Tag Archives: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Ethical Leadership: Moral Goals and Moral Constraints

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By: Donald Hubin, PhD
Professor & Chair, OSU Department of Philosophy
Principal Investigator of the Innovation Group for the OSU Center for Ethics and Human Values

Photo by Jo McNulty

Photo by Jo McNulty

One often hears reference to ethical (or moral) leadership.  It sounds like a good thing—and certainly better than the opposite.  But it’s worth considering what is involved in ethical leadership.

Many philosophers—especially those with a great love for theoretical simplicity—seek a single moral principle or value that will serve as the ground for all moral judgment.  Regardless of the prospects for success for such endeavors, this is not how moral issues present themselves to us in ordinary life.  Instead, moral conduct is guided by a variety of considerations.  In particular, both moral goals and moral constraints seem indispensible in our ordinary view of proper moral evaluation.  We’re all familiar with the errors that result from ignoring constraints in the pursuit of worthwhile goals:  understanding the natural course of a disease like syphilis is a worthy goal;  coming to that understanding by denying people medicine that is known to cure the disease is a morally impermissible way to achieve that goal.

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