Whistle-blowing and morality
Mathieu Bouville (
Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Singapore 117602 Institute of High Performance Computing, Singapore 117528
Whistle-blowing is generally considered from the viewpoint of pro-fessional morality. Morality rejects the idea of choice and the interests of the pro-fessional as immoral. Yet the dreadful retaliations against the messengers of thetruth make it necessary for morality to leave a way out of whistle-blowing. Thisis why it forges rights (sometimes called duties) to trump the duty to the publicprescribed by professional codes. This serves to hide the obvious fact that whetherto blow the whistle is indeed a choice, not a matter of objective duty. One shouldalso notice that if it fails to achieve anything then blowing the whistle was the wrongdecision (or maybe the right decision that nobody would want to make). There isnevertheless a tendency to judge it based on the motivation of the whistle blower. Ina way, whistle blowers should strive to act like saints. Yet, it is logically impossibleto hold both whistleblowing as mandatory and whistleblowers as heroes or saints.Moreover, this tends to value the great deeds of a few over the lives of the many,which is incompatible with the basic assumptions of morality. But consistency is nota main feature of professional morality.
business ethics; code of ethics; duty; engineering ethics; moral luck;moral obligation
Article published by the
Journal of Business Ethics
Whistle-blowing is the act, for an employee (or former employee), of disclosing what he believes to be unethical or illegal behavior to highermanagement (internal whistle-blowing) or to an external authority orthe public (external whistle-blowing). Its status is debated: as Roth-schild and Miethe (1999) note, “some see [whistle blowers] as traitorousviolators of organizational loyalty norms; others see them as heroic de-fenders of values considered to be more important than company loyalty(e.g., the public health, truth-in-advertising, environmental respect).”Since “those who raise ethical issues are treated as disturbed or morallysuspect” (Alford, 2007), Near and Miceli (1996) ask “are whistle blow-ers really crackpots?”. On the other hand, to Rothschild and Miethe(1999), whistle-blowing is a “new form of worker resistance” relevant
Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.