People make decisions about right and wrong every day in their professional and daily life. Personal experience, social skills, individual morality, and ethics are commonly used. Most often, this process is effortless and unconscious, but when there is a need to make a complex, important, or difficult decision, ethics comes to the fore. Decision-making based on the five principles of ethics: the principle of utility, moral community, the standard of rightness, rule consequentialism, and decision procedure should be the first step toward creating a healthy and developed society.
The Principle of Utility
In order to fully apply ethical decision-making rules in your professional practice, it is necessary to understand what they mean and what value they bring. According to duan (2019), the principle of utility means that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness and wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. In the simplest sense, pleasure and pain influence human behavior and decision-making. Therefore, what is good or bad is related to what is pleasurable or painful. In my understanding of this principle, every decision tends to produce benefit, happiness, advantage, reasonable, and pleasure or prevent mischief, evil, pain, or unhappiness to a particular individual or the whole society. The benefit includes the satisfaction of sense and wealth, amity, and goodwill. In my work, it is rather difficult to bring happiness of sense and wealth, then amity and benevolence are pretty accessible.
My job involves making sometimes tricky decisions because I am a health service administrator for a correctional facility. Freedom from patient pain is the first thing I rely on when making decisions. It is the most accessible way for me to help people and apply the principle of utility. My responsibilities include establishing policies for healthcare services in a correctional facility. When I develop or amend these rules, I make decisions with that principle.
My work brings together two areas in which ethical decision-making is particularly important – healthcare and correctional activities. For this reason, to make the right decision from an ethical point of view, I need to consider several principles, one of which is moral community. In ethics, the term “moral community” does not refer to a group of people who act morally or ethically. One’s moral community consists of all those beings that one holds in moral regard (Richardson, 2018). In my decision-making, the moral community includes those beings that I must consider before acting in a way that might impact them. It contains the correctional facility’s staff, prisoners, and society in general. For example, I plan to loosen the security measures for a prisoner while providing medical services. Considering only the principle of utility, this would be the right decision because it will make it easier for the medical staff to work, and the prisoners will be able to feel amity and benevolence. But at the same time, I can put the medical staff at risk of attack or even create a threat of new violations or crimes for society in the event of an escape. In this context, the part of the moral community that my decision may harm is much greater than the part that it will help. In that case, I will not make this decision but try to find an alternative.
The Standard of Rightness
The standard of rightness is an essential concept for making a good decision. It provides an answer to the question, “What kinds of actions are morally right?” (Mantel, 2021). It is defined by criteria of rightness that tell what is required for an action to be correct. In my decision-making, I use utilitarianism as a standard of rightness that views right actions as those that maximize utility. It means that, for me, action is morally right because it brings happiness and has certain good outcomes. Right actions are proper because they achieve something that is good.
In my life and work, I use this to determine the value of a decision. I ask myself a question: “How can I do something good in a particular situation, and what kinds of actions will be morally right?”.
Rule consequentialism holds that the rightness and wrongness of actions are defined by an ideal moral code, the set of rules whose internalization would have the best consequences. It means that when making a decision, I should consider not only the direct results of my decision but also evaluate their outcomes. In my life and work, this principle applies to lying. I always choose the truth since lying will lead to negative consequences in most cases, especially in the long run. Even “lying for good” will often bring negative effects sooner or later.
A decision procedure is something that we use when we’re thinking about what to do. This process inspires confidence and thus indicates responsibility, fairness, and concern for the individual. It requires reviewing different options, excluding those with an unethical viewpoint, and then choosing the best ethical alternative. To make difficult decisions more manageable, I follow a specific procedure that involves three steps.
All decisions must consider and reflect a concern for the interests of all affected individuals. The underlying principle here is to help when I can and avoid harm when it is possible. Ethical values and principles always have an advantage over nonethical ones. When I face with a clear choice between such values, I always choose to follow ethical ones. Understanding the difference between ethical and nonethical values can be difficult. This situation occurs when I feel a clash between what I want or need and ethical principles that might deny these desires. It is ethically acceptable to violate an ethical principle only when it is necessary to advance another true ethical principle, which, according to my conscience, will produce the greatest balance of good in the long term. Some decisions require prioritizing and choosing between competing ethical values and principles when clearly needed because the only viable options require sacrificing one ethical value at the expense of another ethical value. When this is the case, I act in such a way to bring the greatest benefit and the least harm to the greatest number of people.
Acting ethically is the right thing to do, but it’s not always easy. Conforming to a high standard of conduct frequently involves picking the “lesser of two evils” rather than making decisions that are obviously right or wrong. Sometimes it is necessary to rank and select between conflicting ethical principles and values when making some decisions. My ethical decisions are founded on fundamental character traits, including dependability, accountability, respect, fairness, compassion, and good citizenship. Making ethical decisions leads to ethical behaviors and, on a global scale – improves relationships and increases the justice of the whole society.
Duan, Y. (2019). Ethics Based on Utility and Social Struggle. Atlantis Press, 311(1), 204-207.
Mantel, S. (2021). The Reasons of Objective Consequentialism and Collective Action Problems. Utilit y, 167.
Richardson, H. (2018). Articulating the Moral Community: Toward a Constructive Ethical Pragmatism. Oxford University Press.