What is Probity ?: Definition and Overview

By | May 5, 2021

Probity originates from the latin word ‘probitas’, meaning good. Probity is confirmed integrity.
It is usually regarded as being incorruptible. It is the quality of having strong moral principles
and strictly following them, such as honesty, uprightness, transparency and incorruptibility.

Probity in Governance is concerned with the propriety and character of various organs of the
government as to whether these uphold the procedural uprightness, regardless of the
individuals manning these institutions.

It involves adopting an ethical and transparent approach, allowing the process to withstand
scrutiny. Probity goes further than the avoidance of being dishonest because it is determined
by intangibles like personal and societal values.

Philosophical Basis of Probity in Governance
The gist of wisdom on administrative ethics is that the public administrators are guardians of
the administrative state. Two crucial questions raised in this context are-
Why should guardians be guarded? and Who guards the guardian?

Historical perspective:
The ethical concerns of governance have been emphasized broadly in Indian scriptures and
other treatises such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvad Gita, Buddha Charita,
Arthashastra, Panchatantra, Manusmriti, Kural, Shukra Niti, Kadambari, Raja Tarangani, and
Hitopadesh. Chinese philosophers such as Lao Tse, Confucius, and Mencius also contributed
the theoretical dogmas on ethical governance.

Perspective of various other philosophers:

Western Philosophy identifies 3 eminent schools of ethics-
• First, inspired by Aristotle holds virtues (such as justice, charity, and generosity) are
dispositions to act in ways that benefit the possessor of these virtues and the society that
he is a part.

• The second by Immanuel Kant, makes the concept of duty central to morality i.e. human
beings are bound, from knowledge of their duty as rational beings, to obey the categorical
imperative to respect other rational beings with whom they interact. Kant supposed that a
rigorous application of the same methods of reasoning would yield equal success in
dealing with the problems of moral philosophy.

• The third being, the utilitarian standpoint that proclaims that the guiding principle of
conduct should be the greatest happiness (or benefit) of the greatest number.

Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics that maintained that moral action is the one
that maximizes utility. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, which implies that the
“end justifies the means”.

Another philosopher who developed an ethical theory of governance was David Hume. Hume
upholds that moral distinctions are derived from feelings of pleasure and pain of a special sort,
and not as held by many Western philosophers since Socrates from reason.

Working from the empiricist principle that the mind is essentially passive, Hume claims that reason by itself can
never prevent or produce any action or affection. But since morals concern actions and
affections, they cannot be based on reason.

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