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REV: DECEMBER 2, 2011
SANDRA J. SUCHER
A Framework for Ethical Reasoning
This note will present a practical framework for ethical reasoning, in other words, a set of questions to help you assess the ethical implications of a course of action. While many of us believe that we approach such assessments with all of our reasoning powers at the ready, we actually first come to moral judgments with instinct and emotion – a nearly instantaneous judgment that we make about morally charged situations.1 Rational analysis comes as a second step, after our instinctual response.2 In considering morally-charged situations, we build on a foundation of personal, family, and cultural values, tenets of our religious beliefs and personal philosophies, past experiences, prior knowledge, and general understanding of what morality means. Given the complexity and ambiguity of ethical challenges, you can benefit from having a set of intuitive and practical questions to apply to the situations you find yourself in. If the topic is ethical assessment, what should this framework include? The search for a single, all-encompassing approach that will enable users to confidently determine the morality of an action has attracted philosophers for thousands of years. But each moral philosophy has strengths and weaknesses3, so a better approach, many find, is to test a possible action by examining it from multiple ethical perspectives.4 These questions, which we will examine in more detail, represent powerful and distinctive approaches to moral reasoning:
Am I comfortable with the likely consequences of this action?
Am I meeting my duties and respecting others’ rights?
Am I respecting the community and its norms?
Am I meeting my commitments and my company’s commitments?