How to Make an Ethical Decision


The philosopher Immanuel Kant said a person is good if he has the ability to make ethical decisions. Making these decisions is hard. Moral consideration, Kant went on, needs to be included in making ethical decisions. Imagine how your decision would look on the front page of your local newspaper. Contemplate what your mother would say. Treat others how you would want to be treated. Philosophers have been debating ethics for many centuries, but there are some fundamental guidelines to rely on.

  • Think about how your decision could affect other people. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham coined Utilitarianism, which generally focuses on creating the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

  • Contemplate whether society will function humanely if what you do becomes a universal law. Immanuel Kant coined the term "universality" to describe universal law.

  • Be rational. Emotions cloud the judgment. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes agreed that morality is based on rationality. For example, it is not rational for each person to think only of herself because consideration of the well-being of the human race is paramount for the happy survival of the species. Promoting sadness, however, is irrational.

  • Consider a compromise if any party would be hurt by a decision. Try to gauge how each person will be affected and find a solution that does the least harm, or the most good.

  • Consider the duration of the effects of your decision. Long-term positive results can outweigh short-term negative results, but long-term negative results can outweigh short-term positive results.


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