in Critical Thinking describes decision-making as a process through
which “the decision maker [comes] up with a solution [to] a recognized
and defined problem” (73). Organizational
Behavior describes “an ethical dilemma [as] a situation in which a
person must decide whether or not to do something that, although
benefiting them or the organization, or both, may be considered
unethical” (p. 14). Merriam-Webster
Online defines ethics as “a set of moral principals or values” (www.m-w.com)
and the Josephson Institute refers to ethics as “principles that
define behavior as right, good and proper” (Making Sense of Ethics).
is ethical decision-making? Using
these descriptions and definitions, ethical decision-making is the
process through which one comes up with a solution to a problem that is
morally correct, but one question remains – what does one mean when he
or she describes something as morally correct?
an individual’s morals and values can vary from one individual to
another, it is important to understand our own values and beliefs before
making a decision. It is
also important to realize that our own values may not be universal as
the Josephson Institute points out when it states:
people have convictions about what is right and wrong based on religious
beliefs, cultural roots, family background, personal experiences, laws,
organizational values, professional norms and political habits. These
are not the best values to make ethical decisions by — not because
they are unimportant, but because they are not universal (Making Sense
The Josephson Institute
is nothing wrong with having strong personal and professional moral
convictions about right and wrong, but unfortunately, some people are
"moral imperialists" who seek to impose their personal moral
judgments on others. The universal ethical value of respect for others
dictates honoring the dignity and autonomy of each person and cautions
against self-righteousness in areas of legitimate controversy (Making
Sense of Ethics).
Imposing our personal
morals on any given situation can be detrimental to the decision-making
process. An example would
be when a teenage girl comes home to her parents to tell them that she
is pregnant. If the
parents’ believe through their moral standards that she must be
married before the child is born, while the girl does not, but the
parents prevail, the girl could find herself in a marriage that might
fail in the future.
an article entitled “Ethics for the MRCGP: Making consistent ethical
decisions” it may be noted, “There are many ethical frameworks…
but the most widely accepted at present is an American framework called
the ‘four principles.’ ” The
article goes on to define those principles in simple terms as “do
good,” “do no harm,” “act fairly” and “allow people to
determine their own futures.” The
article also adds that these four principles are to be used in
conjunction “with a consideration of whom these principles apply
to”, but it also points out that there are times when the principles
conflict. The example given
is one of sexual abuse of a young girl by her father and the girl’s
request to keep her secret. In
this case one must determine if the principle of “do no harm”
outweighs the principle of “allow people to determine their own
futures.” This is where
the consideration of those affected would come into play, taking into
consideration that the person in question is a child and that the
conduct in question is against the law in most cultures.
exploration of the subject of ethical decision-making finds The
Josephson Institute offering “the six pillars of character” as a
basis for “ethical values to guide our choices”
(The Six Pillars Of Character).
These pillars are “trustworthiness, respect, responsibility,
fairness, caring and citizenship” (The Six Pillars of Character) and
are seen as universal among most cultures.
They are also viewed as being intertwined and dependent on each
Six Pillars act as a multi-level filter through which to process
decisions. So, being trustworthy is not enough — we must also be
caring. Adhering to the letter of the law is not enough — we must
accept responsibility for our action or inaction (The Six Pillars of
using these “pillars” or values, an individual will have a better
basis for defending the ethics behind a decision.
Ultimately, the best course of action to take when making a
decision is to fall back to:
Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Golden Rule is one of the oldest and best guides to ethical
decision-making. If we treat people the way we want to be treated we are
likely to live up to the Six Pillars of Character. We don’t want to be
lied to or have promises broken, so we should be honest and keep our
promises to others. We want others to treat us with respect, so we
should treat others respectfully (The Seven-Step Path to Better
So, why be ethical?
Sense of Ethics” offers five reasons:
“inner benefit, personal advantage, approval, religion and
habit.” Valry Fetrow
offers another reason – it’s good business:
ethical business standards, resolving ethical dilemmas right away, and
rooting out unethical practices before they flourish, can solidify an
organization’s sound reputation – and even its fiscal standing.
using ethical standards through which to make a decision, a company can
build a reputation for good work with fair relations with customers,
suppliers and employees.
example, Company A is a mid-sized commercial construction company that
has been in business in the southeast since March of 1990.
By providing clients with quality workmanship and treating its
sub-contractors fairly, the company has built a reputation as a quality
contractor, relying on repeat business and referrals for its growth.
The company’s founders have a strong belief in The Golden Rule
and make many of their decisions from that foundation.
The company’s growth to gross revenue in excess of 80 million
dollars in just over ten years is a testament that their ethical
foundation has been a success.
with any decision-making process, Company A set a precedent for using
The Golden Rule for its ground rules in decision-making.
If the company were to veer from that principle for making
decisions, the ground rules could change and a new set of ground rules
formed. With the earlier
example of the teenage girl, if the parents were to make their decision
based on a different set of principles, for instance, their daughter’s
possible future, the parents might have encouraged their daughter to
give the child up for adoption so that she might pursue her goals in
conclusion, ethical decision-making is a process by which decisions are
made based on a set of values or principles.
What those values or principles are is dependent on the beliefs
and values of the individual. How
that person applies those values to decisions they make may depend on
other factors involved in the situation, but should ultimately rely on
what the individual believes to be the best choice.
V. (2003, February).
Ethics is Good Business. Buildings,
97(2), 54-56. Retrieved
June 16, 2003, from Proquest Database.
Sense of Ethics. (2002).
The Josephson Institute.
Retrieved June 16, 2003, from http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/MED/MED-1makingsense.htm
Six Pillars of Character. (2002).
The Josephson Institute.
Retrieved June 16, 2003, from http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/MED/MED-2sixpillars.htm
Seven-Step Path to Better Decisions.
Josephson Institute. Retrieved
June 16, 2003, from http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/MED/MED-4sevensteppath.htm
(2003, February 24). Ethics
for the MRCGP: Making
Consistent Ethical Decisions. Pulse,75. Retrieved June 16, 2003, from Proquest Database.
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& Sons, Inc.
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Custom Edition]. Boston:
Pearson Custom Publishing.