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This article discusses integrity principally as a theoretical and ethical concept. For other uses of the term integrity, see integrity .

Integrity as a concept has to do with perceived consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome. People use integrity as a holistic concept, judging the integrity of systems in terms of those systems' ability to achieve their own goals (if any). 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 empirical observation. A value system may evolve over time while retaining integrity if those who espouse the values account for and resolve inconsistencies.

Some people see integrity as the quality of having a sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one's actions. Some people use the term "hypocrisy" in contrast to integrity for asserting that one part of a value system demonstrably conflicts with another, and to demand that the parties holding apparently conflicting values account for the discrepancy or change their beliefs to improve internal consistency (seen as a virtue).

The etymology of the word "integrity" can suggest insight into its use and meaning. It stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete).In this context, integrity may comprise the personal inner sense of "wholeness" deriving from (say) honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others "have integrity" to the extent that one judges whether they behave according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

Testing of integrity

One can test a value system's accountability either:

  1. subjectively, by a person's individual measures or
  2. objectively, via various scientific methods or via standardized mathematical procedures

Integrity in relation to value-systems

A personal or cultural value consists of an assumption from which one can extrapolate implementation or other values. On the other hand, a value system comprises a set of consistent ethical values and measures. Scientific methodology assumes that a system with perfect integrity yields a singular extrapolation (a hypothesis) that one can test against observed results.

Testing integrity via scientific methodology

Formal measures of integrity rely on a set of testing-principles — part of scientific methodology. To the extent that a proof follows the requirements of the methodology, scholars consider that proof scientific. Scientific methods include measures to ensure unbiased testing and (in Popperian paradigms) a requirement that the hypothesis have falsifiability.

One may test the integrity of a value system scientifically by using the values, methods and measures of the system to formulate a hypothesis of an expected cause-and-effect relationship. When multiple unbiased testers observe that a given cause consistently leads to an expected effect, one can say that the value system "has integrity".

By analogy, Newtonian physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics exemplify three distinct systems, each scientifically proven to have integrity according to their base assumptions and measures. (None of them count as absolute truth. One cannot use scientific testing to identify absolute truth because every scientific test assumes base principles, values, methods and measures not verified as part of a laboratory test. Nor does science have the hubris to seek a single absolute truth. Rather, various scientific methods can serve to test the integrity of a value system and to establish its conclusions as consistent with the assumptions used, thereby enabling further extrapolation within that domain.)

Integrity in ethics

Ethical meanings of integrity used in medicine and law refer to the wholeness of the human body with respect for "sacred" qualities such as a sense of unity, consistency, purity, unspoiledness and uncorruptedness.

In discussions on behavior and morality, one view of the property of integrity sees it as the virtue of basing actions on an internally-consistent framework of principles. This scenario may emphasize depth of principles and adherence of each level of postulates or axioms to the those it logically relies upon. One can describe a person as having ethical integrity to the extent that everything that that person does or believes: actions, methods, measures and principles — all derive from a single core group of values.

In the context of accountability, integrity serves as a measure of willingness to adjust a value system to maintain or improve its consistency when an expected result appears incongruent with observed outcome. Some regard integrity as a virtue in that they see accountability and moral responsibility as necessary tools for maintaining such consistency.

In the context of value theory, integrity provides the expected causation from a base value to its extrapolated implementation or other values. A value system emerges as a set of values and measures that one can observe as consistent with expectations.

Some commentators stress the idea of integrity as personal honesty: acting according to one's beliefs and values at all times. Speaking about integrity can emphasize the "wholeness" or "intactness" of a moral stance or attitude. Some views of wholeness may also emphasize commitment and authenticity.

Subjective interpretations

In popular culture, 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. It 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 one subjectively approves or disapproves. Thus one can describe a favored person as "having integrity" while describing an enemy 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.

English-speakers may measure assigned "integrity" in non-enumerated units designated as "scraps": speaking of preserving one's "last scraps of integrity" or having "not a scrap of integrity". This may imply that "integrity" in such situations can appear brittle or fragile — and apt to tarnish or decay.

