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A Framework For

Thinking Ethically
Adapted from work done by the
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Professional Development Seminar

CHE 395

Why talk about ethics?
What is ethics?
Approaches to ethics
A framework for ethical decision making

Whats The Common Thread?

Jack Abramoff
Dennis Kozlowski
Barry Bonds
Meg Scott Phipps
Jayson Blair
Martha Stewart
Marion Jones
Rosie Ruiz
Woo-Suk Hwang

Oliver North
Bill Clinton
Bernie Ebbers
Stephen Ambrose
Jason Giambi
Sandra Baldwin
Quincy Troupe
George OLeary
Tonya Harding


Time pressure
Financial pressure
To please the boss
To protect the company
Everybody else is doing it
Im looking out for those who work for me
To be a team player
I have to, just to keep up
No one will ever know

The Cheating Culture (Callahan)

There is too much to gain.
There is too much to lose.
The watchdogs are asleep.

Can You Teach Ethics?

Socrates: Ethics consists of knowing what

we ought to do, and such knowledge can

be taught.

Stages of Moral Thought (Kohlberg)

Child defines right and wrong in terms of

what authorities say

Adolescent defines right and wrong in
terms of group loyalty (friends, family,
gang, nation)
Adult views right and wrong from
universal standards of justice, human
rights, and human welfare
Education is what stimulates growth through levels.

Codes of Ethics
National Society of Professional Engineers


What Is Ethics?
Ethics is not the same as feelings.
Ethics is not religion.
Ethics is not following the law.
Ethics is not following culturally accepted

Ethics is not science.

Two Fundamental Problems


On what do we base our ethical


2. How do those standards get applied to

specific situations we face?

The Utilitarian Approach

Focuses on the consequences that

actions or policies have on the well-being

of all persons directly or indirectly affected
by the action or policy.
The principle states: "Of any two actions,
the most ethical one will produce the
greatest balance of benefits over harms."

The Rights Approach

Ethical action is the one that best protects

and respects the moral rights of those

Each person has a fundamental right to be
respected and treated as a free and equal
rational person capable of making his or
her own decisions.

The Fairness Approach

Focuses on how fairly or unfairly our

actions distribute benefits and burdens

among the members of a group.
Fairness requires consistency in the way
people are treated.
The principle states: "Treat people the
same unless there are morally relevant
differences between them."

The Common Good Approach

Presents a vision of society as a

community whose members are joined in

a shared pursuit of values and goals they
hold in common.
The community is comprised of individuals
whose own good is inextricably bound to
the good of the whole.
The principle states: "What is ethical is
what advances the common good."

The Virtue Approach

Focuses on attitudes, dispositions, or

character traits that enable us to be and to

act in ways that develop our human
Examples: honesty, courage, faithfulness,
trustworthiness, integrity, etc.
The principle states: "What is ethical is
what develops moral virtues in ourselves
and our communities."

Problems With These Approaches

We may not agree on the same set of

human and civil rights, what constitutes

the common good, what is good and what
is harmful.
The different approaches may not answer
the question What is ethical? in the same

How To Make an Ethical Decision

Recognize that decisions have ethical

Develop a method for exploring the ethical
aspects of a decision
Discuss with others

Recognize an Ethical Issue

Is there something wrong personally,

interpersonally, or socially? Could the conflict,
the situation, or the decision be damaging to
people or to the community?
Does the issue go beyond legal or institutional
concerns? What does it do to people, who
have dignity, rights, and hopes for a better life

Get the Facts

What are the relevant facts of the case? What

facts are unknown?
What individuals and groups have an important
stake in the outcome? Do some have a greater
stake because they have a special need or
because we have special obligations to them?
What are the options for acting? Have all the
relevant persons and groups been consulted?
If you showed your list of options to someone
you respect, what would that person say?

Evaluate Alternative Responses

Utilitarian Approach:
The ethical action is the one that will
produce the greatest balance of
benefits over harms.

Which option will produce the most good

and do the least harm?

Rights Approach:

The ethical action is the one

that most dutifully respects
the rights of all affected.

Even if not everyone gets all they want,

will everyone's rights and dignity still be

Fairness or Justice Approach:

The ethical action is the one that
treats people equally, or if unequally,
that treats people proportionately
and fairly.
Which option is fair to all stakeholders?

Common Good Approach:

The ethical action is the one that
contributes most to the achievement
of a quality common life together.
Which option would help all participate

more fully in the life we share as a family,

community, society?

Virtue Approach: The ethical action

is the one that embodies the habits
and values of humans at their best.
Would you want to become the sort of

person who acts this way (e.g., a person

of courage or compassion)?

Make a Decision and Test It

Considering all these perspectives, which

of the options is the right or best thing to

If you told someone you respect why you
chose this option, what would that person
say? If you had to explain your decision on
television, would you be comfortable doing

Act, Then Reflect

on the Decision Later
Implement your decision. How did it turn

out for all concerned? If you had it to do

over again, what would you do differently?

Everyday Ethics: 5 Questions


Did I practice any virtues today?

Did I do more harm than good today?
Did I treat people with dignity and
respect today?
Was I fair and just today?
Was my community better because I was
in it?

Personal Advice
Set clear expectations.
Those who are faithful in little things will

be faithful in big things.

Maintain margin
Run your own race define success for
Recognize the trap

"Our character is what we do when we

think no one is looking.

Jackson Browne

"Sow an act...reap a habit; Sow a

habit...reap a character; Sow a

character...reap a destiny."

George Dana Boardman