Moral leadership? 2

Or ethical leadership? What is in the perception? To some “morality” and “ethics” are interchangeable. We are placing an emphasis upon developing our students as _______ leaders with the blank space being usually “ethical” but why not “moral”? What do you all think, is there a difference? Do you prefer “moral leadership” as a term or “ethical leadership”?

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2 thoughts on “Moral leadership?

  • Alex Lampros

    This is a really tough question to answer. I think that a key obstacle here is formulating a consistent definition of the two terms. Some might take ethics to be a set of values or principles held by a social network or an individual. Others might take ethics to mean the critical enterprise of weighing one set of beliefs against others. Some even maintains that there is no difference, and that ethics is perfectly synonymous with moral philosophy (Mackinnon, unpublished manuscript).

    I am inclined to offer a Kantian perspective to the question (obviously many other perspectives can and should be offered as well). For Kant, ethics deals with the laws of free moral action. It should be noted that Kant uses freedom here in a technical sense. Morality is when reason determines the will – that is, when rational agents set their own laws according to their own reason and not external inclination. For Kant, this autonomy of self-determination is freedom. To be determined by something other than yourself (read: an inclination) is to be determined and not free; but, for your action to be determined by your own reason a priori, is to be self-determinate or free.

    Ethics, then, seems like the laws that result from the moral action of self-determination. If we can agree on this, I hands down favor “moral” leaders to “ethical” leaders. It is the practice of morality that gives rise to ethical laws; an “ethical” leader would seem to indicate one who obeys the laws of free moral actions, whereas a “moral” leader would be one who uses their own reason to create their own moral laws (which, according to the categorical imperative, are universal and apply to every rational agent) for others to follow as well.

    Keep it real,

  • Looney

    Sorry for getting onto the wrong side of the phrase, but it seems you need to begin with leadership. There is one kind of leadership that involves developing ideas, coming up with a vision, and then convincing others who may or may not be your subordinates that this is a good direction to take. If someone is good at the above, then leadership is part of his character.

    This is largely being displaced in our society by a bureaucratic leadership where people are given authority when the reach a given age, status or credential level. Whether they have leadership ability or not is being increasingly constrained by regulations (“no child left behind”?) to the point where even if they had leadership ability, it is hard to say that they would have any room to exercise it and that anyone would actually notice. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the role of leadership in our society.

    As the terms moral and ethical are modifiers on the term leadership, it would be appropriate to define the term leadership first, and hopefully the definition would be realistic, rather than idealistic.