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Through case studies set in different Asian countries, this book examines the efforts of public practitioners to develop the skills they need to act effectively and well in public life. In a time of evolving moral identity, Asian countries face laboratories of political transformation, with lessons for democratic practitioners everywhere.




No one should doubt the need for close study of ethics in public life, but the particular quirks and preoccupations of this book require some explanation. This book is neither a general survey of the field, nor an in-depth examination of a single, defined problem. It is a set of case studies, relating and reflecting on the stories of specific practitioners, in identified Asian contexts, struggling to act purposefully and conscientiously within their spheres of work, to meet their professional duties as they understand them. Through careful examination of these selected cases, we can learn a great deal about the kinds of moral competence practitioners require in order to act effectively and well in public life. Or, at the very least, we have occasions for drawing lessons from moral failure. Learning comes from paying close attention to practical decision making as it is lived, to achieve a depth of understanding otherwise typically missed or ignored by students of ethics.
Kenneth Winston

1. A Gift of Life: Developing a Framework for Ethics

Let’s begin with a story shared by one of my students, based on his personal experience. “Henry” graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School several years ago, and I have been wrestling with his quandary ever since.1
Kenneth Winston

2. The Prison Master’s Dilemma: Ethics in a Non-Ideal World

Henry’s story, in chapter 1, illuminates the fragmented character of a practitioner’s moral life. If moral integrity means pulling together and reconciling the different sources of obligation in one’s life, Henry was in an extremely difficult situation, indeed. With all the fortuitous elements that defined his problem in the hospital (to save or not save the baby), he was fortunate that events resolved themselves as they did. Practitioners are not always so fortunate, however, and then the moral life becomes still more complicated. This chapter is devoted to one such story.
Kenneth Winston

3. Missionaries in China: The Ethics of Exporting Ethics

In 2006, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Zhalan cemetery and viewing the gravesites of Matteo Ricci and his Jesuit colleagues, Johann Adam Schall and Ferdinand Verbiest. These sites, located outside the old city gate in Beijing, were restored after the Cultural Revolution and commemorated in 1983, on the 400th anniversary of Ricci’s arrival in China. The memory of the Jesuit mission to China is now carefully preserved, for it was the Jesuits who were largely responsible for opening up China to Europe in the modern period. This early encounter between East and West endures in significance.1
Kenneth Winston

Addendum to Chapter 3. Exporting the Rule of Law to China

While the Society of Jesus, today, is actively reconsidering the aims and methods of missionary work, a number of contemporary professional associations and US government agencies are busily engaged in secular missionary enterprises that, in certain respects, follow the model of the seventeenth-century Jesuits. In this addendum, I discuss briefly, as one example of contemporary missionary work, efforts at exporting the rule of law to China. The aim is not to offer a general discussion of the rule-of-law concept, which has amassed a prodigious literature, or even a detailed review of rule-of-law export projects, which have proliferated since the early 1990s, but rather to highlight three striking similarities to the work of the Jesuits in China—and one crucial difference.
Kenneth Winston

4. The Woman in the Corridor: Caring across Boundaries

This chapter features the story of a Western journalist in Cambodia (“Ann”) who gets caught up, by chance, in the care of two local women. While reflecting on her story, we are led to consider different grounds of obligation to people in need, wherever they may be. Like the other memoir cases in this book, the story is slightly disguised, to protect the protagonist’s identity. Since Ann was an experienced journalist and a good writer, I follow her own narration pretty closely. Aside from the story itself, I am able to draw on her analysis of the ethical issues as she understood them (analysis was the second component of the assignment in my Ethics course) as well as correspondence between us during the drafting of the case and after Ann’s graduation from the Harvard Kennedy School. In addition, to inform my commentary, I have consulted studies of Cambodian society, especially by anthropologists and historians, to provide some context for the events described.
Kenneth Winston

5. By the People: Becoming a Practitioner of Democracy

In 2011, Aruna Roy was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most-influential people in the world. In prior years, she had received similar recognition, including, in 2000, the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, and, in 2010, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academia, and Management. On each occasion, her most significant achievement was identified as the campaign for greater transparency and accountability in government. The Right to Information law enacted by the Indian Parliament in 2005 gave India’s citizens a powerful tool for monitoring official actions and protecting their rights.
Kenneth Winston

Conclusion: Moral Competence in Public Life

One distinction that I hope has emerged in these case studies is the difference between expertise and professionalism. Professionals, of course, bring expertise to bear in decision making—whether it is acquired by specialized training or in apprenticeship to established practitioners. But professionalism does not consist simply in the exercise of technical skills, using the right tools or methods, in the right way, to address problems at hand. Beyond such qualities, practitioners have fiduciary obligations to specific individuals—their constituents, their clients, their superiors—and to the public as a whole, to improve the quality of public life. Therefore, they need to know what their fiduciary obligations are and how to develop the competence necessary to meet them.
Kenneth Winston


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