Using Ethics Tests
Operationalizing Ethics in Business, Professional,
& Social Settings
How to use ethics tests effectively when making ethical decisions
Philosophical approaches for deciding what is right or wrong can provide practical help to insure that my ethical judgments are sound and to enlist the cooperation of others in doing what is right. In addition to a company’s mission statement, core values, and ethics code, I can use ethical principles or “ethics tests” as a management decision process—a recognized set of steps leading to a decision about what should be done. To use these tests to stimulate insight and move a discussion toward consensus, I need to be able to
Name the ethics test
Introduce it into my thinking or conversation
If challenged, show why the test is a valid way to decide right or wrong
Apply the test to the situation to make an ethics judgment
Note how the strengths and weaknesses of the test apply to the situation
Check for extraneous influences on my judgment
Compare the judgment with the results of two or three other ethics tests
In most situations I will not need to use all the tests. I can pick one or two that best show why the action being considered is right or wrong. By knowing them all I can choose the ones that provide the best insights and reasons for deciding, and I can recognize what kind of ethical appeals others are making. It is also not necessary in a business or professional discussion to go through each of the steps in the tests outlined below. Detailed steps are provided so that I can understand how the argument proceeds to the conclusion that an action or situation is good or bad, right or wrong.
It is easier to move people to a new point of view gradually and by enlisting their cooperation. Unless a forceful declaration like “That’s unethical!” is required to stop an action or get someone’s attention, it is usually more effective to begin with a question that introduces an ethics test into the discussion, such as “Is this a fair outcome?” or “Are we respecting their rights?” In order to have a shorthand way of referring to the ethics principle, it is helpful to name the test at some point in the conversation—“We are talking about the ‘justice’ test.”
Modules on using each commonly accepted ethics tests to make judgments follow
These tests are keyed to a discussion on Ethical Decision Making on the website of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Santa Clara.
Read the description of the ethics test at the Markkula Ethics Center site and then return to EthicsOps.com to see how to operationalize that particular way to decide what is right or wrong. I can also use the Theory + Practice page on this site to navigate among the pages.
Since the best explanations are those that show how, I will also find links to two cases that I use to show how to apply the tests in business settings:
For a page of quick links to move between ethical theories and steps to operationalize these theories, return to the Theory + Practice page.
To go directly to the ethical theory discussions, go to Ethical Decision Making at the Markkula Ethics Center site.