Ethical Decision Making

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making
We all have an image of our better selves-of how we are when we act ethically or are "at our best." We probably also have an image of what an ethical community, an ethical business, an ethical government, or an ethical society should be. Ethics really has to do with all these levelsacting ethically as individuals, creating ethical organizations and governments, and making our society as a whole ethical in the way it treats everyone.

Putting the Approaches Together
Each of the approaches helps us determine what standards of behavior can be considered ethical. There are still problems to be solved, however. The first problem is that we may not agree on the content of some of these specific approaches. We may not all agree to the same set of human and civil rights. We may not agree on what constitutes the common good. We may not even agree on what is a good and what is a harm. The second problem is that the different approaches may not all answer the question "What is ethical?" in the same way. Nonetheless, each approach gives us important information with which to determine what is ethical in a particular circumstance. And much more often than not, the different approaches do lead to similar answers.

.Making Decisions Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. The following framework for ethical decision making is a useful method for exploring ethical dilemmas and identifying ethical courses of action. can we make good ethical choices in such situations. Having a method for ethical decision making is absolutely essential. Only by careful exploration of the problem. the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific steps. the more we need to rely on discussion and dialogue with others about the dilemma. The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face. When practiced regularly. aided by the insights and different perspectives of others.

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making 1. Make a Decision and Test It 5. Get the Facts 3. Act and Reflect on the Outcome . Making an Ethical Decision 2. Evaluate Alternative Actions 4.

how? . Could this decision or situation be damaging to someone or to some group? Does this decision involve a choice between a good and bad alternative.Making an Ethical Decision 1. Is this issue about more than what is legal or what is most efficient? If so. or perhaps between two goods or between two bads ? 2.

Get the Facts 3. What are the relevant facts of the case? What facts are not known? Can I learn more about the situation? Do I know enough to make a decision? 4. What individuals and groups have an important stake in the outcome? Are some concerns more important? Why? 5. What are the options for acting? Have all the relevant persons and groups been consulted? Have I identified creative options? .

not just some members? (The Common Good Approach) Which option leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be? (The Virtue Approach) .Evaluate Alternative Actions 6. Evaluate the options by asking the following questions: Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm? (The Utilitarian Approach) Which option best respects the rights of all who have a stake? (The Rights Approach) Which option treats people equally or proportionately? (The Justice Approach) Which option best serves the community as a whole.

Make a Decision and Test It 7. which option best addresses the situation? 8. If I told someone I respect or told a television audience which option I have chosen. what would they say? . Considering all these approaches.

Act and Reflect on the Outcome 9. How can my decision be implemented with the greatest care and attention to the concerns of all stakeholders? 10. How did my decision turn out and what have I learned from this specific situation? .

One clue that an action or situation needs an ethical rather than simply a business judgment is that the action or situation involves actual or potential harm to someone or some thing. Another clue would be that there seems to be a possibility of a violation of what we generally consider right or good. .HOW TO IDENTIFY AN ETHICAL ISSUE Ethical judgments are made about actions or situations that are right or wrong. good or bad.

or my grandmother? .HOW TO USE THE SMELL TEST Another good way to identify when an ethical issue that needs to be addressed is to use the Smell Test: What would the action or situation we are considering smell like if we read about in a front-page news article or in a popular blog? Would we be comfortable reading a Wall Street Journal story that our company was doing this or letting the current situation continue for long? Would I be comfortable explaining it to my spouse.

.The Smell Test is familiar ground in most businesses and is a good place to begin. It is a quick and dirty test for deciding if something is an ethical issue and useful because brand name and a person s reputation are important in business.

It enlists the emotion of shame.The strengths of the smell test: It focuses us on what other ethical people in the society would think. It prevents us from taking special advantages for ourselves. It recognizes that morality is about what others think as much as it is about what I think. a powerful motivator to be sure we are getting this right. .

we will have to move beyond the smell test. living with bad smells or unethical conduct for a long time may dull a person s ability to notice them. The society may be blind to the ethical dimensions of an action or situation. . It tells us that an action is an ethical issue but not why it is right or wrong.The weaknesses: weaknesses: The smell test is only as good as the society we live in. may accept unethical actions as ethical. Knowing why an action is right or wrong can help explain it to others. or be divided on whether the action is right or wrong. To determine why. As the olfactory image reminds us. Knowing why it is wrong can help to modify the action to make it right.

manipulation.Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics Utilitarianism is a moral principle that holds that the morally right course of action in any situation is the one that produces the greatest balance of benefits over harms for everyone affected. or coercion. . utilitarianism does not care whether the benefits are produced by lies. So long as a course of action produces maximum benefits for everyone.

