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Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.
Barbara Killinger offers a traditional definition:
In ethics, integrity is regarded[by whom?] as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. Integrity can stand in opposition to hypocrisy, in that judging with the standards of integrity involves regarding internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding within themselves apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.
The word "integrity" stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete). In this context, integrity is the inner sense of "wholeness" deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others "have integrity" to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.
A value system's abstraction depth and range of applicable interaction may also function as significant factors in identifying integrity due to their congruence or lack of congruence with observation. A value system may evolve over time while retaining integrity if those who espouse the values account for and resolve inconsistencies.
One can test a value-system's integrity either:
Where the measures of the test are consensual only to the party being measured, the test is created by the same value system as the action in question and can result only in a positive proof. Thus, a neutral point of view requires testing measures consensual to anyone expected to believe the results.
The scientific method assumes that a system with perfect integrity yields a singular extrapolation within its domain that one can test against observed results. Where the results of the test match the expectations of the scientific hypothesis, integrity exists between the cause and effect of the hypothesis by way of its methods and measures. Where the results of the test do not match, the exact causal relationship delineated in the hypothesis does not exist. Maintaining a neutral point of view requires scientific testing to be reproducible by independent parties.
For example, Newtonian physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics are three distinct systems, each scientifically proven to have integrity according to their base assumptions and measures, but all three of which produce different extrapolated values when applied to real world situations. None of them claim to be absolute truth, but merely best value systems for certain scenarios. Newtonian physics demonstrates sufficiency for most activities on Earth, but produced a calculation more than ten feet in error when applied to NASA's moon landings, whereas general relativity calculations were precise for that application. General relativity, however, incorrectly predicts the results of a broad body of scientific experiments where quantum mechanics proves its sufficiency. Thus integrity of all three genres is applicable only to its domain.
In discussions on behavior and morality, an individual is said to possess the virtue of integrity if the individual's actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles. These principles should uniformly adhere to sound logical axioms or postulates. One can describe a person as having ethical integrity to the extent that the individual's actions, beliefs, methods, measures and principles all derive from a single core group of values. An individual must therefore be flexible and willing to adjust these values in order to maintain consistency when these values are challenged; such as when an expected test result fails to be congruent with all observed outcomes. Because such flexibility is a form of accountability, it is regarded as a moral responsibility as well as a virtue.
An individual's value system provides a framework within which the individual acts in ways which are consistent and expected. Integrity can be seen as the state or condition of having such a framework, and acting congruently within the given framework.
One essential aspect of a consistent framework is its avoidance of any unwarranted (arbitrary) exceptions for a particular person or group — especially the person or group that holds the framework. In law, this principle of universal application requires that even those in positions of official power be subject to the same laws as pertain to their fellow citizens. In personal ethics, this principle requires that one should not act according to any rule that one would not wish to see universally followed. For example, one should not steal unless one would want to live in a world in which everyone was a thief. The philosopher Immanuel Kant formally described the principle of universal application in his categorical imperative.
The concept of integrity implies a wholeness, a comprehensive corpus of beliefs, often referred to as a worldview. This concept of wholeness emphasizes honesty and authenticity, requiring that one act at all times in accordance with the individual's chosen worldview. Ayn Rand considered that integrity "does not consist of loyalty to one's subjective whims, but of loyalty to rational principles".
Ethical integrity is not synonymous with the good, as Zuckert and Zuckert show about Ted Bundy:
When caught, he defended his actions in terms of the fact-value distinction. He scoffed at those, like the professors from whom he learned the fact-value distinction, who still lived their lives as if there were truth-value to value claims. He thought they were fools and that he was one of the few who had the courage and integrity to live a consistent life in light of the truth that value judgments, including the command "Thou shall not kill," are merely subjective assertions.—Zuckert and Zuckert, The truth about Leo Strauss: political philosophy and American democracy
In common public usage, people sometimes use the word "integrity" in reference to a single "absolute" morality rather than in reference to the assumptions of the value system in question. In an absolute context, the word "integrity" conveys no meaning between people with differing definitions of absolute morality, and becomes nothing more than a vague assertion of perceived political correctness or popularity, similar to using terms such as "good" or "ethical" in a moralistic context.
One can also speak of "integrity" outside of its prescriptive meaning, in reference to a person or group of people of which the speaker subjectively approves or disapproves. Thus a favored person can be described as "having integrity", while an enemy can be regarded as "completely lacking in integrity". Such labeling, in the absence of measures of independent testing, renders the accusation itself baseless and (ironically) others may call the integrity of the assertion into question.
The procedures known as "integrity tests" or (more confrontationally) as "honesty tests" aim to identify prospective employees who may hide perceived negative or derogatory aspects of their past, such as a criminal conviction, psychiatric treatment or drug abuse. Identifying unsuitable candidates can save the employer from problems that might otherwise arise during their term of employment.
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Disciplines and fields with an interest in integrity include philosophy of action, philosophy of medicine, mathematics, the mind, cognition, consciousness, materials science, structural engineering, and politics. Popular psychology identifies personal integrity, professional integrity, artistic integrity, and intellectual integrity.
The concept of integrity may also feature in business contexts beyond the issues of employee/employer honesty and ethical behavior, notably in marketing or branding contexts. The "integrity" of a brand is regarded by some as a desirable outcome for companies seeking to maintain a consistent, unambiguous position in the mind of their audience. This integrity of brand includes consistent messaging and often includes using a set of graphics standards to maintain visual integrity in marketing communications.
Another use of the term, "integrity" appears in the work of Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard in their academic paper, "Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomenon of Morality, Ethics, and Legality". In this paper the authors explore a new model of integrity as the state of being whole and complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, and in perfect condition. They posit a new model of integrity that provides access to increased performance for individuals, groups, organizations, and societies. Their model "reveals the causal link between integrity and increased performance, quality of life, and value-creation for all entities, and provides access to that causal link."
Electronic signals are said to have integrity when there is no corruption of information between one domain and another, such as from a disk drive to a computer display. Such integrity is a fundamental principle of information assurance. Corrupted information is untrustworthy, yet uncorrupted information is of value.
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