Ethical Thinking, Ethical Self: 5 Things You Need to Know

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Developing an “ethical self” is important for good citizenship and good leadership. But what does it involve? There’s more to developing and maintaining an ethical self than trying to make good choices. Making ethical choices isn’t easy, and while we’re struggling, our brains are actually working against us.

Even if we start with a clear awareness of the context and an ethical mindset, it still takes regular attention and practice to keep our ethics intentional and overcome biases. This week I’ve gathered sources and quotes that describe some of the variables involved in developing our ethical selves.

1. The Self is the Center of It’s Own Universe

“A self thinks about itself; about what others think of it; about its impact on others, about what others might say about it, about how to present itself to others.”

Robert Nozick, Harvard Philosophy Professor, in his book The Examined Life

2. Self-Esteem Doesn’t Mean Thinking We are Better Than Other People

“Vanity is thinking that you are more than another; self-esteem is thinking that you are as worthy as anyone else.”

Arthur Dobrin, Professor at Hofstra University, “Self-esteem and ethics”

3. An Ethical Self Thinks Way Beyond Itself

“The moral point of view goes beyond self-interest to a standpoint that takes everyone’s interests into account.”

Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University

4. Human Brains Are Wired For Self-Interest

“The self-serving bias causes us to see things in ways that support our best interests and our pre-existing points of view.”

Self-serving Bias Video, Ethics Unwrapped

5. We All Have the Capacity for Ethical Self, But We Have to Practice

“People have a natural capacity for good character, and it is developed through practice.”

Aristotle’s Ethics,

So while we may be really proud of ourselves and think we’re great, everyone else thinks they’re pretty great too, and they have their brains working toward their self-interests too, which certainly helps explain why it’s such a challenge to accomplish collective goals for a better future.

The best strategy for dealing with these challenges is to be intentional about ethical thinking and dialogue. Use these resources to start that journey.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership  

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