ASSIGNMENT 1: ETHICAL DECISION-MAKING
We make choices every day. Some of our choices are practical decisions about what will work best, look prettier, feel softer, taste sweeter, what to eat today or last longer. Those decisions don’t necessarily involve right or wrong; they involve efficiency, availability, practicality or preference. For those choices list your options, gather information about your choices, list the pros and cons for each one, select the best option and there you have it – a real decision. On the other hand many of our choices are about doing the right thing. Each of these choices involves thousands of messages whirling inside the brain. In a split second our minds review the facts, explore our feelings, study consequences, compare the options against our beliefs and priorities, consider what others may think, and give the cue for action. Decisions happen so quickly but the consequences can last a lifetime.
That’s why careful consideration is important. A code of ethics can help. It determines direction in our lives. Important decision take time and need to be think it carefully cause what you do will affect the people around you. Say, you are a CEO in the process of finalising a business partnership which is vital for the survival of your company, and then you are appalled to discover at the last minute that your prospective partner is involved in systematic bribery of tax officials in one of the main countries where you are hoping to expand the market for your product.
So long as nobody knows that you know you overheard a conversation in a lift, or accidentally saw an email intended for someone else. You have the option of turning a blind eye. If and when the corrupt practices are brought to light, you can claim that the wool was pulled over your eyes. By that time, your balance sheet will be looking healthier and you can afford to break with your partner and let them face the trouble alone. There is no doubt that such a course of action is unethical. But in a real life situation, the alternative option might be a very difficult decision to take, especially if there is a real danger that without this partnership your company will go out of business.
Self-interest is a valid consideration. A company is not required to
sacrifice its interests and those of its shareholders for the greater good. However, the case we are now describing goes well beyond legitimate self-interest. The problem, bluntly, is one of weakness of will. You know what you should do, but are reluctant to bite the bullet.
And the other situation, a freak accident occurs at a chemical factory with a previously exemplary safety record, and a man dies. An investigation into the causes of the accident recommends measures to prevent similar accidents happening in the future. However these changes would be prohibitively expensive to implement. The CEO faces the choice of closing down the plant with the loss of hundreds of jobs, or allowing the plant to continue with changes in procedure which reduce the risk but do not eliminate it entirely.
We are asked to determine the value of eliminating a small but significant risk of injury or death versus the value of continuing to provide employment. A dogmatic response would be to say that no value, however great, can be put on a man’s life. However, if that principle were to be put literally into practice, daily life would grind to a halt. Even if only one person a year died in a car accident, all private transport would be banned. So, while we pay lip service to the belief that a human life is beyond measure, in practice decisions are made which are inconsistent with that belief.
A genuinely difficult ethical decision, on the other hand, is one where with the best will in the world you do not know what you should do. The problem here is not with the will but with ethical knowledge. The wise decision maker has the ethical knowledge that the unwise or inexperienced decision maker lacks.
Lack of ability in ethical decision making can be remedied by appropriate training. As we shall now see, however, competence in making ethical decisions is still not enough. Sometimes we face ethical decisions which are difficult, not because of something we lack the required knowledge or expertise but rather because the nature of the situation which we are dealing with is such that no amount of expertise would be sufficient to determine the one and only ‘correct’ answer. This is the characteristic feature of a true ethical dilemma.