Some Fundamental Issues in Geoethics

David M. Abbott


Ethics and morals concern themselves with distinguishing right from wrong, with actions, and with the volition involved. Dictionaries define “ethics” in terms of “morals” and “morals” in terms of “ethics,” so the terms are quite similar and circular. I define “morals” as informal statements and “ethics” as written statements adopted by some group. General morals apply to everyone while professional ethics generally apply only to members of a particular profession. Moral and ethical analysis requires careful and consistent discrimination of the relevant facts. It is important to remember that moral/ethical analysis does not resolve all questions because different people rank moral/ethical values differently. We must respectfully agree to disagree. Moral/ethical rules apply to all persons at all times. However, exceptions are allowed following careful analysis of the exception. For example, surgeons are allowed to cut people open, most of us are not allowed to do so. Moral/ethical aspirations are statements encouraging a particular activity but no demerits follow from choosing to follow one aspiration and not another. Continuing professional development (CPD) provides an example. Geoscience ethics codes all recommend CPD, which is aspirational. For those societies that require some minimum amount of CPD, an aspiration has become a rule. Honesty is the principal geoscience ethical rule. Some geoscience societies have disciplinary procedures, most do not; nor should they. Disciplinary procedures must allow for due process and appropriate confidentiality until resolved.


ethics morals professional ethics

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Published by INGV, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia - ISSN:  2037-416X