Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.
Barbara Killinger offers a traditional definition:
- Integrity is a personal choice, an uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honour moral, ethical, spiritual and artistic values and principles.
In ethics, integrity is regarded by many people as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can stand in opposition to hypocrisy, in that judging with the standards of integrity involves regarding internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding within themselves apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.
The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honestyand consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.
A value system‘s abstraction depth and range of applicable interaction may also function as significant factors in identifying integrity due to their congruence or lack of congruence with observation. A value system may evolve in a while,  while retaining integrity if those who espouse the values account for and resolve inconsistencies.
One can test a value-system’s integrity either:
- subjectively — by human constructs of accountability and internal consistency, or
- objectively — via the scientific method
Where the measures of the test are consensual only to the party being measured, the test is created by the same value system as the action in question and can result only in a positive proof. Thus, a neutral point of view requires testing measures consensual to anyone expected to believe the results.
The scientific method assumes that a system with perfect integrity yields a singular extrapolation within its domain that one can test against observed results. Where the results of the test match the expectations of the scientific hypothesis, integrity exists between the cause and effect of the hypothesis by way of its methods and measures. Where the results of the test do not match, the exact causal relationship delineated in the hypothesis does not exist. Maintaining a neutral point of view requires scientific testing to be reproducible by independent parties.
For example, Newtonian physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics are three distinct systems, each scientifically proven to have integrity according to their base assumptions and measures, but all three of which produce different extrapolated values when applied to real world situations. None of them claim to be absolute truth, but merely best value systems for certain scenarios. Newtonian physics demonstrates sufficiency for most activities on Earth, but produced a calculation more than ten feet in error when applied to NASA’s moon landings, whereas general relativity calculations were precise for that application. General relativity, however, incorrectly predicts the results of a broad body of scientific experiments where quantum mechanics proves its sufficiency. Thus integrity of all three genres is applicable only to its domain.
In discussions on behavior and morality, an individual is said to possess the virtue of integrity if the individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles. These principles should uniformly adhere to sound logical axioms or postulates. One can describe a person as having ethical integrity to the extent that the individual’s actions, beliefs, methods, measures and principles all derive from a single core group of values. An individual must therefore be flexible and willing to adjust these values in order to maintain consistency when these values are challenged; such as when an expected test result fails to be congruent with all observed outcomes. Because such flexibility is a form of accountability, it is regarded as a moral responsibility as well as a virtue.
An individual’s value system provides a framework within which the individual acts in ways which are consistent and expected. Integrity can be seen as the state or condition of having such a framework, and acting congruently within the given framework.
One essential aspect of a consistent framework is its avoidance of any unwarranted (arbitrary) exceptions for a particular person or group — especially the person or group that holds the framework. In law, this principle of universal application requires that even those in positions of official power be subject to the same laws as pertain to their fellow citizens. In personal ethics, this principle requires that one should not act according to any rule that one would not wish to see universally followed. For example, one should not steal unless one would want to live in a world in which everyone was a thief. The philosopher Immanuel Kant formally described the principle of universal application in his categorical imperative.
The concept of integrity implies a wholeness, a comprehensive corpus of beliefs, often referred to as a worldview. This concept of wholeness emphasizes honesty and authenticity, requiring that one act at all times in accordance with the individual’s chosen worldview. Ayn Rand considered that integrity “does not consist of loyalty to one’s subjective whims, but of loyalty to rational principles”.
Ethical integrity is not synonymous with the good, as Zuckert and Zuckert show about Ted Bundy:
When caught, he defended his actions in terms of the fact-value distinction. He scoffed at those, like the professors from whom he learned the fact-value distinction, who still lived their lives as if there were truth-value to value claims. He thought they were fools and that he was one of the few who had the courage and integrity to live a consistent life in light of the truth that value judgments, including the command “Thou shall not kill,” are merely subjective assertions.—Zuckert and Zuckert, The truth about Leo Strauss: political philosophy and American democracy
In common public usage, people sometimes use the word “integrity” in reference to a single “absolute” morality rather than in reference to the assumptions of the value system in question. In an absolute context, the word “integrity” conveys no meaning between people with differing definitions of absolute morality, and becomes nothing more than a vague assertion of perceivedpolitical correctness or popularity, similar to using terms such as “good” or “ethical” in a moralistic context.
