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Campus Issues-Ethics ©Hal Ward, 2009

Introduction: The Moving Line

George Lefcoe, a renown USC law professor and expert in real property, zoning, and development and, for a time, a commissioner of the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, offered the following thoughts on his retirement and the seduction of public office 1:

“I really missed the cards from engineers I never met, the wine and cheese from development companies I never heard of, and the honeybaked ham from, of all places, Forest Lawn Cemetery, even though the company was never an applicant before the commission when I was there.

My first Christmas as a commissioner-when I received the ham-l tried to return it, though for the record, I did not, since no one at Forest Lawn seemed authorized to accept the ham, apparently not even for burial. My guess is that not one of the many public servants who received the ham had ever tried to return it.

When I received another ham the next Christmas, I gave it to a worthy charity.

The next year, some worthy friends were having a party so I gave it to them.

The next year I had a party and we enjoyed the ham.

In the fifth year, about the tenth of December, I began wondering, where is my ham?”

Hal Ward mentioned that Lefcoe’s position had changed… he intended to do the right thing, but over time, “moved the line.”

A great many philosophers have gone round and round trying to define ethics and debated the great ethical dilemmas of their time and ours. For teaching purposes, Hal has adopted the credo: “Do the Right Thing.” (Right from wrong)

Some of the theories of ethics:
Divine Command theory; that is, ethics are a higher standard than the law. Adultery is no illegal, but many consider it unethical.
Ethical Egoism theory; that is, by following your best interest, you are being ethical, as long as it doesn’t interfere with others.
Greatest happiness theory; that is, being ethical is doing the greatest good for the greatest number.
The categorical imperative theory; that is, to be ethical you must avoid issues were only one side benefits.
Rights theory; that is, there is a notion of rights, and those right may require protectors.
Moral Relativists theory; that is, ethics demands the circumstances be considered.
Example: Was someone taking food from a store after Hurricane Katrina ‘justified?’

Types of ethical dilemmas:

1 Source: George Lefcoe, quoted in Staff, "Notable, Quotable," The Wall Street Journal, December 18. 1998. A14.