This note will present a practical framework for ethical reasoning, in other words, a set Of questions to help you assess the ethical implications Of a course of action. While many of us believe that we approach such assessments with all of our reasoning powers at the ready, we actually first come to moral judgments with instinct and emotion – a nearly instantaneous judgment that we make about morally charged situations. Rational analysis moms as a second step, after our instinctual response. 2 In considering morally-charged situations, we build on a foundation of personal, family, and cultural values, tenets of our religious beliefs and personal philosophies, past experiences, prior knowledge, and general understanding of what morality means. Given the complexity and ambiguity of ethical challenges, you can benefit from having a set of intuitive and practical questions to apply to the situations you find yourself in. If the topic is ethical assessment, what should this framework include?
The search for a single, all-encompassing approach that will enable users to infidelity determine the morality of an action has attracted philosophers for thousands of years. But each moral philosophy has strengths and weaknesses, so a better approach, many find, is to test a possible action by examining it from multiple ethical perspectives. 4 These questions, which we will examine in more detail, represent powerful and distinctive approaches to moral reasoning: RL Am I comfortable with the likely consequences of this action?
Am I meeting my duties and respecting others’ rights? Am I respecting the community and its norms? Am I meeting my commitments and my company’s commitments? Professor Sandra J. Sucker prepared this note as the basis for class discussion. Visiting Associate Professor Nine-h Whish revised the note. Copyright 0 201 0, 2011 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-5457685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to www. Hobs. Harvard. Du/educators.
This publication may not be digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School. This document is authorized for use only in Ethics, Responsibility and Governance-2015 by Proof. Swats Panda & Dry. Tampa Dye, Institute of Management Technology, Hydrated (MIT,HYDE) from July 201 5 to October 201 5. 2015 610-050 Am I comfortable with the likely consequences of this action? Testing for impact: consequences The central thrust of this question is to consider the impact of your proposed course of action, principally on others.
While consequence-based thinking is common in all aspects of business planning, the origin of this line of reasoning as a moral philosophy is utilitarianism, crafted in the nineteenth century by English philosophers and social reformers Jeremy Beneath and John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism aims to examine social welfare by balancing the interests of individuals who will be affected by an action or policy, seeking, as it is often referred to in shorthand: the greatest good for the greatest number. In implementation, this test requires you to: 1) seek good outcomes for affected parties; 2) be objective in identifying everyone’s interests and the likely consequences of your actions; 3) be impartial – weighing the effects on others equal to the effects on yourself. 6 Objectivity and impartiality are key elements of this test, ensuring that you have a realistic view of the effects of your proposed action.
Our question is constructed as a two-step test, however, in which you first identify affected parties and the likely consequences Of an action, and then assess whether you, as an individual, are comfortable with these consequences. Since it is your (or your organization’s) action that you are assessing, this second step is crucial to exercising judgment and taking responsibility for actions you might take. Application: Testing for consequences usually occurs in a stakeholder analysis or stakeholder impact assessment 7 which might look something like this: Stakeholders keel Impact: Short-Term Likely Impact: Long-Term
Stakeholder 1 Stakeholder 2 In conducting this analysis, the most important considerations are 1 ) to correct for a narrow perspective on the situation, build a comprehensive list of stakeholders, looking beyond immediately impacted individuals, groups, and organizations to second- and third-order effects that your action might have; 2) to correct for “short-terrorism,” consider longer-term consequences as well as immediate effects. While the neat lines and boxes make the test for consequences look easy, you will want to keep in mind that your analysis depends heavily on predicting outcomes that are far from certain.
It is tempting, in fact, to insist that too little is knowable and to avoid the exercise altogether. A review of noted individual and organizational missteps would suggest, however, that the problem is more frequently too little attention paid to forecasting consequences, rather than too much. With all of its strengths, the consequences test is not a silver bullet. If it were the only form of assessment used, the search for the “greatest good for the greatest number” could lead to unjust distributions and tyranny of the majority. It also is criticized for failure to respect individual rights. Both are reasons why your second question is important. West Point cadets pray to be the kind of person who will choose the “harder right over the easier wrong. ” The Cadet’s Prayer has endured for decades as a hope for those who know they will be tested under harsh conditions in which ambiguity, unreliable information, and constant threat all 2 201 5 A Framework for Ethical Reasoning 610-050 make it hard to keep to first principles. D But what helps you understand the “harder right? ” Why is an act considered morally right or wrong? To answer these questions, we turn to moral duties and rights. In this line or seasoning, what makes an action right or wrong is whether it conforms to a moral rule, regulation or principle. One acts on one’s moral duties – and respects others’ rights -? when one acts in accordance with moral rules. These are related to each other; for example, your right to enjoy your own property commits me to not steal or appropriate it for my use.
