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Making Ethical Decisions: Model

See how these three simple principles can help you make better decisions.

The "Character-Based Decision-Making Model" model, developed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, can be applied to many common problems and can also be used by most individuals facing ethical dilemmas.

It involves three steps:

  1. All decisions must take into account and reflect a concern for the interests and well being of all affected individuals ("stakeholders").

    The underlying principle here is the Golden Rule — help when you can, avoid harm when you can.

  2. Ethical values and principles always take precedence over nonethical ones.

    Ethical values are morally superior to nonethical ones. When faced with a clear choice between such values, the ethical person should always choose to follow ethical principles.

    Perceiving the difference between ethical and nonethical values can be difficult. This situation often occurs when people perceive a clash between what they want or "need" and ethical principles that might deny these desires. If some rationalization begins to occur, this situation is probably present.

  3. It is ethically proper to violate an ethical principle only when it is clearly necessary to advance another true ethical principle, which, according to the decision-maker's conscience, will produce the greatest balance of good in the long run.

    Some decisions will require you to prioritize and to choose between competing ethical values and principles when it is clearly necessary to do so because the only viable options require the sacrifice of one ethical value over another ethical value. When this is the case, the decision-maker should act in a way that will create the greatest amount of good and the least amount of harm to the greatest number of people.

Copyright 2000 Josephson Institute of Ethics