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Integrity -- Beyond Honesty and Conscientiousness

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Hermes
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The Academy of Management Review published “Integrity in Organizations: Beyond Honesty and Conscientiousness” by Thomas E. Becker of the University of Delaware. (Becker, Thomas E., “Integrity in Organizations: Beyond Honesty and Conscientiousness,” The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 23, No. 1. (Jan., 1998), pp. 154-161.) Becker’s thesis is that integrity is more than a loose synonym for other virtues. Honesty is a necessary but not sufficient condition for integrity. Conscientiousness is highly regarded in business – and some businesses administer tests to measure it – but it may not correlate to integrity.

"For example, the stereotypical absent-minded professor might be rather careless (misplacing things) and somewhat disorganized (not writing down ideas or plans) but still have high integrity by acting in accordance with moral values and virtues (e.g., reason, purpose, and independence). In summary, although the morally laden element of conscientiousness may be pertinent to integrity, the morally neutral elements are not."

Becker offers this definition:

"Integrity is commitment in action to a morally justifiable set of principles and values, where the criterion for moral justification is reality – not merely the acceptance of the values by an individual, group, or society. Because survival and happiness are the ultimate standards of morality, life – not subjective opinion – is the foundation of integrity."

Rand often used the phrase man qua man to express the idea that as the ability to reason is the essential distinguishing characteristic of being human, that which promotes rationality promotes humanity. While we have the political freedom to be the agents of our own destruction – through laziness, stupidity, abject carelessness, excess living, etc. – the reasoning person, pursuing his own best interests will not do these things. They are immoral because they are self-destructive. Within a business organization, integrity means acting in accordance with those values that promote man qua man – and declining those that do not.

Becker opened his article with a validation of the Objectivist ethics via metaphysics and epistemology. He then showed the special nature of integrity. That this academic journal for business management consented to such a philosophical exploration may seem singular. In fact, in 1989, The Academy of Management Review published a book review of Atlas Shrugged by Edwin A. Locke. Ten years later, Locke joined Becker to reply to the replies to Becker’s essay.

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From what you have said, Becker seems to be drawing a distinction between integrity and conscientiousness, more than between honesty and conscientiousness. Conscientiousness seems to be used as a broad term, applying to living up to one's values, regardless of sphere. Whereas integrity seems to be used as some part of conscientiousness: i.e. being conscientious in moral spheres.

However, the actual definition of integrity that you quote seems at odds with that interpretation. So, I'm not sure if the above is the distinction that Becker makes or not. Any thoughts?

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... Becker seems to be drawing a distinction between integrity and conscientiousness, more than between honesty and conscientiousness.

Integrity is a primary virtue, whereas conscientiousness is a social convenience.

This debate ran for a year through three issues of an academic journal. The journal itself is fairly significant, being indexed by JSTOR, for instance. That is the first thing that is interesting about this, that a mainstream quarterly for professors of business management would open their pages to the presentation of Objectivist ideas, and then to a full defense and reply. In each issue, it is clear that everyone saw everyone else's work before it all went to print. There are replies to the replies in the same issue.

This same magazine, The Academy of Management Review, had published a review of Atlas Shrugged for no apparent special reason. The year 1989 was not a deciennial year of publication, for instance. The debate with Becker et al., took place ten years later.

Becker wrote: Following from the above premises, Objectivists identify a number of virtues (the actions by which one gains and is the recognition and acceptance of reason as human beings' only source of knowledge, only legitimate judge of values, and only valid guide to action. such, rationality is the basic virtue-that is, the most fundamental requirement of living successfully. The corollary virtues (not an exhaustive list) include honesty, independence, justice, productivity, pride, and integrity.' These virtues are expressions of rationality and, hence, are inextricably linked; one cannot undermine one without undermining the others.

Becker then said: Hence, one difference between honesty and integrity is that "honesty is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake existence [i.e., facts regarding the external world]," whereas "integrity is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake your consciousness [i.e., facts regarding one's true principles and values]" (Rand, 1957: 1019). Said another way, honesty requires that one not use one's consciousness to distort reality, and integrity requires that one not betray the convictions of one's consciousness in action.

About conscientiousness, he suggested: For example, the stereotypical absent-minded professor might be rather careless (misplacing things) and somewhat disorganized (not writing down ideas or plans) but still have high integrity by acting in accordance with moral values and virtues (e.g., reason, purpose, and independence). In summary, although the morally laden element of conscientiousness may be pertinent to integrity, the morally neutral elements are not.

The point was to distinguish true integrity from the socially-derived adherence that we generally accept by default. In other words, if you do not agree with someone's values, but you recognize that they adhere to them consistently, you might grant that this person has "integrity." But integrity is more than this. It is not the adherence to just any values but to those that are moral virtues in an objective sense.

Edited by Hermes
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About conscientiousness, he suggested: For example, the stereotypical absent-minded professor might be rather careless (misplacing things) and somewhat disorganized (not writing down ideas or plans) but still have high integrity by acting in accordance with moral values and virtues (e.g., reason, purpose, and independence). In summary, although the morally laden element of conscientiousness may be pertinent to integrity, the morally neutral elements are not.
But, to the extent that the absent-minded professor is being careless and disorganized, and to the extent he can control these things and adopt some means of righting them, is he not doing less to achieve his goals? And, since these goals are moral ones (I suppose we can assume that), isn't this an example of less than perfect integrity, rather than being an example of less that perfect conscientiousness?

Or, is there some "morally neutral" aspect being assumed in the example of the professor?

Edited by softwareNerd
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But, to the extent that the absent-minded professor is being careless and ... Or, is there some "morally neutral" aspect being assumed in the example of the professor?

Well, the first time through, it seemed clear enough, but since you raise the issue... Going back to first principles, I would have to agree that any failure is always a moral failure, by definition. I will have to think about this.

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