Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding 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.

Testing of Integrity

One can test a value system's integrity either:

  1. subjectively, by human constructs of accountability and internal consistency, or
  2. objectively, via the scientific method


The act of an entering a person or group may be measured in hours for consistency against that entity's espoused value system to determine integrity. This type of measurement is subjective because its measures rely on the values of the party doing the testing.

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. This counterintuitive process is normally uneventful.

Subjective testing measures integrity in relationship to human constructs. While some constructs, such as mathematics, are considered to be very reliable, all human constructs are subject to humanity's assumptions of cause and effect. To add causal testing of the greater universe, we employ the scientific method. On the other hand,

Testing Integrity Via the Scientific Method

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.

Scientific testing cannot produce "absolute truth" because scientific tests assume principles, values, methods and measures outside of the scope of the test. Rather, the scientific method is used to proof the integrity of a value system and to establish its conclusions as consistent with the assumptions used, thereby enabling further extrapolation within that domain.

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.

Integrity in Ethics

In discussions on behavior and morality, one view of the property of integrity sees it as the virtue of basing actions on an internally-consistentframework of principles. This scenario may emphasize depth of principles and adherence of each level of postulates or axioms to those itlogically 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 of these derive from a single core group of values.

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. This was formally described by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in his categorical imperative.

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 seeaccountability 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. 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

Subjective Interpretations

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.

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, but also as an understanding of different modes or styles in which discourseattempts to uncover a particular truth.

Carter writes that integrity requires three steps: "discerning what is right and what is wrong; acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong." He regards integrity as being distinct fromhonesty.

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 but there is use in other versions.

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 science's purposes for creation, humankind and the person as a liver of real life."


Integrity is a necessary foundation of any system based on the supremacy and objectivity of laws. Such systems are distinct from those where personal autocracy governs. The latter systems are often lacking in integrity because they elevate the subjective whims and needs of a single individual or narrow class of individuals above not only the majority, but also the law's supremacy. Such systems also frequently rely on strict controls over public participation in government and freedom of information. To the extent these behaviors involve dishonesty, turpitude, corruption or deceit, they lack integrity. Facially "open" or "democratic" systems can behave in the same way and thereby lack integrity in their legal processes.

In Anglo-American legal traditions, the adversarial process is generally, though not universally, viewed as the most appropriate means of arriving at the truth in a given dispute. This process assumes a given set of substantive and procedural rules that both sides in the dispute agree to respect. The process further assumes that both sides demonstrate willingness to share evidence, follow guidelines of debate, and accept rulings from the fact-finder in a good-faith effort to arrive at an equitable outcome. Whenever these assumptions are incorrect, the adversarial system is rendered inequitable. In turn, any given case is weakened. More importantly, when these assumptions are correct, truth is no longer the goal, justice is denied to the parties involved, and the overall integrity of the legal system called into question. If the integrity of any legal system is called into question often or seriously enough, the society served by that system is likely to experience some degree of disruption or even chaos in its operations as the legal system demonstrates inability to function.

Psychological/Work-Selection Tests

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. 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 claim of such tests to be able to detect "fake" answers plays a crucial role in detecting people who have low integrity. Naive respondents really believe this pretense and behave accordingly, reporting some of their past deviance and their thoughts about the deviance of others, fearing that if they do not answer truthfully their untrue answers will reveal their "low integrity". These respondents believe that the more candid they are in their answers, the higher their "integrity score" will be.

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, 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" is found 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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