A student of mine once said to me "I will do almost anything to get along". Anything? Would you lie to get along, would you steal someone else's ideas or credit for something, would you ride roughshod over someone's rights and dignity to get along? If so, you can hardly be described as "moral"!
This raises the question; what place has integrity in ethics? Bernard Williams produced a much-quoted example in his essay against utilitarianism and the claim that maximising happiness is the only moral good. Suppose Jim arrives as an honoured guest of Pedro, who invites him as a special privilege to kill one Indian. If Jim refuses, a further 19 captives will die, if he assents, just on dies. Utilitarian ethics would argue: kill the one and save the many. But suppose I find such killing of the innocent impossible? Suppose it denies my integrity as a human being, my truth to myself, my own belief that I stand for something and always will. What utilitarianism ignores, says Williams, is the reality of moral integrity.
Integrity means consistency to our own beliefs and values. Integrity could be described as a virtue. It's vice of deficiency, following Aristotle's explanation of virtue as a mean between two vices, might be pragmatism. If I have too little integrity, then I will be likely to do anything, just to "get on". The excess might be a rigid inflexibility and inability to see how, in a particular situation, I need to lie (for example, to keep my wife happy when she asks whether I like her new dress). So integrity means the right sort of commitment to the right sort of principles in the right sort of contexts with a right sense of consistency.
How does integrity line up alongside compassion, courage, generosity, friendliness or any other virtue we might like to list? One of the criticisms of Aristotelean ethics is that we cannot agree on the virtues: he lists magnificence (buying and showing the best) and indignation, for example, and doesn't mention humility (a more Christian virtue). Aristotle's full list of virtues include pride, generosity, magnificence, anger, truth and indignation.
Surely it is integrity which links character to words. Aristotle also argues that three types of argument convince: pathos, logos, and ethos. Pathos involves emotional feeling and commitment (we get our English word "pathetic" from this, meaning, "one who inspires pathos"). Logos means rational argument and debate. That leaves ethos, from which we get the word "ethical". Ethos means character, where we accept an argument because we accept the integrity and values of the person speaking. When words don't match character, we call this "hypocrisy", which is derived from the Greek word meaning "play-acting", where actors in Greek plays wore masks which hid their real identity.
Integrity is close to the Aristotelean virtue of truth, which includes being true to oneself. Interestingly, this is close to the Judaeo-Christian concept of God, who is described in the Old Testament as "abounding in hesed and emeth" (Exodus 34:6). Hesed means "steadfast love" and emeth "truthfulness" or "faithfulness". A better translation might be "integrity", and Jesus "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14) embodies this key Christian virtue, as John sees Jesus as embodying the integrity of God.