One can also speak of “integrity” outside of its prescriptive meaning, in reference to a person or group of people of which the speaker subjectively approves or disapproves. Thus a favored person can be described as “having integrity”, while an enemy can be regarded as “completely lacking in integrity”. Such labeling, in the absence of measures of independent testing, renders the accusation itself baseless and (ironically) others may call the integrity of the assertion into question.
The procedures known as “integrity tests” or (more confrontationally) as “honesty tests” aim to identify prospective employees who may hide perceived negative or derogatory aspects of their past, such as a criminal conviction, psychiatric treatment or drug abuse. Identifying unsuitable candidates can save the employer from problems that might otherwise arise during their term of employment. Integrity tests make certain assumptions, specifically:
- that persons who have “low integrity” report more dishonest behaviour
- that persons who have “low integrity” try to find reasons in order to justify such behaviour
- that persons who have “low integrity” think others more likely to commit crimes — like theft, for example. (Since people seldom sincerely declare to a prospective employers their past deviance, the “integrity” testers adopted an indirect approach: letting the work-candidates talk about what they think of the deviance of other people, considered in general, as a written answer demanded by the questions of the “integrity test”.)
- that persons who have “low integrity” exhibit impulsive behaviour
- that persons who have “low integrity” tend to think that society should severely punish deviant behaviour (Specifically, “integrity tests” assume that people who have a history of deviance report within such tests that they support harsher measures applied to the deviance exhibited by other people.)
The claim of such tests to be able to detect “fake” answers plays a crucial role in detecting people who have low integrity. Naive respondents really believe this pretense and behave accordingly, reporting some of their past deviance and their thoughts about the deviance of others, fearing that if they do not answer truthfully their untrue answers will reveal their “low integrity”. These respondents believe that the more candid they are in their answers, the higher their “integrity score” will be.
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Disciplines and fields with an interest in integrity include philosophy of action, philosophy of medicine, mathematics, the mind, cognition, consciousness, materials science, structural engineering, and politics. Popular psychology identifies personal integrity, professional integrity, artistic integrity, and intellectual integrity.
The concept of integrity may also feature in business contexts beyond the issues of employee/employer honesty and ethical behavior, notably in marketing or branding contexts. The “integrity” of a brand is regarded by some as a desirable outcome for companies seeking to maintain a consistent, unambiguous position in the mind of their audience. This integrity of brand includes consistent messaging and often includes using a set of graphics standards to maintain visual integrity in marketing communications.
Another use of the term, “integrity” appears in the work of Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard in their academic paper, “Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomenon of Morality, Ethics, and Legality”. In this paper the authors explore a new model of integrity as the state of being whole and complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, and in perfect condition. They posit a new model of integrity that provides access to increased performance for individuals, groups, organizations, and societies. Their model “reveals the causal link between integrity and increased performance, quality of life, and value-creation for all entities, and provides access to that causal link.”
Electronic signals are said to have integrity when there is no corruption of information between one domain and another, such as from a disk drive to a computer display. Such integrity is a fundamental principle of information assurance. Corrupted information is untrustworthy, yet uncorrupted information is of value.
- Killinger, Barbara (2010). Integrity: Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason. McGill-Queen’s University Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780773582804. Retrieved 2013-10-15. “Integrity is a personal choice, an uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honour moral, ethical. spiritual and artistic values and principles.”
- John Louis Lucaites; Celeste Michelle Condit; Sally Caudill (1999). Contemporary rhetorical theory: a reader. Guilford Press. p. 92. ISBN 1-57230-401-4.
- “integrity”. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languagew (4th edition ed.). El- shaddai ØØØ. 2000. Retrieved 2009-05-13. “… from integer, whole, complete”
- See for example Wiener, Yoash (October 1988). “Forms of Valubananae Systems: A Focus on Organizational Effectiveness and Cultural Change and Maintenance”. The Academy of Management Review (Academy of Management) 13 (4): 534–545. JSTOR 258373. “An organizational value system may change and evolve. The typology offered above can be useful in analyzing such developments. Initial phases of culture development most frequently are characterized by a charismatic value system, either elitist or functional.”