To discover what we ought to do in any situation. we choose the course of action that provides the greatest benefits after the costs have been taken into account. And third. Second. . we determine all of the foreseeable benefits and harms that would result from each course of action for everyone affected by the action. we first identify the various courses of action that we could perform.Utilitarianism offers a relatively straightforward method for deciding the morally right course of action for any particular situation we may find ourselves in.

The principle of utilitarianism can be traced to the writings of Jeremy Bentham. His motto. a familiar one now. sought an objective basis that would provide a publicly acceptable norm for determining what kinds of laws England should enact." . who lived in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He believed that the most promising way of reaching such an agreement was to choose that policy that would bring about the greatest net benefits to society once the harms had been taken into account. was "the greatest good for the greatest number. a legal reformer. Bentham.

the rule "to always tell the truth" in general promotes the good of everyone and therefore should always be followed. In other words. most hold to the general principle that morality must depend on balancing the beneficial and harmful consequences of our conduct. however. for example. Others. we ought to lie. known as rule utilitarians. Despite such differences among utilitarians. Some utilitarians maintain that in making an ethical decision. . claim that we must choose that act that conforms to the general rule that would have the best consequences. we must ask ourselves: "What effect will my doing this act in this situation have on the general balance of good over evil?" If lying would produce the best consequences in a particular situation.Utilitarians also differ in their views about the kind of question we ought to ask ourselves when making an ethical decision. even if in a certain situation lying would produce the best consequences. we must ask ourselves: "What effect would everyone's doing this kind of action have on the general balance of good over evil?" So.

or the value of human dignity? Moreover. the value of life. How do we go about assigning a value to life or to art? And how do we go about comparing the value of money with. But it's often difficult. if not impossible. for example. to measure and compare the values of certain benefits and costs. can we ever be really certain about all of the consequences of our actions? Our ability to measure and to predict the benefits and harms resulting from a course of action or a moral rule is dubious.Problems With Utilitarianism The utilitarian calculation requires that we assign values to the benefits and harms resulting from our actions and compare them with the benefits and harms that might result from other actions. the value of time. to say the least. .

We can imagine instances where a certain course of action would produce great benefits for society. in spite of its injustice. will be the result of allowing the black majority of South Africa to run the government. If such a prediction were true and the end of apartheid has shown that the prediction was false then the white government of South Africa would have been morally justified by utilitarianism.Perhaps the greatest difficulty with utilitarianism is that it fails to take into account considerations of justice. During the apartheid regime in South Africa in the last century. they predicted. and unrest. social conditions have rapidly deteriorated. These whites claimed that in those African nations that have traded a whites-only government for a black or mixed one. economic decline. Civil wars. South African whites. . for example. but they would be clearly unjust. sometimes claimed that all South Africans including blacks were better off under white rule. famine.

play a role in these decisions. It can. however. Utilitarianism asks us to look beyond selfinterest to consider impartially the interests of all persons affected by our actions. . The principle of utilitarianism invites us to consider the immediate and the less immediate consequences of our actions.Utilitarianism cannot be the sole principle guiding our decisions.

As between his own happiness and that of others. but that of all concerned. is not. utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator... .As John Stuart Mill once wrote: The happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct.(one's) own happiness.

as an indicator of preferences . For this principle the ends justify the means: an action is right if it creates the best overall outcome. the consequences or outcomes determine what is right or wrong. INTRODUCE THE TEST Ask: Are we maximizing good and minimizing harm for all those affected? For the utility test (or Utilitarian Principle ). Good outcomes can be measured by: happiness and unhappiness (pleasure and pain) the preferences of individuals money.HOW TO USE THE UTILITY TEST A.

Everyone wants to be happy or avoid being unhappy. good is what makes the most happiness or least unhappiness regardless of who is affected. WHY IS UTILITY A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? The utility test is a valid way to decide which actions are right or wrong because: Everyone counts the same. because everyone affected by the action has equal standing as a person. In short.B. Therefore. . we can t just look at consequences for ourselves or our group to decide what is ethical.

C. APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Identify the alternative actions that are possible and the persons and groups (the stakeholders) who will be affected by these actions. STEP 2: For each of the most promising alternatives, determine the benefits and costs to each person or group affected. These calculations: require predicting probable outcomes based on facts and experience; should include both short-term and long-term consequences; and should consider the relative value or marginal utility of an outcome to different individuals and groups. STEP 3: Select the action in the current situation that produces the greatest benefits over costs for all affected. If costs outweigh benefits, select the action with the least costs relative to benefits. This step shows the alternative that has the greatest net good for this one situation. STEP 4: Ask what would happen if the action were a policy for all similar situations. Since what is done in one situation often becomes an example or even a policy for future actions, this step shows which alternative maximizes good for this and future situations.

D. DRAW A CONCLUSION If the same action is selected in Steps 3 & 4, then this is the ethical action. If different actions are selected, then decide whether the individual action or the policy will produce the greatest good and the least harm, for all affected, over the long term.

Outcomes matter I cannot be satisfied with simply following my personal ethical standards if bad consequences result. Factual data and assessing the probability of potential outcomes are important to deciding what is right/wrong. The welfare of animals and other entities should be included in ethical decisions since they are affected by outcomes. The emphasis on rational calculation and on including all stakeholders reminds us that our immediate intuitions about right and wrong cannot always be trusted. Requires striving for the best outcome and not simply a good outcome.

Is subject to several common errors when being applied: Limited Stakeholder error--considering outcomes only for myself or my group. Single Alternative error--deciding an action is good because its benefits outweigh its costs without considering alternatives that may have a better benefit/cost ratio. In organizations where outcomes are measured by making the quarterly numbers. . Short Term error--considering only direct or immediate consequences instead of including indirect and long term consequences. it may be difficult to focus on long term goods and harms in the long run everyone hopes to outrun their mistakes by promotion.WEAKNESSES OF THE UTILITY TEST Requires accurate probability assessments of likely outcomes that may be difficult or impossible to make in complex situations. transfer. or retirement.

but also by society in general Legal Moral Standard . The "justification" of a claim is dependent on some standard acknowledged and accepted not just by the claimant.What is a right? A right is a justified claim on others.

Intrinsic value Vs Extrinsic value Liberty Vs Welfare Rights Negative Vs Positive Rights .

HOW TO USE THE RIGHTS TEST the Rights Test Test. and the Choices Test Test. . the Exceptions Test Test.

THE RIGHTS TEST A. . B. WHY IS THIS A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? People are familiar with the idea of rights and are quick to use the word to explain a claim they have against others. INTRODUCE THE TEST Ask: Are we respecting human rights. why they are entitled to something from society or others why they should be protected from actions that benefit society or others at our expense.

C. APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Identify the right being upheld or violated. Liberty rights. Welfare rights Individuals and society may have obligations to help me obtain these if they are available and I have done my part to obtain them. .

. and/or (b) essential to a person s freedom or wellbeing. because it is: (a) essential a person s dignity and self worth. (c) We can explain why a right is essential by asking what would happen if the individual were denied this right and whether we would want that right respected if we were in that person s position. STEP 3: Ask whether that right conflicts with other rights or with the rights of others.STEP 2: Explain why it deserves the status of a right.

.D. Remember. DRAW A CONCLUSION Explain briefly how the Rights principle does or does not apply in this case. save the rights hammer for the really big issues.

.STRENGTHS OF THE RIGHTS TEST Others pay attention when you advance a claim that someone s rights are being violated.

This test is not helpful in ordinary circumstances.WEAKNESSES OF THE RIGHTS TEST conflict with other rights and with the overall good. Cinema etc Non availability of universally recognized list of rights. Business Class. Restaurant. Firing an employee .

HOW TO USE THE EXCEPTIONS TEST 1. 2. WHY IS THIS A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? We are all equal as ethical actors. so whatever is ethical for me must be ethical for others in the same circumstances. INTRODUCE THE TEST Ask: What if everyone did it? An exception is claiming it is ethical for us to do an action but not ethical for others to do it in the same situation. .

Adjust the generality or specificity of the action to highlight what is questionable: Is the action part of a general category such as not telling the truth or breaking a promise ? Or does the action have specific characteristics that are relevant. .3. APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Specify what action we are considering. Describe the action in a way that captures the ethically relevant features. Avoid value-loaded descriptors that already contain the ethical judgment ( We are lying to the customer ) because this closes off further discussion. such as not telling the truth to save a life or breaking a promise because something more important is at risk which are more specific descriptions.

