Professional Integrity and Ethics

Regarding ethics, we will define it as an extension of morality that lifts the restriction of viewing a moral issue from a singular and exclusionary perspective to one in which we must consider all identifiable, or reasonable, factors when concluding if something is ethical or not.

In a more basic fashion: a moral viewpoint would be a gut reaction before a person’s rational side steps in asking such questions as “why?”; an ethical viewpoint would be a considered viewpoint that holds the moral gut reaction at bay and considers all of the contributing factors that should be considered in order to arrive at a judgement as to what is right or wrong.

We have so far talked about the rules – the ethics – that we should follow, and how to find them, when conducting ourselves as a member of a professional body. We have also introduced this new word “integrity”; a moment to focus on its definition, or the definition we will use, will be worthwhile. Are you a person of integrity? Consider it, what does this word mean? It is a word we often use, often correctly, but when it comes to actually explaining it, it is a word, like morals and ethics, that raises much debate as to a universally agreed definition especially when considered alongside morals and ethics. Integrity is used to describe people, databases, buildings and so on. Consider a database. A database that has integrity is one in which, as an example, referential integrity has been applied to and is therefore known to be correct in regard to the referential aspect of the records that are related between tables within the database, thus, it could be said that a database that shows integrity is one which shows consistency. If we consider a building we find that the use of integrity in relation to a building implies that the building has strength and is stable. If we consider the words we have used to clarify integrity in relation to a database and buildings then we can say of people that integrity might manifest itself in decisions by people (professionals) that are consistent, strong and stable. A person of integrity, therefore, could easily be described as consistent, strong (definite, clear, resolute) and stable (standing up to scrutiny, balanced, reasoned, ethical) in regard to any course of action(s) that they may decide upon, often choosing a course of action that they deem right irrespective of whether it is the easy route or not and regardless of whether the route chosen makes their life easier or harder.

Given that we have codes of conduct/ethics and so on why is integrity such an important consideration? It would be impossible for codes of conduct/ethics to possibly codify and cover every scenario or, importantly, to actively police and oversee every interaction that a professional engages within, thus, integrity is the ‘mortar’ that fills the gaps between the bricks of the codes of conduct/ethics. It is the integrity of the professional that society, employers and PB’s rely upon to take the codes and apply them fairly, consistently and with resolve to their day to day profession.

Next: Duty of Computing Practitioners