- Compare Alee, Verna (2000). “The value evolution: Addressing larger implications of an intellectual capital and intangibles perspective” (PDF). Journal of Intellectual Capital (MCB University PressLtd) 1 (1): 17–32. doi:10.1108/14691930010371627. ISSN 1469-1930. Retrieved 2010-05-28. “We must begin to evolve our frameworks to an expanded view of potential value domains. […] Can we bring coherence and integrity to our business models in the light of the higher values that we hold dear? Can we expand our intangible value models to integrate the good work that has gone on in view of social responsibility and sustainable enterprise fields for decades?”
- Ayn Rand, “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” (The Virtue of Selfishness, page 69).
- Zuckert, Catherine H.; Zuckert, Michael P. (2006). “Strauss—Modernity—America”. The truth about Leo Strauss: political philosophy and American democracy. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-226-99332-4. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
- van Minden (2005:206-208): […] deze ‘integriteitstests’ (dat klinkt prettiger dan eerlijkheids- of leugentests) […] [Translation: … these ‘integrity tests’ (that sounds nicer than honesty test or lies tests)]
- van Minden, Jack J.R. (2005). Alles over psychologische tests (in Dutch). Business Contact. p. 207. ISBN 978-90-254-0415-4. “De schriftelijke integriteitstests zijn gemakkelijk af te nemen. Ze zijn gebaseerd op enkele aannamen, die er duidelijk in zijn terug te vinden: Minder eerlijke personen: 1 rapporteren een grotere mate van oneerlijk gedrag 2 zijn geneigd eerder oneerlijk gedrag te verontschuldigen 3 zijn geneigd meer excuses of redenen voor diefstal aan te voeren 4 denken vaker over diefstal 5 zien vaker oneerlijk gedrag als acceptabel 6 zijn vaker implusief 7 zijn geneigd zichzelf en anderen zwaarder te straffen” . [Translation: The written integrity tests are easy to perform. They are based on some assumptions, which are clearly found therein: Less honest persons: 1 they report a higher amount of dishonest behavior 2 they are more prone to find excuses for dishonest behavior 3 they are more prone to name excuses or reasons for theft 4 they think often about theft 5 they see often dishonest behavior as acceptable 6 they are often impulsive 7 they are prone to punish themselves and others severely.]”
- Van Minden (2005:207) writes “TIP: Dit type vragenlijsten melden koelbloedig dat zij kunnen ontdekken wanneer u een misleidend antwoord geeft of de zaak bedondert. U weet langzammerhand dat geen enkele test zo’n claim waar kan maken, zelfs niet een die gespecialiseerd is in het opsporen van bedriegers.” Translated: “TIP: This sort of questions lists mention in cool blood that they are able to detect when you give a cheating answer or try to deceive the test. You are step by step learning that no test could make true such a pretense, not even one specialized in detecting cheaters.”
- See abstract of Harvard Business School NOM Research Paper NO. 06-11 and Barbados Group Working Paper NO. 06-03 at: Erhard, Werner; Michael C. Jensen; Steve Zaffron (2007). Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics and Legality. Social Science Research Network. SSRN 920625. “Integrity exists in a positive realm devoid of normative content. Integrity is thus not about good or bad, or right or wrong, or what should or should not be. […] We assert that integrity (the condition of being whole and complete) is a necessary condition for workability, and that the resultant level of workability determines the available opportunity for performance.”
- Erhard, Werner; Michael C. Jensen; Steve Zaffron (2010). Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics, and Legality – Abridged. Social Science Research Network. SSRN 1542759.
- Jensen, Michael C.; Karen Christensen (Interviewer) (January 14, 2009). “Integrity: Without it Nothing Works”. Rotman Magazine: The Magazine of the Rotman School of Management, pp. 16-20, Fall 2009 (Social Science Research Network). SSRN 1511274.
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