Integrity, Morality, and Ethics

Michael C. Jensen is the Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School

Michael C. Jensen, Harvard Business School

I always struggle with definitions of ethics and morality.  Michael Jensen, of Harvard Business School throws integrity into the mix of terms.

Here are his definitions:

Integrity: A state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition.

Ethics: In a given group, ethics is the agreed upon standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct; of what is considered by that group as good and bad behaviour of a person, group or entity that is a member of the group, and may include defined bases for discipline, including exclusion.

Morality: In a given society, in a given era of that society, morality is the generally-accepted standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct, and what is considered by that society as good or bad behaviour of a person, group or entity.

It seems he moves up the chain from individual, to groups, and to a larger society with the three concepts.

He also points out that morality and ethics have a good and bad side to them.They relate to desirable and undesirable behaviors.

On the other hand, integrity is more of a yes or no proposition. You either keep your word or you don’t. I suppose there is some gray in between.

Since Jensen is a business school professor, not a philosophy professor, he is researching the effect of integrity on business performance.


  • Jensen, Michael C., Integrity: Without it Nothing Works (November 29, 2009). Rotman Magazine: The Magazine of the Rotman School of Management, pp. 16-20, Fall 2009; Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 10-042; Barbados Group Working Paper No. 09-04. Available at SSRN:
  • Erhard, Werner, Jensen, Michael C. and Zaffron, Steve, Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics and Legality (March 23, 2008). Harvard Business School NOM Working Paper No. 06-11; Barbados Group Working Paper No. 06-03; Simon School Working Paper No. FR 08-05. Available at SSRN:

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2 Responses to Integrity, Morality, and Ethics

  1. M. A. Augustine December 15, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    The definitions of ethics and morality seem to be the same, where do they differ ? If it is said “there are many faces of integrity” , what does it mean, and which faces could these be ? How then can integrity be of value to the society , say , in business, religion, education ?

    • Doug Cornelius December 15, 2011 at 8:35 am #

      I think it’s hard to find a meaningful difference between the terms in everyday use. What I liked about Jensen’s definitions was using the relative aspects of the definitions, starting with what the individual standard, moving out to larger groups.