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This paper attempts to assist in giving a clear view of what ethics can be and how they are apply to the criminal justice field. I often hear discussions about, what is to make a moral judgment, or argue about an ethical issue, or to live according to ethical standards? Ethics can be a controversial subject because of the relevance of it in our daily life and the application of such in our professions. What are our personal responsibilities and why should we bother acting in accordance with moral principals? Therefore, in order to value ethics and morality we must understand the concept. Often, the belief in human superiority is a very fundamental one, and it underlies our belief in many sensitive areas. Ethic is not something logical only in the context of religion and sometimes should treat ethics as entirely independent of religion. “Some theist say that ethics cannot do without religion because the very meaning of ‘good’ is nothing other than ‘what God approves’. Plato refuted a similar claim more than two thousand years ago by arguing that if gods approve of some actions it must be because those actions are good, in which case it cannot be gods’ approval that makes them good”. (Peter Singer, 1993 p.3)
The Meaning of Ethics
When applying ethics in the criminal justice field, we (the general public) expect every criminal justice professional to be faithful to the ethical standards; and to apply justice in a reasonable manner. Therefore, forcing the criminal justice professionals to live and work in an environment in which moral ambiguity is the norm. However, the question remains, what are ethics and moral standards?
“Ethic is the study of what should be done. The terms ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ are often used interchangeably. The word ethics comes from the Greek ethickos- meaning an ethos, habits, pattern of behavior or prevailing attitude. The word morality is derived from the Latin morales- meaning custom, conventions or social norms. Unfortunately, these derivations are a little misleading, because ethics and morality have come to mean much more than a description of behavior, custom or current practice”. (Ian Kerridge, Michael Lowe, John McPhee, 2005 p.1)
The field of ethics can be broken down into various sub-classes. “One major division is into meta-ethics, normative ethics and practical ethics. Metha-ethic is concerned with moral claims and the meaning of terms such as ‘right’, ‘good’, ‘virtue’ and ‘justice’. One of the goals of meta-ethics is to examine the general characteristics of an ethical system. Normative ethics attempt to develop moral frameworks (principles, rules, theories, and guidelines) to guide our actions and evaluate our behavior. Practical ethics refers to the implication arising from ethics in the specific contexts. For example, ‘Bioethics’ may be understood as one type of practical ethics, as it refers to ethics applied to anything in the biological sciences”. (Ian Kerridge, Michael Lowe, John McPhee, 2005 p.1)
“Ethical standards are expressions of consensual moral attitudes and conventions developed in particular religious/spiritual, social, and cultural context. Ethical issues are becoming increasingly important in a world characterized by divisions-political, economic, religious, ethnic, gender and cultural. As a result of such division and, thus, the multiplicity of sociocultural influences on decision makers, it is no longer always obvious what is “good” or “right” behavior in many public and private situations.” (Devenish & Dowson, 2010 p. 87).
In the criminal justice field, as well as other professions, the nature of professional ethics “are an expression that a multitutude of possible meaning, and it is frequently used to signify rules governing professional and profession. The standards of conduct for professions are organized around the way in which a profession carries out its work. Setting ethical standards is one way in which professions seek to persuade the public to entrust their affairs and confidence to members of the profession”. (Banks, 2009 p.129)
For example, “ethics are defing qualities of the police profession as it consist of the behaviour and attitude of police officers while acting under the law”. (Bowen, 2010). Furthermore, criminal justice practitioners must follow the common principles of natural law which “is the sanction that regulates behaviour of people on the basis of universal traits and common experiences. This includes treating people with dignity, governing with reason, not challenging equality of the people, governing people with ethical behaviours that lead to societal contentment, mainting peace in accordance with the goals of justice, and depending on natural law, when formal rules are unavialble. Therefore, it is important to know and remember that in the criminal justice field “ethics are meant to complement and reinforce the law, not to undermine it. Laws are ever changing, whereas ethics are constant. Law are logical, reactive instrument of social control, whereas ethics are regulatory and based on reasoning”. (Robin T. Bowen, 2010 p.24)
“One problematic aspect of ethics (and accountability) is the assumption of people’s responsibility for their actions. In order to judge a person’s behavior as morally right or wrong, there is usually an assumption that their actions are freely chosen. The idea of free will, therefore, central to ethical reasoning and judgment; however, we really do not know what free will is”. (Tim Prenzler, 2009 p.3). “Many ethical codes draw foundational principles and frameworks from moral philosophy. The teaching of ethical standards should address a range of normative theories as a basis for comprehensive decision making, and pay full attention to the role of critical reasoning in ethical argument.” (Devenish & Dowson, 2010 p.87).
In conclusion, whether, in the criminal justice field, personal lives or any other any profession ethical and moral standards are an essential part of our daily living. Ethics can be misunderstood, and some people think that morality and ethical standards are now out of date. Some even view morality as a system of vicious puritanical prohibition.
As far as making a correlation between religion, ethics and morality, religion serves to regulate, codify, and to direct moral understanding. Human beings have unanimously turned to religion as the vital source for moral regulation and action. Much of the world does not believe that morality is invented or sustained by human will and consciousness alone, but that morality is contingent upon divine principles. “Sr. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), considered one of the greatest medieval theologians, adopted the philosophy that ethics are necessary for the common good of all, not just those in power or the elite. Ethics must reflect “natural law,” which is bestowed on humanity by God” (Madison, 2005 p.85-86). Nevertheles, ethics are comparative to the society one happens to live in, so the consequences of actions should vary according to the circumstances.
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