Ethics and Public Administration

According to Dwight Waldo, private and public ethics play a very important role in determining the moral or acceptable sets of behavior within the public office as far as public administration is concerned. There are two types of ethics namely public and private morals which provide an acceptable code of conduct to the members of a society. The two forms of ethics are both useful in regulating individual and corporate behaviors in their respective society, nation, or any other social setting. Even though the private and public ethics may seem similar, they differ significantly in their underlying principles and source of morals.

Public morality is concerned with the decisions made and actions taken towards the common good of “the public”- an entity or group larger than immediate social groups. According to Waldo, the public is conventionally equated with the country or nation in the modern West. In the view of public morality, every decision or action is judged as either moral or immoral based on the common interest of the public. Despite its desirable role in safeguarding the common interest of all in the wider nation, Waldo observes that the government authorities often engage in a number of malpractices such as stealing, lying, and killing for the public interest against their conscience and higher laws.

Contrary to the public ethics, private ethics constitutes morals held by an individual notwithstanding the nation, family, union, party or any other form of collectivities. The inadequacy of the collectivities coupled with an inherent urge to have a different moral standing point prompts an individual to explicitly develop new source of moral authority. In this sense, conscience and higher laws are two major sources of moral authority in private ethics.

There are several conflicts surrounding the co-existence of public and private ethics as illustrated by Waldo though. Most importantly, public morality grossly violates all the standards of right conduct for individuals. In some extreme cases, the public morality would demand that one engages in acts that are prohibited by an individual’s ethics for the sake of safeguarding the state’s vested interests. Unlike private ethics, public ethics are deeply entrenched in the concepts of citizenship, security, justice and liberty for the general public.

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