The Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics, AAPAE, has brought out a new book on applied ethics. The book draws on the wide range of skills and knowledge within the Association on building ethical capabilities. Coverage of the ethical issues encountered across many different types of organisations and professions ensures that it is significantly more practical than any book on ethics currently on the market. Among the thirteen disciplines that are examined are medicine, engineering, business, nursing, the sciences, even veterinary ethics and animal welfare. Each chapter has been researched and written by a specialist in the ethical issues of that discipline, providing in total an unparalleled cumulative learning experience across the ethical concerns of our society.
Overarching the thirteen disciplines are examinations of five key issues in ethical behaviour – common issues across all aspects of moral practice within society. Their adoption is necessary if our social and business institutions are to behave more ethically. First and perhaps foremost is distinguishing between right and wrong – a capability that is sometimes submerged beneath our tendency to go with the majority, or to place our own needs or desires first. It is a tendency that is not assisted by the multitude of often conflicting theories on moral behaviour that have emerged over the centuries. Two chapters, presented by well-recognised thinkers in the Association, provide methodologies that are widely applicable, of ready benefit to, and usable by people with little or no knowledge of moral theory.
Second, codes of ethics are often regarded as public relations documents, designed by management to present a sound ethical image of the organisation. They are regarded by staff, and often by the public, as window dressing. The chapter on ethical codes draws on empirical analyses to document approaches for ensuring that codes are effective. Foremost among these approaches is ownership – the identification by staff of the actual ethical issues they face, and the development and management of their own responses.
Third, extensive research tells us that blowing the whistle is the most effective way to stop wrong doing. But speaking out is not without difficulty, creating above all huge problems for the whistleblower, but also for the institution, and sometimes for the administrators who have to sort out the result. The chapter on whistleblowing examines and identifies policies and practices that make the process effective. It also provides guidelines for whistleblowers where effective protection legislation and practices have not yet been adopted.
Fourth, the corporate meltdowns of the previous decade and the dubious ethical behaviours behind the recent Global Financial Crisis have generated a near universal desire to introduce policies, institutions and legislation that strengthen ethical practices in the public and private sectors. The increase in these agencies and practices has been described as exponential. This institutionalising of ethical behaviour is recent, and has been subject to little research. The chapter on such institutionalisation examines what has taken place so far, reaching the conclusion that these processes show strong potential for strengthening ethical behaviour.
Fifth, one aspect of the increased emphasis on ethical behaviour is a stronger provision of ethics teaching in our schools, colleges and universities, and on ethics consulting and training in the work force. As the chapters of the AAPAE book demonstrate, this training necessarily must be undertaken by people with knowledge of the relevant ethical concerns in the discipline or organisation. It needs also to encompass the many issues raised in the book. They are both tasks that are wider than most discipline-based training or educational programs in moral philosophy. The chapter on ethics teaching and training examines the possible approaches that can be adopted.
Peter Bowden (ed.) 2012 Applied Ethics: Strengthening Ethical Practices (Prahran: Tilde University Press.