Friday, May 17, 2013

Ethics as a Sign of Intelligence

What does intelligence have to do with ethics and moral reasoning? Ethics can be seen as a value system that governs the actions of both an individual and a group. Through the use of such ethical systems a level of commonality and trust is formed that encourages stronger business associations and efficient economic interactivity. However, why some are more ethically driven than others depends in part on their cognitive and social intelligence abilities. Such abilities start very young in a person’s life and are influenced by the environment. Ethical development is a concept of nature and nurture as superior to situations where nature versus nurture takes precedence. 

Moral reasoning is closely associated with the development of intelligence and emotional sensibilities. It is believed that …”individuals with extraordinary developed intelligence and creativity are the most valuable gift that humankind has…” Kholodnaya, 2007). The more capable a person is to reflect on their behavior and its consequences the more likely they will be able to choose alternative courses of actions. 

These intelligences are seen early in life based upon a person’s sensitivity, motivation, and character (Tirri, 2011). In order for such moral reasoning to work in an optimal manner the environment must reward and encourage such behaviors. Thus, environment and reasoning are two different sides of the same coin. It is not enough to reason and understand the solutions to moral problems if the environment is hostile to the concept of greater responsibility. 

It is often this environment that either strengthens or diminishes such behavior. This is why it is important for education, colleges, legislation and leadership figures to encourage ethical behavior from the very beginning. There are differences in the ability to understand and act upon such issues. When the environment is hostile to basic ethical values the social structure and expectations discourage appropriate behaviors making them less common in the population. 

Social problems are not easy to define and can be quite difficult for some to understand. Developed people have more ability to use social intelligence, find definitions to problems, planning social strategies, and anticipating social consequences (Lopez, 2007). This is often based in their cognitive and emotional advancements from childhood that encourages the ability to analyze the subtle nature of many of these events and factors.

An ethical model as proposed by Steinberg (2009) helps to formulate how ethics works both within an organization and society at large. It is through these ethics that people contribute to the general functioning and efficiency of society by ensuring that rules apply the same across different spectrums of social structure. 

(1) recognize that there is an event to which to react;
(2) define the event as having an ethical dimension;
(3) decide that the ethical dimension is of sufficient significance to merit an
ethics-guided response;
 (4) take responsibility for generating an ethical solution to the problem;
(5) figure out what abstract ethical rule(s) might apply to the problem;
(6) decide how these abstract ethical rules actually apply to the problem to suggest
a concrete solution;
(7) enact the ethical solution, meanwhile possibly counteracting contextual forces
that might lead one not to act in an ethical manner;
(8) acting upon the situation.

Before one can act they must perceive that there is an event occurring. This can be difficult if one’s perceptions are focused narrowly and tightly on one’s current happenings and needs. The more open-minded a person is the more likely they are able to notice, contemplate, and take actions on such events. A narrow-minded filter is going to leave one so heavily focused on their own needs that a wider responsibility doesn't come into one’s conscious.

This blocking of moral thinking is a result of an arrogance in oneself that does not allow a person to empathize or understand the impact of their behavior on others. Ethical disengagement is a result of removing oneself from ethical responsibilities that are the result of a number of fallacies. These fallacies come from unrealistic optimism, egocentrism, false omniscience (never learning from one’s mistakes), false omnipotence, false invulnerability (Sternberg, 2008). 

Cultures that encourage winning at all costs may also encourage their collective loss. It is important to put this competitive need into the framework of personal and collective advancement. Ethics helps one see how choices impact people beyond themselves and create expectations within the environment. When the damage and stakes become large enough ethical choices should kick in as the most logical (i.e. moral reasoning). When moral reasoning is ignored events such as Enron, the saving and loan scandals that led to the Great Depression, and the athletic doping incident become too commonplace.

Therefore, an ethical event must also be of significance to encourage a person to respond to it appropriately. A small or insignificant event is unlikely to create much of an ethical or moral dilemma. It must be worth someone taking on the effort to find a solution to the problem by analyzing possibilities. In other words, it must be big enough to grab your attention. The more complex the problem, the more avenues of analysis are needed before conclusions can be drawn. It takes a level of motivation to pull all of this off.

To have a solution doesn't necessary do any good without some action. These abstract solutions are often narrowed to concrete solutions which are then viewed in terms of the counteracting contextual forces to determine the risks involved. Once the risks, solution, and nature of the problem are solidified an act can be forthcoming that puts the solution into motion. The success of that solution depends on the ability to move through the communication patterns and cognitive processes of stakeholders. 

Intelligence, sensibilities, and the environment all work together to encourage ethical actions. Even though each person has the ability to morally reason it is those with the highest intellectual abilities that can reflect on the possible outcomes and impact of their behaviors.  Those who cannot reason beyond themselves, have little motivation beyond their own needs, and are incapable of considering the consequences of their behavior are likely to be either indifferent to ethical violations within the workplace or the perpetrators and promoters of such behaviors.

Kholodnaya, M. (2007). The psychology of intelligence. Moscow: IPRAN Press.

Lopez, V. (2007). La inteligencia social: aportes desde su studio en ninos y adolescents con atlas capacidades congnitivas. Psykhe, 16 (2). 

Sternberg, R.J. (2008). The WICS approach to leadership: Stories of leadership and the structures and processes that support them. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(3), 360–371.

Sternberg, R. (2009).Ethics and giftedness. High Ability Studies, 20 (2). 

Tirri, K. (2009). Combining excellence and ethics: implications for moral education for the gifted. Roeper Review, 33 (1).

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