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A question on ethics in journalism prompted me to wonder: are ethics questions on-topic here?

It makes sense to me that there are many ethical questions which are unique to the fields of writing - certainly journalism ethics, and others as well.

The question is whether we're equipped to address them, and whether we consider them on-topic.

I've found functioning ethics tags on Workplace.SE and Academia.SE. Are we willing to take them on as well?

  • Good question. Also, some professional associations have formal codes of ethics, so even if broader ethics questions are deemed off-topic, we could reasonably have more-focused questions that rely on conventions within particular fields. I would expect that there's a body of work on journalistic ethics, for example, so a question about that wouldn't just be an opinion poll. – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '16 at 16:20
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    I visited the site today and noticed that the first 5 questions had the word 'ethics' in it. If 'ethics' is not on topic then I don't know what is; assuming the moderators are doing their job. I can see the relationship between 'writing' and 'ethics'. I would have flagged them all but I'm new here. – user6035379 Nov 24 '16 at 18:35
  • @user6035379: That would be because one of the mods went and tagged our ethics questions, pushing them to the top. But yes, I'm much in agreement :) – Standback Nov 24 '16 at 19:43
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Tentatively on-topic.

Since these don't really have a home elsewhere on Stack Exchange, I'm hesitant to close ethical questions simply because we don't yet know how to handle them. I suggest we treat them like any question - edit to make them more targeted and answerable.

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I'm okay with giving ethics questions a shot if, as noted, we can keep them answerable. Ethics are subjective to a certain extent, so we'll have to be careful to make sure they don't turn into discussions.

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There are two meanings of ethics. On the one hand there are formal codes of ethics. Where such codes exist, there are legitimate questions about whether a particular action in a particular set of circumstances would constitute a breach of that code. These are clearly answerable by reference to the code and the facts of the individual cases. They would seem to be relevant to writing if the code was written to cover a writing activity.

The other meaning of ethics is more or less equivalent to morals. Professional ethics are rules that practitioners collectively agree to live by. Ethics are created by these agreements. But morals are things that are inherently right or wrong. They don't require an agreement to come into force. They are in force by their very nature. Of course, the problem is, not everyone agrees on what they are. Every creed, religious or secular, has its own moral code.

These moral codes are not directly related to writing, the way a journalistic code of ethics is, but they may naturally apply to writing. (Thou shalt not bear false witness. Though shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.) The problem for a site devoted to writing is that these are actually questions about the moral interpretation of a creed more than they are about writing. These questions may be answerable, within the frame of reference of each creed, but they are not really answerable as writing questions.

Therefore I would be inclined to say that questions relating to an identified writing related code of ethics are on topic, but general ethical (moral) questions are not.

  • I'm with mbakeranalecta on this. But I think that no one here has the journalistic background to answer questions such as the one linked in this meta question. But being unable to answer a question does not make that question off topic. – user5645 Nov 27 '16 at 18:25
  • Indeed, there do not seem to be many people here who are professional writers -- people who make a living writing. Only three that I can identify. On topic questions that no one currently active on the site can answer seem quite likely. Which probably means that far more questions should be left unanswered than actually are. Leaving them unanswered when no one is qualified to answer them might just (maybe) attract to the site people who are actually qualified to answer them. – Mark Baker Nov 29 '16 at 13:03

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