Why is Ethical Decision Making So Hard?

4 steps to ensuring your decision making is ethical.

It turns out that ethical decision making isn’t easy. If it were, people would not struggle with this.  Here are 4 tips to help you make better, more ethical decisions.

1) Decide on your ethics. You cannot make ethical decisions if you have no concept of how to judge whether something is ethical or not.  Most ethical systems are basically the same, so it doesn’t really matter which one you pick. As long as compassion is ranked high on your list of things to care about, your ethical system will be consistent with most of the rest of humanity, who are the ones who will judge whether your decisions are ethical or not.

2) Be Prepared to Make Hard Decisions. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that ethical decision making is easy. All they need to do is apply their ethics.  It doesn’t work like that.  The big decisions, where what is good and bad is obvious, don’t require you to decide anything. What is hard is deciding between the better of two goods or the lesser of two evils. Those are the situations that require ethical decision making. Accept that up front and have the courage to decide what you think is the most good or the least evil. The essence of ethical decision making is, after all, the act of making a decision. It is sometimes unpleasant, but be prepared to do it anyway, or admit that your decision making isn’t based on rational ethics.

3) Learn How to Think Well. In order to make good decisions, you have to have some basis of deciding. This is where critical thinking comes in. First, to be ethical, you have to know what is true and what is false. This is the foundation of ethical decision making. If you think something is true that isn’t, you could end up doing something unethical by mistake.

4) Use your ethics to decide. Think through your options and work hard to figure out what the best solution to your problem is. Use your ethics as a guide to what you think is the most good and the least harmful.

So there you go. Ethical decision making requires you to think about your ethics so that your decisions do the most good and the least harm. At the center of this is thinking. Take the time to learn how to think well and your ethical decision making should improve too.


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  2. Thanks for this, Jennifer! I am a member of the Values and Ethics Leadership Team (VELT) at my organization, and I find your posts on humanist ethics very helpful in framing my view of business ethics. My role on the team is not a major one, just as a front line worker trying to encourage an ethical climate at my workplace, but I find that your blog is truly an inspiration to those who want to be ethical, both at work and at home.


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