What Is Integrity?
The word integrity is from Old French integrité innocence, blamelessness; chastity, purity, or directly from Latin integritatem (nominative integritas) “soundness, wholeness, completeness,” figuratively “purity, correctness, blamelessness,” from integer “whole”.
Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one’s self to consistent standards.
In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can stand in opposition to hypocrisy, in that judging with the standards of integrity involves regarding internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding within themselves apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs. The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.
Significant attention is given to the subject of integrity in law and the conception of law in 20th century philosophy of law and jurisprudence centering in part on the research of Ronald Dworkin as studied in his book Law’s Empire. Dworkin’s position on integrity in law reinforces the conception of justice viewed as fairness.
In ethics when discussing behavior and morality, an individual is said to possess the virtue of integrity if the individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles. These principles should uniformly adhere to sound logical axioms or postulates. One can describe a person as having ethical integrity to the extent that the individual’s actions, beliefs, methods, measures and principles all derive from a single core group of values. An individual must therefore be flexible and willing to adjust these values to maintain consistency when these values are challenged—such as when an expected test result is not congruent with all observed outcomes. Because such flexibility is a form of accountability, it is regarded as a moral responsibility as well as a virtue.
An individual’s value system provides a framework within which the individual acts in ways which are consistent and expected. Integrity can be seen as the state or condition of having such a framework, and acting congruently within the given framework.
One essential aspect of a consistent framework is its avoidance of any unwarranted (arbitrary) exceptions for a particular person or group—especially the person or group that holds the framework. In law, this principle of universal application requires that even those in positions of official power be subject to the same laws as pertain to their fellow citizens. In personal ethics, this principle requires that one should not act according to any rule that one would not wish to see universally followed. For example, one should not steal unless one would want to live in a world in which everyone was a thief. The philosopher Immanuel Kant formally described the principle of universal application in his categorical imperative.
The concept of integrity implies a wholeness, a comprehensive corpus of beliefs, often referred to as a worldview. This concept of wholeness emphasizes honesty and authenticity, requiring that one act at all times in accordance with the individual’s chosen worldview.
Ethical integrity is not synonymous with the good, as Zuckert and Zuckert show about Ted Bundy:
When caught, he defended his actions in terms of the fact-value distinction. He scoffed at those, like the professors from whom he learned the fact-value distinction, who still lived their lives as if there were truth-value to value claims. He thought they were fools and that he was one of the few who had the courage and integrity to live a consistent life in light of the truth that value judgments, including the command “Thou shalt not kill,” are merely subjective assertions.— Zuckert and Zuckert, The truth about Leo Strauss: political philosophy and American democracy
Integrity is important for politicians because they are chosen, appointed, or elected to serve society. To be able to serve, politicians are given power to make, execute, or control policy. They have the power to influence something or someone. There is, however, a risk that politicians will not use this power to serve society. Aristotle said that because rulers have power they will be tempted to use it for personal gain. It is important that politicians withstand this temptation, and that requires integrity.
In the book The Servant of the People, Muel Kaptein describes that integrity starts with that politicians should know what their position entails, because integrity is related to their position. Integrity also demands knowledge and compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the written and unwritten rules. Integrity is also acting consistently not only with what is generally accepted as moral, what others think, but primarily with what is ethical, what politicians should do based on reasonable arguments.
Furthermore, integrity is not just about why a politician acts in a certain way, but also about who the politician is. Questions about a person’s integrity cast doubt not only on their intentions but also on the source of those intentions, the person’s character. So integrity is about having the right ethical virtues that become visible in a pattern of behavior.
Important virtues of politicians are faithfulness, humility. and accountability. Furthermore, they should be authentic and a role model. Aristotle identified pride (megalopsuchia, variously translated as proper pride, greatness of soul and magnanimity) as the crown of the virtues, distinguishing it from vanity, temperance, and humility.
In the philosophy of law
Dworkin argues that moral principles that people hold dear are often wrong, even to the extent that certain crimes are acceptable if one’s principles are skewed enough. To discover and apply these principles, courts interpret the legal data (legislation, cases etc.) with a view to articulating an interpretation that best explains and justifies past legal practice. All interpretation must follow, Dworkin argues, from the notion of “law as integrity” to make sense.
