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Ethics 1, Question 1

Find and provide an appropriate definition, discuss your understanding, and provide illustrative examples for each of the following seven terms: morals, values, personal-bias, professional boundaries, confidentiality, right and wrong (100 words each minimum, not including definitions)


  • Definition: n. 3. Rules or habits of conduct, esp. of sexual conduct, in regard to standards of right and wrong: a decline in the public morals. — The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.¹

Morals are the intersection between what we and society believe to be "right." Things are "moral" if the align with this notion, "immoral" if they do not, and "amoral" if there is no value judgment placed on the choice or action. (Thompson, 8) There is a sort of agreement that must be reached, and there are various levels of intersection: there is a fuzzy area where I may feel something is moral (or at least amoral), while society may feel it is immoral. Likewise, society may feel something is moral and I may believe it is immoral. The more your values align with the values of those around you, the more consistently moral you will be: consistent with both your own internal idea of morality and the external pressures of morality placed on you by society.

Example: Polyamoury — Polyamoury, or the love of a person for more than one other person and a maintenance of meaningful relationships with those persons clearly falls into each of the categories of morality: to the persons who love in a polyamourous way, it is moral to do so and to maintain the relationship as a result of it being "right" according to their standards. To society as a whole, which values the love of individuals with other (singular) individuals through legal recognition of marriage as between two individuals, polyamoury is immoral because it is not "right" according to the standards they have set up. To someone like me, who sees intrinsic value in love and believes that the type of relationship has no influence on character or conduct, neither poly- and monamoury has real value (the value being in expression of love, rather than how it is expressed, which is neither right nor wrong), and is thus the "love style" or relationship arrangement is amoral.


  • Definition: n. 3. Worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor; utility or merit: the value of an education. 4. A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable. — The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.

Values are things that we find utility in: things that please us, make us happy, or have an importance to us. Values are often very broad (justice, happiness, peace, democracy, or education), but they can also be very focused (sexual/sensual pleasure, friendship, piety, or job-related skills): they are not always what we might think of as "great concepts."

Our values, though, affect our morals: they are founded on what we believe is right in the world (or, less often, as a reaction to what is wrong with the world), and thus form the basis for our impressions of the moral nature of the choices we make. If you value education, it is moral to remain in school, or to continue learning every day; if you value justice, it is moral to work for the Human Rights campaign; if you value a certain set of traditional Christian values, it is moral to protest at abortion clinics. Values guide us from "right" to "moral" by being the vital stepping stone to bridge the gap.

Example: Health Care Reform Town Meetings — Mary Jo values her family connection to her grandmother, who is struggling under obscene medical costs. She chooses to seek dialogue with her senator about health care reform, and so she attends a town hall meeting with Rep. Smith to have a civil conversation with him on this topic. Likewise, Russel values free-market capitalism and fears socialized medicine will destroy his medical care and end America's free-market economy. He hears about a protest at a town hall meeting with Rep. Smith where he can disrupt the meeting and show support for his side of the argument by preventing dialogue.

Mary Jo's desire for dialogue is moral for her because of her values, but immoral to Russel because his values are not adequately addressed through dialogue. Russel's disruption of the meeting is moral to him because of his values, but immoral to Mary Jo because her values cannot be represented if Russel prevents her from speaking to her Rep. In both cases, it is the value held that determines the morality of the action.


  • Definition: n. 1. inclination towards something; predisposition, partiality, prejudice, preference, predilection — The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.

Bias (or, as the term is listed, "personal-bias") is allowing something that should not influence you factor into a decision, argument, or thought process. This could be something internal or something external. It could be brought about by nearly anything: your cultural upbringing, your religious views, your life experience, or something as simple as dislike for a person. Bias tends to affect our values by giving us an irrational reason to elevate one value over another: we might be persuaded by the lyrics of Jimmy Buffett that there is greater value in lying in a hammock on Key West than working for a large corporation, or learn from our father that persons on Welfare are lazy sonofabitches who deserve their lot in life. As we make moral choices based on the values that we are biased toward or against, our morals are likely to reflect those changes.

