Thursday, December 13, 2007


So I was recently had interviews with representatives of our Senators and Congresswoman. They were interviewing me to decide whether I deserved a nomination to a Service Academy. During those interviews I was asked a very interesting question.

The question was what would you do if you were given a direct order from a commanding officer to do something that was against your morals. I wanted to take it even further and ask, what if it was against ethical standards. Is there a difference? And if so, why?

I know many of you will not have to deal with a 'commanding officer' but just think of it as a boss, somebody who can control parts of your life.



Mr. Pseudonym said...

As far as ethical considerations in the situation you are describing, isn't it the case that your ethical requirements are that you obey your superior officers? If that is the case, then the only ethical thing you can do is follow the order.
Moral standards are more touch-and-go, however, and are also more personal. To one it is immoral to kill--even in a war zone--and to another it is acceptable to kill an enemy in the same circumstance.

However, despite all of that there are some generally accepted moral and ethical standards that /everyone/ in a situation like that must follow. An example being the Geneva Conventions. It is illegal, internationally, to kill an innocent civilian, regardless of a superiors orders.

katrina337 said...

I'd say there is a difference, because if you're serving a country (or corporation or whaterver), you should probably uphold their ethical standards, which means you should follow the order whether or not your morals allow it.

But morals are...personal. It depends on whether you have more loyalty to yourself, or to what you are serving.

Rick_Andrews_Director said...

I agree with Mr. Pseudonym. I believe that it is your duty to obey your orders, even if you don't like them. This is the stance that the military has taken for years, obey your orders even if you disagree.

However, if your morals or ethics conflict, that is hard. Part of me says that you should obey your orders, because it is logical to do so. However, another part of me would not want to abandon my morals, because I value them.

I'd say that if you see some benefit in abandoning your morals or ethics in following your orders, then go for it. But, if there is no real gain that is to come from it, then why should you follow those orders? Again, I'm picking the gray area here (Mainly because I am unsure where I stand on the issue), but I think for the most part you should obey your superiors.

Rick Andrews

Mr. Pseudonym said...

Looking back I realize I agree more with Katrina than I perhaps wrote. Let me iterate.
There are levels of ethics involved, and in that kind of situation you need to be mindful of them. There is the international ethics of the Geneva Conventions and these rules take the most precedence.
Then you have national ethics, such as the constitution and bill of rights. These can only be breached in upholding the previous layer.
Then there are state or professional ethics. These are obeyed so long as they do not interrupt the above layers.
And lastly there are personal ethics, or morals. These are the most personal and drive day to day activities because most of those do not interfere with above layers.

Now in the case of an order that breaches personal ethics or morals, such as killing someone, if you are told by a superior officer to do it, you must. The exclusion to this is of course when the action you undertake breaches above layers.
Guantanamo Bay for example should not have been obeyed because it violated higher orders of ethics. That is why after the people involved were persecuted for their actions.

Sierra Tamkun said...

Hmmmm. I don't know about this one. I agree with Wolf about the different levels of ethical codes, but you don't HAVE to obey anyone. Something signifigant about us as thinking lifeforms is that we have the option to choose what we do. If you have a serious problem with the order, you don't have to obey it, you just have to meet the consequences. I'd be really interested to see what the representatives want to hear as an answer. I think the overall unethical portion, breaking the Geneva Conventions and such, are pretty cut and dry, you shouldn't break those, even if a superior tells you to. If it's wrong on a national and international ethical level, then it's much more obvious than on a personal level. But then on the personal level, what you think is morally wrong may not be for another, as bias and prejudice play huge roles in our thoughts and ideas.