Become impossible for anyone to do the action because everyone tried to do it? a) If everyone lied b) If everyone filed false tax returns Since everyone is equal. would make the action unethical: . b. What if everyone did it? If the action were adopted by others in similar situations. would it: a. We would be making an exception for ourselves. Create a business climate unacceptable to us because everyone was doing it? STEP 3: Draw a conclusion for Step 2: What if everyone did it? Either condition a. it is not ethical for us to do something that not everyone can do.STEP 2: Ask. or b.

STEP 5: Draw a conclusion for Step 4: What if they did it to us? If it would not be ethical for others to do the action to us.STEP 4: Ask. What if they did it to us? Golden Rule: Do unto others. then it is unethical for us to do the action because we would be claiming an exception for ourselves. .

SUMMARIZE THE CONCLUSIONS for What if everyone did it? and for What if they did it to us? Failing any one of the three conditions shows the action to be unethical. .

.STRENGTHS OF THE EXCEPTIONS TEST Reminds us not to give ourselves advantages in regard to what is ethical that we are all equal in what is right or wrong.

.WEAKNESSES OF THE EXCEPTIONS TEST People who are vicious or fanatics may agree to a world that others would find unacceptable.

WHY IS THIS A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? So let others make their own choices based on what they value. signed contracts. or made other prior commitments may not be free to act because of their commitments.HOW TO USE THE CHOICES TEST 1. INTRODUCE THE TEST Ask Are the people affected able to make their own choices. Children. Those who have made promises. 2. . for example. Don t choose for them except in special circumstances. may not be equal because they may not know what they really value.

3. APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Am I giving others freedom to choose what they value? STEP 2: Am I giving them the information necessary to know what they value in this situation? .

STEP 3: Draw a conclusion: Is the action unethical because it does not give the persons being affected the freedom and/or the information to choose what she/he values? .

Many ethical violations in business and professional settings involve denying people information or limiting their freedom to choose. .STRENGTHS OF THE CHOICES TEST Respecting the ability humans to determine the course of their own lives by making choices based on what they think is valuable.

The concept of freedom is the subject of much disagreement. between persuasion and coercion can be difficult to draw. for example. Changing password etc). The line. Mobile Phones. When does making something look attractive take away from a person s freedom to reject it (Advertising). .WEAKNESSES OF THE CHOICES TEST It can reinforce a simplistic view of human decision making that people are clear about what they value and make rational choices based on those values(Seat Belt.

" a chronic and sometimes fatal disease with symptoms similar to asthma and emphysema.Justice and Fairness When Beatrice Norton was fourteen. In 1977. In 1968. she had to stop working because of her health. she followed in her mother's footsteps and began working in the cotton mill. after a career in the mill. she testified at a congressional hearing. Years of exposure to cotton dust had resulted in a case of "brown lung. . asking that the government require companies to provide disability compensation for victims of the disease similar to the compensation companies provided for other similar diseases.

. to A Theory of Justice. written by the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls. written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Norton . every major work on ethics has held that justice is part of the central core of morality. From the Republic.To Mrs. receiving compensation for the debilitating effects of brown lung similar to that given to other diseases was a simple matter of justice.

in more traditional terms.Justice means giving each person what he or she deserves or. Justice and fairness are closely related terms that are often today used interchangeably. giving each person his or her due. .

" .Principles of Justice The most fundamental principle of justice one that has been widely accepted since it was first defined by Aristotle more than two thousand years ago is the principle that "equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.

this principle is sometimes expressed as follows: "Individuals should be treated the same.In its contemporary form." . unless they differ in ways that are relevant to the situation in which they are involved.

For example. . And if Jack is paid more than Jill simply because he is a man. and there are no relevant differences between them or the work they are doing. then in justice they should be paid the same wages. if Jack and Jill both do the same work. then we have an injustice a form of discrimination because race and sex are not relevant to normal work situations. or because he is white.

There are. however. . we think it is fair and just when a parent gives his own children more attention and care in his private affairs than he gives the children of others. many differences that we deem as justifiable criteria for treating people differently. For example. we think it is just when the government gives benefits to the needy that it does not provide to more affluent citizens. and we think it is fair when those who exert more efforts or who make a greater contribution to a project receive more benefits from the project than others. we think it is just when some who have done wrong are given punishments that are not meted out to others who have done nothing wrong. we think it is fair when the person who is first in a line at a theater is given first choice of theater tickets.

