Ethical Decision Making


Step One: Gather the Facts
The philosophical approaches don’t tell us explicitly to gather the facts. But they seem
to assume that we’ll complete this important step. You might be surprised at how many
people jump to solutions without having the facts. Ask yourself, “How did the situation
occur? Are there historical facts that I should know? Are there facts concerning the current situation that I should know?” Fact gathering is often easier said than done. Many ethical choices are particularly difficult because of the uncertainty involved in them. Facts may simply be unavailable. For example, in our layoff case, Pat may not have good information about the legal requirements on informing workers about layoffs. Also, she may not have enough information to determine how long it would take these 200 workers to find new jobs. But recognizing these limitations, you should attempt to assemble the facts that are available to you before proceeding.

Step Two: Define the Ethical Issues
Many of us have knee-jerk responses to ethical dilemmas. We jump to a solution without really thinking through the ethical issues and the reasons for our response (we’ll
talk more about why in Chapter 5). For example, in the layoff case, one person might
say, “Oh, that’s easy, promise keeping is the ethical issue. Pat has to keep her promise
to her boss and protect her job.” Another person might say that honesty is the key
ethical issue: “Pat just has to tell the truth to her friend.” Don’t jump to solutions without first identifying the ethical issues or points of values conflict in the dilemma. There are generally multiple ethical issues that go back to the deontological, or principle-based, theories we just discussed. For example, in the case above, one ethical issue has to do with the rights of both the workers and the company. How would you define the workers’ right to know about the plant closing in advance? How much...