Ethical Decision-Making Tools

An Ethical Decision-Making Model

(Source: Josephson Institute of Ethics. “Five Steps of Principled Reasoning.” 1999.)


1. Determine precisely what must be decided.
2. Formulate and devise the full range of alternatives.
3. Eliminate patently impractical, illegal and improper alternatives.
4. Force yourself to develop at least three ethically justifiable options.
5. Examine each option to determine which ethical principles and values are involved.


1. If any of the options requires the sacrifice of any ethical principle, evaluate the facts and assumptions carefully.
2. Distinguish solid facts from beliefs, desires, theories, suppositions, unsupported conclusions, opinions, and   rationalizations.
3. Consider the credibility of sources, especially when they are self-interested, ideological or biased.
4. With regard to each alternative, carefully consider the benefits, burdens and risks to each stakeholder.


1. Make a judgment about what is not true and what consequences are most likely to occur.
2. Evaluate the viable alternatives according to personal conscience.
3. Prioritize the values so that you can choose which values to advance and which to subordinate.
4. Determine who will be helped the most and harmed the least.
5. Consider the worst case scenario.
6. Consider whether ethically questionable conduct can be avoided by changing goals or methods, or by getting consent.
7. Apply the three “ethics tests”

* 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?


1. Develop a plan of how to implement the decision.
2. Maximize the benefits and minimize the costs and risks.

·Monitor and modify.

1. Monitor the effects of decisions.
2. Be prepared and willing to revise a plan, or take a different course of action.
3. Adjust to new information.



[These 12 questions for examining the ethics of a decision were adapted from the steps formulated by Harvard Business School Professor Laura Nash in her Harvard Business Review article, “Ethics without the Sermon” (1981)]

1. Have you defined the problem accurately?

2. How would you define the problem if you stood on the other side of the fence?

3. How did this situation occur in the first place?

4. To whom and to what do you give your loyalty as a person and as a member of the organization?

5. What is your intention in making this decision?

6. How does this intention compare with the probable results?

7. Whom could your decision injure?

8. Can you discuss the problem with the affected parties before you make your decision?

9. Are you confident that your position will be as valid over a long period of time as it seems now?

10. Could you disclose without qualm your decision or action to your boss, the head of your organization, your colleagues, your family, the person you most admire, or society as a whole?

11. What is the symbolic potential of your action if understood? If misunderstood?

12. Are there circumstances when you would allow exceptions to your stand? What are they?