For this reason, moral duties and rights are frequently described as two sides of the coin of ethical responsibility. Far from heroic, duties and rights are viewed as the foundation of common morality, establishing a moral minimum and reflecting expectations for ordinary ethical conduct. But calling them a “minimum” or “common” or “ordinary'” does not necessarily make them easy to fulfill. That is why they are, frequently, the “harder right. ” Testing for bright lines: duties This test requires you to identify your responsibilities to others and to commit to fulfill them.
But what obligates you to others? Political philosopher Michael Sandal proposes three categories of moral responsibility: 1 1 1) Some obligations are voluntary- the kind you consent to when you make contracts or specific commitments to others. 2) A second type is an obligation of solidarity. 1 2 These are the obligations you incur through membership in various communities, and include duties you have as a family member, citizen, professional, and active and committed participant in other groups. ) Underlying all of these, and the foundation of the minimal expectations you are held to, are so-called natural duties. Sandal’s third category draws on the ideas of eighteenth-century German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, who developed a philosophy of obligation based on the equality of all humans as rational beings. Natural duties are owed to errors as persons, 13 rational beings who, because of their power to think, choose, and decide, are worthy of dignity and respect. 14 Application: Most business leaders and organizations appreciate that they have duties that they must fulfill in conducting business.
They document their ideas in various ways, including codes of conduct developed to give guidance and establish their own “bright lines. ” While we might expect wide variation in these expectations globally and across industries, a team of researchers analyzed codes of conduct of leading businesses around the world and found substantial overlap. 5 Their analysis identified eight basic moral principles as widely accepted standards for moral duties that business people should fulfill.
Exhibit 1 details these principles and duties, including specific actions that they either prohibit or require. The list, as you will see below, is a package especially tailored to business, bringing together some business- specific ethical principles with relevant common moral duties you would expect anyone to attempt to uphold. Fiduciary principle: Act in the best interests of the company and its investors. Property principle: Respect property and the rights of those who own it Reliability principle: Keep promises, agreements, contracts, and other commitments.
Transparency principle: Conduct business in a truthful and open manner. Dignity principle: Respect the dignity of all people. Fairness principle: Deal fairly with all parties. Citizenship principle: Act as responsible members of the community. Responsiveness principle: Be responsive to the legitimate claims and concerns of others. 3 The researchers also noted that across different cultural and social contexts, the significance and interpretation of these principles can vary tremendously, squiring sensitivity in understanding how they might be applied in practice. 6 Nonetheless, this list and the more detailed version you find in Exhibit 1 can serve as a useful reference point for your assessment of a proposed course of action. While easy to devolve into a “check the box” exercise, such a review can provide insight into the ways in which your proposed action may cross many moral bright lines. Testing for bright lines: rights Rights are the other side of the coin of moral responsibility. The natural duties owed to persons as natural beings are molly understood in terms of respect for their rights.
For example, the right to physical freedom implies a duty not to engage in coercion. A rights test identifies the moral rights at stake and assesses how those rights would fare under the proposed course of action. Rights are associated with the moral and political philosophy of liberal individualism, which asserts that societies must establish a “space” in which individuals are free to pursue their own interests and are protected from intrusion from the state. 17 The U. N.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions scribe human rights as “unalienable” – an entitlement of individuals that is accorded to them solely on the basis of their humanity. 1 8 Rights are thus acknowledged standards for the treatment of people, 19 and as such, are justified claims that individuals or groups can make upon other individuals, organizations, or society, calling upon them to either provide goods and services (these are referred to as positive rights) or to prevent them from acting in a certain way (referred to as negative rights). 0 Moral rights are not, however, absolute, and sometimes must give way to other claims. 21 In a endemic, for example, freedom to travel might be restricted for sick individuals to protect the interests of the society. But social (or economic) welfare alone is not sufficient justification to circumscribe an individual’s rights. If it were, there would be little strength behind rights guarantees. 22 Application: The aim of a rights test is to ensure that basic rights are respected. If they are not, an important distinction in practice is whether your proposed action violates or infringes another’s rights. 3 A violation of a right simply rides rough-shod over it. An infringement, on the other hand, 1) acknowledges the right, 2) requires that the individual or Organization justify the infringement on moral as well as prudential grounds, and 3) frequently requires mitigation to limit negative effects, and restitution to the individual or group to demonstrate commitment to preserving the right and the welfare of the affected parties. More generally, widely recognized rights establish expectations for corporate conduct. Exhibit 2, for example, relates human rights from the U.
