The quandary people find themselves in when they have to decide if they should act in a way that might help another person or group, and is the “right” thing to do, even though doing so might not be in their own self-interest. A dilemma may also arise when a person has to decide between two different courses of action, knowing that whichever course he or she chooses will result in harm to one person or group even though it may benefit another. The ethical dilemma here is to decide which course of action is the “lesser of two evils.”
Suppose we see a person being mugged in the street. How will we behave? Will we act in some way to help even though you risk being hurt? Will we walk away?
Perhaps we might adopt a “middle-of-the-road approach” and not intervene but call the police instead? Does the way we act depend on whether the person being mugged is a fit male, an elderly person, or even a street person? Does it depend on whether there are other people around, so we can tell ourselves, “Oh well, someone else will help or call the police. I don’t need to”?
People often know they are confronting an ethical dilemma when their moral scruples come into play and cause them to hesitate, debate, and reflect upon the “rightness” or “goodness” of a course of action. Moral scruples are thoughts and feelings that tell a person what is right or wrong; they are a part of a person’s ethics.
Ethics are the inner-guiding moral principles, values, and beliefs people use to analyze a situation and decide what is “right.” At the same time, ethics also indicate what inappropriate behavior is and how a person should behave to avoid doing harm to another person.
Ethics is that study or discipline which concerns itself with judgments of approval and disapproval, judgments as to the rightness or wrongness, goodness or badness, virtue or vice, desirability or wisdom of actions, dispositions, ends, objects, or states of affairs. There are two main directions which this study may take. It may concern itself with a psychological or sociological analysis and explanation of our ethical judgments, showing what our approvals and disapprovals consist in and why we approve or disapprove what we do. Or it may concern itself with establishing or recommending certain courses of action, ends, or ways of life as to be taken or pursued, either as right or as good or as virtuous or as wise, as over against others which are wrong, bad, vicious, or foolish.
The essential problem in dealing with ethical issues, and thus solving moral dilemmas, is that there are no absolute or indisputable rules or principles that can be developed to decide if an action is ethical or unethical. Put simply, different people or groups may dispute which actions are ethical or unethical depending on their own personal self-interest and specific attitudes, beliefs, and values.
It is one thing to decide, in theory, that being ethical is good; in practice, it can be much more difficult to make the right decisions. Many people feel the same way about ethics—that somehow, instinctively, they know what is right and wrong. In real life, however, ethical dilemmas are often not black and white, but many shades of gray. The following ethics checklist will aid to managers in making tough decisions: • What are the facts?
• What are the critical issues?
• Who are the stakeholders?
• What are the alternatives?
• What are the ethical implications of each alternative?
• Is it legal?
• How would it look in the light of day?
• What are the consequences?
• Does it violate important values?
• What kind of world would this be if everyone behaved this way? • Is more than one alternative right?
• Which values are in conflict?
• Which of these values are most important?
• Can you find an alternative that is consistent with your values?
What Are the Facts?
Although this question seems obvious,...