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Ethics Theory for the Military Professional
Chaplain (Col) Samuel D. Maloney

The United States is increasingly concerned with ethics. More professors are teaching courses in ethics and more students are studying ethics than ever before. Incidents in Vietnam and Washington have reminded us that people in all walks of life are vulnerable to doing what is wrong. Professional groups—lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, business managers, and others—are structuring codes of ethics for their members. Throughout the past decade, military professionals at the service academies and educational centers have shown increasing interest in the study of ethical principles. Most officer training schools now include at least an elective on professional ethics, in which officers are encouraged to construct codes of ethics for the military service. Perhaps we are realizing that right and wrong may differ from common practice, majority opinion, or what the system will tolerate. Perhaps we as a nation are beginning to see the fallacies in the ethical relativism of “doing your own thing.” We may even be ready to acknowledge the complexity of ethical decision making and move beyond the dominating principle of personal or public happiness. Some of us are ready to assert that, in addition to such preeminent values as beneficence and justice, ethical behavior also involves past commitments, present relationships, and future hopes. This article will probe some of the complexities of acting ethically within the military system. I propose to direct your thinking in three ways: (1) to identify the fundamental pressures that are upon us all, that is, the ethical bases or theories to which we are responsive; (2) to highlight the importance of certain areas where ethical problems abound; and (3) to reaffirm some basic principles to guide us.

wrong, good and bad. The moment of decision making or action taking for the military professional is crowded with signals emanating from...

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