Out of the idea that law is ‘interpretive’ in this way, Dworkin argues that in every situation where people’s legal rights are controversial, the best interpretation involves the right answer thesis, the thesis that there exists a right answer as a matter of law that the judge must discover. Dworkin opposes the notion that judges have a discretion in such difficult cases.
Dworkin’s model of legal principles is also connected with Hart’s notion of the Rule of Recognition. Dworkin rejects Hart’s conception of a master rule in every legal system that identifies valid laws, on the basis that this would entail that the process of identifying law must be uncontroversial, whereas (Dworkin argues) people have legal rights even in cases where the correct legal outcome is open to reasonable dispute. Dworkin moves away from positivism’s separation of law and morality, since constructive interpretation implicates moral judgments in every decision about what the law is.
The procedures known as “integrity tests” or (more confrontationally) as “honesty tests” aim to identify prospective employees who may hide perceived negative or derogatory aspects of their past, such as a criminal conviction, psychiatric treatment or drug abuse. Identifying unsuitable candidates can save the employer from problems that might otherwise arise during their term of employment. Integrity tests make certain assumptions, specifically:
- that persons who have “low integrity” report more dishonest behaviour
- that persons who have “low integrity” try to find reasons to justify such behaviour
- that persons who have “low integrity” think others more likely to commit crimes—like theft, for example. (Since people seldom sincerely declare to prospective employers their past deviance, the “integrity” testers adopted an indirect approach: letting the work-candidates talk about what they think of the deviance of other people, considered in general, as a written answer demanded by the questions of the “integrity test”.)
- that persons who have “low integrity” exhibit impulsive behaviour
- that persons who have “low integrity” tend to think that society should severely punish deviant behaviour (Specifically, “integrity tests” assume that people who have a history of deviance report within such tests that they support harsher measures applied to the deviance exhibited by other people.)
The claim that such tests can detect “fake” answers plays a crucial role in detecting people who have low integrity. Naive respondents really believe this pretense and behave accordingly, reporting some of their past deviance and their thoughts about the deviance of others, fearing that if they do not answer truthfully their untrue answers will reveal their “low integrity”. These respondents believe that the more candid they are in their answers, the higher their “integrity score” will be.
Disciplines and fields with an interest in integrity include philosophy of action, philosophy of medicine, mathematics, the mind, cognition, consciousness, materials science, structural engineering, and politics. Popular psychology identifies personal integrity, professional integrity, artistic integrity, and intellectual integrity.
For example, a scientific investigation should not determine the outcome in advance of the actual results. As an example of a breach of this principle, Public Health England, a UK Government agency, recently stated that they upheld a line of government policy in advance of the outcome of a study that they had commissioned.
The concept of integrity may also feature in business contexts beyond the issues of employee-employer honesty and ethical behavior, notably in marketing or branding contexts. The “integrity” of a brand is regarded by some as a desirable outcome for companies seeking to maintain a consistent, unambiguous position in the mind of their audience. This integrity of brand includes consistent messaging and often includes using a set of graphics standards to maintain visual integrity in marketing communications. Kaptein and Wempe have developed a theory of corporate integrity including criteria for businesses dealing with moral dilemmas.
Another use of the term, “integrity” appears in the work of Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard in their academic paper, “Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomenon of Morality, Ethics, and Legality”. In this paper the authors explore a new model of integrity as the state of being whole and complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, and in perfect condition. They posit a new model of integrity that provides access to increased performance for individuals, groups, organizations, and societies. Their model “reveals the causal link between integrity and increased performance, quality of life, and value-creation for all entities, and provides access to that causal link.” According to Muel Kaptein, integrity is not a one-dimensional concept. In his book he presents a multifaceted perspective of integrity. Integrity relates to, for example, compliance to the rules as well as to social expectations, with morality as well as ethics, and with actions as well as attitude.
Electronic signals are said to have integrity when there is no corruption of information between one domain and another, such as from a disk drive to a computer display. Such integrity is a fundamental principle of information assurance. Corrupted information is untrustworthy, yet uncorrupted information is of value.
- “integrity | Origin and meaning of integrity by Online Etymology Dictionary”. www.etymonline.com.
- Integrity: Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason. McGill-Queen’s University Press. 2010. p. 12. ISBN9780773582804. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
Integrity is a personal choice, an uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honour moral, ethical, spiritual, and artistic values and principles.
- John Louis Lucaites; Celeste Michelle Condit; Sally Caudill (1999). Contemporary rhetorical theory: a reader. Guilford Press. p. 92. ISBN1-57230-401-4.
