Ethical Decision-Making Approaches Quiz


Each Ethical Decision-Making approach has some merit in some situations, but each also has some weaknesses. In a sentence or two provide

what you think is some of the weakness associated with each of these decision-making approaches.

The Categorical Imperative–as you are aware, this is from Immanuel Kant in his Foundations of Metaphysics of Morals in 1785.

Paraphrasing, Kant believes that one should not adopt principles of action unless they can, without inconsistency, be adopted by everyone

else. Using this guideline, a decision maker faced with a moral choice will act in a way he or she believes is right and just for any

other person in a similar situation. He or she may test an action by asking “Is this action universal?” Weaknesses?

The Conventionalist decision-maker — this is the view that individuals should act to further their self-interest so long as they do not

violate the law. Decision-makers are allowed, under this principle, to bluff and take advantage of all legal opportunities and widespread

practices or customs. Weaknesses?

The Disclosure approach–this rule has become increasingly popular in recent years and is found in many company ethics codes. As stated

at IBM “Ask yourself: If the full glare of examination by associates, friends, and even family were to focus on your decision, would you

remain comfortable with it? If you think you would, it probably is the right decision.” When faced with an ethical dilemma, a manager

asks how it would feel to see the thinking and details of the decision disclosed to a wide audience, including friends and family –as on

local evening news cast on TV. Weaknesses?

The Doctrine of the Mean approach–this decision-making tool, posited by Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics and sometimes called the

Golden Mean calls for virtue through moderation. This is also, a part of the teachings of Confucius. Right actions are located between

extreme behaviors, which represent excess on the one hand and deficiency on the other.
When faced with a decision, a decision maker first identifies the ethical virtue involved (such as truthfulness) and then seeks the mean

or moderate course of action between boastfulness and understatement. Weaknesses?

The Golden Rule–a universal moral found in every great world religion, the Golden Rule has been a popular guide to moral decision making

for centuries. Simply put it is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It includes not knowingly doing harm to others. A

decision-maker who is asked to solve a moral problem looks at the problem from the position of another party affected by the decision and

tries to determine what response the other person would expect as most virtuous.


The Hedonist decision-maker–in this approach, there are no universal or absolute moral principles. If it feels good, do it! Individuals

faced with moral complications should simply do whatever they find to be pleasurable or in their own self-interest. Since there are no

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moral absolutes, no blame attaches to this self-centered behavior. Weaknesses?


The Intuitive decision-maker–this approach holds that good is undefinable and simply understood. People are endowed with a kind of moral

sense with which they can apprehend right and wrong. The solution to moral problems lies simply in what you viscerally feel or understand

to be right in a given situation. You have a gut feeling and act on it. Weaknesses?


The Market decides-similar to the #2 approach, this principle was sanctified in the world of commerce by Adam Smith in his book The Wealth

of Nations written in 1776. Smith assumed people would intuitively be guided by “the invisible hand (of God)” to make good decisions.

However, implicit in Smith’s description of a market economy is the idea that selfish actions in the marketplace are virtuous because they

contribute to a more efficient operation of the economy. The efficient operation is, in turn, responsible for the higher good of

prosperity and optimum use of resources. (What’s good for General Motors is good for the nation.)
Decision-makers may take selfish actions and be motivated by personal gain in their business dealings. They simply ask whether their

actions in the market further financial self-interests. If so, the actions are ethical.

The Means-eEds approach– this principle of moral decision-making is age-old, although today it is most often associated with the Italian

political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince (1513), Machiavelli wrote that worthwhile ends justify the efficient means, that

when ends are of an overriding importance or virtue, unscrupulous means may be employed to reach them.
When confronted with a decision involving a potentially unethical course of action, the decision-maker asks whether some overall good–

such as the survival of a country or business–justifies any moral transgression.


The Might-Equals-Right approach–this approach to decision-making defines justice as the interest of the strongest. It is represented by

Friedreich Nietzsche’s master-morality, Marx’s theories of the dominance of the ruling class, and is the practiced ethics of organized

What is ethical is what an individual has the strength and power to accomplish.
When faced with a moral decision, individuals using this approach will seize what advantage they are strong enough to take without respect

to ordinary social conventions and laws or individual consequences.


