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.

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

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

how? .Making an Ethical Decision 1. Is this issue about more than what is legal or what is most efficient? If so. 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. or perhaps between two goods or between two bads ? 2.

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.Get the Facts 3. What are the options for acting? Have all the relevant persons and groups been consulted? Have I identified creative options? .

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. 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.

Considering all these approaches. what would they say? .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.

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

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. . 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.

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. or my grandmother? .

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. .The Smell Test is familiar ground in most businesses and is a good place to begin.

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

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

So long as a course of action produces maximum benefits for everyone.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. . manipulation. utilitarianism does not care whether the benefits are produced by lies. or coercion.

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

" . was "the greatest good for the greatest number. who lived in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. a legal reformer. Bentham.The principle of utilitarianism can be traced to the writings of Jeremy Bentham. sought an objective basis that would provide a publicly acceptable norm for determining what kinds of laws England should enact. 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. His motto. a familiar one now.

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

But it's often difficult.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. 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. for example. the value of life. to measure and compare the values of certain benefits and costs. . if not impossible. or the value of human dignity? Moreover. the value of time. 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. to say the least.

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

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

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

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. Good outcomes can be measured by: happiness and unhappiness (pleasure and pain) the preferences of individuals money.HOW TO USE THE UTILITY TEST A. INTRODUCE THE TEST Ask: Are we maximizing good and minimizing harm for all those affected? For the utility test (or Utilitarian Principle ).

Therefore.B. Everyone wants to be happy or avoid being unhappy. . 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. In short. we can t just look at consequences for ourselves or our group to decide what is ethical. good is what makes the most happiness or least unhappiness regardless of who is affected. because everyone affected by the action has equal standing as a person.

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.

STRENGTHS OF THE UTILITY TEST:
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.

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.WEAKNESSES OF THE UTILITY TEST Requires accurate probability assessments of likely outcomes that may be difficult or impossible to make in complex situations. In organizations where outcomes are measured by making the quarterly numbers. transfer. it may be difficult to focus on long term goods and harms in the long run everyone hopes to outrun their mistakes by promotion. Is subject to several common errors when being applied: Limited Stakeholder error--considering outcomes only for myself or my group. or retirement. . Short Term error--considering only direct or immediate consequences instead of including indirect and long term consequences.

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. but also by society in general Legal Moral Standard .

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

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

THE RIGHTS TEST A. 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. 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.

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. Liberty rights. . APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Identify the right being upheld or violated.C.

STEP 2: Explain why it deserves the status of a right. and/or (b) essential to a person s freedom or wellbeing. (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. because it is: (a) essential a person s dignity and self worth.

Remember. DRAW A CONCLUSION Explain briefly how the Rights principle does or does not apply in this case.D. 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.

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

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.HOW TO USE THE EXCEPTIONS TEST 1. . 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. 2.

. APPLY THE TEST STEP 1: Specify what action we are considering. 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. Describe the action in a way that captures the ethically relevant features.3. 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. Avoid value-loaded descriptors that already contain the ethical judgment ( We are lying to the customer ) because this closes off further discussion.

would it: a. 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. it is not ethical for us to do something that not everyone can do. or b. b. would make the action unethical: . 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.STEP 2: Ask. We would be making an exception for ourselves. What if everyone did it? If the action were adopted by others in similar situations.

. What if they did it to us? Golden Rule: Do unto others. 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. then it is unethical for us to do the action because we would be claiming an exception for ourselves.STEP 4: Ask.

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.

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

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? .3.

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? .

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. Many ethical violations in business and professional settings involve denying people information or limiting their freedom to choose. .

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. The line. between persuasion and coercion can be difficult to draw. . for example. Mobile Phones. The concept of freedom is the subject of much disagreement. When does making something look attractive take away from a person s freedom to reject it (Advertising). Changing password etc).

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

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

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

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." .

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

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

however. many differences that we deem as justifiable criteria for treating people differently.There are. . we think it is just when the government gives benefits to the needy that it does not provide to more affluent citizens. 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. For example. 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 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. we think it is fair when the person who is first in a line at a theater is given first choice of theater tickets.

while other similar diseases weren't. And the people involved in the "brown lung hearings" felt that it wasn't fair that some diseases were provided with disability compensation. 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. for example. . We also believe it isn't fair when a person is punished for something over which he or she had no control. or isn't compensated for a harm he or she suffered. we say that it's unfair. or their religious preferences. sex.In the world of work. race. 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. we generally hold that it is unjust to give individuals special treatment on the basis of age.

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. B. contributed more or less. has equal value as a human person then everyone has an equal claim to a share. So a fair distribution is in each situation depends on their equality or inequality: Treat equals equally and unequals unequally. 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. have greater or less need.some may have a claim because they are members of my family or a group to which I owe loyalty. INTRODUCE THE PRINCIPLE: Ask: Is this a fair distribution of benefits and burdens. or have more years of service Contract a prior agreement about how the distribution should be made. . Relationship or In-Group Status -.HOW TO USE THE JUSTICE TEST A. be older or younger. But there are circumstances in which everyone does not have an equal claim because they worked harder or less hard. etc.

