Approach To Ethical Decision Making

Case studies are designed to confront readers with specific real-life problems that do not lend themselves to easy answers. Many of the skills necessary to analyze case studies can become tools for responding to real world problems.

Cases, like the real world, contain uncertainties and ambiguities. Readers are encouraged to identify key issues, make assumptions as needed, and articulate options for resolution.

In addition to the specific questions accompanying each case, students might consider the following questions:

  1. What is the ethical issue? Is something morally wrong? Is the issue deeper than personal or institutional concerns?
  2. Identify the ethical component of an issue (what part of a dilemma requires an ethical approach?
  3. Who are the affected parties (individuals, institutions, a field, society) in this situation?
  4. What interest(s) (material, financial, ethical, other) does each party have in the situation? Which interests are in conflict?
  5. Were the actions taken by each of the affected parties acceptable (ethical, legal, moral, or common sense)? If not, are there circumstances under which those actions would have been acceptable? Who should impose what sanction(s)?
  6. What other courses of action are open to each of the affected parties? What is the likely outcome of each course of action?
  7. Distinguish between positive arguments (do this) and negative arguments (don’t do this).
  8. For each party involved, what course of action would you take, and why?
  9. What actions could have been taken to avoid the conflict?

Ground Rules for Discussion of Case- studies on Ethics

  1. The reasoning which leads to an opinion is important, not the opinion itself.
  2. When discussing a case study, do not change the circumstances or the story of the study.
  3. Apply structured techniques to formulate and clarify thinking.

Some Techniques of Ethical Analysis in Case studies:

Ethical analysis tries to identify the participating parties, their respective stakes and responsibilities, and the essential issues.

After this groundwork is in place, various ethical guidelines (rules of conduct) and principles (philosophical systems) are applied to the problem.

Most discussion revolves around understanding the intent of the guidelines and principles when applied to a particular case.

  1. Who are the involved parties (the people and the organizations affected)? Who has an important stake in resolving the issue?
  2. What are the obligations between the parties?
  • Fidelity (a promise or a contract)
  • Reparation (making up for a wrong)
  • Gratitude (thanking for a right)
  • Justice (comparative merit)
  • Beneficence (helping a deserving person)
  • Non-injury (avoiding harm)
  1. What would each party consider to be the preferred course of action?
  2. Generate several courses of action (at least three, two extremes and a compromise). Identify broad filters which might constrain the choice of options for action.

For any choice of action, determine the impact on each of the parties:

  1. Are any ethical guidelines violated?
  2. What are the best-case and worst-case outcomes? Are they tolerable?
  3. What benefits and harm will be caused? Does the good outweigh the possible harm?
  4. Are there rules or principles which invalidate a choice of actions?
  5. List the consequences, risks, and costs.
  6. Choose a course of action, and identify which philosophical system it aligns with:
  • Ethical egoism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Human Rights
  • Ethical Relativism
  • Fairness and social justice
  • Common good
  1. Which alternative actions produce the best overall consequences? Which respect the moral rights and dignity of all parties? Which treat people fairly, without favoritism or discrimination? Which advance the common good? Which develop moral values? Which recognize the cultural context? Which are the most consistent?
  2. Do different ethical systems generate different courses of action? Are there issues to which none of the ethical systems apply? Which system is most compelling for resolving the particular issue?
  3. Finally make a clear and definitive decision about a course of action. Suggest policy changes which will prevent the problem from recurring.


  1. Identify or recognition of an ethical problem
  2. Fully describing the situation
  3. Spelling out clearly the moral issues and moral norms involved in the situation
  4. Visualising the possible alternatives- all possibilities should be considered without rejecting any solutions outright
  5. Projecting the consequences of the alternatives- list the alternatives and show against each its merit and demerits
  6. Choosing the alternative
    1. Identifying the moral principles involved in each alternative
    2. Analysing the extent to which each alternative can withstand criticism
    3. Considering to what extent higher moral principles apply to the situation
    4. Examining to what extent each alternative reflects on the decision makers image.
  7. Resolution of the problem

Understanding through Case study

In a district, the Panchayat has employed part time education assistants or vidya sahayaks to teach in primary schools. You are the DM of the district. You come to know that many vidyasahayaks are not teaching for the prescribed number of hours. What would you do?

  1. Identify the problem (ethical problem)
    • Vidyasahayaks are in breach of agreement
    • Depriving the rural children of their right to education 
  1. Describe the situation/facts
    • norms of teaching hours for vidyasahayaks
    • Number of vidyasahayaks who teach below the norm
    • Whether others are available for hire as vidyasahayaks
    • Functionaries at Tehsil level have noted the problem and tried to solve it 
  1. Spell out the moral issues involved
    • Need to meet obligation
    • Being fair to children
    • Being fair and honest
  2. Visualizing the possible alternatives
    • Discharging the errant vidyasahayaks
    • Ignore the problem
    • Altering the working hours, schedules or locations of vidyasahayaks
    • Running quality improvement programmes
    • Holding a general meeting with them to remind them of their social duties of public service
  3. Merits and demerits of each alternatives
    • Discharging the vidyasahayaks means depriving children of teaching and parental dissatisfaction
    • Ignoring the problem means dereliction of duty
    • Vidyasahayaks will maximize the utility or good of all concerned.
  4. Choosing the alternative and Resolution of the problem
Download Approach to ethical Decision Making 
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