Moral and Ethical Leadership of Philosophy Professors beyond the Classroom (PART I)

Dr. Romulo G. Bautista
Ethical Development Strategies Phil Inc

Subtle Distinction between “Moral” & “Ethical””

What is “moral” is always “ethical”, but what is “ethical” is not necessarily “moral”. “Moral” and “ethical” are similar in that both have to do with the difference between right and wrong. But they are also dissimilar in that “ethical” tends to refer to a system, theory, or code of judging rightness or wrongness; whereas “moral” tends to refer to more concrete choices and issues that arouse strong feelings. We might say that “ethical” refers to right and wrong”, while “moral” refers to good and evil. Thus, for example, the behavior of a professor who plagiarizes a writing of another professor without acknowledging the latter as the original author is unethical because it violates the code of ethics against plagiarism; but a military official who orders the mass killing of innocent people, such as the so-called Maguindanao massacre, would be called immoral because it violate morality.

“Moral” is further differentiated from “ethical” in having developed strong association with sex and reproduction among ordinary people. Ordinary people who are invited to name a moral problem are more likely to mention abortion than unemployment or nuclear weapons. Contraception, surrogate motherhood, prostitution, and genetic engineering (cloning) are said to pose moral problem, above all for ordinary people who think about them. For scientists and medical personnel, however, they pose ethical problem as well, for these people have implied or explicit codes of professional ethics.

A work of art that champions good against evil is a moral work of art, not an ethical one. A medicine or drug that requires prescription is an ethical drug, by contrast to one sold over the counter. This use of “ethical” may be related to its use in describing systems of professional ethics.

Given the subtle distinction between “moral” and “ethical”, a philosophy professor might be an effective ethical leader beyond the classroom, but he might not be as effective as a moral leader. Ideally, he ought to be a role model of ethical as well as moral leadership in the classroom and beyond.

Ethics is not monolithic

To be an ethical and moral leader in the classroom and beyond might be easier said than done, simply because there is no established single universal ethical standard, code, system, or theory to guide his pursuit of ethical and moral leadership.

Ethics, also known as Moral Philosophy, has no monolithic theory and structure. In the history of Western Ethics, the two greatest moralists are Plato with his idealism, and Aristotle with his naturalism. Subsequent Western moralists have accepted or rejected or modified their ethical ideas. Thus, there is no established and unquestioned ethical work. Rather Ethics is an on-going activity – and one which often raises more questions than it answers. Now, Social Ethics is a particular field of moral philosophy. The on-going impeachment against Renato Corona, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court involves controversial ethical issues in the field of Social Ethics.

The Contemporary Filipino Ethics is basically and traditionally a Filipino mode of Western Ethics, which the Spanish colonizers and missionaries brought to the country in1521. Religion and morality are intertwined, and with the advent of Philippine Independence, such intertwine has been integrated into the Philippine Constitution and its legal system.

Three Major Categories of Western Ethics

Religious Ethics is essentially a heteronomy (that is, rules coming outside o itself) wherein morality depends directly upon religious belief, or upon a set of values given by religion. As soon as you try to define moral terms (such as ‘goodness’) you use language which has been shaped by prevailing religion. Natural law, for instance, may have come originally from Aristotle, but today it is understood largely thru the use made by St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church. The Ten Commandments revealed by God to Moses in Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) constitute the basic ethical codes of the three major Western Religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Neither Western Religion nor Eastern Religion is monolithic. There is not a single universal religion for all people around the world. Both the theistic and the atheistic religion presuppose the existence of God; both believe that there is God. While there is a universal “belief in the existence” of God there is no universal ‘belief about the essence” of God.. There is a difference between a person’s “belief in the existence of God” (commitment to God) and his “belief about the essence of God”. The subtle distinction between ‘belief in God” and “belief about God” is aptly illustrated by the Catholic Church’s Articles of Faith (which go in part state: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty” . . . “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Begotten Son”). These Articles of Faith are not universally accepted even among the theistic believers. The fundamental difference among religions is due to their different beliefs about God’s essence.

There are three major religions in the West – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are monotheistic religions - believers in the existence of one God; nevertheless they have opposing beliefs about the essence of one God. For Islam and Judaism, the essence of God is Unity – there is only one person in one God; but for Christianity, the essence of God is Trinity – there are three persons in one God. But even within Christianity, there is a division in the belief about the essence of Christ, for instance between an Iglesia ni Cristo believer and a Catholic believer.

Secular Ethics is essentially autonomous, that is morality is based on reason alone without any reference to religious ideas. If its values are the same as a particular religion, that is seen as purely as coincidental. Morality is freedom of choice and responsibility. Responsible moral choice depends on freedom and the ability to choose rationally. Different religions (or different sects within a single religion, such as the different sects within Christianity) often take different approaches to moral issues. There is no clear guidance. In order to choose between conflicting views, person has to use his or her reason as the ultimate factor – which is autonomy.

The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle (in honor of his son illegitimate Nicomachus) is an example of autonomy. He said that “every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and every pursuit, is thought to aim to some good”. He warmed his readers not to expect more precision in a discussion of ethics than “the subject matter will admit”. But he added, that just because this subject is susceptible of “variations and errors”, it does not mean that ideas of right and wrong “exist conventionally and not in the nature of things”. With this in mind, he set out to discover the basis of morality in the structure of human nature. H e never had any reference to any religion or any religious ideas. But his theory eventually acquired a religious character when it was “Christianized” by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Western Secular Ethics may be categorized into Natural Law Ethics, Utilitarian Ethics, and Duty Ethics.

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