The Organization approach–this is an old principle for resolving ethical questions with increased applicability in modern times. Simply

put, this principle states: “Be loyal to the organization.” In practice the organization approach implies that the wills and needs of

individuals are subordinated to the greater good of the organization. An individual should ask whether actions are consistent with

organizational goals and do what is good for the organization. Weaknesses?

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The Practical Imperative–similar to the golden rule, this is a related imperative or universal ethical command developed by Kant–“Act so

that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only”. Simply translated,

this principle admonishes a manager to treat other persons as ends in themselves and not means to an end or as objects of manipulation. So

a person should never manipulate others or use them for ulterior motives. A manager may comply with this dictum by using the reversibility

test, and asking if he or she would change places with the person affected by the contemplated policy or action. Weaknesses?


The Proportionality approach–this is a concept developed in medieval Catholic theology designed to justify actions where both good and

evil consequences occur. In cases where a manager’s action results in an important good effect but also entails an inevitable harm, the

concept of proportionality may be appropriately applied.
There are five stages of reasoning involved in this ethic:
1. know the type of good or evil involved;
1. know the probability of each;
2. how urgent is the situation?
3. know how much influence you have over the effects or results;
4. understand the availability of alternative means not involving evil results.

The combination of these factors may provide a proportional reason for taking an action even if some bad consequences ensue. Weaknesses?

The Professional approach–this decision-making approach holds that you should do only that which can be explained before a committee of

your peers. This ethic is applied by doctors, engineers, architects, college professors, lawyers, and business executives in resolving the

special problems of their professions and fields of interest. Weaknesses?


The Revelation approach—this method of decision-making involves seeking guidance through prayer, divining intervention, etc. The

decision-makers pray, meditate, or otherwise commune with a superior force or being. They are then appraised of which actions are just and



A Justice is right approach – in this approach justice is related to the concept of rights. Justice is used in principles of equality or

equity. Rights most often stem from some basic feelings of injustice, and the assertion of rights is meant to correct these injustices.

Rights are meant to serve justice and justice should take rights into account. Justice involves fairness or what is deserved.

The question is, whose rights should be respected and what concept of justice is appropriate? There are several kinds of justice that need

to be considered:
1. Distributive justice–concerned with a fair distribution of society’s benefits and burdens.
2. Compensatory justice: concerned with finding a way of compensating people for what they lost when they were wronged by others.
3. Retributive Justice: has to do with just imposition of punishments and penalties upon those who do wrong.
The formal principle of justice can be considered a minimal moral rule. It simply claims that like cases would be treated alike–equals

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ought to be treated equally and unequals, unequally. There are several theories of justice to provide general guidelines in determining

what justice requires in a given situation.
D. Libertarian theories: emphasize the rights to liberty. Under these theories, a person’s
A. share of goods depends wholly on what the person can produce or what other persons choose to give out of charity.
B. Egalitarian theories: these emphasize equal access to primary goods and services. Egalitarians base their view on the proposition

that all human beings are equal in some fundamental respect, and in virtue of this equality, each person has an equal claim to society’s

goods and services.
Egalitarian theories differ with some more radical and some less so. One of the most influential egalitarian theories of recent years was

developed by John Rawls. Rawls extended the social contract formulated by John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes.

Justice to Rawls is fairness, and to achieve fairness, there are certain principles that must be enacted. Rawls’ espouses that
1. each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others, and
2. social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and

attached to positions and offices open to all.


The Utilitarian Principle approach-this is simply expressed, as the greatest good for the greatest number. In making a decision with this

principle in mind, one must determine whether the harm in an action is outweighed by the good. If the action maximizes benefit, then it is

the optimum course to take among alternatives that provide less benefit. Individuals and other decision makers try to maximize pleasure

and reduce pain in groups. This is similar to # 13 the Proportionality Approach.


Rules approach – in this method of decision-making the individual asks is the planned decision within the rules or laws or guidelines.?

Something is determined right because it confines itself to the rules.


The approach of Neutrality–this holds that administrators carry out the orders of their superiors neutrally, not exercising independent

moral judgment. They are not expected to act on any moral principles of their own, but are to give effect to whatever principles are

reflected in the orders and policies they are charged with implementing. Neutrality does not deny that administrators often must use their

own judgment in the formulation of policy. But their aim should always be to discover what policy other people intend or would intend.