Positive Ethics: Themes and Variations

Mitchell M. Handelsman, Samuel Knapp, Michael C. Gottlieb

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Psychology has a history of approaching ethics from a rule-based perspective. The APA Ethics Code was developed by focusing on problematic behaviors, and ethics training is often concerned with helping psychologists protect themselves from ethics complaints and lawsuits. Recently, many scholars have been focusing on positive approaches to ethics. Positive ethics shifts the emphasis from following rules and avoiding discipline to encouraging psychologists to aspire to their highest ethical ideals. Such a positive focus might help psychologists consider ethical issues in a broader context that could contribute to better decision making and better integration of professional rules with personal principles and values. Positive ethics might also contribute to a greater degree of openness so that psychologists feel freer to seek the assistance of others. We discuss several major trends in the literature under the themes of self-awareness, professional awareness, and global awareness. Self-awareness includes understanding our own values and motives. Being more reflective about our values may help us develop ethical sensitivity-the ability to recognize ethical dimensions in our work even when no dilemmas or conflicts exist. Self-awareness also includes taking care of ourselves in all areas of our lives, and developing virtues- character traits that allow us to fulfill both personal and professional moral motivations. Our second theme, professional awareness, includes ethical acculturation, which refers to integrating our personal and professional moralities throughout our professional development. We need to understand the moral traditions that underlie our ethical reasoning. We can also prevent many ethical problems and dilemmas by anticipating them, obtaining consultation, and engaging in continuing education. Our third theme-global awareness-includes multicultural sensitivity, political sensitivity, and civic virtue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, (2 Ed.)
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940615
ISBN (Print)9780195187243
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012


  • Ethical acculturation
  • Ethics
  • Positive ethics
  • Self-care
  • Virtue ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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