we generally hold that it is unjust to give individuals special treatment on the basis of age. race. We also believe it isn't fair when a person is punished for something over which he or she had no control. If the judge's nephew receives a suspended sentence for armed robbery when another offender unrelated to the judge goes to jail for the same crime. or the brother of the Director of Public Works gets the million dollar contract to install sprinklers on the municipal golf course despite lower bids from other contractors. sex. And the people involved in the "brown lung hearings" felt that it wasn't fair that some diseases were provided with disability compensation.In the world of work. we say that it's unfair. or isn't compensated for a harm he or she suffered. . or their religious preferences. for example. while other similar diseases weren't.

have greater or less need. contributed more or less. But there are circumstances in which everyone does not have an equal claim because they worked harder or less hard. be older or younger.some may have a claim because they are members of my family or a group to which I owe loyalty. . The reasons for inequality: Effort some may have worked harder Accomplishment some may have achieved more or performed better Contribution some may have contributed more to the group or society Need some may have a greater need to be served first or receive a larger share Seniority some may have arrived in line first. has equal value as a human person then everyone has an equal claim to a share. INTRODUCE THE PRINCIPLE: Ask: Is this a fair distribution of benefits and burdens. WHY IS THE JUSTICE TEST A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? If everyone is equal that is. The default distribution is to give everyone an equal share since all are worth the same. or have more years of service Contract a prior agreement about how the distribution should be made. So a fair distribution is in each situation depends on their equality or inequality: Treat equals equally and unequals unequally. etc. Relationship or In-Group Status -.HOW TO USE THE JUSTICE TEST A. B.

then select a fair process to decide what is fair: an election. dispassionate judge. STEP 3: If disagreement persists over which outcome is fair or over which criterion for inequality is best in the situation.C. APPLY THE PRINCIPLE STEP 1: What is the distribution? Who is getting the benefits and burdens in the situation: Do those who get benefits also share burdens? Do those with benefits share some of the burdens? These are factual questions. STEP 2: Is the distribution fair? Which criterion for distribution would be most fair in this situation and why would it be most fair in this situation? You have to defend the distribution and the criterion or reason for the distribution. STEP 4: Draw a conclusion Will this action produce a fair distribution. Once you know the distribution you can decide if it is fair or not. and why? . chance decided by a coin or paper-rock-scissors.

Subjects will give up rewards that would make them better off than they are. including primates and dogs. . It is present in many animals.STRENGTHS OF THE JUSTICE TEST Research shows fairness to be one of the most fundamental ethical instincts in humans. if others are getting greater rewards that are not justified.

.WEAKNESSES OF THE JUSTICE TEST There is no single criterion for a fair distribution so the test is always open to disagreement among ethical persons.

Samuelson recently wrote: "We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where group selfishly protect their own benefits." Daniel Callahan.The Common Good Newsweek columnist Robert J. an expert on bioethics. . argues that solving the current crisis in our health care system--rapidly rising costs and dwindling access--requires replacing the current "ethic of individual rights" with an "ethic of the common good".

Aristotle. and Cicero. .What exactly is "the common good". and why has it come to have such a critical place in current discussions of problems in our society? The common good is a notion that originated over two thousand years ago in the writings of Plato.

John Rawls..equally to everyone's advantage" Catholic religious tradition. defines it as "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment. defined the common good as "certain general conditions that are.Contemporary ethicist. ..

and environments on which we all depend work in a manner that benefits all people. institutions. . Examples of particular common goods or parts of the common good include an accessible and affordable public health care system. and a flourishing economic system.The common good. then. peace among the nations of the world. a just legal and political system. and effective system of public safety and security. consists primarily of having the social systems. and unpolluted natural environment.

people.The common good does not just happen. Just as keeping a park free of litter depends on each user picking up after himself. Establishing and maintaining the common good require the cooperative efforts of some. so also maintaining the social conditions from which we all benefit requires the cooperative efforts of citizens. . often of many.

The common good is a good to which all members of society have access, and from whose enjoyment no one can be easily excluded. All persons, for example, enjoy the benefits of clean air or an unpolluted environment, or any of our society's other common goods. In fact, something counts as a common good only to the extent that it is a good to which all have access.

First, according to some philosophers, the very idea of a common good is inconsistent with a pluralistic society like ours. Different people have different ideas about what is worthwhile or what constitutes "the good life for human beings", differences that have increased during the last few decades as the voices of more and more previously silenced groups, such as women and minorities, have been heard. Given these differences, some people urge, it will be impossible for us to agree on what particular kind of social systems, institutions, and environments we will all pitch in to support.

