About St James Ethics Centre
Established in 1989, St James Ethics Centre is an
independent not-for-profit organisation providing a non-judgemental
forum for the promotion, exploration and application of ethics. The
relief of suffering and distress is the cornerstone of St James
Ethics Centre activities. Operating both in Australia and abroad,
the Ethics Centre is unique for the application of ethical
principles to specific issues in companies, public institutions and
not-for-profits, the creation and management of public debates and
support to the general community on ethical issues.
What is ethics?
Ethics is about answering Socrate's
question "What ought one do?"
This is a practical question: it's not
simply about deciding what to think; it's about deciding how to
act. And it's a far reaching question, a question which confronts
us in all aspects of our personal and our work lives.
It can be a difficult question to answer.
Most of us think we ought to tell the truth; and also that we ought
to avoid causing harm. What ought I do then, when to tell the truth
will cause harm? Ethics will often require us to reflect and talk
with others about ways to try to balance different values,
principles and interests.
The 'ethical landscape' is painted in
shades of grey and not black and white. Sometimes our range of
choice is reduced to picking the least bad alternative. Sometimes
we may have nothing more than a well-informed conscience to guide
us through the maze of ethical decision making.
Why ethics matters?
- When your employer is under pressure to risk your safety in
order to finish the job on time, does it matter that management
recognise an ethical obligation that transcends the need to make a
- When scientists begin working on genetically modified
organisms, should they operate within the boundaries of an
established ethical framework?
- When law enforcement officers seek new powers to combat
terrorism or organised crime, is it important they strike a proper
balance between the need for security and your right to enjoy your
- When you wait in a queue for medical services, should the
medical staff apply an ethical basis when allocating scarce
- When your child's school community is traumatised by the
suicide of a favourite teacher, does it matter to you that the
governing body be able to reconcile its duty to the living with
that owed to the dead?
Why is ethics important? Why does it
matter if we neglect to ask what one ought do; or if we try to
answer that question in an unthinking way; if we do things simply
"because everyone does it" or because "that's just the way we do
things around here".
When we don't ask what one ought to do,
there can be negative consequences. Some examples are corporate
scandals and failures, the global financial crisis and the risks of
making poor decisions around issues like carbon emissions,
immigration, natural resources and health.
Equally, good things can result when there
is a habit of asking the ethical question. Organisations flourish
that have a strong shared purpose and framework of values and
principles, which helps their people to consistently make good
decisions in the interests of the organisation and its
And finally, we are social creatures. We
also naturally give and ask reasons for what we do. In these ways
ethics is part of living a fully human life.
Some ethical dilemmas
- As an accountant in a large practice should you make a small
accounts adjustment agreed by your boss or refuse at the risk of
losing your job?
- You picked up a great job straight out of uni. Now you're being
asked to fudge false invoices for tax purposes. What do you
- A very bright student has plagiarised a piece of work and
confesses to this 'one-off' incident, due to overwhelming pressure
of work and family circumstances. As his academic supervisor should
you report him?
- I came up with a business idea on work time and using company
equipment. Is it right to use it for myself?
- As an employer should you report a small breach of probation by
a good new recruit or give him another chance?
- Your company's website shows old performance figures that make
it look good. Do you mention it?
- One of my clients has close dealings with a tobacco
company-does that change anything?
- Should you support your friend and colleague in her sexual
harassment charge against your employer?
- In the interview should I tell a prospective employer that I'll
soon be off for two months due to a knee operation?
Some useful resources
These materials may help in your approach to the 2012 Student
Challenge. Good Luck!
links by profession, field or subject area