Translators, as well as fieldworkers in general, are expected to conduct themselves according to certain ethical standards, which (for Christians) generally arise from the Bible. Therefore, it is important and helpful for them to be acquainted with the general system of and notion of ethics. This exercise is designed to help them.


  • To introduce and discuss the concept and nature of ethics
  • To apply ethical principles to fieldwork, either in SIL or with some other agency
  • To apply ethical principles to personal interaction


  • Handouts from: Merrifield, The ethics of Christian mission and notes from Dye, The ethics of evangelism


  • Begin with a general discussion on ethics and values
  • Point out that this will form the basis for a number of later classes and activities
  • Elicit several folk definitions of ethics
  • Contrast or compare these (when necessary and appropriate) with standard dictionary definitions (from COBUILD and the Pocket Oxford American Thesaurus, 2nd Editon)


  • A particular ethic is an idea or moral belief that influences the behaviour, attitudes, and philosophy of life of a group of people.
  • Discuss the American ethic of expansion and opportunity and the Protestant work ethic—How do these relate to missionary activities
  • Ethics are moral beliefs and rules about right and wrong

moral (belief):

  • Morals are principles and values based on what a person or society believes are the right or acceptable ways of behaviour
  • Morality means to be concerned with whether people’s behaviour is right or acceptable
  • Moral courage or duty is based on what you believe is right or acceptable, rather on what the law says should be done
  • Someone who is moral believes in a way they know is right or acceptable
  • If you give moral support to someone you encourage them in what they are doing by expressing approval and enthusiasm
  • The moral of a particular situation, story, or event is what you learn from it about how you should or should not behave


  • Rules are instructions that tell you what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do
  • The rules of something such as a language are statements that describe the way that thing usually happen in it
  • If something is the rule, it is the normal state of affairs
  • If you say that something happens as a rule, you mean that it usually happens
  • If someone in authority bends the rules or stretches the rules, they allow you to do something, even though it is against the rules
  • When someone rules a country, they have the power to control its affairs, and they use this power
  • When someone in authority rules on a particular matter, they give an official decision about it


  • A belief is a feeling of certainty that something exists, is true, or is good


  • Right is used to refer to actions that are considered to be morally good and acceptable


  • If there is something wrong, there is something unsatisfactory about the situation or thing that you are talking about
  • If something you do is wrong, it is bad or immoral
  • Wrong is used to refer to actions that are bad or immoral


  • Something that is good is:

pleasant and enjoyable;

of a high quality or standard;

satisfactory or successful;

  • If you say that a situation or idea is good, you mean it is desirable, acceptable, or right


  • The value of something such as a quality or a method is its importance or usefulness
  • The values of a person or group are the moral principles and beliefs that they think are important
  • See also “An Exercise in Values” by the author


  • A principle is a general belief that you have about the way you should behave, which influences your behaviour.
  • A principle is also:

a general rule about how something should be done:

a general scientific law which explains how something happens or works.

Further examples and definitions from Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus (American Heritage Dictionary), 1980:

ethics: The moral quality of a course of action

Syns: ethicalness, propriety, righteousness, rightness

ethic: A principle of right or good conduct or a body of such principles

Syns: morality, morals, mores

ethical: In accordance with principles of right or good conduct.

Syns: moral, principled, proper, right, righteous, right-minded.

Further Exercises:

  • List a number of educational behaviors (or statements):
  • For example, “teachers should not criticize each other in front of students”
  • Try to elicit a list of such statements
  • On the basis of play-acting on the market scene, formulate a body of ethics or statements
  • Consider how market sellers (and buyers) may feel or believe about market conventions
  • Relate these to what actually happens in the market.



  • List a number of professional anthropological ethical statements:
  • Note some from the American Anthropological Association
  • Compare with the materials in Merrifield and Dye


  • Do all cultures have ethics?
  • How do we discover the ethics in a society?
  • How are ethics related to rites?
  • Are their general v. specifically oriented ethics? i.e. do some apply only to certain situations or domains while others refer to the society as a whole?
  • Are ethics and etiquette related?
  • Etiquette is generally the manners, or what is considered socially correct behaviour
  • Other terms are convention, custom, decorum, propriety or protocol
  • How these are related and do ethics could grow out of them?

Formulate several ethical principles to help guide your fieldwork and interaction with people.