And even if we agreed upon what we all valued, we would certainly disagree about the relative values things have for us. While all may agree, for example, that an affordable health system, a healthy educational system, and a clean environment are all parts of the common good, some will say that more should be invested in health than in education, while others will favor directing resources to the environment over both health and education.

In the face of such pluralism. . Moreover. tyranny. and oppression. violating the freedom of those who do not share in that goal. violating the principle of treating people equally.Such disagreements are bound to undercut our ability to evoke a sustained and widespread commitment to the common good. such efforts would force everyone to support some specific notion of the common good. while excluding others. and inevitably leading to paternalism (imposing one group's preference on others). efforts to bring about the common good can only lead to adopting or promoting the views of some.

An adequate water supply. Individuals can become "free riders" by taking the benefits the common good provides while refusing to do their part to support the common good. The benefits that a common good provides are. however.A second problem encountered by proponents of the common good is what is sometimes called the "free-rider problem". they can enjoy the benefits without reducing their own consumption. the common good which depends on their support will be destroyed. people must conserve water. for example. which entails sacrifices. including those who choose not to do their part to maintain the common good. But to maintain an adequate supply of water during a drought. available to everyone. is a common good from which all people benefit. If enough people become free riders in this way. Some individuals may be reluctant to do their share. since they know that so long as enough other people conserve. .

In this individualistic culture it is difficult. but should be left free to pursue her own personal ends. Our culture views society as comprised of separate independent individuals who are free to pursue their own individual goals and interests without interference from others. reinforce the individual who thinks that she should not have to contribute to the community's common good. in fact.The third problem encountered by attempts to promote the common good is that of individualism. for the sake of the "common good". . Our cultural traditions. some of their personal goals. to convince people that they should sacrifice some of their freedom. perhaps impossible. and some of their selfinterest.

may require that particular firms that pollute install costly pollution control devices. appeals to the common good are confronted by the problem of an unequal sharing of burdens. .Finally. Making employment opportunities more equal may require that some groups. Maintaining a common good often requires that particular individuals or particular groups bear costs that are much greater than those borne by others. for example. such as white males. undercutting profits. Maintaining an unpolluted environment. sacrifice their own employment chances.

unjust. at least arguably.Forcing particular groups or individuals to carry such unequal burdens "for the sake of the common good". . the prospect of having to carry such heavy and unequal burdens leads such groups and individuals to resist any attempts to secure common goods. is. Moreover.

. This common good includes the social systems.HOW TO USE THE COMMON GOOD TEST A. and ways of understanding that we all depend on to pursue our individual goods. WHY IS THE COMMON GOOD TEST A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? Being able to live together in a community requires that we pay attention not just to our individual goods but also to the common conditions that are important to the welfare of us all. these must work in a manner that benefits all people. institutions. we all have obligations to establish and maintain it. INTRODUCE THE TEST: Ask: Are we doing our part to look out for the common good in this situation? B. natural and technological environments. Since we all have access to the common good and benefit from it. For a community to be sustainable.

financial.C. environments and ideologies that we depend on for a functioning and healthy society could be advanced or damaged by our actions in this situation? What actions will strengthen them? What actions will weaken them? Whereas the utility test focuses on the total benefits and harms produced. . courts. the common good test focuses on whether the action or situation contributes to or harms a particular aspect of the common good. and legal systems necessary for the production of goods and services and economic development. The common good also includes the sets of ideas we use to understand the different aspects of the common good. military and political system required for public safety. educational. and happiness. institutions. and the ecosystem and technology which make all these activities possible. a functioning government. the police. the businesses. and health care systems required for human growth. social. and peace. development. APPLY THE TEST: STEP 1: Specify what parts of the common good are involved. The common good includes among other things the family. Which social systems.

What obligation does my company or I have to maintain these aspects of the common good because we benefit from them? If my company benefits from having stable families and educated workers. do we have an obligation to promote these aspects of the common good or at least not to harm them? . for example.STEP 2: Explain why we have obligation to promote or protect the common good.

that the common good of maximizing the good effects of distributing federal stimulus money in a severe recession means that lobbying for a particular interest group needs to be restrained more than in ordinary times.STEP 3: Does the proposed action conflict with this obligation? Do our employment policies and actions in the community weaken family stability or education or put these aspects of the common good at risk? This question might help an investment banker recognize that even though he is due a multimillion dollar bonus. or that the common good of maintaining the courts as an efficient problem resolution mechanism requires that even though a company s deep pockets enable them to stall a lawsuit indefinitely by filing an endless motions. the common good of restoring trust in the financial system may require that he give it up. they should not do so. .

