Definition of ethical decision making

Ethical decision making helps people make difficult choices when faced with an ethical dilemma, a situation in which there is no clear right or wrong answer. For example, would it be right for a CEO to keep a contractual bonus when the business is making lower-paid colleagues redundant?

Ethical decision making typically examines three perspectives: the ethic of obedience; the ethic of care; and the ethic of reason. The ethic of obedience looks not only at the letter of the law, but also the spirit or moral values behind it. The ethic of care engages our emotional intelligence and empathy in making a decision from other people’s perspectives: "How would I feel in their shoes?". Finally, the ethic of reason engages our rational brain. Here we might use wisdom and experience to calculate various likely outcomes. This three dimensional approach engages both intellect and emotional intelligence and requires what Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking Fast and Slow, Allen Lane 2011) calls "slow thinking".

The other vital ingredient for ethical decision making is the social dimension. When faced with difficult choices, human beings tend to make better decisions when they work these through with others who can both support the three-dimensional process and challenge our natural biases and prejudices. [1]


ethical decison making in the news


In July 2013 the author of this definition, Roger Steare, corporate philosopher in residence at Cass Business School, wrote to the FT pointing out that European Banking Authority data showed bankers had been paid more than €1m across the EU in 2011, but that the research did not demonstrate whether they had actually "earned" this reward.

FT Articles & Analysis