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Ethics in Decision Making Essay

Decision making or the process of choosing among alternatives is practiced by almost all individuals (Mingst, 2001). In almost every situation people is faced with the idea of making decisions whether it is as simple as choosing what clothes to buy up to life changing choices like deciding on a particular career path. This kind of act is not always as simple as it looks like especially when decisions are perceived according to particular factors that affect it. The choices that a person made are often influenced by many factors and one of which is the idea of ethics.

Ethics is a set of standards that directs an individual on how to act in certain situations. The idea of ethics is often confused with feelings, law, religion, science, and cultural norms. These concepts influenced ethics in one way or another but these are not synonymous with it. Ethical standards are derived from five sources namely: Utilitarian Approach, Rights Approach, Fairness or Justice Approach, Common Good Approach, and Virtue Approach (Santa Clara University, 2007).

The Utilitarian Approach emphasizes the idea that ethical action gives greater good and minimal harm. This approach is after the results of particular decisions that it should strived to give more advantageous effects rather than adverse consequences. A good example of this is ethics in corporation that aim to produce more beneficial results for everyone in the company (Santa Clara University, 2007). The Rights Approach is a source of ethical standards that gives high regards in respecting and protecting the moral rights of those people concern.

This can be rooted from the idea that the very essence of an individual’s humanity that enables him/her to make decisions for oneself entitled each one of them to a sense of dignity. Based on this dignity, their rights as individuals should be given due importance. These rights also come with its corresponding duties and one of which is to respect the rights of other people as well (Santa Clara University, 2007). The Fairness or Justice Approach is based on the arguments of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers that “all equals should be treated equally”.

Ethical actions should treat individuals equally but if there is inequality then there should be a defensible standard as to such. A corporate environment is a best example of such approach because workers are paid according to their productivity and contribution to the company, which is perceived as fair. However, there is contention when it comes to the CEOs of companies because their salary is many times larger than the others which make such disparity unfair for some (Santa Clara University, 2007).

The Common Good Approach gives value in the importance of life. They believe that the very idea of life is good which is why ethical actions should contribute to the well-being of that life. The intermingling of societal relationships as well as the respect and care for others especially the marginalized are emphasized. Furthermore, this approach also highlights the importance of conditions that bring common good (Santa Clara University, 2007). The Virtue Approach is considered as a very ancient way of looking at ethical actions.

Certain virtues are to be followed in order to attain the full development of human beings. These virtues are needed in order to reach the full potential of ones character. Questions like “What kind of person will I become if I do this? ” or “is this action consistent with my acting at my best? ” are taken into consideration in this approach (Santa Clara University, 2007). These aforementioned sources of ethics could be applied in the process of decision making especially with the individuals or decision makers that are involved within the process.

Decision makers have various motivations and characteristics that affect their choices. There are two types of motivation namely the “in-order-to motives” and the “because-of-motives”. The “in-order-to motives” explains that a decision maker will choose a particular decision in order to accomplish a certain objective (Mingst, 2001). Ethics could highly influence this kind of motivation especially in terms of the Utilitarian, Virtue, and Common Good approaches.

The Utilitarian approach is manifested in the “in-order-to motives” because if an individual will make a decision based on an objective of producing more good rather than harm then it already fulfils an ethical action in the Utilitarian perspective. In terms of the Virtue approach, ethics is seen in the motivation of the decision maker when the choices made are based on an objective that helps the development of an individual towards its full potential. The Common Good approach also asserts ethics because actors are influenced to choose decisions that will bring about the greater good to the most number of people.

On the other hand, the “because-of-motives” arises from the “unconscious or semiconscious motives or impulses arising out of previous life experience or inner values, interests, or drives of the decision maker” (Mingst, 2001). Ethical action becomes possible in the decisions made by an individual based on the ideas of the Rights Approach and the Fairness or Justice Approach. The Rights Approach exemplified the moral rights of the people that should be respected and protected. These rights motivate the decision maker to make choices that will uphold these values.

Similarly, the Fairness or Justice Approach also influences the motive of the decision maker by putting in mind the idea of what is equal from what is not especially if such idea is something that the individual values or has interests on. According to the assumptions of the Decision Making Theory, a rational actor plays a vital role in the decision making wherein that individual is well-aware of the list of available alternatives and capable of calculating each option’s possible results and has the freedom of choice to select the one with the highest preferential value.

However, the biographical knowledge of the decision maker has a crucial role in the choices that will be made. Factors such as a person’s educational background, religion, life experiences, mental and physical health as well as other activities could explain the interests and values of the decision maker (Mingst, 2001). An individual decision maker is already influenced by numerous factors that affect its decisions which make decision making for a collective entity of diverse people more complicated.

A population would have various and sometimes conflicting interests and basically different decisions. In such case, the important factor for this diverse population to successfully arrive at a most advantageous decision is to acquire consensus. Consensus building is an important factor for the decision making process of a diverse population. Since they have numerous interests and motives they need to be able to arrive at a decision that everybody will benefit from even if it means having to compromise at times.

In doing so, they also need an appropriate leader that would collaborate their interests. A democratic form of leadership is a good example of how the process of decision making takes place in a diverse population (Bissessar, 2004). The interests of its citizens are represented through party system as well as by elected political leaders. However, numerous party systems is still not that easy to manage which is why a rational and appropriate leader is still needed that would be able to make sound decisions for its citizens.

The decision maker is the most important part of the decision making process. The motives, interests as well as the background of this rational actor are vital in order to understand the choices that are made. Being the case, ethical standards is also one of the factors that influenced these decisions.

This also applies in the decision making of diverse population because they need consensus building in order to embody their various and sometimes conflicting interests. In doing so, it also need an appropriate leader that would collaborate their interests and implements the decision.Ethical standards and the other factors that influence the decision maker have a big part in the selection of sound decisions.


Bissessar. A. M. (2004). Globalization and Governance: Essays on the Challenges for Small Countries. North Carolina: McFarland. Santa Clara University. (2007). A Framework for Thinking Ethically. Retrieved 14 May 2008, from http://www. scu. edu/ethics/practicing/decision/framework. html. Mingst, K. (2001). Essentials of International Relations. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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