N. Universal Declaration to standards of behavior that would demonstrate adherence to and support for the rights of various stakeholders of the firm. Bright line tests are useful to establish the boundaries of moral conduct based on objective standards and definitions of duties and rights. But in emphasizing the claims of individuals, these ethical theories have been criticized for paying inadequate attention to the value of community as a source of social cohesion and the setting in which moral beliefs are shaped and carried out.
Additionally, a community-based view of moral duties and responsibilities is central to a variety of traditions of thought, many of them non-Western. For example, Confucianism emphasizes the value of familial relations and catering lie (the rituals and rules through which one fulfills one’s role in society). 24 Bunt, which connotes community and interconnectedness, is considered to be a foundational ethical concept across a variety of African traditions. 25 Indian religions, including Hinduism, Jansenism, and Buddhism, call for aims (nonviolence toward all living beings) on grounds 4 2015. Hat all life is connected as one. 26 In the Jewish tradition, a concern for community is reflected in the concept of Aitkin loam (repair of the world) and the practices associated with it. 27 A fundamental concept in Islam is the Jimmie (the Muslim community), which expresses the unity and equality of all Muslims. 28 The value of community and the importance of the common good also play an important role in Catholic social thought and many monastic traditions and other strands of Christianity. 29 Your third question will allow you to incorporate the value of community into your ethical reasoning.
Community-based approaches to ethical reasoning do not always lend themselves to easy characterization and they admit of a wide variety. This note tries to capture some of that subtlety while, at the same time, providing n approach that can be used by business leaders operating in and across many com unities. 30 Underlying many rights-based approaches to ethics, such as the approach associated with Emmanuel Kant, is a view of the self as “unencumbered. ” According to this view, we can always step back from any project or social practice and freely question whether we want to continue pursuing it. 1 A communitarian approach to ethical reasoning rejects this “concentric” view of the self on grounds that it ignores the role of communities in shaping the attachments and commitments that define who e are. 32 Absent these attachments and commitments, we would lack the framework to determine where we stand on some of the most important questions in our lives, such as what is good, or what is valuable, or what ought to be done. Without a community, we would “be at sea. “33 Communities can have moral significance even under views that privilege individual choice because they give sign efficacy and meaning to our choices.
The act of marriage, for example, has significance because it occurs against a broader set of beliefs about what it means. Vibrant communities are needed o ensure that we have a range of meaningful options from which to choose. 34 Testing for the value of community Communities are often categorized as one of three kinds. The first is a community of place, such as a city, that carries for individuals a sense Of home or belonging, sometimes even after they leave. The second is a community of memory-?a group of “strangers who share a morally significant history. Examples include a nation or a language-based ethnological group. The third is a psychological community-?a community of “personal interaction governed by sentiments of trust, co-operation, and altruism. ” The family is a standard example. 35 The firm is often proposed as another. 36 Application: Because communities differ, it is difficult to provide a one-size- fits-all approach to respecting the value of community in a specific context. What can be outlined here are three levels of analysis involved in respecting the value of community.
The first is from your perspective as a community member. The second and third are from an external perspective of operating across different communities. The first level involves a communitarian approach toward duties and responsibilities. As noted above, a communitarian approach to ethical reasoning does not start with individual rights. Duties are characterized not in terms of the rights of others, but rather as attaching to the roles and relationships that you occupy in the community. To use an analogy, consider a sports team. 7 Suppose one player continually fails to pass the ball to another teammate better placed to score a point. This player has done something wrong, but it would be unnecessary and odd (and perhaps even change our understanding of the game) to characterize her failure as a violation of the other teammate’s rights. Rather, the thought is that each player occupies a role that carries with it certain responsibilities 5 Governance-2015 by proof. Swats panda & or. -rump Dye, Institute of defined bathe good of the team. The players failure is in not fulfilling her role.
