What Were They Thinking? Why Smart People Make Foolish Ethical Choices | Inside Higher Ed
Every time there is a new ethics scandal, whether in a university or some other setting (such as in government or the corporate world), observers wonder how those involved could have been so stupid. Could they really have done the things of which they are accused? If so, what were they thinking? In fact, there are three precipitating factors for ethics scandals that practically guarantee that they will not be going away anytime soon. The three factors are foolishness, the complexity of ethical reasoning, and ethical drift, which I discuss in turn...
The second factor promoting ethics scandals is the rather complex set of processes involved in ethical reasoning. We are brought up to believe that ethical reasoning is quite simple: Just do the right thing. I have, myself, said, “Do the right thing” to the people working with me — first as a scientist, and now as a university administrator. But doing the right thing is harder than it appears.
In an article I wrote in Liberal Education, I argued that ethical reasoning actually requires eight steps. Unless you complete them all, you most likely will not act in an ethical manner. In other words, acting ethically is much more complex than it first appears.