Codes of Conduct and Ethical Standards

If we use an online search engine and search for “BCS code of conduct” or IEEE code of conduct” or “GYCS code of conduct” we will immediately find the “codes” (rules) that they define that their members are expected to adhere to. BCS has a Code of Conduct document; IEEE does not have a Code of Conduct document but instead has a Code of Ethics; GTCS has a “Code of Professionalism and Conduct” document; the variations in naming are unimportant as they are all describing the same things and that is the rules of membership.

Given that words such as “moral” and “ethics” have now come up a few times in this text, and while we don’t want to depart from the overall topic at hand, it seems reasonable, and necessary, to explain and define a workable explanation of the definitions of and differences between these words.

It must be understood though that exploring the meanings and distinctions of these words could easily fill hundreds, and even thousands, of pages (and has, many times over) and has occupied the thoughts and efforts of many over millennia thus the definitions offered here – at best simplifications – should be taken as only one point of view, the point of view of this document, and not necessarily as absolute definitions that would be universally agreed with. The definitions offered though should be sufficient to move us in the right direction.

The words moral and ethical are often used interchangeably in common exchanges today; however, we are going to take the position that they are not interchangeable and, thus, imply really quite different positions and so if we examine one particular example we will see that there is some difference. While there is not a direct need to explore a definition of “morals” by providing one, we will be better able to understand “ethics” which we are to be concerned with.

Consider the penalty that should befall an individual that has killed another human: should the killer forfeit their life as compensation for their act? Stop for a moment – what is, or was, your gut-reaction? If considered from a moral perspective, that is, from an isolated point of view that singularly considers the question of whether the price of taking another’s life should be the forfeiture of the taker’s life then we suggest that it seems possible to conclude that morally it in fact does seem right that the killer should also lose their life.

Now, if we consider this same scenario from an ethical, rather than a moral, perspective things start to become more complicated. For example, by introducing an ethical perspective we must now consider other aspects – some examples being: the killer’s mental state, was provocation a factor, was killing intentional or premeditated – beyond the simple act of having killed; with this in mind we could conclude that, while it might be moral for the killer’s life to be extinguished, it could be ethically wrong that this happen.

Consider: if it was discovered that the individual that lost their life was killed due to the fact that they had predetermined to kill, and accordingly attacked, the individual that was ultimately the killer, but had failed due to the killer having defended their self at the cost, in an unpremeditated and accidental manner, of the victim’s (aggressor’s) life, then, again, we suggest, that the original moral perspective, when scrutinised in context, that is, ethically, that the killer (defender) should lose their life becomes highly debatable and, thus, arguably unethical.

So, for the sake of clarity here we will define morality as the evaluation of something as being right or wrong when it is evaluated in an isolated form with no consideration given to other potential factors – with this definition we can view morality as a theoretical point of view devoid of any context.

Next: Relevant Codes of Conduct