.D: DRAW A CONCLUSION: If the action conflicts with my or my organization s obligation to contribute to the common good. it is the wrong action.

No matter how much a person or group has contributed to their own success. the test reminds them that society and the natural and technological environments also contribute to that success and that existing institutions and ideologies enable them to carry on their activities. It is a good check on the free rider problem where the efforts of others may allow me not to contribute.STRENGTHS OF THE TEST: It provides an important reality check for individuals and organizations. .

WEAKNESSES OF THE TEST There is a great deal of disagreement over what constitutes the common good and over what relative value the parts have should they conflict. so it may stir up immediate resistance that could distract from the ethical issue to be resolved. . The test runs contrary to a long-standing tradition of individualism and the pursuit of selfinterest in some western societies.

read passionate adherents of the moral principle of utilitarianism: "Everyone is obligated to do whatever will achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. Many people." Others are just as devoted to the basic principle of Immanuel Kant: "Everyone is obligated to act only in ways that respect the human dignity and moral rights of all persons. the fundamental question of ethics is. "What should I do?" or "How should I act?" Ethics is supposed to provide us with "moral principles" or universal rules that tell us what to do.Ethics and Virtue For many of us." . for example.

.. e. We "apply" them by asking what these principles require of us in particular circumstances. doctors. when considering whether to lie or to commit suicide.. e. or business people. "legal ethics". These centers are designed to examine the implications moral principles have for our lives. dozens of ethics centers and programs devoted to "business ethics". lawyers.g.g. and "ethics in public policy" have sprung up. In the last decade. We also apply them when we ask what they require of us as professionals. "medical ethics".Moral principles focus primarily on people's actions and doings. or what they require of our social policies and institutions.

According to "virtue ethics". toward which we should strive and which allow the full development of our humanity. . there are certain ideals. These ideals are discovered through thoughtful reflection on what we as human beings have the potential to become. such as excellence or dedication to the common good.

fidelity. fairness. . or character traits that enable us to be and to act in ways that develop this potential. compassion. dispositions. self-control. generosity. and prudence are all examples of virtues. They enable us to pursue the ideals we have adopted. courage. Honesty. integrity."Virtues" are attitudes.

. so too does our capacity to be fair. Just as the ability to run a marathon develops through much training and practice. a person can improve his or her character by practicing self-discipline. while a good character can be corrupted by repeated self-indulgence. or to be compassionate. to be courageous. As the ancient philosopher Aristotle suggested.How does a person develop virtues? Virtues are developed through learning and through practice.

a person who has developed the virtue of generosity is often referred to as a generous person because he or she tends to be generous in all circumstances. That is.Virtues are habits. once they are acquired. Moreover. . a person who has developed virtues will be naturally disposed to act in ways that are consistent with moral principles. For example. The virtuous person is the ethical person. they become characteristic of a person.

At the heart of the virtue approach to ethics is the idea of "community". church. their personalities are deeply affected by the values that their communities prize. and other private and public associations. fiction. As people grow and mature. and so on. school. but within and by the communities to which he or she belongs. The virtue approach urges us to pay attention to the contours of our communities and the habits of character they encourage and instill. including family. and by the role models that their communities put forth for imitation through traditional stories. A person's character traits are not developed in isolation. by the personality traits that their communities encourage. movies. . television.

HOW TO USE THE CHARACTER OR VIRTUE TEST A. INTRODUCE THE TEST Ask: Does this action represent the kind of person I am or want to be? Ask: Does it represent my organization s reputation or vision of the kind of enterprise it wants to be? .

My character and the organization s culture are represented and influenced both by how we act and by what we aspire to be. as the other ethics test do. we can decide how to act by considering whether an action is something that would be done by the kind of person or organization we want to be. or the kind of organization this is. . If we know who we are and aspire to be. are as important to living a good life as what specific actions we do.B. WHY IS THE CHARACTER OR VIRTUE TEST A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG? The kind of person I am. Part of our aspiration is to have virtues or habits of acting in certain ways that fit our character. To focus only. on how to judge individual actions to be right or wrong would be to miss an important aspect of ethics.

One way to see if the action fits with who you would like to be. fairness. is to ask whether the action is something that the person you most respect in your company would do. integrity. prudence and so on. will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror every morning? . Business people often call this question the Mirror Test. fidelity. APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Ask if the action will help to make you the kind of person you want to be. compassion. Consider whether the action fits your self-image or the story you would like to tell about your life. generosity. If you do this action. The most excellent or virtuous people are usually thought of as those who consistently act with honesty. selfcontrol. courage.C.