A communitarian approach toward ethical reasoning involves fulfilling your role and respecting the relationships you occupy in the community. The second is to consider the impact of the proposed course of action on the vitality of a community. At first, this may look similar to a stakeholder analysis or stakeholder impact assessment. Communities are comprised of individuals, who if affected by the proposed course of action, would fall under a stakeholder analysis. Testing for the value of community, however, is broader.
It focuses attention on the culture, practices, and shared meanings that exist beyond any one individual and beyond purely economic interests. It also asks about the impact of the proposed course of action as interpreted by those affected by the action, which is in contrast to the objectivity and impartiality demanded by the test for consequences. One way to articulate this test is in terms of the impact of the proposed course of action on a immunity’s way of life. The third involves respecting relevant differences across communities.
Communities may differ in the parameterization of rights when they come into conflict or when there are limited resources to spend on their realization. Another way in which communities may differ is with respect to the justification of a right. For example, in some communities, rights to democracy may not be justified on grounds of individual freedom as they often are in Western contexts, but rather on grounds that their exercise strengthens the nation. 38 In thinking about the proposed course of action, o should ask whether it would violate a deeply held value or norm in that community.
Notice that this is not the same as saying that you should always act the way that members of a community would act-?that ‘X;even in Rome, do as the Romans do. ” The idea here is to focus on the most importantly held values and norms in question. In applying the test for the value Of community at the second and third levels you will want to avoid making two common assumptions. The first is to assume that communities are unified in terms of their norms and practices. The norms and practices of a given community may be the subject of internal eroticism, where the criticism is made with reference to the values of the community. 9 So determining how ‘the community” feels about a proposed action may be a more complex analysis than you might have thought. The second is to assume there are no similarities across communities. 40 For example, some version of the golden rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is found in most of the world’s religious and philosophical traditions. 41 So a comprehensive community-based approach to reasoning also requires looking for points Of commonality and similarities in thought and approach.
Community-based approaches to ethical reasoning are often characterized as highlighting difference, but this need not always be the case. One community- based approach is to think in terms of a global community. Like a natural rights approach to ethical reasoning, this recognizes the equality of all people. Where it differs is in taking the common good and shared humanity, rather than individual rights, as the basis for our duties and responsibilities. Your first three questions (Am I comfortable with the consequences of this action? Am I meeting my duties and respecting others’ rights?
Am respecting the immunity and its norms? ) are, by and large, a “view from the outside” – a way of ensuring that you are taking into account ethical considerations that many others have found to be useful. But ethical analysis also requires a “view from the inside” to allow you to incorporate the values and beliefs that you, and your organization, hold and want to honor in making decisions. 6 Governance-2015 by proof. Swats Panda & Dry. Tampa Dye, Institute of Testing for meaning: commitments This test assesses the proposed course of action against your own and your company’s commitments.
It recognizes that oral challenges are not just tests of moral reasoning and right conduct; they are also tests of personal and organizational identity. Through extensive interviews with managers, One researcher found that moral challenges and righteous-right challenges in particular, were experienced as “defining moments. ” 42 These are situations in which individuals and organizations must establish priorities among their values, moral aspirations, sense of purpose, and goals.
Defining moments operate on individual managers and organizations in similar ways: 1) they reveal at least some of their basic aloes, 2) test the strength of their commitment to the beliefs and goals they espouse, and 3) shape the individual and the institution in new ways, establishing precedents and expectations about values, purpose and approach that may last long into the future. 43 Application: Appealing to commitments is not as straightforward as it may appear, even with a solid foundation Of personal and organizational values.
You should expect to be engaged in one or more of the following tasks: 1) interpreting general statements of principle or belief in light of the particular details of a specific situation to determine what action they suggest; 2) covering new principles that the situation calls for, since many moral challenges represent new situations for which no moral “decision rule?’ has been established; 3) ranking commitments to different individuals and groups or to different ethical principles in the face of a conflict among them; 4) trading off one moral “good” for another.
This last category is at the heart of many LLC challenges, which represent a conflict among commitments that are denominated quite differently – market share, personal wealth, personal integrity, organizational and social welfare, and the like.