Reasoning based on ethical principles and decisions

As the world becomes more complicated, the need for ethical business choices comes to the fore. Corporate decisions can affect the world positively or negatively on an ever-increasing scale. The five steps of principled reasoning bring some order and meaning to a topic that may be too open to interpretation. Having a clear process for ethical decisions eliminates bias and provides a streamlined path to business improvement.

As a business owner, the easiest way to design this process is to cut it down to five steps and three simple questions. The five steps are:
1. Clarify
2. Evaluate
3. Decide
4. Implement
5. Monitor and modify

The three litmus questions for the assessment are:
Are you treating others as you would like to be treated?
Would you feel comfortable if your reasoning and decision were published?
Would you feel comfortable if your children were watching you?
(Josephson Institute of Ethics, 1999)

It can be difficult to balance the pressures of company growth and profits with making decisions that benefit everyone and not just a few. The Ethics Scorecard Rulebook, a project of ProEthics, the Josephson Institute of Ethics, describes five main steps in making ethical decisions. Further complicating the situation is trying to ensure that everyone within your company is operating with your ethical ideals in mind. By using the Josephson Institutes guidelines, one can begin to develop a standard for ethical decision-making and, in turn, create a template for others to follow.

“The foundation of ethical decision making involves choice and balance; it is a guide to discard bad decisions in favor of good ones” (Chmielewski, 2004).

The first step is to clarify what is the decision you are making. What are all your options to solve the problem? Eliminate any of the illegal or unworkable options first. Then decide on three ethically clear options. Examine them and decide what ethical principles are involved in each of your options.

Next, you will evaluate and see if any of the options require the sacrifice of any moral principles. Look at each option and decide what the benefits, burdens, and risks are for the business and consumers. Decide if your assessments are based on facts or beliefs, unsupported conclusions, or opinions. Determine if all sources of information are credible.

Once you’ve thoroughly evaluated all of your options, it’s time to decide on the best options for the future. Think about the remaining options according to your conscience. Prioritize your values ​​so you can decide which of those options to present and which to discard. Find out who will benefit most and who will be harmed least by your choice. Think about the worst case scenario and how to avoid it.

Once you’ve thoroughly considered all aspects of your options, made a decision, and set a direction, you’ll implement your choice. Implementation is best done by developing a plan for how to actualize your decision and following it through to the end.

The final steps in ethical decision making are to monitor and modify. This can be done by tracking the effects of the decision you have made. An important part of modification is being willing to change your plan or try another idea altogether. Following your plan will allow you to adjust accordingly to any additional information. Projecting potential problems is not foolproof, and reacting to problems in real time is the only way to ensure that your best intentions succeed.

The three questions are a quick litmus test of how you feel about the choices you’re potentially making. By reviewing them and assessing your feelings about the answers, you can quickly determine if the decisions you’re making feel like a poor moral choice. It can lead to a red flag and allow you to slow down and further explore your possible options.

It’s almost impossible to tell from applications or work experience if a potential employee will share the same business ethic as the employer. Therefore, it is up to the employer to educate their employees detailing their own expectations and procedures for dealing with ethical decision-making. Helping them understand and use this method will keep your company in tune with ethical standards (Mayhew, 2017).

Chmielewski, C. (2004). Values ​​and culture in ethical decision making. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from

Ethics Scorecard Rulebook, a project of ProEthics, Ltd. Josephson Institute of Ethics. “Five Steps of Principled Reasoning”. 1999.

Mayhew, R. (2017). What challenges does a company face related to ethics? Retrieved November 16, 2017 from