The dualistic relationship of Compliance and Ethics

Compliance without Ethics is blind. Ethics without Compliance is futile.

I coined this meme some days ago and posted it, on LinkedIn, received some likes, a fair number of views but no comments.

The idea of expressing the dualistic relationship between Ethics and Compliance had been floating about in my head for some time and I remembered a similar Chiasmus from university about the relationship between planning and control:

Planning without control is meaningless, control without planning is impossible.

What I want to express is that neither Ethics nor Compliance are complete without the other, that they form two (opposing) concepts that together from a whole: a dualism like mind and body, thinking and doing, Ying and Yang.

Ethics is the thinking part

Ethics is about the basic questions, as expressed by Immanuel Kant:

What can we know?

What shall we do?

What may we hope for?

What is the human being?

With just Ethics, we would be the prophets high on the mountain. Reasoning about what is right and good, but not putting the results to action. This is what I meant to express in Ethics being futile without Compliance.

The Golden Rule, Kant’s categorical imperative links Ethics to Compliance.

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

It gives Ethics a practical purpose, to put the thoughts into action. And it tells us to do so follow a principle, that we should find a set of principles and rules by which we act, that – if applied by everyone – would form a stable system. The ultimate code of conduct.

Compliance is the doing part

Compliance by itself means just “to adhere to (rules)”. Whatever the rules may be. It can be the rules of a game; it can be the principles of a weight-reduction diet; it can be a code of honor of the Mafia; it could have be the laws of the Third Reich, the commands of an SS Officer to a soldier…

I am on purpose giving these extreme examples to show that compliance does not imply “good”. It just implies that there are rules. Any rules. And these are followed.

It also does not imply conviction of the sense of the rules.

I can “grudgingly” comply. I can be threatened and bullied to comply.

This is what I want to express when I say that Compliance without Ethics is blind. It lacks guidance in terms of values.

Other considerations

I also considered calling Ethics without Compliance hypocrisy. This emphasizes the case when you preach water but drink wine, when you think about what’s good and right but don’t adhere to your own thinking when you act. But I decided against it, because this relationship would better be expressed as Ethics with Non-Compliance. And this would actually be unethical, so a contradiction in itself.

Do you agree?

Or how would you express it differently (but preferably still in the form of a Chiasmus)?

And what picture could you imagine to transport the message best?

I look forward to comments.

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