- “integrity”. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languagew (4th ed.). El-shaddai. 2000. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
… from integer, whole, complete
- Gerald Cushing MacCallum (1993). Legislative Intent and Other Essays on Law, Politics, and Morality. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 152. ISBN978-0-299-13860-8. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
- Krishna Pillai (26 February 2011). Essence of a Manager. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 163. ISBN978-3-642-17581-7. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
- Zuckert, Catherine H.; Zuckert, Michael P. (2006). “Strauss – Modernity – America”. The truth about Leo Strauss: political philosophy and American democracy. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press. p. 73. ISBN978-0-226-99332-4.
- Aristotle (2000), Politics, translated by B. Jowett, New York: Dover.
- Kaptein, Muel (2014). “The Servant of the People: On the Power of Integrity in Politics and Government”. Social Science Research Network. SSRN2498730.
- The Nicomachean Ethics By Aristotle, James Alexander, Kerr Thomson, Hugh Tredennick, Jonathan Barnes translators. Books.google.com. 1976. ISBN9780140449495. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- van Minden (2005:206-208): […] deze ‘integriteitstests’ (dat klinkt prettiger dan eerlijkheids- of leugentests) […] [Translation: … these ‘integrity tests’ (that sounds nicer than honesty test or lies tests)]
- van Minden, Jack J.R. (2005). Alles over psychologische tests (in Dutch). Business Contact. p. 207. ISBN978-90-254-0415-4.
De schriftelijke integriteitstests zijn gemakkelijk af te nemen. Ze zijn gebaseerd op enkele aannamen, die er duidelijk in zijn terug te vinden: Minder eerlijke personen: (1)rapporteren een grotere mate van oneerlijk gedrag. (2) zijn geneigd eerder oneerlijk gedrag te verontschuldigen. (3) zijn geneigd meer excuses of redenen voor diefstal aan te voeren. (4) denken vaker over diefstal. (5) zien vaker oneerlijk gedrag als acceptabel. (6) zijn vaker implusief (7) zijn geneigd zichzelf en anderen zwaarder te straffen. [Translation: The written integrity tests are easy to perform. They are based on some assumptions, which are clearly found therein: Less honest persons: (1)They report a higher amount of dishonest behavior. (2)They are more prone to find excuses for dishonest behavior. (3)They are more prone to name excuses or reasons for theft. (4)They think often about theft. (5)They see often dishonest behavior as acceptable. (6)They are often impulsive. (7)They are prone to punish themselves and others severely.]
- Van Minden (2005:207) writes “TIP: Dit type vragenlijsten melden koelbloedig dat zij kunnen ontdekken wanneer u een misleidend antwoord geeft of de zaak bedondert. U weet langzammerhand dat geen enkele test zo’n claim waar kan maken, zelfs niet een die gespecialiseerd is in het opsporen van bedriegers.” Translated: “TIP: This sort of questions lists mention in cool blood that they are able to detect when you give a cheating answer or try to deceive the test. You are step by step learning that no test could make true such a pretense, not even one specialized in detecting cheaters.”
- Countess of Mar. “Incinerators: Health Hazards (HL3533). Written question dated 23-11-2017 and answer from Lord O’Shaughnessy dated 05-12-2017”. House of Lords. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
- Muel Kaptein and Johan Wempe, 2002 “The Balanced Company: A theory of corporate integrity” (Oxford University Press).
- See abstract of Harvard Business School NOM Research Paper NO. 06-11 and Barbados Group Working Paper NO. 06-03 at: Erhard, Werner; Michael C. Jensen; Steve Zaffron (2007). “Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics and Legality”. Social Science Research Network. SSRN920625.
Integrity exists in a positive realm devoid of normative content. Integrity is thus not about good or bad, or right or wrong, or what should or should not be. […] We assert that integrity (the condition of being whole and complete) is a necessary condition for workability, and that the resultant level of workability determines the available opportunity for performance.
- Erhard, Werner; Michael C. Jensen; Steve Zaffron (2010). “Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics, and Legality” (Abridged ed.). Social Science Research Network. SSRN1542759.
- Jensen, Michael C.; Karen Christensen (Interviewer) (January 14, 2009). “Integrity: Without it Nothing Works”. Rotman Magazine. pp. 16–20, Fall 2009. SSRN1511274.
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