Integrity in modern ethics

In a formal study of the term "integrity" and its meaning in modern ethics, law professor Stephen L. Carter sees integrity not only as a refusal to engage in behavior that evades responsibility . He sees it also as an understanding of different modes or styles in which some discourse takes place, and that tries to discover some truth .

Carter writes:

Integrity [...] requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.[...] Integrity [...] is not the same as honesty [...]

Christian integrity

Strong's Concordance records 16 uses of words translated as "integrity" in the KJV Old Testament, and none in the KJV New Testament.

One view of integrity in a Christian context states: "The Christian vision of integrity suggests that personal authenticity entails living in accordance with personal convictions that are based on an understanding of God's purposes for creation, humankind and the person as a disciple of Jesus."


An adversarial process can have general integrity when both sides demonstrate willingness to share evidence, follow guidelines of debate and accept rulings from an arbitrator in a good-faith effort to arrive at either the truth or a mutually equitable outcome. An honorable presentation of the case measures both sides of the argument with a consistent set of principles. Failure to present principles in accordance with observation or to try them unequally can weaken a case.

Psychological/work-selection tests

(This section discusses tests which aim to measure the probability of prospective employees proving trustworthy in the organization commissioning such tests.)

The procedures known as "integrity tests" or (somewhat confusingly) as "honesty tests"aim to identify which prospective employees may hide perceived negative or derogatory events from their past (such as doing prison time, getting psychiatric treatment, alcohol problems, drug abuse, etc.) and to identify for the prospective employer which work-candidates may cause strife for such employer. Integrity tests make certain assumptions, specifically:

  • that persons who have "low integrity" report more dishonest behaviour
  • that persons who have "low integrity" try to find reasons in order to justify such behaviour
  • that persons who have "low integrity" think others more likely to commit crimes — like theft, for example. (Since people seldom sincerely declare to a prospective employers their past deviance, the "integrity" testers adopted an indirect approach: letting the work-candidates talk about what they think of the deviance of other people, considered in general, as a written answer demanded by the questions of the "integrity test".)
  • that persons who have "low integrity" exhibit impulsive behaviour
  • that persons who have "low integrity" tend to think that society should severely punish deviant behaviour (Specifically, "integrity tests" assume that people who have a history of deviance report within such tests that they support harsher measures applied to the deviance exhibited by other people.)

The pretension of such tests to detect fake answers (they cannot detect false answers, but perpetrate a (noble) lie claiming this ability) plays a crucial role in detecting people who score low in integrity. Naive respondents really believe such pretense and behave accordingly, reporting some of their past deviance and their thoughts about the deviance of others, because of their fear if they do not answer truthfully their untrue answers will reveal their "low integrity". The more Pollyannaish the answers, the higher the "integrity score".(A HRM college of the UvAmarker Associate Professor, drs. R.J.A.M. Hulst, regards van Minden as an authority in his field , becoming so precisely by unmasking the tricks of his own trade and publishing books about such tricks. )

Other integrities

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, specifically in a marketing or branding context. One can speak of the integrity of a brand 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" defines it as a model of workability.

One-line thoughts

"Integrity is doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching."

"Integrity is doing what you say you'll do, and saying what you truly think, even if unpopular."

See also

External links


  1. Certainly this is part of Christian ethics.
  2. On page 242 Carter credits influence "to some extent by the fine discussion of integrity in Martin Benjamin's book Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics (Lawrence University Press of Kansas, 1990).
  3. Integrity does not always exactly equate to honesty, but the work selection professionals who administer integrity tests on behalf of employers who want to acquire new employees sometimes call them "honesty tests", according to van Minden (2005:206-208).
  4. Van Minden (2005:207) affirms this in his treatise on psychological tests .
  5. See abstract of Harvard Business School NOM Research Paper NO. 06-11 and Barbados Group Working Paper NO. 06-03 at:

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