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Prescriptive Approaches To Ethical Decision In Business

Todays Date: December 11, 2018

Philosophers have been wrestling with ethical decision making for centuries. We certainly don’t intend to provide a philosophy course here, but we can distill some important principles that can guide you in your ethical decision making. In this section, we’ll outline some of the major contemporary approaches that we think can provide you with the most practical assistance.[2 ]We’ll then incorporate them into a series of steps that you can use to evaluate ethical dilemmas, and we’ll apply these steps to the short layoff case.
Focus on Consequences (Consequentialist Theories)
One set of philosophical theories is categorized as consequentialist (sometimes referred to as teleological, from the Greek telos). When you’re attempting to decide what’s right or wrong, consequentialist theories focus attention on the results or consequences of the decision or action.
Utilitarianism is probably the best known consequentialist theory. According to the principle of utility, an ethical decision should maximize benefits to society and minimize harms. What matters is the net balance of good consequences over bad.
A utilitarian would approach an ethical dilemma by identifying the alternative actions and their consequences (harms and/or benefits) for all stakeholders. For example, what would be the consequences (societal harms and benefits) of my telling my friend what I know about the layoff? What would be the consequences (societal harms and benefits) of not sharing what I know? This would be followed by a mental calculation of all the costs and benefits of these consequences, stakeholder by stakeholder. For example, one cost of telling my friend would be that he or she might tell others and send the plant into chaos. Perhaps more people would lose their jobs as a result. Another cost might be that I could lose the trust of my boss who provided information to me in confidence. I might even lose my job. A potential benefit might be that I would retain the trust of a valued friend. Another potential benefit might be that my friend could use the information to make a decision about going through with the decision to buy the new house. The “best” ethical decision would be the one that yielded the greatest net benefits for society, and the “worst” decision would be the one that yielded the greatest net harms for society. So, if more people would be ultimately hurt than helped if Pat informs her friend of the impending layoff, a utilitarian would conclude that Pat shouldn’t tell. Keep in mind that this perspective requires you to think broadly about the consequences for “society,” not just for you and those close to you. When thinking about consequences, our inclination is to think too narrowly and to focus too much on the consequences for ourselves, our friends, or our organizations.
In 2005, Mark Felt, also known as “Deep Throat,” revealed his identity as the source who secretly fed Washington Post investigative reporters,

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