Principled Reasoning and Ethical Decisions

As the world becomes more complicated the need for ethical business choices moves to the forefront. Corporation’s decisions can affect the world in a positive or negative manner on an ever-larger scale. The five steps of principled reasoning give some order and sense to a subject that can be too open to interpretation. Having a clear process for ethical decisions removes the bias and provides a streamlined path to better business.

As a business owner, the simplest way to lay out this process is to shorten it 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 evaluation are:

Are you treating others as you would want to be treated?

Would you be comfortable if your reasoning and decision were to be publicized?

Would you be comfortable if your children were observing you?

(Josephson Institute of Ethics, 1999)

It can be complicated to balance the pressures of company growth and profit with decision making that benefit all and not just a few. In Ethics Scorecard Rule Book, a project of ProEthics, by the Josephson Institute of Ethics there are five main steps outlined in ethical decision making. What complicates the situation even more is trying to ensure all within your company are 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 choices in favor of good ones” (Chmielewski, 2004).

The first step is to clarify what the decision is you are making? What are all of your options for solving the problem? Eliminate any of the illegal or infeasible options first. Then, decide on three ethically clear options. Examine them and decide what are the ethical principles 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 to the company and consumers. Decide whether your evaluations are based on facts or beliefs, unsupported conclusions, or opinions. Determine if all sources for information are credible.

Once you thoroughly evaluate all of your options, it is time to decide what the best choices are going forward. Think about the remaining options based on your conscience. Prioritize your values so you can decide what of those choices to put forward and which to drop. Figure out who will benefit most, and who would be harmed the least from your choice. Think about the worst-case scenario and how to avoid it.

Once you have deeply examined all aspects of your options, made a decision, and set a direction, you will implement your choice. Implementation is best done by developing a plan on how to bring your decision into actualization and following through to the end.

The final steps in ethical decision making are to monitor and modify. This can be done by monitoring the effects of the decision you have made. An important part of modifying is being willing to change your plan or try another idea altogether. Following your plan will enable you to adjust accordingly to any additional information. Projecting potential problems is not fool proof and reacting to issues in real time is the only way to ensure your best-laid intentions are successful.

The three questions are a quick litmus test for how you feel about the choices you are potentially making. By running through these and assessing your feelings to the answers, you can rapidly determine if the decisions you are making feel like a bad moral choice. It can lead to a red flag and allow you to slow down and study your potential choices further.

It is nearly impossible to tell from applications or work experience if a potential employee will share the same business ethics 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 utilize this method will keep your company on the same page regarding ethical standards (Mayhew, 2017).

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

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

Mayhew, R. (2017). What Challenges Does a Business Face Involving Ethics? Retrieved November 16, 2017, from

Source by Beth Ann Pratt

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