Some of the early leaders in philosophy—Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato—spoke extensively about morality and ethical principles. Aristotle is frequently cited as a central figure in the development of ethics as we discuss them today in the communication discipline.
Aristotle claimed that a person who had ethos, or credibility, was not only able to convey good sense and good will, but also good morals. Great philosophers have debated the merits of living well, doing good, and even communicating skillfully. Smitter describes early Greeks and Romans as teachers of public speaking; these philosophers argued that public communication is “a means of civic engagement,” and ethics are “a matter of virtue.” Ethics and ethical communication are not only an important part of our lives and our decision-making but also are crucial to the public speaking process.
Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
Morality is the process of discerning between right and wrong. Ethics involves making decisions about right and wrong within a dilemma. Sometimes, ethical dilemmas are simple. Other times, they require complex choices, such as the decision to report your immediate boss for misrepresenting expenses or the decision to move your grandmother into a retirement community. These scenarios are more complex than simple choices between right and wrong. Instead, these examples are ethical dilemmas because two “right” choices are pitted against one another. It’s good to report an unethical supervisor, but it’s also good to keep your job. It’s good that your grandmother feels independent, but it’s also positive for her to receive extra assistance as her health deteriorates.