Sadat (IT) Academy

Dr. Gary H. Jones




Five Ethical Decision-Making Principles (Perspectives)

Summary of the Five Perspectives (table, revised)

Brief description of the Five Perspectives

Criticisms of each of the Five Perspectives





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Summary of Five Ethical Decision-Making Principles


Belief Systems

Source of Moral Authority

Ethical Relativism



Moral authority is determined by individual or cultural self-interests, customs and religious principles. An act is morally right if it serves one’s self-interests and needs.



(calculation of cost/benefit)

Moral authority is determined by the consequences of an act: An act is morally right if the net benefits over costs (greatest good) are greatest for the majority (greatest number).




Moral authority is determined by the extent the intention of an act treats all people with respect. Includes the requirement that everyone would (should) act this way in the same circumstances.



(individual entitlement)

Moral authority is determined by individual rights guaranteed to all in their pursuit of freedom of speech, choice, happiness, and self-respect



(fairness and equality)

Moral authority is determined by the extent that opportunities, wealth, and burdens are fairly distributed among all


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Brief Description of the Five Perspectives

Ethical [& Cultural] Relativism

No universal standars or rules can be used to guide the morality of an act. The logic of ethical relativism extends to cultures: cultural relativism.  As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."  What is morally right for one society or culture may be not be perceived as right in another.

Advantage:  Flexibility.  Social norms and values are seen in a cultural context.

Business Implications:  People doing business in a foreign country are obliged to follow that country's social values, norms, and customs (and laws, of course).



An action is judged as right or good depending upon its consequences. The ends of an action justify the means used to reach those ends.  "The greatest good for the greatest number."

Advantage:  Practical, practicable, and especially useful when resources are fixed or scarce.

Business Implications:  Useful in business (and government) because resources are usually fixed and the "greatest good" is sometimes objective and quantifiable (able to be calculated numerically). This can facilitate (simplify) decsion-making.



A person should choose to act if and only if he or she would be willing to have every person on earth, in that same situation, act exactly that same way. There are no exceptions or qualifications.  Also, the action must respect all others, and treat people as ends, not means to an end.

Advantage:   The interests of people (as ends) are put first.  There are no exceptions, special situations, or shades of meaning (but see "criticisms" below).


Business Implications:  One only makes decisions as one would like to see all other businesses and cultures make that same decision--no exceptions.


Human Rights

Individual rights mean entitlements at birth.  These entitlements usually include the right to life, liberty, health, dignity, and choice.  These rights are often, although not always, seen as being granted to individuals by God.  Rights can override utilitarian principles.


Advantage:   Human dignity and individual worth are always protected, because they are seen as the greatest good.


Business Implications:  Businesses tend to operate from a cost/benefit (utilitarian perspective).  But business executives should be aware that in many cases, and in many cultures, individual rights must also be taken into consideration.




The principle of justice deals with fairness and equality.  Benefits and opportunities -- as well as burdens -- are to be shared equally.


Advantage:  More easily codified into regulations and laws than some other ethical principles.  Along with the Rights perspective this principle provides the foundation of many national laws.


Business Implications:  Emphasis on equal opportunity for all has an impact on hiring and promotion decisions.  The justice principle is usually written into law, and so has codified foundation. This can be helpful when making business decisions in one's own country--or in a foreign land.


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Criticisms of the Ethical Perspectives

Ethical [Cultural] Relativism
May suggest an underlying moral laziness. The logic of relatavism may provide an excuse for not having or developing  moral standards that can be argued and tested against other claims, opinions and standards.

2.  Contradicts everyday experience. Moral reasoning is developed from conversation, interaction, and argument.

3.  Provides no resolution for conflict of different ethical systems.

  There is no agreement on what the "good" is. Who decides? Whose interests are first? (What if the "good" conflicts among issues of health, peace, profits, pleasure, and national security?)

2.  There is no determination of the 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of actions, but only of their consequences.

3.  May fail to take into account long-term effects of an action or decision. 

4.  The principles of justice and individual rights are ignored.

  The principle is imprecise; it lacks practical utility. That is, it is difficult to think of all humanity every time an ethical decision must be made.

2.  Conflicts among a person's interests, or duties, are not resolved.  How does one decide which duty comes first?

Human Rights
  Some individuals will pretend to advocate human rights while actually trying to advance selfish goals.

2.  Protection of rights can exaggerate certain entitlements in society at the expense of others. Do citizens of a racial minority in a society have greater rights than the majority?  What about hiring practices?

3.  The limits of rights are sometimes hard to establish.  Should an elderly person who terminally ill (no cure) be kept alive as long as possible, at great cost to society?

  Outside of the jurisdiction of the state (the government), who decides what is right and what is wrong?  What is fair?

2.  Under what circumstances can individuals disagree with the government, and what can they do about it?

3.  Related to both of the above, can opportunities and burdens be equally shared when it is not in the interest of those in power to do so?

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