Example: Gossip — Gossip is a particularly venomous form of introducing (and perpetrating) bias against a person: whether true or false, gossip is distinguished from rumour best, probably, by the fact that it is generally untrue, unfounded, spoken in anger, or all of the above. Like rumour, however, it is perpetrated when those who are spoken of are not present to defend themselves, which presents the gossip as undeniably true and thus logical to use in future decisions. As a result, we need to be very, very careful about how we speak of others when not in their presence, and to understand that what we speak introduces bias into others. The best way to limit it is to speak to the subject directly at the next possible opportunity.

Professional Boundaries

  • Definition: "Lines of demarcation are necessary in treatment to signal that it is, indeed, a different relationship . . . that creates 'an atmosphere of safety and predictability within which treatment can thrive' without license or rigidity." &mdash Kennedy, 80.

Professional boundaries, much like the creation of ritual space, is noted by orientation: they are set early, and a person who has a professional-style relationship with another person must be willing to talk about (and enforce) what the aim of interaction is, what the rules are, and where the boundaries are. This sets the tone for the relationship, and creates a sort of "space" in which there are acceptable actions and/or topics, and outside of which (or "beyond the edge" of which) are many things that are labeled as "inappropriate" and understood as such. The aim of creating this space and these boundaries is to ensure that both a counselor and a counseled person are aware of the rules of the interaction from the beginning, which helps prevent boundary violations down the road. (Kennedy, 80)

Example: Divination — Mitzy the diviner spends a lot of time going to her local tarot club, where friends do readings for each other to sharpen their skills with their decks. One day, John, a friend who has been attending for a while, asks Mitzy if she'd do regular readings for him to help him sort out some life issues. When she agrees, she also indicates that the relationship needs to change: when Mitzy does divination for John, it's no longer the friendly learning experience it was before, but is instead a professional relationship. Mitzy provides John with a fee structure and a clear set of expectations, including the type of relationship that will be created and what their sessions will generally look like. In return, John agrees to be open and honest with her about the issues that he wants to know more about. As such, the relationship becomes more than just friendly reading now and again, and morphs into a professional relationship with boundaries.


  • Definition: information that is shared with the implicit or explicit promise and expectation that it will not be disclosed to others.² — Anderson

Confidentiality is an agreement between two people (or a other entities, such as businesses) that the information transferred between the two entities will stay between them and will not be disclosed to any other parties, regardless of interest. There are some legal limitations on this ("privilege" is the legal protection for confidential communications). Centrally, confidentiality is based on a relationship between two people, one that is maintained through trust and work over time. Both parties are bound by confidentiality, though most often in counseling situations, the counselor is more strongly bound than the person seeking counseling (i.e. the seeker can break confidentiality, but the counselor cannot in most cases); the boundaries of the confidentiality must be set in advance, so legal limitations may be disclosed (many states have a requirement that child or elder abuse, threats against the counselor, and threats of suicide be reported to authorities).

Example: NDA Agreement — Adam and Ed work for different companies: Adam makes cogs, and Ed makes widgets. Adam approaches Ed with an idea for a partnership between the widget and the cog industries, but he doesn't want to give Ed the idea and have Ed go speak to Adam's arch-rival, Josephine, who also makes cogs. In order to prevent this, Adam draws up a non-disclosure agreement and has Ed sign it. Now there is an understanding that the information shared will stay between the two of them, though Ed may be required by state law to report Adam if the idea involves child slavery in the African country of Chad. Such provisions would also be covered by the NDA before it's signed. While not all confidentiality agreements may require signatures (most are verbal), they are all very clear about what can be shared, what cannot, and under what circumstances disclosure can occur.


  • Definition: adj. 1. Conforming with or conformable to justice, law, or morality. 2. In accordance with fact, reason, or truth; correct. 3. Fitting, proper, or appropriate. n. 1. That which is just, good legal, proper, or fitting. 6b. Something, esp. humane treatment, claimed to be due to animals by moral principle. adv. 7. According to law, morality, or justice. — The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.

