Making Ethical Decisions

adopted from Rushworth Kidder

I. Recognize that there is a moral issue, determine the actors, and gather the relevant facts

II. Test for right vs. wrong issues – these are easier than III. because there is usually a more obvious (right) answer

  • Stench test (rules-based) – Does one option just sound wrong or leave you feeling like you are breaking a rule?
  • Front Page test (ends-based) – Are you OK with the decision you made being on all major news websites?
  • Mom test (care-based) – Will your mother (and/or father) approve of the decision you made?

III. Test for right vs. right paradigms – these are decisions where two competing, an often equally valid, views are held. Integrate the “The Genius of the And”, not “The Tyranny of the Or” in finding solutions.                   

  • Justice                         vs.                    Mercy                         
    • Example – Death vs. Life Sentence
  • Freedom                       vs.                    Responsibility             
    • Example – Free to carry gun, use pot, but don’t hurt others
  • Truth                            vs.                    Loyalty                       
    • Example – Lies used to save lives in WWII Germany
  • Freedom                       vs.                    Responsibility             
    • Example – Free to carry gun, use pot, but don’t hurt others
  • Continuity                    vs.                    Change                       
    • Example – Stick to Constitution, or adapt to current times  
  • Short-term                    vs.                    Long-term                   
    • Example – Drive fast – on time vs. drive safe – live longer
  • Individuals                   vs.                    Community                 
    • Example – Lower taxes vs. better schools, roads, etc.

IV. Apply the 3 forms of resolving dilemmas to the decision and identify the line of reasoning that seems most relevant and persuasive to the issue

  1. Ends-based thinking – Utilitarianism – Seek the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number
    • Example – Drop the atomic bomb on Japan because hundreds of thousands more will die if don’t?
  1. Rules-based thinking – Universalizability – Follow the Principle We Want Everyone Else to Follow
    • Example – Is it ever OK to help someone die?  Can you steal medicine to save a life?
  2. Care-based thinking – Reversibility or Golden Rule – Do to Others What We Would Like Them to Do to Us
    • Example – Do non-violent offenders need to be in prison for long sentences?

V. Make the decision, then Revisit and Reflect on the Decision