STEP 3: If disagreement persists over which outcome is fair or over which criterion for inequality is best in the situation. dispassionate judge. 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. Once you know the distribution you can decide if it is fair or not. chance decided by a coin or paper-rock-scissors. STEP 4: Draw a conclusion Will this action produce a fair distribution.C. and why? . 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. then select a fair process to decide what is fair: an election.

. if others are getting greater rewards that are not justified. 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. Subjects will give up rewards that would make them better off than they are.

.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.

" Daniel Callahan.The Common Good Newsweek columnist Robert J. an expert on bioethics. 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. . 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".

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. and Cicero.What exactly is "the common good". . Aristotle.

Contemporary ethicist.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. John Rawls. defined the common good as "certain general conditions that are.

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

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

OBSTACLES TO COMMON GOOD
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.

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

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

for the sake of the "common good". perhaps impossible. Our cultural traditions.The third problem encountered by attempts to promote the common good is that of individualism. some of their personal goals. to convince people that they should sacrifice some of their freedom. . 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. in fact. reinforce the individual who thinks that she should not have to contribute to the community's common good. and some of their selfinterest.

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

unjust. Moreover. at least arguably. is. .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.

This common good includes the social systems. we all have obligations to establish and maintain it. natural and technological environments. .HOW TO USE THE COMMON GOOD TEST A. these must work in a manner that benefits all people. Since we all have access to the common good and benefit from it. INTRODUCE THE TEST: Ask: Are we doing our part to look out for the common good in this situation? B. and ways of understanding that we all depend on to pursue our individual goods. institutions. For a community to be sustainable. 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.

and the ecosystem and technology which make all these activities possible. a functioning government. the police. APPLY THE TEST: STEP 1: Specify what parts of the common good are involved. 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. and health care systems required for human growth. and happiness. The common good includes among other things the family. the businesses. . military and political system required for public safety. development. and peace. social. and legal systems necessary for the production of goods and services and economic development. courts.C. The common good also includes the sets of ideas we use to understand the different aspects of the common good. institutions. financial. Which social systems. educational. the common good test focuses on whether the action or situation contributes to or harms a particular aspect of the common good.

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.STEP 2: Explain why we have obligation to promote or protect the common good. for example. do we have an obligation to promote these aspects of the common good or at least not to harm them? .

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. the common good of restoring trust in the financial system may require that he give it up. they should not do so. .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.

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. .

STRENGTHS OF THE TEST: It provides an important reality check for individuals and organizations. 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. No matter how much a person or group has contributed to their own success. . It is a good check on the free rider problem where the efforts of others may allow me not to contribute.

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.

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. read passionate adherents of the moral principle of utilitarianism: "Everyone is obligated to do whatever will achieve the greatest good for the greatest number." .Ethics and Virtue For many of us. "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. for example.

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

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

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

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

a person who has developed virtues will be naturally disposed to act in ways that are consistent with moral principles. For example. That is.Virtues are habits. . The virtuous person is the ethical person. they become characteristic of a person. once they are acquired. Moreover. 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.

and by the role models that their communities put forth for imitation through traditional stories. 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. their personalities are deeply affected by the values that their communities prize. movies.At the heart of the virtue approach to ethics is the idea of "community". and other private and public associations. As people grow and mature. television. and so on. including family. . school. fiction. church. by the personality traits that their communities encourage. A person's character traits are not developed in isolation.

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? .HOW TO USE THE CHARACTER OR VIRTUE TEST A.

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

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

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

such as producing a product or service. 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. accounting and maintaining controls. Overemphasizing success. . and so on can be done in the best possible way.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. can affect the excellence of the firm s activities. however. If the product or service is too perfect for the customer to afford it. Each activity. financing the organization. Actions that maintain the right balance between excellence and success are therefore the right ones. measured as profitability. then the firm will fail. and thereby cause the firm to fail. Striving for too much perfection in any one of these areas. marketing it to customers.

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

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. . our company. 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.

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

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 helpful. 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. . however. In ethics as in politics.

. The only difference will be their reasons why the action is right or wrong.Experience suggests that for most ethical situations multiple ethical tests will yield the same judgment of 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. 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. what is a person to do? If action being considered is ethical according to some of the principles and not ethical according to others. .

. 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.

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

a person should remember that the strong emotional charge carried by his/her intuitive individual judgment does not guarantee that the judgment is right. 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. When making those kinds of decisions. I will often give myself special considerations that I would not give to others. .We should be conscious. however. that we do this at the apex of a steep and slippery slope. that when reflecting on the judgment with myself.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful