Defining Integrity

Posted on September 24th, 2012 in Uncategorized by Jan Bilgen

Greetings on this bright fall morning!  As a new week lies in front of us, we have a request.  Post here examples of UW-Whitewater family members demonstrating behavior that you think indicates they value integrity in their daily lives.



Consider these thoughts & excerpts on integrity from Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Integrity is one of the most important and oft-cited of virtue terms. It is also perhaps the most puzzling. For example, while it is sometimes used virtually synonymously with ‘moral,’ we also at times distinguish acting morally from acting with integrity. Persons of integrity may in fact act immorally—though they would usually not know they are acting immorally.

When used as a virtue term, ‘integrity’ refers to a quality of a person’s character; however, there are other uses of the term. One may speak of the integrity of a wilderness region or an ecosystem, a computerized database, a defense system, a work of art, and so on. When it is applied to objects, integrity refers to the wholeness, intactness or purity of a thing—meanings that are sometimes carried over when it is applied to people. A wilderness region has integrity when it has not been corrupted by development or by the side-effects of development, when it remains intact as wilderness. A database maintains its integrity as long as it remains uncorrupted by error; a defense system as long as it is not breached. A musical work might be said to have integrity when its musical structure has a certain completeness that is not intruded upon by uncoordinated, unrelated musical ideas; that is, when it possesses a kind of musical wholeness, intactness and purity.

Integrity is also attributed to various parts or aspects of a person’s life. We speak of attributes such as professional, intellectual and artistic integrity. However, the most philosophically important sense of the term ‘integrity’ relates to general character. Philosophers have been particularly concerned to understand what it is for a person to exhibit integrity throughout life. Acting with integrity on some particularly important occasion will, philosophically speaking, always be explained in terms of broader features of a person’s character and life. What is it to be a person of integrity? Ordinary discourse about integrity involves two fundamental intuitions: first, that integrity is primarily a formal relation one has to oneself, or between parts or aspects of one’s self; and second, that integrity is connected in an important way to acting morally, in other words, there are some substantive or normative constraints on what it is to act with integrity.

Any attempt to strive for integrity has to take account of the effect of social and political context. The kind of society which is likely to be more conducive to integrity is one which enables people to develop and make use of their capacity for critical reflection, one which does not force people to take up particular roles because of their sex or race or any other reason, and one which does not encourage individuals to betray each other, either to escape prison or to advance their career. Societies and political structures can be both inimical and favorable to the development of integrity, sometimes both at once.”

Cox, Damian, La Caze, Marguerite and Levine, Michael, “Integrity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.