Analysis Essay on The Ethics Primer for Public Administration by James Svara

Published: 2021-07-27
1135 words
5 pages
10 min to read
Middlebury College
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In his book, The ethics primer for public administrators in government and nonprofit organizations, Svara points out that duty-based responsibilities are as useful as they go but they should not in any way try to compromise the nature of goodness, hinder justice or the weighing of benefits. Paul and Elder in their discussion identify the use of the term ethics as referring to a concept that is independent of culture and that ethics is the standard point considered during the application of guiding principles in a certain discipline. This paper seeks to study the understanding of ethics according to the two texts in a quest to find out which discussion between the two offers the best direction in integrating ethics to public administration. Ethics are specific to disciplines and cannot be twisted to fit other factors and conditions within personality. Choosing which work will be better suited to public administration is founded on understanding of what public administration entails.

Svara offers that public administrative ethics should consider virtue, principals and consequences. Paul and Elder on the other side argue that ethics is all about what is good and bad and that one is obliged even in public administration to follow the principles of good and bad. In other words, Paul and Elder state that one can do what is not acceptable in administration as long as they are wrapped within the general good. Unlike the thinking brought about by Svaras discussion, Paul and Elder, in the book Thinkers Guide to Understanding the foundations of Ethical Thinking might encourage one to consider engaging in corrupt deeds as long as the outcome is good. Corruption is major a challenge in public administration and therefore taking Paul and Elders approach to administrational ethics would encourage misconduct and corruption, supported by the consideration of a good end and not the undesirable means.

Another point evidencing the desirability within taking Svaras thinking in applying ethics to public administration is the idea of validity claim, which is championed in his work. He notes that duty has obvious validity which is virtue based, and considers the inward qualities characterizing an exemplary person.

Public administration is an intellectual field which is geared towards the implementation of government policy. This field seeks to prepare civil servants in working in the public, interacting with the public. Understanding which work is better suited to public administration calls one to look into the kind of work that would be best suited to the interactions entailed during public relations and the delivery of service to the public (Svara, 2015). Choosing between ethics and morality calls one to choose between doing what is right versus working at his or her best to deliver service to the public. Contrasting between the works of Svara and that of Paul and Elder is more like considering the differences in applying morality ethics to public administration versus applying norm ethics. There are times when the two points seem to conflict. In this point, one is made to choose between doing is what is considered as being right from wrong and what is considered as being the normally accepted deed in public service. It should therefore be considered that in the event of seeking to do what is right, one might have to breach the doctrines of public service delivery. The arguments brought forward by Paul and Elder support the consideration of doing what is good on the expense of doing what is right. It is important to note that what is right has a scale of measure in public administration unlike good which is most at times subjective. Svaras approach is therefore a solid approach to objectivity in public administration.

It is observed that pail and Elder tend to urge the thinker to consider their judgments in the process of making ethical decisions in public administration. Svara on the other hand s of the idea of having the profession guiding most of decisions to be made, such that the person involved with public administration related decision making will have to follow a certain guide in decision making. Going by Svaras thinking would be appropriate because it eliminates subjectivity and forces the decision maker to rightful decisions and actions regardless of how hard to take the outcome may be. Applying Svaras book as a guide in public administration enables the sector to have a professional universality whereby decisions are made under a consideration of general factors guiding the manner of service delivery. The strengths of Svaras understanding and application of ethics to public administration are that he considers bias and subjectivity as being a human weakness. Paul and Elders strengths on the other hand are based on the consideration of weaknesses within laws and rules (Paul & Elder, 2009).

Paul and Elder in their guide to ethical decision making are more inclined towards social and judicial decision making more than public administration. Their ethical take is acceptable but not suitable to public administration context. This is because of the presence of many aspects that are always at stake in public administration. Social judgments differ from administrational judgments. Public administration is a professional issue which respects the laid down guidelines and terms of service. Unlike in the societal case, administration has every action attached to a consequence. The rules are clearer in public administration and the ethical standards to be applied in this case should be more defined. One can be judged in public administration for doing something the wrong way even the results were positive. Svaras guide has more defined guidelines and stresses on the considering the importance of law over ethics. Understanding the foundations of ethical reasoning holds that laws might not be ethical and it is during such a time that is free to break that law. In this guide, Paul and Elder fail to consider the purposefulness of laws in public administration. The weaknesses seen in Svaras guide are that it fails to consider cases whereby an administrator might take advantage of a bad law.

In conclusion, Svaras text, The Ethics Primer for Public Administration appears to be best suited to public administration. Despite the challenge witnessed within this guide, it is still more applicable to public administration than Paul and Elders guide, which seems to be more desirable only in social contexts and judgments. The two guides have both strengths and weaknesses in relation to decision making and public administration. However, one offers more practical solutions and guidelines to decision making than the other. Analyzing the two ethical discourses brings one into picking Svaras discussion and ethical discoursing as being more suited to public administration.


Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2009). The thinker's guide to understanding the foundations of ethical reasoning. Foundation Critical Thinking.

Svara, J. H. (2015). The ethics primer for public administrators in government and nonprofit organizations. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.


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