Ethical Decision Making and Behavior
As we practice resolving dilemmas we find ethics to be less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process. —Ethicist Rushworth Kidder
This chapter surveys the components of ethical behavior—moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character—and introduces systematic approaches to ethical problem solving. We’ll take a look at four decision-making formats: Kidder’s ethical checkpoints, the SAD formula, Nash’s 12 questions, and the case study method. After presenting each approach, I’ll discuss its relative advantages and disadvantages.
nderstanding how we make and follow through on ethical decisions is the first step to making better choices; taking a systematic approach is the second. We’ll explore both of these steps in this chapter. After examining the ethical decision-making process, we’ll see how guidelines or formats can guide our ethical deliberations. 235
236——PART III. Ethical Standards and Strategies
Components of Moral Action
There are a number of models of ethical decision making and action. For example, business ethics educators Charles Powers and David Vogel identify six factors or elements that underlie moral reasoning and behavior and that are particularly relevant in organizational settings.1 The first is moral imagination, the recognition that even routine choices and relationships have an ethical dimension. The second is moral identification and ordering, which, as the name suggests, refers to the ability to identify important issues, determine priorities, and sort out competing values. The third factor is moral evaluation, or using analytical skills to evaluate options. The fourth element is tolerating moral disagreement and ambiguity, which arises when managers disagree about values and courses of action. The fifth is the ability to integrate managerial competence with moral competence. This integration involves anticipating possible ethical dilemmas, leading others in ethical decision making, and making sure any decision becomes part of an organization’s systems and procedures. The sixth and final element is a sense of moral obligation, which serves as a motivating force to engage in moral judgment and to implement decisions. James Rest of the University of Minnesota developed what may be the most widely used model of moral behavior. Rest built his four-component model by working backward. He started with the end product—moral action—and then determined the steps that produce such behavior. He concluded that ethical action is the result of four psychological subprocesses: (1) moral sensitivity (recognition), (2) moral judgment, (3) moral focus (motivation), and (4) moral character.2
Component 1: Moral Sensitivity (Recognition)
Moral sensitivity (recognizing the presence of an ethical issue) is the first step in ethical decision making because we can’t solve a moral problem unless we first know that one exists. A great many moral failures stem from ethical insensitivity. The safety committee at Ford Motor decided not to fix the defective gas tank on the Pinto automobile (see Chapter 2) because members saw no problem with saving money rather than human lives. Wal-Mart was slow to respond to concerns raised by employees, labor groups, environmentalists, and others about wage violations, sexual discrimination, poor environmental practices, and other issues.3 Many students, focused on finishing their degrees, see no problem with cheating. (You can test your ethical sensitivity by completing the “Self-Assessment: Moral Sensitivity Scenarios.”) According to Rest, problem recognition requires that we consider how our behavior affects others, identify possible courses of action, and determine the
CHAPTER 7. Ethical Decision Making and Behavior——237
consequences of each potential strategy. Empathy and perspective skills are essential to this component of moral...