HKS Library Virtual Book Tour

Kenneth Winston, Visiting Scholar, Harvard Kennedy School, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation


The topic of moral competence is generally neglected in the study of public management and policy, yet it is critical to any hope we might have for strengthening the quality of governance and professional practice. What does moral competence consist in? How is it developed and sustained? These questions are addressed in this book through close examination of selected practitioners in Asian countries making life-defining decisions in their work. The protagonists include a doctor in Singapore, a political activist in India, a mid-level bureaucrat in central Asia, a religious missionary in China, and a journalist in Cambodia—each struggling with ethical challenges that shed light on what it takes to act effectively and well in public life. Together they bear witness to the ideal of public service, exercising their personal gifts for the well-being of others and demonstrating that, even in difficult circumstances, the reflective practitioner can be a force for good.


“In this fascinating set of cases, Winston demonstrates why he is one of our most sensitive—and practical—teachers and analysts of ethics in public life.” —Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University

“An important strand of modern ethics believes that ethical principles are best understood, taught, and inculcated not by learning abstract rules and principles, but instead by confronting and grappling with actual issues and actual ethical problems and conflicts. Kenneth Winston’s important study of ethical problems in the public arena—both governmental and non-governmental—exemplifies this approach at its best, as well as making an enduring contribution to the study of professional ethics and professional roles more generally.” —Frederick Schauer, University of Virginia

“This is the most fascinating book on practical ethics in years. The author has done a superb job of weaving penetrating ethical reasoning with vivid real life challenges and dilemmas in a seamless fashion. The book not only highlights the importance of moral competence in public affairs, but also reminds us that the transformation many developing countries are experiencing is not just political and economic, but moral as well.” —Lan Xue, Professor and Dean, School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, China

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Ethics in Public Life: Good Practitioners in a Rising Asia

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