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Ethical Decision Making

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Autor:  anton  18 March 2011
Tags:  Ethical,  Decision,  Making
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Ethical Decision-Making

Critical Thinking: Strategies in Decision Making

Ethical Decision-Making

In today’s business and personal world, ethical decisions are made on a daily basis. Most of these decisions are based on company ground rules. The others are based on personal ground rules. All decisions can have a number of ground rules that help us determine whether our decision is ethical or unethical. Each decision whether it is based on company or personal ground rules will have its own set of implications. In the following paragraphs I will discuss the impacts of ethics on decision-making, discuss the elements of an ethically defensible decision, define what the ground rules are; what they could be and what they should be, discuss the ethical implications of the decision, and explain how the decision may change the ground rules.

Ethics is a standard that tells us how we should behave. It is based on moral duty and includes a code of values that guides our choices and actions. No person with a strong character lives without such a code. Ethics is more than doing what you must do. It is doing what you should do. Because acting ethically sometimes means not doing what we want to do, ethics is often an exercise in self-control. Ethics involves seeing the difference between right and wrong. It is a commitment to do what is right, good and proper. Because doing the right thing can cost us more in friendship, money, prestige or pleasure than we may want to pay, practicing ethics, like exercising character, takes courage.

Ethics refers to principles that define behavior as right, good and proper. Such principles do not always dictate a single "moral" course of action, but provide a means of evaluating and deciding among competing options.

The terms "ethics" and "values" are not interchangeable. Ethics is concerned with how a moral person should behave, whereas values are the inner judgments that determine how a person actually behaves (Josephson’s, 2002). Values concern ethics when they pertain to beliefs about what is right and wrong. Most values, however, have nothing to do with ethics. For instance, the desire for health and wealth are values, but not ethical values.

Making consistently ethical decisions is difficult. Most decisions have to be made in the context of economic, professional and social pressures, which can sometimes challenge our ethical goals and conceal or confuse the moral issues. In addition, making ethical choices is complex because in many situations there are a multitude of competing interests and values. Other times, crucial facts are unknown or ambiguous. Since many actions are likely to benefit some people at the expense of others, the decision maker must prioritize competing moral claims and must be proficient at predicting the likely consequences of various choices. An ethical person often chooses to do more than the law requires and less than the law allows.

Any decision affecting other people has ethical implications, and virtually all-important decisions reflect the decision maker’s sensitivity and commitment to ethics. These decisions can be evaluated in terms of adherence to the six core ethical principles — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship (Josephson’s, 2002).

Ethical decision-making refers to the process of evaluating and choosing among alternatives in a manner consistent with ethical principles. In making ethical decisions it is necessary to: Perceive and eliminate unethical options. These options subordinate ethical values to no ethical or unethical values. Select the best ethical alternative. Although there may be several ethical responses to a situation, all are not equal.

Ethical decision-making requires more than a belief in the importance of ethics. It also requires sensitivity to perceive the ethical implications of decisions, the ability to evaluate complex, ambiguous and incomplete facts and the skill to implement ethical decisions without unduly jeopardizing a career.

An ethically defensible decision includes a number of important elements. Most crucial are the ground rules that underlie such a decision. These can include informal ground rules like religious faith, family values, personal experiences, and the personality of the individual. However, more formalized ground rules that are usually steeped in the philosophy of ethics may prove to be much more useful for making ethically defensible decisions. For example, a decision to allow a request for doctor- assisted suicide is ethically defensible using Kant’s Categorical Imperative (Josephson’s, 2002).

In defining the ground rules, Trustworthiness. Respect. Responsibility. Fairness. Caring. Citizenship. The Six Pillars of Character are ethical values to guide our choices. The standards of conduct that arise out of those values constitute the ground rules of ethics, and therefore of ethical decision-making. However, the ground rules could be honesty, integrity, loyalty, dignity, or accountability.

There is no more fundamental ethical value than honesty. We associate honesty with people of honor, and we admire and rely on those who are honest. A person of integrity is undivided and complete. This means that the ethical person acts according to his or her beliefs, not according to expediency, and is also consistent. Loyalty is a responsibility to promote the interests of certain people, organizations or affiliations. This duty goes beyond the normal obligation we all share to care for others. People need to make informed decisions about their own lives. Do not withhold the information they need to do so. Allow all individuals, including maturing children, to have a say in the decisions that affect them. This promotes dignity. An accountable person is not a victim and does not shift blame or claim credit for the work of others. They consider the likely consequences of their behavior and associations. They recognize the common complicity in the triumph of evil when nothing is done to stop it and lead by example.

I have defined what the ground rules are and what they could be, but what should the ground rules really be? The ground rules should be what are defined as the six pillars. After carefully reviewing each, they all pertain to values and morals, which are essential when making ethical decisions.

It is critically important to discern and then to admit to one's self that there is, in fact, an ethical dilemma. Recognizing the existence of the dilemma is the crucial first step in trying to deal with it. However, this does not call for a qualitative judgment, nor should it prompt a rush into action. It merely offers the individual an opportunity to examine the problem and to begin to understand its short-and long-term implications.

More often than not, we find that ethical dilemmas do not present themselves in a clear, black and white fashion. That is, a gray area wide enough to obscure the distinction between what is clearly right and clearly wrong complicates the ethical decision-making process. As a result, individuals can rationalize their wrongdoing, using elements in the gray area as the 'ethical cover' they need to justify their actions. The distinction between wrong and right can be so blurred at times that it allows individuals to commit ethical breaches without even knowing that they have done something wrong. Professionals who have the propensity to utilize the gray area for personal gain become captives of their own practices and tend to defend their actions by insisting that anybody else would do the same under similar circumstances (Ben-Meir, 1999).

When making decisions, it is evident that the decision may change the ground rules. People have different perceptions, values and ethics, which in turn effect their decisions. The economy is shifting more and more toward service and knowledge based work. Already, many company’s managers are unable to run things the old way, even though many desperately want to maintain status quo. New innovations are developed every day and have created intense competition. Managers that are prepared to accept change will be poised to prosper in the new millennium.

In conclusion, making ethical decisions requires the ability to make distinctions between competing choices. One of the most important steps to better decisions is the oldest advice in the world: think ahead. To do so it is necessary to first stop the momentum of events long enough to permit calm analysis. This may require discipline, but it is a powerful tonic against poor choices. It will aid in the ability to make effective ethical decisions.


Ben-Meir , A. Dr. (2001). A Framework for Ethical Decision-

Making. Retrieved on February 14, 2004 on the World Wide Web at

Josephson’s Institute of Ethics. (2002). Making Ethical

Decisions. Retrieved on February 14, 2004 on the World Wide Web at

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