Can Ethics Be Taught?

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What are ethics?

Ethics are the set beliefs and values of an individual which they apply to circumstances relating to morality. To act in an ‘ethical’ manner, an individual must display integrity by doing what they believe to be right.

When working within any professional body, an individual will be subjected to circumstances in which personal ethics will come into play. The Accounting profession is no different as ethical questions arise as part of any working day and can effect how an individual or the company conducts business. These questions can vary greatly in practice from selection of new customers to the rates at which those clients are going to be charged. These ethical questions are raised regularly within the workplace and each employee will react to them differently. The varying reactions will depend on the morality of each individual, or each employees own ‘ethics’. As each employee has their own set of values companies must be alert to the fact that some of their employees may have more ‘flexible’ morals than others. This ‘flexible’ morality can lead to corruption and manipulation within the workplace and can give companies serious problems. As a result of this, all of the main professional accounting bodies have begun to re-introduce mandatory courses teaching ethics to their employees. As well as this, ‘A Guide to professional ethics’ was published which contains a number of different principles in order to govern the behaviour of accountants and also to identify and reduce the greatest areas of risk with respect to unethical behaviour.

How does a person form their set of morals?

Ethical programming had been left out of the Professional Accounting syllabus due to the argument of whether or not ethics can be taught. Each individual creates his or her own morals in a unique and greatly differing way based on personal experiences and understanding. One of the main inputs on creating personal values is based on that of the family. As a child grows, a general understanding of right and wrong is created which then develops as the child grows older. These basic concepts often start at a family level and will vary depending of the values of the responsible adult in charge, or lack thereof. General family life creates a lot of circumstances which affect morality and this is why ethics vary greatly within the population.

This means that a child who has a family member or someone close to them who is involved in criminal or illegal behaviour can form a lower set of personal values because this is what they have grown up around. The same can be said about religion with respect to morality. A large focus of any religious body is to differentiate between good and evil (or right and wrong), as well as instilling a sense of integrity and morality. It has been argues that the dramatic increases in crime and intolerance is a direct result of the huge decreases in people practising religion (1). Religion teaches followers to base their actions on positive and productive actions; therefore many religious followers claim to have a far superior ethical standpoint (and ‘understating of personal ethics’ (1)). Although this point is generally well accepted, the morality of certain aspects of religion can be criticised. Not all religions agree on general teaching and therefore children raised under different religions can also have a varied stance on morality. Religion is also not above morality scandals as seen by the recent allegations with respects to catholic priests. Therefore each individual develops their own personal sense of ethical values from the life they have led and due to everyone having different life experiences no one person will have the same set of morals and values.

Would implementing mandatory ethics courses be a success?

It can be seen form the above arguments that morality and ethics are created at a very young age. It can therefore be argued that any courses teaching morality would have...
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