working through ethical dilemmas: when the deciding gets tough

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Making ethical choices is never easy, but it helps to know what are ethical dilemmas and what comes down to doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing. Here are some insightsand toolsto understanding ethical dilemmas.


Making Tough Choices:Working Through Ethical Dilemmas

dilemma paradigms

di-lemmafrom the Grk. di = two + lemma, an assumption, premise

par-a-digmAn example serving as a pattern;from Grk., to show side by side

truth vs loyaltyindividual vs communityshort-term vs long-termjustice vs mercy4dilemma paradigms

not right vs wrongbutright vs right

Ethics. . . .Obedience to the unenforceable. Lord Moulton, 1924

3 approaches for resolving dilemmas

rule-baseddo what is right based on principle

ends-based do whats best for the greatest number. . .

virtue-based do what reflects your character

Kants deontologyfollow only the principles you want everyone to follow

Mills Utilitarianism

Aristotles VirtueEthicsWhat kind of person are you?

Is there a moral issue?Am I responsible?Is it right-vs-wrong?Is it right-vs-right paradigm?What are the facts?

Apply the resolution principles.Make the decision.Is there a third way?Reflect on the decision.

Events happen as they do. . . . Embrace what you get! Epictetus

Three Traditions in EthicsRule-basedCharacter-basedEnds-basedActionsEndsAgentsKantAristotleJ. S. MillWicks, et al, Business Ethics (2010), Prentice Hall

NonmaleficenceAutonomyCommonprinciplesProvide helpBeneficenceJusticeResponsibilityDo no harmFree to make choicesFair treatmentObligations, expectationsWicks, et al, Business Ethics (2010), Prentice Hall

for more on the dilemma paradigms see:Rushworth Kidder, How Good People Make Tough Choices. Quill, 2003.

Entelechy Productions (revised 2013)

Dilemma paradigms are what journalist and ethics professor Rushworth Kidder called the situations we often find ourselves in.The word dilemma is from the Greek: di, which means two, and lemma, which means an assumption or a premise. A dilemma, then, is having to chose between two premisespresumably of equal significance.A paradigm is based on another Greek word which means to show side by side, as in a comparison. It can also mean a pattern which shows up in a series. Kidder believed that there were four basic dilemma paradigmseach of them having constant application in our lives. These are dilemmas that we face all the time. The essential aspect to an ethical dilemma is that it is a choice between two right optionsor perhaps the lesser of two evils. It is not a choice between right and wrong. Why would anyone choose the wrong and think it could be justified in an ethical sense?One of many definitions of ethics. This one has the virtues of brevity and cogency!In the traditions of Western philosophy, there have been three common approaches for resolving ethical dilemmas.The first is rule-based: doing what is right based on duty and principle.The second is based on the best ends or goals achieved for the greatest number of participants.The third is based on expressing ones character, formed over time, and exhibiting the characteristics of eudaimonia, the fulfilled life.Immanuel Kants deontology is rule-based, doing ones duty no matter the consequences.John Stuart Mills utilitarian ethic seeks the greatest good for the greatest numberAristotles Virtue ethics is based on doing those things which build characterwith the goal of eudaimonia or fulfillment. We can ask ourselves these questions to determine if its a moral or ethical dilemma. We dont have to make a binary choice, yes or no, up or down, right or left. With a little imagination and patience we can almost always come up with multiple options. A classic dilemma of two need not be inevitable. The point is we encourage creativity in almost everything else, so why not in ethics? Such an important aspect of life demands our best and most creative efforts! These words paraphrased from Epictetus, Stoic philosopher, remind us that we are often called to adapt ourselves to the situation, to do the best we can under the circumstances. So . . . a quick review. Three major figures in the history of ethics, with three different purposes, but all of them providing us with ways to think ourselves to a decision.Five of the common principles that have a global application across many disciplines in ethics.An excellent book for students of ethics.