STRATEGIES FOR ETHICAL REASONING
Release Date: March, 2012
Capsim Ethics Plug-in: Identifying the Options
In hindsight, it is always easier to see how we might have done things differently. How can ethical reasoning help us identify what our options might be before we act and evaluate which of those options might be the most appropriate course of action? Like most academic disciplines, the study of ethics is charged with energetic debate. The ethical principles traditionally applied in business and professional settings are acknowledged on numerous websites such as those belonging to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and others. A synopsis of five of them appears below.1 Ultimately, it falls on the individual not only to determine which ethical decision-making principle[s] best apply to the situation, but also to resolve conflicts that the iterative process may reveal. Here are some ideas to consider: Applying a number of principles, or approaches, helps to view the situation from different vantage points, and reveals facets of the problem perhaps not previously considered. A multi-faceted process encourages discussion with others and may elicit additional viewpoints as well as reveal how these positions may converge or differ. It fosters a fair evaluation of conflicting perspectives, each of which may be held for what appear to be "good" or "right" reasons. Frequently, applying each of these principles separately can reach similar conclusions regarding a proposed action, although the reasons why it is seen as a wise or unwise choice may differ. Considering multiple approaches can strengthen the confidence among all concerned in a decision to decline a proposed course of action as inappropriate, when it might have once held wide support.
Understanding the different reasons why an action might not be a good idea may also enable those concerned to conceive of better alternative actions that can achieve the same goal without inflicting the same harm. A multi-faceted evaluation can highlight which option of all the alternatives may be the best course to take, and can serve to build a consensus regarding that decision, particularly as key decision -makers reflect upon how their choice will be regarded in the public eye. Using numerous principles may also suggest the best way to carry out the decision. Finally, a multi-faceted process provides a structure with which to assess an action in the aftermath, and enables us to ask what practical wisdom we gained from the situation.
Five Ways to Shape an Ethical Decision
The Utilitarian Approach assesses an action in terms of its consequences or outcomes, i.e., the net benefits and costs to all stakeholders on an individual level. It strives to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number while creating the least amount of harm or preventing the greatest amount of suffering. It holds that every entity's interests should be considered equally when making the decision, and this includes those of other species since they also are capable of suffering. So for any set of options it would view the most ethical option as the one that produces the best balance of benefits over harm for the most stakeholders. Outcomes may be quantified in such terms as contentment and suffering, the relative value of individual preferences, monetary gain or loss, or the short-term and long-term effects of an action. In a business context, this approach might rely on a statistical analysis of probable outcomes, a classic costs/benefits assessment, and/or consider the marginal utility of a consequence for various stakeholders in the group.
The Rights Approach focuses on respect for human dignity. It holds that our dignity is based on our ability to choose freely how we live our lives, and that we have a moral right to respect our choices as free, equal, and rational people, and...