Right is derived from *reg-to-, from whence we also derive the Sanskrit rta, or "truth/order of the cosmos." I tend to think of "right" as shorthand for "right with the cosmos," adding a religious spin to the word as used. Some of this can be seen in the above definition, which talks about "right" being "fitting" and "in accordance with truth." I see things as "right" when they line up with the way I perceive the way the world itself works, when they match the rules set in place by the Kindreds.

That said, this is still a very individualized thing: what is right in one person's world may not be right in another. Cosmoses differ from person to person, and particularly from religion to religion and background to background. This forms the basis for values, which then become the foundation for moral choice, and the variety of moral stances and differing values can best be traced to a fundamental understanding of how the world works and what is in line with the order of that world.

Example: Marriage Equality — Founded in the notion that love, regardless of its character, is something that is always right, that which grows out of it is also fundamentally right, regardless of its form. As a result, I think of same-sex marriage as being just as unerringly right as any other form of marriage, reflecting a cosmos that cherishes bonds of reciprocity between individuals, whether they be human or divine. The "Defense of Marriage" movement, however, sees biblical precedent for only one type of marriage: that which is between a man and a woman. As a result, this movement concludes that only one type of marriage is unerringly right with the cosmos as created.


  • Definition: adj. 2a. contrary to conscience, morality, or law; immoral or wicked. 7. Unacceptable or undesirable according to social convention. n. 1a. An unjust or injurious act. b. Something contrary to ethics or morality. — The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.

Right and wrong, being two sides of the same coin, will be similar in definition. While what is right can be construed as what is "right with the cosmos," what is "wrong" is what is "out of order" within the cosmos: things out of place or that have no place, things that are functioning incorrectly, things done in a strange order, and things that are of degraded quality are all "wrong."

"Wrong" is, more than anything, the breakdown of the cosmos in such a way as to prevent the cosmos from functioning correctly or reliably.

Example: Human Sacrifice — In the modern world, human sacrifice is portrayed as wrong, as it goes against our worldview, which indicates that the proper status for a human being is "living." It is thus wrong to sacrifice a human being, regardless of theological arguments that may be provided in favour of it, because it deprives the world of order which is dependent on the humans in that world meeting non-violent, natural deaths. Murder and accidental violent death, even of a non-religious sort, is met with great grief and anger.

When held up against societies where human sacrifice was practiced, such as Mesoamerican societies of Mayan and Aztec peoples, we tend to think of them as "wrong" in their use of this religious function, due primarily to our own cosmovision, relating to violent death. To the Mesoamerican peoples, though, human sacrifice meant so much more than simply death: it was the release of the teyolia, which powered the cosmos and ensured that the sun would continue on his route. To them, not maintaining this vital piece of cosmic regeneration would be construed as wrong. (Carrasco, 69)


¹ – The American Heritage College Dictionary includes an interesting note on synonyms that is useful to read:

moral, ethical, virtuous, righteous These adjectives mean in accord with right or good conduct. Moral applies to personal character and behavior, especially sexual conduct: "Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for these societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights" (Jimmy Carter). Ethical stresses idealistic standards of right and wrong: "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants" (Omar N. Bradley). Virtuous implies moral excellence and loftiness of character: "The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous" (Frederick Douglass). Righteous emphasizes moral uprightness; when it is applied to actions, reactions, or impulses, it often implies justifiable outrage: "He was . . . stirred by righteous wrath" (John Galsworthy).

² – The American Heritage College Dictionary has a definition of "confidence" that I need to include to ensure that this discussion is complete: n. 1. Trust or faith in a person or thing. 2. A trusting relationship. 3a. that which is confided; a secret. b. A feeling of assurance that a confidant will keep a secret. — The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.


  • The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed.
  • Anderson, Beverly. Confidentiality in Counseling: What Police Officers Need to Know. Accessed 08/12/09.
  • Carrasco, Davíd. Religions of Mesoamerica. San Francisco: HarperCollins. 1990.
  • Kennedy, Eugene and Charles, Sara. On Becoming a Counselor: A Basic Guide for Nonprofessional Counselors and Other Helpers. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Co. 2001.
  • Thompson, Mel. "Teach Yourself Ethics." Blacklick, OH: McGraw, Hill Companies, Inc., 2006.


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