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Why Public Integrity Fails

This academic paper, published in the "Journal of Academic and Business Ethics," explains the similarity between the common integrity failings of public officials and the everyday integrity breaches of the rest of us.

Abstract:

The ethical breaches of government officials and business leaders are not simply the product of temptations to which they succumb in those positions, but rather the culmination of commonplace failures of integrity that they, like most people, commit on a daily basis, and which tend to pass unnoticed, unexamined and uncorrected. These traps can be observed in three principal ways:

1. People commonly cling to their beliefs and opinions—making life-altering decisions affecting themselves and others—with little or no factual support for such beliefs and opinions

2. They insist on the purity of their intentions, blinding them to the unethical nature of their actions

3. They tend to view integrity's requirements through a distorting lens that justifies self-interest: for instance, creating self- promoting categories of false duties such as the duty to survive or loyalty to self, and viewing integrity as an uncompromising stand of personal conviction rather than the deliberate accommodation of competing interests.

As a consequence of these defects in discernment, most remain blind to their own breaches, even as they judge the breaches of others. The paper challenges the assumption that the practice of integrity is an innate skill and asserts that it is a methodology that must be systematically deployed to be effective. The paper lays out the tenets of this methodology. 

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