Moral Autonomy and the Communitarian Ethic: Implications for Journalists in a Global Society
Communitarians propose that ethics arises from society, that social ethics is the basis of individual morality. For example, without truth-telling as a norm, we could not survive as heterogeneous societies. The family or tribal group does not require the norm of truth because verification is immediate and manifest: A member is known to be trustworthy or not, or his or her assertion can be readily tested. The large-scale society, however – including the emerging global society — relies much more on faith in others than on verifiability. Truth-telling must be a cornerstone of that faith, but the communitarians have it backwards: As the philosopher Hannah Arendt says, truth-telling, like all ethical principles since Socrates, begins with the individual, and what the individual owes to others in society. So it is with journalists in a global society: Even a communitarian ethic must begin with individual moral autonomy, the acceptance by each journalist of what he or she owes his or her audience. Even though verifiability is a touchstone of responsible journalism, it is underlain by an audience's faith in the truthfulness of accounts, because verifiability is unavailable to most in that audience.
Keywords: Individual Moral Autonomy, Communitarian Ethics, Journalistic Responsibility, Global Culture
Dr. Brian Richardson
Professor and Department Head, Journalism and Mass Communications Lexington, Washington and Lee University