delves into its role as an ethical and political force, challenging readers to redefine and reclaim love as the cornerstone of true justice and societal transformation.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson dives into the world of social justice, detailing the challenges and triumphs of fighting for the marginalized, and underscores the importance of perseverance and humanity in advocacy.
About the Ethicist
Ethicists explore the complexities of moral values and principles, particularly in business, law, medicine, technology, and social issues. They dissect dilemmas, craft possible solutions, and guide people and organizations toward ethical decisions. Through applying philosophical theories and reasoning, engaging in dialogues, and leveraging a deep understanding of various ethical frameworks, ethicists navigate complex moral grounds.
When deciding what's right or wrong, ethicists have a variety of philosophical frameworks they may apply, such as consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics, or care ethics. Regardless of the framework, ethicists also consider cultural and societal norms, legal standards, and the specifics of each context. They remain open to various perspectives, understanding that morality is nuanced and that what is considered ethical in one setting may not hold true in another. This process can be difficult, as it often involves balancing competing interests and diverse values while striving to find the most ethical path forward.
As we strive for innovation and progress in social change work, ethicists ensure we do not lose sight of the moral frameworks that bind us. In a complex world where different cultures and ideologies often collide, ethicists help us find common ground based on shared human values.
Ethicists in Real Life
These changemakers have contributed to the understanding and application of ethics in social change through diverse lenses, addressing various dimensions of ethics in their work on social issues, justice, education, and the impact of colonialism.
A Goenpul woman of the Quandamooka people and a distinguished professor of Indigenous Studies, Moreton-Robinson’s work focuses on Indigenous rights and the critique of postcolonial and feminist theory from an Indigenous perspective. She engages with ethics in the context of race, gender, and colonialism, highlighting the need for decolonization and social justice.
An economist and philosopher, Sen has made significant contributions to welfare economics, social choice theory, and economic and social justice. His work on poverty and famine has been influential in both academic circles and policy implementation, advocating for a more humane approach to economic development.
Although primarily known as an educator, Freire's work also intersects with ethics, particularly in his advocacy for critical pedagogy. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a seminal work in both educational theory and social ethics, arguing for education that fosters critical thinking and social consciousness.
"Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects."
― Paulo Freire
Pedagogy of the Oppressed
"It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen."
Nicomachean Ethics and Politics
“Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever our color or culture, class or creed. These are moral principles, not economic or political ones. They have to do with conscience, not wealth or power. But without them, freedom will not survive. The free market and liberal democratic state together will not save liberty, because liberty can never be built by self-interest alone. I-based societies all eventually die. Ibn Khaldun showed this in the fourteenth century, Giambattista Vico in the eighteenth, and Bertrand Russell in the twentieth. Other-based societies survive. Morality is not an option. It’s an essential.”
― Jonathan Sacks
Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times