By Alex Vuchnich, CPA, CFE - Although the merits of ethics as they relate to professional responsibility and the requirements under our professional code of conduct have been exhaustively debated I still get fired up every time I hear or see a comment from a fellow practitioner suggesting that this topic is simply a 'requirement'. After reviewing some CPE course feedback for an Ethics course put on at a recent conference I stumbled accross a comment that the course was attended to simply 'fulfill an ethics requirement'. This suggests that in at least one practitioners opinion nothing of substance was gained from attending the session and that ethics are something we just comply with because we have to. This is of course absurd considering that the majority of our profession would agree that not only do we draw ethical guidance from our professional code of conduct but that we also have our own personal moral codes to look to for guidance and follow those codes voluntarily rather than as a requirement for admission to our profession.
This sort of comment to me is really a throwback to the question of whether ethics can be taught. My suspicion is that the individual making the comment believes that he or she already follows innate/common sense morality so that the requirement to attend an educational seminar on ethics is nothing more than an exercise in meeting a requirement rather than an opportunity to expand ones understanding of how to approach ethical dilemmas. I think it is important for practitioners to understand that the value in teaching ethics really comes down to providing us with practical frameworks for evaluating alternatives in a morally ambiguous situation. Common sense morality and professional codes are very good for dealing with black and white situations we may face on a regular basis in our professional careers but when we stumble upon gray areas is when these ethical frameworks come front and center by providing a rational approach to dealing with the situation rather than going on 'instinct'.