. An individual s actions represent and affect not only him/her but also the firm or organization he/she works in. The image of what the company wants to be will be found in the mission and vision statements. the core values. and the ethics code.STEP 2: Ask whether the action will fit the company s reputation or vision of what it would like to be. as well as in the stories that are told about the heroes and the villains in the firm s history.

measured as profitability. financing the organization. . marketing it to customers. then the firm will fail. accounting and maintaining controls.STEP 3: Ask whether the action maintains the right balance between excellence and success for the firm? Excellence refers to how well the activities of the organization are being done. Actions that maintain the right balance between excellence and success are therefore the right ones. Each activity. can have an affect on the ability of the firm to do the other activities and generate profits necessary to keep it in operation over the long term. and so on can be done in the best possible way. Overemphasizing success. Striving for too much perfection in any one of these areas. however. If the product or service is too perfect for the customer to afford it. and thereby cause the firm to fail. can affect the excellence of the firm s activities. such as producing a product or service.

.STEP 4: Draw a conclusion Actions that fit your idea of what kind of person you want to be. and with the firm s idea of what it wants to be are good actions.

Emphasizes that being an ethical person or an ethical company is not just a matter of following ethical rules but involves developing habits of acting in the way that we. and the society think that good people and companies should act. . our company.STRENGTHS OF THE VIRTUE OR CHARACTER TEST Focuses us not just on individual actions but on the larger questions of what kind of individuals and companies it is good to be and on the role that the community we are part of plays in setting those ideals.

WEAKNESSES OF THE VIRTUE OR CHARACTER TEST Psychological research suggests that most of us do not act in a consistent way across different situations. or a hero in our company to emulate might help us strive to develop the habit of acting in a virtuous way. We are motivated more by factors in the situation. even those with no ethical significance. motivated by our character traits such as honesty or generosity. Yet we continue to attribute our own and others actions to good or bad character traits rather than to factors in the situation. as when we act generously because of the good smells of a bakery or less generously because of a higher ambient noise level. however. This research doesn t indicate that we don t have dispositions to act a certain way but that steady virtue may be very hard to develop because situational factors do affect us so much. Having an ideal account of a particular virtue like courage. .

HOW TO COMPARE CONCLUSIONS FROM THE DIFFERENT TESTS In many business and professional situations. . one ethics test will provide all the guidance needed in the time available for making a decision.

it is important to be confident but never certain. to use more than one ethical principle to increase the level of confidence in the rightness of the decision when: the situation is complicated the decision will make a significant difference to a person or organization there are contrary points of view supported by what seem to be good reasons. In ethics as in politics. however.It is helpful. .

Experience suggests that for most ethical situations multiple ethical tests will yield the same judgment of right or wrong. . The only difference will be their reasons why the action is right or wrong.

Using several principles will increase the chances of generating new insights into why an action is right or wrong. be very helpful in designing alternative actions give an opportunity for the strengths and weaknesses of the principles to balance each other out .

or better a conversation with other people in the firm whose judgments you trust. what is a person to do? If action being considered is ethical according to some of the principles and not ethical according to others. . a person can appeal to reflection and judgment to indicate which principle(s) capture the most important features of the situation. Reflection can either be an internal conversation with yourself.When the principles conflict.

. At least these disagreements are among people who are using ethical tests to determine how they should act.Ethical people can and do sometimes disagree as to which principle(s) should govern in a particular situation and therefore disagree about what was the ethical thing to do.

The trading of insights among the various ethics tests is part of the practical wisdom that we should all cultivate. justice and/or character principles. and/or character principles may override the claims of the greater or the common good. however. We should be conscious. Strong considerations raised by the exceptions. a person should remember . When making those kinds of decisions. that we do this at the apex of a steep and slippery slope. rights. choices. rights. justice. choices. Maximizing happiness in the utility test or maintaining the common good may require tempering or even forgoing the exceptions.

a person should remember that the strong emotional charge carried by his/her intuitive individual judgment does not guarantee that the judgment is right. I will often give myself special considerations that I would not give to others. that we do this at the apex of a steep and slippery slope. and that to overcome the limitations of my intuitions and self-reflection he/she should engage wise and experienced people in a discussion about the best balance among the ethics tests for this situation. . however. that when reflecting on the judgment with myself. When making those kinds of decisions.We should be conscious.

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