Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Path of Virtue

Asked to describe the principles that would guide them in their careers as attorneys, a group of Santa Clara University law students use words like honesty, fairness, compassion. Reading their thoughtful responses ["Moral Attorneys; Moral People"], one is struck by the fact that virtues like these — more than abstract principles — provide the compass for many people when they confront ethical dilemmas.

In this Issues in Ethics, we explore virtue from a number of different perspectives. Honesty is at the heart of the first article in a new feature we inaugurate with this issue: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), an advice column. In it, Terry Shoup, dean of SCU's School of Engineering, answers a reader's question about software piracy.

"After Dolly," which deals with the unanticipated consequences of technologies such as cloning, urges us to practice the virtue of humility as we try to predict the effects of our innovations. "The Welfare of the Community," a pro/con article on public assistance by the Center's student research assistant Joseph Westfall, shows how a belief either in people's natural industriousness or their natural laziness affects our views on aiding the poor.

Are people naturally good or bad? Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue addresses just this question. Our review challenges Ridley's assertion that basic human instincts of trust and cooperation can be relied upon to regulate human affairs without the intrusion of big government. On the other side, "How Trust Is Achieved in Free Markets" looks at the way voluntary institutions can assure safe, quality products and services without governmental restrictions.

Rounding out this issue is "Thinking Ethically: When Rights and Cultures Collide," which asks whether human rights are culturally relative or universal.

Before we close, we wanted to share with readers that Issues in Ethics won a bronze award for publications in June from the Jesuit Advancement Administrators, an organization of development and communications professionals at Jesuit colleges and universities.

In addition, we want to thank those readers who have responded to our recent appeal for voluntary subscriptions. (It's not too late, for those who haven't.) Although you are under no compulsion to contribute, you have given generously. And that is certainly a virtue.