Solving Major Moral Dilemmas
A lot of teaching on business ethics is built around exploring significant case studies and is developed in response to profound moral dilemmas; in particular, the challenges that come when important principles clash and seem to point towards different solutions. The attempt to address such problems tends to start with emphasizing the importance of developing a method for moral reasoning in the face of such challenges. Such a model usually emphasizes the importance of considering relevant rules and calculating likely outcomes with the aim of comparing and weighing these to discern the best option for action in that particular context. The emphasis on virtue and character in this case relates primarily to making sure that enough motivation and resolve is found to ensure that appropriate action results. This can be pictured like this:
Rules/consequences-priority (decision-action) model
Determine what is the right thing to do in each situation →
Define the applicable rules
Discern the best outcomes
Become a virtuous person by doing the right thing in situation after situation →
Do what you have determined is right (character)
The sort of method that is recommended usually looks something like this:
- Gather all the relevant facts.
- Clarify the key ethical issues.
- Identify rules and principles relevant for the case.
- Consult the important sources of guidance — especially the Bible, with sensitivity to the best way of reading the Bible to address this situation. But also consult other relevant sources.
- Ask for help from others in your community who know you and the situation. This will help you avoid self-deception and paying too much attention to your particular biases.
- List all the alternative courses of action.
- Compare the alternatives with the principles.
- Calculate the likely results of each course of action and consider the consequences.
- Consider your decision prayerfully before God.
- Make your decision and act on it.
- Create systems and practices that shape the organization/society’s character, so that it tends to do what you have determined is right as a matter of course.
- Find ways to continuously practice the activities inherent in doing what is right, as you have determined.
This approach borrows from Richard Higginson, Called to Account (Guildford: Eagle, 1993) 224-240; David Cook, Moral Choices: A Way of Exploring Christian Ethics (London: SPCK,2000) and Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction To Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), but is also typical of many others.