Ethics for Public Administration

Ethics for Public Administration


Chapters One and 2












 Public Administrators:

Are not neutral

Exercise discretion

Participate in the public policy process

Make policy recommendations

Engage in policy implementation








Your Text

The Responsible Administrator: An approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role

Conceptual Focus:

The role of the public administrator in an organizational setting

Integrating Ethical Concept:


Central Ethical Process:

Comprehensive design approach








“The attempt to state and evaluate principles by which ethical problems may be solved.”

“normative standards of conduct derived from the philosophical and religious traditions of society.”

“concerned with what is right, fair, just, or good; about what we ought to do.”








Text: study of moral conduct and moral status

Morality assumes accepted norms of behavior

Ethics involves the examination of the logic, values, beliefs, and principles that are used to justify morality in its various forms.

Descriptive or normative

Deontological (principle based) or teleological (consequences based)

Law “must always stand under the judgment of ethics” Cooper







Responsibility and Role


Objective accountability for conduct

Subjective congruence with one’s professional values

Ethical Responsibility

Able to give reasons for one’s conduct

Able to understand in a self-conscious way why one acted







A Design Approach

Addresses immediate situation but takes into account legal, organizational, and social context for longer term impact.

A problem-solving approach

Uncertainties abound

Solutions rely on facts, not just options

Reality of acting under pressure

Ethical problems are dynamic









Understanding Ethical Decision Making

Character traits: built from decisions made as we define boundaries/content of responsibility


This is often done without consistent, intentional, and systematic reflection

Reflective ethics: design the best course of action

for specific problems we face

given constraints of time and information







Aiken’s 4 Levels of Ethical Reflection

Expressive Level

what feels like the right thing?

Moral Rules Level

what rule should I follow?

Ethical Analysis Level

what are the principles involved?

Postethical level

why should I be principled?







Ethical analysis: principles underlying choices Exercise re tobacco, etc.



Which is best?


Emotion is only one aspect

Moral Rules

Merely reflects socialization

ETHICAL –proceed with reasoned justification

Easier for others to understand


So personal consensus could be difficult









Descriptive Models: what is

Early on, feeling of futility

Blasi (1980)—impossible to close gap between moral judgment and moral behavior

Later research shows interaction of the two:

Cognitive process

Wittmer (2005) “awareness….judgment…behavior.”

Rest (1984, 1986) –interpretation of situation, judgment of the situation, selection of options, action

Environmental press

Trevino (1986)—person-situation interaction








Cooper’s Model







Prescriptive Models: what should be

Simply following someone else’s past history may not fit my environment

Simply prescribing is not enough

Problem-solving is required

Description and prescription are combined

Template needed for designing best solution

Contingency is important

May need to alter course (dynamic)







The Descriptive Task

Sift through judgmental reports of issue

Balance the “hierarchy of credibility”(Becker 1973)

Avoid good-guys/bad-guys language

Facts include key actors, viewpoints, issues, event sequence, risks, what we don’t know.








Define the Ethical Issues

They will appear when conflict, uncertainty, tension, risk exist

Issue = competing or conflicting

Many administrators can identify issues, but not principles underlying them.








Identifying Alternative Courses of Action

Be wary of either/or options.

Be willing to SCAMPER (McDonald’s)

S = Substitute (real estate for hamburgers)

C = Combine (meals with lodging for parents)

A = Adapt (Latte, yogurt)

M = Magnify (expand to other countries)

P = Put to Other Uses (raise $ for charity)

E = Eliminate (or Minify) (waiters)

R = Rearrange (or Reverse) (payment)








Finding a Fit

An alternative that balances principle with consequences

The test of publicity

Satisfaction with the alternative







Anticipatory Self-Appraisal

Look into the future and anticipate how we will feel about ourselves

Does it match or violate our principles?

What will we feel

Guilt, remorse, and self-reproach

Pride and approval from others







Project Probable Consequences

Instead of usual black-and-white simple melodrama, imagine epic alternatives with consequences.

The more alternatives (with consequences) the better, especially with complex issues.

Consequences may be outweighed by principles.







All steps every time?

Systematically develop intuitive models that create “smooth, automatic performance of learned behavior sequences.” (Cleveland, 1972)

Requires discipline and practice

Creates autonomy and choice

REWARDS: Self-awareness, self-control, and flexibility of decision-making








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